Mobile had front-row seat for integration attempt

From Mark Inabinett at the Mobile Press-Register on April 9, 2013, with mention of SABR member Ken Fenster:

Fifty-nine years ago today, Mobile baseball fans witnessed something that had never happened in the Southern Association’s baseball history and would happen just once more. And except for a break of fate, the player at the center of the history-making event could have been Port City native Hank Aaron.

On April 9, 1954, in a baseball game against the Mobile Bears at Hartwell Field, Nat Peeples of the visiting Atlanta Crackers became the first black player in the history of the Southern Association. He played in the game against Mobile the next day, too, and then he was gone, sent down to Jacksonville of the South Atlantic League. Peeples was the only black player in the history of the Southern Association.

Don’t be confused: The Southern Association did not become the Southern League in which the Mobile BayBears, Birmingham Barons, Huntsville Stars and Montgomery Biscuits play today. The Southern Association went out of business in 1961 as the nation’s vast array of minor leagues withered in the face of the stay-at-home entertainment convenience of television and declining interest in the national pastime. But the SA also folded because of its team owners’ refusal to integrate, other than Peeples’ two games. At a time when blacks from the South, such as Aaron, were becoming stars in the Major Leagues, the Southern Association’s stance made its teams unwieldy partners for MLB parent clubs trying to place players and also made them targets for boycotts in the emerging civil-rights movement.

The year 1954 was a different era in Mobile, and not just because of segregation. It was a different era for baseball.

Read the full article here:

Related link: Read Ken Fenster’s “It’s Not Fiction: The Race to Host the 1954 Southern Association All-Star Game” (Baseball Research Journal, Fall 2010)

Originally published: April 9, 2013. Last Updated: April 9, 2013.