Southern League (baseball)
|No. of teams||10|
|Jackson Generals (2019)|
|Most titles||Birmingham Barons (7)|
The Southern League is a Minor League Baseball league that operates in the Southern United States. Along with the Eastern League and Texas League, it is one of three circuits playing at the Double-A level, which is two grades below Major League Baseball. Its headquarters are in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Georgia.
The league traces its roots to the original Southern League (1885–1899), the Southern Association (1901–1961), and the original South Atlantic League (1904–1963). The later circuit was renamed the Southern League in 1964, and the league elected to maintain records from that season onward. In its inaugural 1964 season, the Southern League consisted of eight teams from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Today, following contraction, expansions, and relocations, the league consists of 10 teams in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
A league champion is determined at the end of every season. The Birmingham A's/Barons have won 7 Southern League titles, the most among all teams in the league, followed by the Jacksonville Suns (6) and the Montgomery Rebels (5). Among active franchises, the most championship wins belong to Birmingham (7), followed by Jacksonville (6) and the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx/Jackson Generals (4).
Predecessor leagues (1885–1963)
The original Southern League was formed prior to the 1885 season as an eight-team circuit playing in the Southern United States. It operated at various times as a Class B league. Fraught with financial problems, teams regularly dropped out before the season's end. After being nonoperational in 1891, 1892, and 1897, it disbanded permanently after halting play during the 1899 season.
The Southern Association was formed in 1901 as a Class B circuit operating in nearly the same footprint as the first Southern League. It was elevated to Class A in 1902, Class A1 in 1936, and Double-A in 1946. The Southern Association remained a premier Southern baseball league until Major League Baseball radio and television broadcasts began to undercut attendance in the 1950s. The league disbanded after 1961.
The original South Atlantic League, nicknamed the "SALLY League" and not related to the current South Atlantic League (formerly the Western Carolinas League), was formed in 1904. It operated at Class C until it was elevated to Class B in 1921 and Class A in 1946. A year after the Southern Association's disbandment, the SALLY League took its place at the Double-A level in 1963.
The modern league (1964–present)
The Double-A SALLY League was renamed the Southern League in 1964 to separate it from its history at lower classifications. To further distinguish the newly-named league, it elected to start with a clean slate and not maintain records prior to the 1964 season. In its inaugural campaign, the six-team Southern League consisted of the Asheville Tourists, Birmingham Barons, Charlotte Hornets, Chattanooga Lookouts, Columbus Confederate Yankees, Knoxville Smokies, Lynchburg White Sox, and Macon Peaches. Sam C. Smith, previously president of the SALLY League, served as its president.
From 1967 to 1969, the league was reduced to six teams. It went back to eight clubs in 1970, but dropped to seven in 1971. With an odd number of teams, the Southern League joined forces with the Double-A Texas League as the Dixie Association in 1971. Under the interleage partnership, the two leagues played an interlocking schedule with individual league champions determined at the end of the season. Up to this point, the Southern League champions had been simply the regular season pennant winners. For the first time, the top two Southern League teams met in a best-of-three series to determine champions. The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Asheville Tourists, 2–1, and then defeated the Texas League champion Arkansas Travelers, 3–0, to win the Dixie Association championship. The partnership was dissolved after the season.
President Smith died suddenly in April 1971, and Billy Hitchcock became the new president that August. Hitchcock introduced a number of changes that are still in use today. In 1972, the Southern League was split into two divisions, Eastern and Western. The playoffs, which began in the Dixie Association, were continued and expanded to a best-of-five series. The league also began selecting postseason All-Star teams and issuing awards for the Most Valuable Player, Most Outstanding Pitcher, and Manager of the Year. In 1976, it introduced a split-season format with the schedule divided in half and first and second half champions from each division being crowned. This expanded the playoffs to two rounds with the winners of each half competing for each division's championship and the those winners meeting for the league championship. With the addition of two teams in 1978, the Southern League grew to 10 teams. Other improvements under Hitchcock's presidency included stadium refurbishments and efforts to make the league more family-friendly. Attendance figures rose dramatically during his tenure.
Jim Bragan became president in 1981 after Hitchcock's retirement. Over his 14 years leading the Southern League, attendance continued to grow as several cities built new ballparks. In 1994, Arnold D. Fielkow succeeded Bragan as president, and Don Mincher took over in 2000. Lori Webb became president in 2012 after Mincher's death that March.
Structure and season
The Southern League is divided into two divisions, North and South, of five teams each. Previously, from 1972 to 2004, the league was split into Eastern and Western divisions. There were no divisions in place from 1964 to 1970. Each club has 140 games scheduled per season. Utilizing a split-season schedule, each half consists of 70 games. The season typically begins during the first or second week of April and concludes in the first week of September on Labor Day.
The Southern League All-Star Game is an annual midsummer game between two teams of the league's players, one made up of All-Stars from North Division teams and the other from South Division teams. First held in 1964, the event predominantly consisted of a single team of the league's All-Stars versus a Major League Baseball team through 1998. The division versus division format has been used continuously since 1999. No game was held from 1991 to 1995 as the Southern League and the other two Double-A leagues, the Eastern League and Texas League, participated in the Double-A All-Star Game instead.
The team in each division with the highest winning percentage at the end of the first half is declared the first half champion. Records are reset, and the team in each division with the highest winning percentage at the end of the second half is declared the second half champion. In the event that one team wins both halves of the season, the team in that division with the second-best overall record receives a postseason berth. The first and second half winners in each division compete in best-of-five series to determine division champions. The division champions then meet in a best-of-five series for the Southern League championship.
Current team rosters
League members Dixie Association Other Current League Other Defunct League
- Asheville Orioles
- Asheville Tourists
- Biloxi Shuckers
- Birmingham A's
- Birmingham Barons
- Carolina Mudcats
- Charlotte Hornets
- Charlotte Knights
- Charlotte O's
- Chattanooga Lookouts
- Columbus Astros
- Columbus Confederate Yankees
- Columbus Mudcats
- Columbus White Sox
- Evansville White Sox
- Greenville Braves
- Huntsville Stars
- Jackson Generals
- Jacksonville Expos
- Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
- Jacksonville Suns
- Knoxville Blue Jays
- Knoxville Smokies
- Knoxville Sox
- Lynchburg White Sox
- Macon Peaches
- Memphis Chicks
- Mississippi Braves
- Mobile A's
- Mobile BayBears
- Mobile White Sox
- Montgomery Biscuits
- Montgomery Rebels
- Nashville Sounds
- Nashville Xpress
- Orlando Cubs
- Orlando Rays
- Orlando Sun Rays
- Orlando Twins
- Pensacola Blue Wahoos
- Port City Roosters
- Rocket City Trash Pandas
- Savannah Braves
- Savannah Indians
- Savannah Senators
- Tennessee Smokies
- West Tenn Diamond Jaxx
League champions have been determined by different means since the Southern League's formation in 1964. Through 1970, champions were simply the regular season pennant winners. A single-round postseason playoff series to crown a champion was established in 1971 under the Dixie Association. The playoffs continued in 1972 and were expanded to two rounds in 1976.
The Birmingham A's/Barons have won 7 Southern League championships, the most among all teams in the league, followed by the Jacksonville Suns (6) and the Montgomery Rebels (5). Among active franchises, the most championship wins belong to Birmingham (7), followed Jacksonville (6) and the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx/Jackson Generals (4).
Six presidents have led the Southern League since its formation:
- 1964–1971: Sam C. Smith
- 1971–1980: Billy Hitchcock
- 1981–1994: Jim Bragan
- 1994–2000: Arnold D. Fielkow
- 2000–2011: Don Mincher
- 2012–present: Lori Webb
- Southern League Hall of Fame
- Southern League Manager of the Year Award
- Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher Award
- Southern League Most Valuable Player Award
- Baseball awards#Double-A
- Sports league attendances
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- "Southern League (AA) Encyclopedia and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "Southern Association (AA) Encyclopedia and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "Southern League History". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "South Atlantic League (A) Encyclopedia and History". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "1971 Dixie Association". Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
- 2019 Southern League Media Guide, pp. 132–140. sfn error: no target: CITEREF2019_Southern_League_Media_Guide (help)
- "1971 Southern League (Dixie Association) Standings". Stats Crew. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
- "Southern League Award Winners". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
- "Southern League Postseason All-Star Teams". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
- "Southern League Names First Woman President". The Chattanoogan. July 20, 2012. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
- "A Message From Pat O'Conner". Minor League Baseball. March 13, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
- "2020 Minor League Baseball Season Shelved". Minor League Baseball. June 30, 2020. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- "Standings". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "Southern League 2020 Schedule". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. August 1, 2019. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "SL Sets First All-Star Tilt". The Montgomery Advertiser. Montgomery. July 13, 1964. p. 10 – via Newspapers.com.
- 2019 Southern League Media Guide, p. 141. sfn error: no target: CITEREF2019_Southern_League_Media_Guide (help)
- "Southern League Playoff Procedures". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "Regions Field Birmingham Barons". Minor League Baseball. January 27, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Knight, Graham (July 27, 2010). "AT&T Field". Baseball Pilgrimages. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Knight, Graham. "The Ballpark at Jackson". Baseball Pilgrimages. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Gattis, Paul (April 15, 2019). "Countdown is on: 1 year from today until first Trash Pandas game in Madison". AL.com. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
- Reichard, Kevin (May 1, 2015). "Smokies Park / Tennessee Smokies". Ballpark Digest. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Harris, Chris (February 12, 2015). "A Walking Tour of MGM Park". Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Knight, Graham (August 16, 2003). "Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville – Jacksonville Suns". Baseball Pilgrimages. Retrieved February 23, 2014.
- "Mississippi Braves Stadium Information". Minor League Baseball. November 13, 2008. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- "Riverwalk Stadium Information". Minor League Baseball. February 25, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Pillon, Dennis (April 20, 2012). "Pensacola's Class AA Baseball Fever Still Going Strong". Press-Register. Mobile. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- "Southern League Past Champions". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "Southern League President Lori Webb". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
- "2019 Southern League Media Guide". Southern League. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
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