The Birmingham Black Barons was established in 1923 by a group of local African-American business people. The team played its home games at Rickwood Field in Birmingham. Powell said the book, published by McFarland & Company Inc., takes a unique look into the lives of the individual players.
The Black Barons had major league talent, Powell said, but they played at a time when black and white sports teams in Alabama were forbidden to play each other.
"The laws that kept black and white baseball teams in Alabama from playing each other were created partly out of fear that the Barons could beat the white teams," Powell said. "The Barons did, however, play white teams outside Alabama and usually they beat them."
The Birmingham Black Barons were among the many Negro League teams in the South and Midwest that played professional baseball during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The Negro League teams included the Kansas City Monarchs and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Cities like Memphis, Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas also had Negro League teams. But the Black Barons' superior skills on the field led many to dub them as "the South's greatest Negro League team," Powell said. In fact, the team captured the Negro American League Pennant in 1943, 1944 and in 1948.
Black Barons players included catcher Sam Hairston, pitcher and outfielder and later country singer Charley Pride, first baseman Lyman Bostock and outfielder Mays, who later signed with the New York Giants and became one of the first African-Americans to integrate the Major League teams after Jackie Robinson.
Five Black Barons are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Paige, Mays and pitcher Bill Foster, shortstop Willie Wells and home-run slugger George "Mule" Suttles, who is considered by some experts to be the all-time home run hitter of the Negro Leagues with 127 verified home runs in the league games, Powell said.
Foster was a pitcher with the 1925 team and was a brother of Negro League founder Rube Foster. He later became the baseball coach at Alcorn State. Wells, who was nicknamed "El Diablo," was called one of the best shortstops in the game. He later became the Black Barons' manager in 1954.
Traveling on the road was difficult for the Birmingham Black Barons, who often faced discrimination. Few hotels and restaurants would serve them because of their color. Restaurants that would serve African-Americans forced them to order their meals at the back of the restaurant.
The Negro League's decline began when Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. Other Major League teams began seeking African-American players. Attendance at Negro League games dropped sharply as blacks began paying more attention to the newly integrated Major League teams. The glory days of the Birmingham Black Barons and the Negro League ended when the Major League teams began recruiting African-American players right out of high school, Powell said.
"By 1959, the Birmingham Black Barons were pretty much limited to playing exhibition games," Powell said. "But those integrated teams did a major service to the white community in places like Alabama, showing that blacks and whites could play together, and if they could play together, they could work together."