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Rickwood Field: A Century in America's Oldest Ballpark

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Overview

The extraordinary social history of Rickwood Field is the story of baseball itself, gloriously evoked for the centennial of America’s oldest ballpark.
Those fortunate fans who attended Opening Day on August 18, 1910 could not have had the slightest inkling that their brand new stadium would one day be the oldest active professional ballpark in America. Nor could they have possibly imagined how dramatically baseball would transform itself over the course of a century. Back then there were no high-powered agents, no steroids dominating the sports headlines, no gleaming, billion-dollar stadiums with corporate sky boxes that lit up the neon sky. There was only the wood and the raw hide, the mitt and the cap, and the game as it was played a few miles from downtown Birmingham, Alabama.
Allen Barra has journeyed to his native Alabama to capture the glories of a century of baseball lore. In chronicling Rickwood Field’s history, he also tells of segregated baseball and the legendary Negro Leagues while summoning the ghosts of the players themselves —Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Ted Willians, and Willie Mays — who still haunt baseball’s oldest Cathedral. But Rickwood Field, a place where the Ku Klux Klan once held rallies, has now become a symbol of hope and triumph, a stadium that reflects the evolution of a city where baseball was, for decades, virtually the sole connecting point between blacks and whites.
While other fabled stadiums have yielded to the wrecker’s ball, baseball’s Garden of Eden seems increasingly invulnerable to the ravages of time. Indeed, the manually operated scoreboard still uses numbers painted on metal sheets, and on the right field wall, the Burma Shave sign hangs just as it did when the legendary Black Barons called the stadium their own. Not surprisingly, there is no slick or artificial turf here, only grass – and it’s been trodden by the cleats of greats from Shoeless Joe Jackson to Reggie Jackson. Drawing on extensive interviews, best-selling author Barra evokes a southern city once rife with racial tension where a tattered ballpark was, and resplendently still is, a rare beacon of hope. Both a relic of America’s past and a guidepost for baseball’s future, Rickwood Field follows the evolution of a nation and its pastime through our country’s oldest active ballpark.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Take a poll of baseball fans about the most famous ancient ballparks in the U.S., and you'll get current landmarks like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, or those from the past like the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field. Few would ever think to mention Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., although as Barra explains in this highly informative book, the fabled Dixie ballpark deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Opened in August 1910, Rickwood Field hosted some of the greatest players in history over the next several decades, like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Reggie Jackson, and dozens of others. But the park became a part of something bigger in Alabama, as not only was it the home of teams from both the minor leagues and Negro League but also "one of the few places where blacks and whites, at least a few of them, relaxed and enjoyed something together." To the city of Birmingham, baseball was so important that when an exhibition involving both white and black players violated city laws, everyone chose to "look the other way." Barra also explores several other issues, including the segregationist history of the city and the economic factors that molded the area over the years. With dozens of photographs from years past, along with numerous interviews from those who created the park's history (the last part of the book is devoted to contemporary accounts from those who love Rickwood), Barra provides a special glimpse into one of America's undeservedly unknown sports treasures. (Aug.)
Zack Hample
“Everyone raves about Fenway and Wrigley, but Rickwood Field puts them both to shame. Allen Barra paints the corner with Maddux-like precision and brings an untold slice of American baseball history to my younger generation.”
David Maraniss
“One of America’s most insightful and precise sportswriters.”
Paul Finebaum
“A grand slam! Stunningly brilliant. Barra captures the historic nature of Rickwood Field by bringing history to life in a breathtakingly poignant fashion.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393069334
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/26/2010
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 965,011
  • Product dimensions: 9.54 (w) x 6.64 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Allen Barra is a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the best-selling author of The Last Coach, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee and Rickwood Field. His writing appears in the Washington Post, Salon, Playboy, and The Daily Beast. He lives in New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

Preface 1

Chapter 1 Up from the Slag Pile (1815-1909) 7

Chapter 2 Birmingham Men Do it Right (1910-1917) 27

Chapter 3 A Team of Their Own (1918-1925) 47

Chapter 4 The Golden Age (1926-1929) 73

Chapter 5 The Greatest Game Ever Played (1931) 93

Chapter 6 "There was Just Something about the Baseball in That Park" (1932-1947) 113

Chapter 7 "Well, I'm Going to the Ballgame" (1948-1949) 137

Chapter 8 "The Barons were a Memory" (1950-1960) 163

Chapter 9 Everything Dies But... (1961-2009) 185

Extra Innings

Appendix 1 There Used to be a Ballpark 207

Appendix 2 The Baron of Rickwood 221

Appendix 3 Voices of Rickwood 239

Appendix 4 This is a Ballpark 317

Acknowledgments 335

Notes 341

Bibliography 347

Illustration Credits 351

Index 355

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