This article was written by Jeb Stewart
This article was published in the Spring 2020 Baseball Research Journal
From 1920 to 1958, baseball fans across the Deep South and Southwest looked forward to the annual Dixie Series, a best-of-seven postseason matchup between the playoff champions of the Southern Association and the Texas League. In 1967, after an 8-year hiatus, owners in the Double-A Texas League and the newly created Southern League resurrected the Series, but it would prove to be one last hurrah.
The games between the Birmingham Athletics and the Albuquerque Dodgers proved exciting and included three one-run, extra inning contests. Another was won on a grand slam home run in the ninth. With the final out in Game Six recorded on September 11, 1967, at Rickwood Field, the A’s were crowned champions of the last Dixie Series ever played.
The End of the Original Dixie Series: Two Leagues Heading in Opposite Directions
To understand the reasons for reviving the Dixie Series in 1967, and why it failed to catch on as an annual event, it is instructive to review its demise from 1948 to 1958. In 1948, the Birmingham Barons drew a whopping 28,319 fans to its only two home games in the Dixie Series: 17,071 in the first game and 11,248 in the second. The latter crowd was smaller because of bad weather.1 Big crowds meant healthy profits for both owners and players, as The Sporting News reported:
The  Dixie Series, which was won by Birmingham, four games to one over Fort Worth, drew a gate of 56,254 and receipts, less taxes, of $94,025.75, Secretary Milton Price announced, October 8.
The players’ pool of $38,706.35 was the largest pool since 1931, when the Barons and Houston Buffs cut up a $39,548.64 melon. Birmingham’s players divided $23,222.81 from this year’s pot, while the losing Cats received $15,482.54.
Each league received $9,402.57 and each club $18,257.13.2
If the Series was near its high-water mark in 1948, over the next decade the financial incentive to play the Dixie Series waned. By 1958, the situation was such that before the season, Nashville’s management announced that if the Vols won the league, they would skip the Series unless the Southern Association agreed to cover financial losses.3 The worry was justified: Ticket sales for the entire six-game Series in 1958 barely exceeded 18,000, less than one-third of the 1948 Series.4
Changes in baseball also exposed a stark difference in the two leagues, which threatened the continuation of the Series. The Texas League had desegregated in 1952,5 while the Southern Association remained stubbornly all-white.6 During the Texas League playoffs, Austin’s owner announced the Senators would not play in the Dixie Series if its black players could not play in Birmingham, which was a decidedly segregated city.7 However, when Corpus Christi won the Texas League playoffs, the Giants agreed to leave their black players in Texas when they traveled to Alabama to play the Barons.8 The end of the original Dixie Series, which was more bitter than sweet, finally came in the winter of 1959 when the Southern Association voted to shorten its own Shaughnessy playoff format and the Texas League refused to follow.9
For the Texas League, the death of the Dixie Series opened the door, albeit briefly, to a Pan-American partnership with the Mexican League.10 The Texas League has survived with limited interruptions since 1902. Losing the Dixie Series was a canary in a coal mine for the Southern Association, however. The league was already in financial trouble as total attendance fell from 854,941 in 1958 to only 639,386 in 1959.11 The mortal wound came following the 1961 season, when the Southern Association collapsed and permanently ceased operations after 60 years of professional baseball.
“Back to the Future”
The Southern Association’s demise was not the end of organized baseball in the Deep South, or its member cities. In 1964, the South Atlantic League, also known as the SALLY, changed its name to the Southern League, and added the Birmingham Barons, the new Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Athletics.12 Franchises in other former Southern Association cities—Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Macon—were included in the newly minted and integrated league.13
Before a pitch was even thrown, Southern League owners immediately began considering renewing the Dixie Series.14 Jim Burris, the president of the Texas League signaled an interest in resuming the Series, but cautioned “it will take a meeting of the minds to get the Dixie Series revived, but it can be done …”15 By August of 1964, the leagues shelved bringing back the interleague series due to monetary considerations.16 The idea lingered; and in November 1966, discussions began again:
The Dixie Series, once one of the most famous playoffs in the minor leagues, may be revived next season by the Texas and Southern leagues. A joint announcement by Hugh Finnerty, Texas president, and Sam Smith, Jr., Southern president, said the series would be resumed if the directors of the two circuits approve. They will meet during the minor leagues’ winter convention at Columbus, O.17
The following month, the leagues agreed to the return of the Series.18 By January 1967, baseball fans received the news that the best-of-seven Series was finally back.19 The Texas League champions would host the first three games and would finish the Series in the city of the Southern League’s winner. Finnerty predicted the Series would boost attendance for his league and players would enjoy the competition.20
1967: “The Summer of Glove” 21
The Birmingham A’s
Albert Belcher had owned the Barons in the Southern Association when the league ceased operations. In the new Southern League, he again owned the Barons in 1964–65, but crowds were small at Rickwood Field. Before the 1966 season Belcher sold the franchise to colorful Birmingham-area native and insurance magnate, Charles O. Finley, who also owned the Kansas City Athletics.22 Birmingham’s reprieve as a professional baseball town was briefly interrupted, and the future of Rickwood Field was threatened, as Finley moved the Barons to Mobile and rebranded them as the A’s.23 The A’s won the Southern League in 1966 under manager John McNamara.
However, Finley returned the club to Birmingham in 1967 and named Paul Bryant, Jr. as his general manager.24 Birmingham’s roster was stocked with a talented group of prospects including Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan, and Rollie Fingers. Future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa appeared in 41 games but did not play in the Dixie Series. Birmingham featured the following typical starting lineup:
- C Dave Duncan
- 1B Joe Rudi
- 2B Michael Dobbins
- 3B Weldon “Hoss” Bowlin
- SS Arturo Miranda
- RF Stan Wojcik (and LF)
- CF Wayne Norton
- LF Reggie Jackson (and RF)
Leading the pitching staff, which compiled a team-ERA of 2.63, were Rollie Fingers, George Lauzerique (13-4, 2.30), Mike Olivo (13-6, 2.66), Vern Handrahan (8-4, 1.50), and Robert Guzek (7-9, 3.10). Both Lauzerique and Olivo could not complete no-hitters due to a 100-pitch limit, which Kansas City imposed for its minor league affiliates.25 However, on July 6, in the first game of a twin-bill, Lauzerique needed only 85 pitches to complete a 7-inning perfect game.26 Fingers and Jackson, two future Hall of Famers, played big roles with the A’s, although their introductions to Rickwood Field were starkly different. On opening day, a blistering line drive hit by Evansville’s Fred Kovner struck Fingers in the face. The ball fractured his jaw and cheek bones. Fingers spent time on the DL but started 17 games and had a 2.21 ERA over 102 innings and a 6-5 record. Early in the spring, Jackson introduced the baseball world to his uncanny ability to create dramatic headlines at critical moments.
On April 22, Jackson stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, the bases loaded, and the A’s trailing the Knoxville Smokies, 6-3. With University of Alabama football coach (and the GM’s father) Bear Bryant in the stands, and facing a 2-2 count, the future Mr. October crushed a grand slam over Rickwood’s 390-foot right-center-field fence to win the game, 7–6.27 “The A’s hero leaped with joy the last two-thirds of his joyous trip around the bases and the crowd of 1,648 cheered him all the way to the dressing room.”28 On July 8, Jackson hit for the cycle and walked in a thrilling 9–7 win over the Macon Peaches. His homer was an opposite field moon shot, which sailed high over Rickwood’s left-center-field scoreboard. However, only 758 fans saw the game.29
Wayne Martin was a young sportswriter for The Birmingham News in 1967. Although he was not the beat writer for the A’s, he spent most of his nights at Rickwood that Summer and would often use his access to walk along the roof towards right field. Martin remembered one of Jackson’s homers:
The old stadium had its flaws as age and neglect took its toll, but from the roof in right you didn’t see the blemishes. You saw the beauty of the green grass, the red dirt of the skinned portions of the infield, a batter taking a mighty swing, and from 300-plus feet away you heard the crack of the bat a moment later.
One night in 1967, I had taken my nightly stroll to right field and Reggie Jackson came to bat. I think it was about the seventh inning, late enough that a few fans were getting an early start home. I saw Jackson swing, heard the crack of the bat and saw the ball sailing straight toward me. It would have been too high to catch (if I had a glove) and soared into a small parking lot beyond the right field fence. Its flight ended at the feet of a couple of startled fans on the way to their car. They didn’t get hit, but they did pick up a Reggie Jackson home run ball.30
Jackson batted .293 and led the team with 17 home runs, 17 triples, 26 doubles, 17 stolen bases, 84 runs scored, and a .562 slugging average. Jackson’s numbers would have been even more impressive had he not missed nearly 25 games after a June promotion to Kansas City. With Jackson, and A’s RBI leader, Joe Rudi (70), Birmingham finished near the top of the Southern League in most offensive categories.
Despite Jackson’s heroics, the Evansville White Sox raced to a 22-6 record and led the second place A’s by 6.5 games in the Southern League on June 3. The White Sox soon slumped, and the Montgomery Rebels surged into first place with a 41-26 record by the end of June, with the 35–26 A’s in third place trailing by three games. After going 16–8 in late June and July, the A’s finally moved into first place with a 51–34 record. On August 1, the three teams remained clustered at the top of the Southern League standings. The A’s were 59–43 and had a razor thin half-game lead over the second place Rebels (58–43), with the White Sox only one game behind in third (57–43).
By September, the three-way pennant race, which seemed to be a marketing dream for its owners, forced the league to reveal that the Dixie Series’ return might not happen. The six franchises struggled to turn a profit, and only 240,566 fans attended for the season, just over 288 per game.31 The owners voted to allow the pennant-winner to opt out of the Series if its management determined participating would cause a monetary loss. Montgomery and Evansville were not eager to play in the Series fearing the travel costs—expected to total $2,500—would exceed gate receipts. Although the A’s only sold 53,053 tickets for the whole season—just 758 per game—they were able to break even in the Series. The club possessed another key advantage over the Rebels and White Sox: Birmingham was the only franchise in the Southern League owned by a major league club.32 Charlie Finley would underwrite the team’s expenses.
The A’s ended any concerns about canceling the Dixie Series by finishing 25–12 to capture the Southern League pennant with an 84–55 record. The Rebels finished 3.5 games behind in second (80-58); and the White Sox finished a distant third (76–63). The A’s were great on the road, as they went 43–23 and also swept 10 doubleheaders away from Rickwood. After winning his second consecutive pennant, McNamara said “it just shows what I have been saying all along as we got out front and stayed there. Every man on this team has done something in the clutch.”33 Outfielder Stan Wojcik, who led the A’s with a .375 on-base average and batted .296 (good for second in the Southern League), and Joe Rudi were later named Topps Double-A All-Stars.34
After clinching the Southern League, the A’s had some fun at the end of a long summer. McNamara honored Hoss Bowlin at Rickwood Field:
Hoss Bowlin, Birmingham’s regular third baseman, displayed his versatility on a night in his honor as the Athletics wound up their regular-season appearance at home August 31. Bowlin played all seven of the infield and outfield positions before taking the mound in the eighth with a 3-1 lead over Montgomery. The Rebels greeted his arrival with a single by Jim Leyland. After a force out, Bob Christian tripled and scored the tying run on an error. Montgomery then beat reliever Marcel Lachemann in the ninth, 4-3. Bowlin was scheduled to catch in the final frame, but an eye irritation forced him to relinquish the job.35
The Albuquerque Dodgers
Albuquerque, known primarily as the Dukes during its long baseball history, joined the Texas League in 1962. The club began a 47-year affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers the next year and adopted the Dodgers name from 1965–71. Although they were no longer the Dukes, their manager was former Dodgers great Duke Snider. The Dodgers played at Tingley Field, which opened in 1932 and had a capacity for 5,000 fans, but only seated 3,000 in its cozy concrete grandstand.
Albuquerque had several players who later spent time in the major leagues, though none became stars, including Charlie Hough (216 wins), Willie Crawford (.305, 21 homers), Luis Alcaraz (league leading .328, 22 homers), Bill Sudakis (.293, 9 homers), and Ted Sizemore (.295, 5 homers). The Dodgers typical starting lineup included:
- C Hector Valle
- 1B Mel Corbo
- 2B Luis Alcaraz
- 3B Bill Sudakis
- SS Don Williams
- RF Kenneth Washington
- CF Willie Crawford (and LF)
- LF Ted Sizemore (and C)
John Duffie (16-9, 2.40), Mike Kekich (14-4, 3.24), and Leon Everitt (15-13, 3.45), anchored the rotation. Charlie Hough, the Dodgers’ 19-year-old prospect, would have the best major league career among the pitchers, but he spent most of 1967 in Single-A Santa Barbara and appeared in only a handful of games for Albuquerque. He did not pitch in the Dixie Series.
While the A’s endured a summer-long pennant race with Montgomery and Evansville, the Dodgers played on the fringe for most of their schedule, then pulled the Texas League crown out of the fire in September. The Amarillo Sonics, a Houston Astros affiliate, spent most of the summer in first. On August 22, Amarillo was 72–50, while the third place Dodgers were 63–58 and 8.5 games out. The Sporting News conceded the inevitability of Amarillo’s title calling the club “the pennant-bound Amarillo Sonics.”36
However, the Sonics collapsed and finished 3-15, while the Dodgers went 15-4 and won the title by three games. Duke Snider credited his team’s sudden surge to playing in late-season doubleheaders:
A month ago, Albuquerque was struggling to stay above the .500 mark and, just 18 days before the end of the season, the Dodgers fell 9 and one-half games back by dropping a double-header at El Paso, 6-1 and 4-3 … Albuquerque’s miracle finish was accomplished in ten days. That’s how long it took the Dodgers to close the gap and seize the lead for the first time since the opening day of the season …
“I never figured that we’d win a pennant on double-headers,” Snider said after a 3-2, 4-3 sweep that kayoed El Paso, the night before Amarillo was eliminated. “You might say that the rain has been with us all year . . . not because of the postponements—but because we’ve been able to pick up on the clubs in the double-headers. We’ve had nine sweeps, we’ve split seven and we’ve lost two of them … we’ve played 18 double dips—and we didn’t have one of them scheduled.”37
Topps named six Dodgers as Double-A All-Stars: second baseman Luis Alcaraz, third baseman Bill Sudakis, shortstop Don Williams outfielder Willie Crawford, and pitchers John Duffie and Mike Kekich.38
The Dixie Series
The A’s flew west on September 4. After a four-hour layover in Dallas, they finally arrived in Albuquerque and relaxed by watching the red-hot Dodgers win their final league game against the El Paso Sun Kings.39 In a Series preview, columnist Salo Otero of the Albuquerque Journal playfully mocked the A’s sleeveless vest-style jerseys and bright colors:
Birmingham will be decked out like a ladies softball team. Finley has clothed his team in the same three changes of uniform he has for his big club.
The Steel City will wear their seafoam green road uniforms here with their white kangaroo shoes unless it’s muddy. In the mud they change to tan shoes. They also have gold and the traditional white outfits for home games at storied Rickwood Field.40
Tickets for the games were relatively inexpensive: $1.75 for box seats, and $1.25 for general admission.
Game 1: Birmingham at Albuquerque
Tuesday, September 5, Tingley Field
Birmingham started Vern Handrahan, a tall 30-year-old veteran right-hander from Canada, who had also played with Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate in Vancouver during 1967. Leon Everitt, a 20-year-old righty, who was also tall, took the hill for the Dodgers. The A’s took an early lead on catcher Dave Duncan’s two-run home run after Reggie Jackson walked in the top of the first.41 The Dodgers scored three in the bottom of the frame, but in the fourth, Stan Wojick singled home Hoss Bowlin and Jackson to give the A’s a 4–3 advantage, which they clung to through 8 innings.
In the ninth, Luis Alcaraz, Duke City’s power hitting second baseman, drilled a home run into the dark desert night to tie the score at four and send the game into extra innings. Birmingham rebounded in the eleventh. Mickey Dobbins singled, and Arturo Miranda tripled him home to give the A’s a 5–4 lead.
Handrahan pitched well as he struck out 13 in 10 1/3 innings, but the A’s seemed to have left their gloves back in Birmingham, as they committed four errors, two by Joe Rudi, and the Canadian starter surrendered four unearned runs. In the bottom of the eleventh, he finally tired and again gave up the tying run on hits by Mel Corbo, Alcaraz, and Ken Washington.
After chasing Handrahan, the Dodgers loaded the bases against reliever Marcel Lachemann. With one out, Dodgers shortstop Don Williams hit a grounder to short, which was cleanly fielded by Miranda, but a defensive miscue finally cost Birmingham the game. Miranda made an error on his throw home to Duncan and Alcaraz scored. Reliever Norman Dermody got the win for the Dodgers, 6–5.42
The loss did not concern A’s manager John McNamara, who bluntly said, “we’re one down now, but not discouraged. We feel we’ve got the better club.”43
Game 2: Birmingham at Albuquerque
Wednesday, September 6, Tingley Field
The second game was a matchup of aces. Dodgers manager Duke Snider handed the ball to John “Stretch” Duffie, a 21-year-old right-hander, who was one of the tallest players in organized baseball at 6-feet-7.44 John McNamara sent 20-year-old right-hander George Lauzerique to the mound. Lauzerique was from Havana, Cuba, and was lanky himself at 6-feet-1. 1967 was the best performance of his career. Pitching in Birmingham and Kansas City, he had a 2.30 ERA over 184 combined innings and struck out 135.45
Through five innings under the lights, Game 2 lived up to its billing as a pitching duel between Duffie and Lauzerique: neither surrendered a run. In the bottom of the sixth, Corbo reached first base and the dangerous Alcaraz stepped to the plate. Alcaraz repeated his Game 1 heroics and crushed a home run to right-center field to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.46
The Dodgers added an insurance run in the eighth on a wild pitch by Marcel Lachemann and won, 3–0. Duffie pitched a complete game, striking out five while only surrendering 6 hits. “Stan Wojcik was the only Athletics batter to reach second … but Wojick injured his ankle sliding into second and had to leave the game.”47 Wojick did not appear in another game in the Dixie Series, but not because of his ankle; he flew home to Buffalo, New York, to get married.48 With or without Wojick, the Dodgers had taken a commanding 2–0 lead in the Series.
McNamara remained unshaken, stating, “we’ve had our backs to the wall before, and fought back. If we win the final game tonight, we’ll win the Series.” 49
Game 3: Birmingham at Albuquerque
Thursday, September 7, Tingley Field
The A’s and Dodgers met for the final time in New Mexico the following evening. Continuing the theme, both starters were over 6 feet tall. Birmingham started reliable right-hander Mike Olivo. The Dodgers countered with 22-year-old lefty Mike Kekich, the second-best starter on the staff behind Duffie.50 The contest had a season’s worth of drama.
The Dodgers knocked Olivo out of the game in the first inning when a scalding line drive off the bat of Bill Sudakis struck his shin, sending him to the hospital for X-rays.51 McNamara inserted yet another 6-footer into the game, reliever Nicky Curtis. Although the Dodgers scratched an unearned run, Curtis escaped further damage and shut them down through 6 innings. Meanwhile, Birmingham scored twice in the third inning and added another run in the top of the seventh to take a 3-1 advantage.
With two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, McNamara stuck with Curtis to try to get the final out of the inning. He did not. Shortstop Don Williams doubled to right field to drive in Hector Valle and Larry Eckenrode to tie the score. After a single by Sudakis, a walk to Corbo, and three more hits by Alcaraz, Washington, and Sizemore, the Dodgers took a 7–3 lead.
In the top of the ninth, with the score still 7–3, the A’s were facing the prospect of returning to Birmingham trailing three games to none. But the baseball gods were not done with their fun.
Norman Dermody, who relieved Kekich in the eighth, took the mound to close out the game. A’s center fielder Wayne Norton opened the ninth with a ground ball to short, which caromed off a rock for a single over Williams’ head. Mickey Dobbins, who had committed an error in each of the first three games, then singled. Santiago Rosario pinch hit for reliever Marcel Lachemann and hit a flare past Sudakis at third scoring Norton. After Dobbins scored on a fielder’s choice by Allan Lewis to make the score 7–5, Miranda doubled to put two runners in scoring position. Snider ignored the fans’ cries to remove Dermody; the reliever hit Bowlin to load the bases with one out.52 Catcher Dave Duncan then came to the plate.
Duncan had hit 13 homers in 1967, which tied Rudi for second on the A’s behind Jackson. He had already homered once in the Series. Duncan “ran the count to 3–2 then blasted Dermody’s fastball far over the left field wall to snatch apparent victory away from Albuquerque,” reported the Albuquerque Journal. Of his grand slam, Duncan said, “it was a low fastball on the outside corner. I was guessing change. I just got lucky.”53 Although Duncan batted only .231 during the Series, his three homers and 7 RBIs led the A’s.
McNamara then called on Rollie Fingers to pitch the bottom of the ninth, his first appearance in the series. The future closer made short work of the Dodgers, striking out one and allowing no baserunners. The A’s trailed the Dixie Series 2-1 but had renewed confidence as they left for the Magic City.
Game 4: Albuquerque at Birmingham
Saturday, September 9, Rickwood Field
After an off day, the series resumed at Birmingham’s 57-year-old ballpark. McNamara announced veteran Handrahan, who had started Game 1, as his starter. Snider originally planned to use a three-man rotation of Everitt, Duffie, and Kekich for the Series. After the A’s comeback win, he had second thoughts. There was speculation he would hand the ball to James Roberts, a righty from Dora, Alabama.54 Before the game, Snider announced right-hander Ray Lamb would start.55 However, when Saturday night arrived, he scrapped his new plan and Everitt took his place on the hill.56
Game 4 was the only game in the Series which was never in doubt. The A’s pounded Everitt and three relievers for 15 hits, as Birmingham won, 9–1.57 Every A’s starter had a hit. Norton went 4-for-4 with a home run. Even Handrahan went 3-for-4 as the pitcher drove in a pair of runs. In the seventh inning, Duncan slugged a mammoth homer to dead center, which the Albuquerque Journal reported as having traveled 430 feet.58 Alf Van Hoose of The Birmingham News contended the blast had “banged against the outer concrete wall right over a painted X which marks the spot Walt Dropo hit his mightiest blow in 1948. Dropo’s homer measured 457 feet. Duncan’s must have gone 462.”59
Handrahan pitched a complete game for the victory, as he struck out three and allowed one run on seven hits. This time his defense did not let him down, as the A’s did not make an error for the first time in the Series. The Dodgers made three. The Series was now tied, but the momentum (and the home field advantage) was Birmingham’s.
Game 5: Albuquerque at Birmingham
Sunday, September 10, Rickwood Field
On Sunday afternoon, McNamara started 21-year-old Rollie Fingers, a 6’4” right-hander, one of Kansas City’s best pitching prospects. Fingers signed with the Athletics in 1964, before the advent of the amateur draft, and pitched well as he progressed through Kansas City’s minor league system. He had pitched one inning three days earlier in Albuquerque but was the best choice to get the ball with the Series tied.
Snider’s decision was easy and this time he did not waver. He called on Duffie, who had thrown 9 shutout innings against the A’s in Game 2. The young South Carolinian rewarded him with another masterful performance. Through 10 innings, Duffie held the A’s scoreless. He allowed only two singles, both to Dobbins, and hit two other batters. He struck out four, walked none, and breezed through the A’s powerful 4-5-6 hitters—Duncan, Rudi, and Jackson—who combined to go 0-for-9.
Fingers struggled to match Duffie’s dominating performance, although he pitched well. Late in the game, he faced adversity twice. Sudakis led off the eighth inning with a double and Corbo’s ground ball moved him to third. Alcaraz grounded to Bowlin, who held Sudakis and threw across the diamond to nip the speedy infielder at first. Washington then grounded out to Miranda to end the inning.60 In the tenth, the Dodgers loaded the bases, as Washington, Sizemore, and Valle reached on weak singles. With two outs and the game in the balance, Snider decided not to pinch hit for Duffie. Fingers struck him out.61 After dueling with Duffie for ten innings, Fingers had also thrown a shutout as he scattered six hits, while striking out seven, and walking none.
In the 11th inning, McNamara lifted Fingers because he had reached his pitch limit.62 He called on Dick Joyce, a 6’5” southpaw from Maine, who had started 7 games during the summer. Joyce faced the top of Albuquerque’s lineup, but did not allow a baserunner.
In the bottom of the inning, Duffie’s wall of invincibility finally cracked. Allan Lewis led off with a double to left center and advanced to third on a bunt by Miranda. After throwing two strikes past Bowlin, Duffie threw a wild pitch, which “zoomed off the top of Hector Valle’s mitt and Lewis scored” the winning run for the A’s.63 Van Hoose compared the 1-0 win to the Birmingham Barons’ unlikely triumph over Dizzy Dean and the Houston Buffaloes at Rickwood in the 1931 Dixie Series, and gushed in his praise for Duffie, writing:
Now there’s another 1-0 Dixie Series classic grand old Rickwood can stack in memory alongside that historic beauty ancient Ray Caldwell snatched from swaggering Dizzy Dean in 1931. The last one won’t soon be forgotten either. …
Rollie Fingers and Dick Joyce presently went out with young arms, live arms, to do to the Texas League champs what Ray Caldwell did to Dean and Houston 37 short years ago. Moreover, they may have licked a fellow named John Duffie who’ll probably win more games in the majors than a fellow named Dean.64
The A’s needed only one more win to clinch the Dixie Series.
Game 6: Albuquerque at Birmingham
Monday, September 11, Rickwood Field
On Monday night, the Dodgers and A’s treated fans at Rickwood to another great pitching matchup. Game 2 starter George Lauzerique started for the A’s and faced Mike Kekich, who had started Game 3 for the Dodgers. In a 10-inning contest, Lauzerique surrendered only 6 hits and walked two. Kekich allowed 9 hits and walked four but constantly pitched out of trouble during his 7 innings of work. The A’s left 12 runners on base, which was the most for either team in the Series.
The game was scoreless through three frames. In the fourth, Williams singled to lead off the inning for the Dodgers. With one out, Corbo walked, and Alcaraz singled to drive Williams home. With two on and only one out, Lauzerique got out of the jam, but the Dodgers led, 1-0.
In the bottom of the seventh, with the score still 1-0, Lauzerique doubled off Kekich. Lewis’s single brought him home to tie the game. In the eighth, Snider walked to the mound and called on Dermody to relieve Kekich. Snider got into an argument with home plate umpire Jake O’Donnell, who tossed the manager out of the game.65 Van Hoose noted in his scorecard, Snider “refused to go.” He later reported, “The moody ex-big leaguer took his sweet time about leaving, however. O’Donnell finally called Officer ‘Bill’ Williams and Snider went out peacefully.”66
Dermody shut the A’s out for two innings. In the tenth, Miranda and Bowlin grounded out. Duncan, who had hit a grand slam off Dermody in Game 3, then doubled. Dermody issued an intentional walk to Reggie Jackson. Rudi’s single to left-center scored Duncan and ended the Dixie Series with a 2–1 Birmingham win.67 Lauzerique got the complete game victory for the A’s.68 A jubilant McNamara exclaimed, “We went for everything, the pennant and the Series, and we brought it all home. This is a great bunch of kids. They would never panic early when Evansville ran off so fast, nor when Montgomery got the hex going on us, nor when we got two down in this series.”69
The A’s celebrated in Rickwood’s clubhouse with champagne. Reggie Jackson, wearing a huge smile, took center stage in a photo that appeared in The Birmingham News.
In 1974, three of the A’s who played in the Dixie Series, Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, and Rollie Fingers, played in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, which Oakland won four games to one with Fingers winning the MVP. Only Willie Crawford played in both the Dixie Series and World Series for the Dodgers.
Sportswriter Alf Van Hoose’s scorecard from Game 6 of the 1967 Dixie Series. (COURTESY OF WAYNE MARTIN)
Mickey Dobbins (.391, 5 runs), Allan Lewis (.381, 3 runs, 4 RBIs), Wayne Norton (.360, 4 runs), and Dave Duncan (.231, 5 runs, 3 homers, 7 RBIs) paced the A’s hitters in the series.
Albuquerque’s Ted Sizemore led all hitters with a .435 average and 10 hits. However, the future 1969 NL Rookie of the Year had little impact on the games. Nine of his hits were singles, and he only scored one run and collected two RBIs for the entire Series. Luis Alcaraz (.269, 2 homers, and 8 RBIs) and Don Williams (.259, 3 runs and 3 RBIs) were the most productive hitters for the Dodgers.
John Duffie was the best pitcher in the series, as he had an 0.47 ERA over 19 innings. That season was Duffie’s best performance as a professional; after throwing 229 innings, he never lived up to Alf Van Hoose’s comparison with Dizzy Dean. He would be out of baseball by 1969. Mike Kekich also had a productive Series for the Dodgers, as he punched out 12 batters in 14 innings and had a 2.57 ERA.
Birmingham’s pitching staff was largely a three-headed monster in the Series. Handrahan had a 1.40 ERA over 19 1/3 innings, striking out 16. Lauzerique also pitched well with a 1.65 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his 16 1/3 innings of work. Fingers pitched 11 innings, allowing no runs.
Baseball historian Bill James ranks the 1967 A’s as one of the best minor league clubs of the 1960s.70 Using James’s complex Win Shares formula, of the players who appeared in the final Dixie Series, Birmingham’s players would generate 887 win shares in the major leagues, which is far ahead of the 371 win shares the formula attributes to Albuquerque’s future big leaguers.71
The Second Farewell of the Dixie Series
Attendance for each Dixie Series game was better than the averages the A’s and Dodgers drew for each game in the regular season in 1967, but poor compared to past Series. The Dodgers drew 7,393 fans (2,464 per game) for the three games at Tingley Field. The A’s sold just 6,949 tickets (2,316 per game) for the three games at Rickwood Field. Series attendance was even lower than the six-game Series in 1958 (18,000-plus). Relative to the overall season attendance in each league in 1958 and 1967, the Dixie Series was arguably better attended in 1967.
Despite poor ticket sales and travel, the Southern League directors met in Birmingham on October 24 and voted to continue the Series in 1968.72 In December, Southern League President Sam Smith reiterated the two leagues planned to bring back the Series.73 The optimism was short-lived. In February 1968, the Southern League directors voted to end the Dixie Series.74
Could the Dixie Series Ever Return?
In 1971, the Southern and Texas Leagues each had seven franchises, which made scheduling impossible. The leagues created an awkward three-division “Dixie Association” with interleague play. The Association’s eastern border was in Charlotte, North Carolina, and stretched to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the west. Columnist Bob Quincy observed, “The only thing Charlotte and Albuquerque have in common is taxes.”75
The teams in the Association played an interlocking schedule, although the Texas and Southern Leagues had separate all-star games, one in Birmingham and the other in Albuquerque.76 The four playoff teams were the Charlotte Hornets against the Asheville Tourists in the Southern League and the Arkansas Travelers against the Amarillo Giants in the Texas League. The Hornets ultimately won a 5-game series over the Travelers in the Association’s Championship series. After one-year, the Dixie Association disbanded.
In the author’s opinion, regardless of semantics, the 1971 championship series was not a return of “the Dixie Series” for two principal reasons. First, the Dixie Association had interleague play, while the original Dixie Series was a series between the champions of truly distinct leagues. Second, the original Dixie Series, much like the World Series, was a best-of-seven series, while the Dixie Association series was a best-of-five.77
In the 1980s, Bobby Bragan, the former president of the minor leagues’ governing body, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, met with Carl Sawatski, the president of the Texas League. Bragan wanted to bring back the Dixie Series; Sawatski had no interest in the idea.78 It is doubtful the Dixie Series will ever return. The Series has now been gone for over 50 years, even longer than it existed in its original incarnation.
These days an evening at a minor league game is an experience in baseball-related entertainment, which has replaced the simple joy of watching a game. Intro music, between-innings-promotions, and cheap beer nights have replaced the civic pride of following the standings, watching the out-of-town scoreboard, scoring a game, and poring over box scores in a newspaper. Major league clubs have a much stronger grip on minor league affiliates than they did in the 1950s and 60s. The big leagues have hundreds of millions invested in players and the primary purpose of Double-A baseball is their development, not playing for championships.
Fans’ appetites have also changed since turnstiles spun wildly at Rickwood during the ’48 Dixie Series. Most sports fans in the South seem to lose interest in baseball once college football begins. On September 15, 2013, the Birmingham Barons won their most recent Southern League title beating the Mobile BayBears at Regions Field in the fifth game of the SL Championship Series, 4-2. The actual attendance that Sunday night seemed much smaller than the announced crowd of 3,093, which included season ticket holders, many of whom did not bother to attend. Even the official attendance of Game 5 was about half of a regular season Barons game in 2013.
Major league owners and fans appear unified in an unspoken agreement. Neither is particularly interested in minor league baseball after Labor Day. Based on ticket sales, this was also true in 1967, albeit for different reasons. But for a magical week in September that year the A’s and Dodgers made the last Dixie Series memorable for the fans who attended.
JEB STEWART is a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, who enjoys taking his sons (Nolan and Ryan) and his wife Stephanie to the Rickwood Classic each year. He has been a SABR member since 2012 and is co-President of the Rickwood Field SABR Chapter. He is an Executive Committee Member on the Board of the Friends of Rickwood Field and is a regular contributor to the Rickwood Times. He has written several biographies for SABR’s Baseball Biography Project. He wrote part of his article on the 1967 Dixie Series in the press box at Rickwood Field. He presented the topic at the 16th annual Southern Association Baseball Conference in Birmingham, Alabama on March 2, 2019.
The author is grateful to Mike Maddox for his comments and memories of 1967. Joe DeLeonard answered questions and provided copies of newspaper articles. Art Black provided helpful editorial assistance, and a copy of his completed scorecard from Game 6. Clarence Watkins dug through the archives at Rickwood and located a wonderful cartoon commemorating the A’s title, which ran in The Birmingham News. Former sportswriter Wayne Martin generously allowed the author to copy Alf Van Hoose’s scorecards from Games 4, 5, and 6, and April 22.
1 Blackie Sherrod, “Player Melon in Dixie Series Close to Tops,” The Sporting News, Oct. 13, 1948: 23.
2 “Dixie Series Draws 56,254 at Gate, $94,025 Receipts,” The Sporting News, Oct. 20, 1948: 23.
3 “Vols Would Skip Dixie Series Unless Indemnified by Loop,” The Sporting News, Mar. 26, 1958: 26.
4 Marshall Wright, The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885–1961 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002), 516.
5 Harold V. Ratliff, “Negro Pitcher Wins Second for Dallas,” The Shreveport Journal, Apr. 24, 1952, 2B.
6 “Dixie Series Threatened by Race Segregation Law,” The Sporting News, Sept. 3, 1958: 35.
7 “Dixie Series Status Clouded by Color Bar in Birmingham,” The Sporting News, Sept. 24, 1958: 41.
8 Frank McGowan, “Corpus Christi Club Agrees to Use Only White Players in Games at Birmingham,” The Sporting News, Oct. 1, 1958: 54.
9 “Texas Loop Refuses to Cut Playoff, Dixie Series Ended,” The Sporting News, Feb. 12, 1959: 26.
10 Bill Rives, “Officials Ask More Help From Majors,” The Sporting News, June 30, 1958: 36; and “Final Official Attendance Count,” The Sporting News, Oct. 28, 1959: 11.
11 “Final Official Attendance Count,” The Sporting News, Oct. 28, 1959: 11.
12 Harold Harris, “Ex-Sally Shows Optimism Under Southern Label,” The Sporting News, Jan. 25, 1964: 14.
13 Bill O’Neal, The Southern League: Baseball in Dixie, 1885–1994 (Austin, Tex.: Eakin Press, 1994), 141.
14 Harris, 14.
15 Carlos Salazar, “Boss Burris Goals: 8-Club Texas Loop, Dixie Series Revival,” The Sporting News, Feb. 28, 1964: 26.
16 “Fisher’s Streak Stopped,” The Sporting News, Aug. 1, 1964: 35.
17 “Texas and Southern Plan Revival of Dixie Series,” The Sporting News, Nov. 26, 1966: 40.
18 “Junior Series Hopes Fade, But Dixie May Be Revived,” The Sporting News, Dec. 10, 1966: 28.
19 “Southern Goes With Six Clubs,” Alabama Journal (Montgomery, AL), Jan. 6, 1967: 12; “Dixie Series Revived; Knoxville Back In SL,” The Montgomery Advertiser, Jan. 6, 1967: 13.
20 “Texas, Southern Loops To Renew Dixie Series,” The Sporting News, Aug. 19, 1967: 42.
21 At the third annual Rickwood Classic in 1998, the Birmingham Barons donned the ‘67 A’s uniforms. Posters sold at the Classic featured Willie Mays leaping against a psychedelic background with the event featuring a pun-inspired title, “The Summer of Glove” at the bottom of the poster. https://rickwood.com/product/summer-of-glove/
22 Finley was apparently not interested in purchasing Rickwood Field, however, as Belcher retained the title to the ballpark. After initially drawing no interest from the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County, Belcher put the ballpark, its contents, and its real estate on the auction block. In a 10-page brochure for the auction, which was scheduled for April 27, 1966, Belcher offered the ballpark in its entirety as a going concern, but also suggested the stadium could be razed and the land repurposed as an industrial site. Fortunately, the City of Birmingham purchased Rickwood. See Ben Cook, Good Wood (Birmingham, Alabama: R. Boozer Press, 2005), 90.
23 In the interim, Belcher attempted to sell Rickwood Field, but found no buyers. He decided to auction the ballpark on April 27, 1966, and created a 12-page brochure for the event. The brochure reported the park was in good condition and could be operated as a baseball facility immediately. However, Belcher hedged his bets and ominously offered to sell the ballpark in pieces so the land could be redeveloped. Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, the City of Birmingham purchased the ballpark, which survives to this day. “Finley Returns Southern Farm Club to Birmingham,” The Sporting News, Dec. 1966, 1966: 32.
24 Paul Bryant, Jr. is the son of the University of Alabama’s legendary head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. He was also the general manager of the Birmingham Barons from 1964-65 before the team rebranded as the A’s.
25 Alf Van Hoose, “Sublime to Ridiculous – That’s Olivo,” The Sporting News, Aug. 19, 1967: 35; and O’Neal, 147.
26 O’Neal, 147; Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (NY, NY: The Free Press, 2001), 268.
27 Alf Van Hoose, “Ready Reggie rocks Rickwood,” The Birmingham News, April 23, 1967: C-1.
28 Van Hoose, “Ready Reggie…”
29 Alf Van Hoose, “Jackson joins cycle gang,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 9, 1967: C-1.
30 Wayne Martin email correspondence with author, March 4, 2019.
31 “Minors Drew Over 10 Million For Fourth Straight Season,” The Sporting News, Jan. 13, 1968: 37. By contrast, the Texas League’s six clubs drew 609,890. Ibid. However, it is notable that the Southern Association’s attendance in 1959 was nearly three times the SL’s 1967 attendance, albeit with two more clubs.
32 “Dixie Series Doubtful Unless A’s Take Flag,” The Sporting News, Sept. 2, 1967: 43; Leroy Bearman, “Renewal of Dixie Series Hinges on Birmingham Win,” Albuquerque Journal, Aug. 13, 1967:42; and Birmingham Barons 2018 Media Guide: 90.
33 Frank McGowan, “A’s Birmingham Farm Clinches Southern Crown,” The Sporting News, Sept. 9, 1967: 35.
34 “Six Star Spots To Albuquerque In Topps Voting,” The Sporting News, Oct. 28, 1967: 21.
35 “Southern Sparks,” The Sporting News, Sept. 16, 1967: 46. Following the Dixie Series, the A’s promoted Hoss Bowlin to Kansas City, where he got his first and only major league hit on September 16, 1967, against the Angels.
36 “Dixie Series Doubtful Unless A’s Take Flag,” The Sporting News, Sept. 2, 1967: 43; and Birmingham Barons 2018 Media Guide: 90.
37 Carlos Salazar, “A-Dodgers Give TL Bum’s Rush, Clinch Pennant,” The Sporting News, Sept. 16, 1967: 44.
38 “Six Star Spots To Albuquerque In Topps Voting,” The Sporting News, Oct. 28, 1967: 21.
39 Photo Caption, Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 5, 1967: C-1; and “Dixie Series Starts In Albuquerque Tonight,” Alabama Journal (Montgomery, AL), Sept. 5, 1967: 12.
40 Salo Otero, “Famed Dixie Series Opens Tonight,” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 5, 1967: C-1.
41 “A’s Defeated On Error In Dixie Series Opener,” Alabama Journal (Montgomery, AL), Sept. 6, 1967: 17.
42 Ibid; “Game of Tuesday, September 5,” The Sporting News, Sept. 23, 1967: 39.
43 Alf Van Hoose, “A’s gift Dodgers to win in 11, 6-5,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 6, 1967: 32.
45 Lauzerique pitched professionally until 1976, including four seasons in the major leagues, mostly as a reliever, but never lived up to the promise he displayed in the summer of ‘67.
46 “A’s Ace Falls; Trail Dixie Series by Two,” Alabama Journal (Montgomery, AL), Sept. 7, 1967: 32; “Game of Wednesday, September 6,” The Sporting News, Sept. 23, 1967: 39.
48 Frank Maestas, “Rally in Ninth Trips Bums,” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 8, 1967: 45.
49 Alf Van Hoose, “Mac says A’s ‘just got beat’”,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 8, 1967: 23.
50 In 1973, Kekich would achieve notoriety for swapping lives families (including wives, children, and pets) with Fritz Peterson.
51 Frank Maestas, “Rally in Ninth Trips Bums,” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 8, 1967: 45.
52 Maestas, “Rally in Ninth…”
53 Maestas, “Rally in Ninth…”
54 Alf Van Hoose, “Dave saves ‘our’ A’s,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 8, 1967: 8.
55 “Bums After Third Win,” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 9, 1967: 19.
56 “Dodgers Beaten on 7-Hitter, 9-1” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 10, 1967: 19.
57 “Game of Saturday, September 9,” The Sporting News, Sept. 23, 1967: 39.
58 “Game of Saturday, September 9.”
59 Alf Van Hoose, “Heroes aplenty as A’s even Dixie Series 2-2,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 10, 1967: C-1. The Sporting News also reported that the ball traveled 462 feet.
60 “Duffie Loses Heartbreaker,” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 11, 1967: 15.
61 “Duffie Loses Heartbreaker.”
62 “Game of Sunday, September 10,” The Sporting News, Sept. 23, 1967: 39.
63 “Duffie Loses Heartbreaker.”
64 Alf Van Hoose, “Dean Missed Rickwood and he’s poorer, too,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 11, 1967: C-11.
65 “Birmingham Wins Dixie Series Title,” Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 12, 1967: 15.
66 Alf Van Hoose, “Time was ripe, our A’s struck,” The Birmingham News, Sept. 12, 1967: C-6-8.
67 Van Hoose, “Time was ripe…”; “Birmingham Wins Dixie Series Title,” Alabama Journal (Montgomery, AL), Sept. 7, 1967: 14.
68 “Game of Monday, September 11,” The Sporting News, Sept. 23, 1967: 39.
69 “Time was ripe, our A’s struck,”: C-8.
70 James, 267-68.
71 A’s: Reggie Jackson (444), Rollie Fingers (188), Joe Rudi (173), Dave Duncan (71), Marcel Lachemann (7), George Lauzerique (2), Vern Handrahan (1), Santiago Rosario (1), Dick Joyce (0), Don O’Riley (0), Allan Lewis (0), and Hoss Bowlin (0). Dodgers: Ted Sizemore (130), Willie Crawford (123), Bob Stinson (49), Bill Sudakis (47), Mike Kekich (17), Luis Alcaraz (5), Hector Valle (0), Leon Everitt (0), and John Duffie (0). Ray Lamb, who almost started Game 4, and did not appear in the Dixie Series, had 26 win shares in the major leagues. Charlie Hough, who also did not pitch in the Series, is credited with 233 win shares during his career.
72 Frank McGowan, “Southern League Drafts Plans for 1968 Season,” The Sporting News, Nov. 4, 1967: 46.
73 Stan Isle, “Vet Richardson Back at Helm of Eastern League,” The Sporting News, Dec. 9, 1967: 34.
74 Frank McGowan, “Southern Cancels Dixie Series in Plans for ‘68,” The Sporting News, Feb. 17, 1968: 26.
75 Bob Quincy, “Hefner Boosts Illini,” The Charlotte Observer, Sept. 19, 1971, 9D.
76 “In Unique Dixie Association: Two ‘Stars Games Set,” The Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 11, 1971: 13.
77 “Dixie Association series,” The Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, MS), Aug. 29, 1971: 12; “Bragan Sets Dixie Series,” Victoria Advocate (Victoria, TX), Aug. 28, 1971, 15.
78 O’Neal, 165.