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 Will the Texas League's Shreveport Captains move to Birmingham?

 
  

January 1976

  
         
    Texas League logoRay Johnston, the owner of the Texas League's Shreveport Captains baseball team, says he will move the team to Birmingham if an agreement can be reached with multiple parties.

Johnston has to gain approval from the Texas League and Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom the Captains are affiliated. Johnston is also working with the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board to determine a rental fee for Rickwood Field.

"I don't anticipate any trouble getting the Pirates' approval. We have to get the approval of five more Texas League owners to make the move and I'm going back  to my hotel right now to start on that," Johnston said.

Johnston wants to move from Shreveport because of where the stadium is located and a steering committee for the club dictates that a profit can not be made.

A motion made today by the Park Board's Chairman is awaiting approval by the Board. The motion is for Johnston to lease Rickwood Field for one year at a cost of $12,500 or ten percent of the gross gate receipts, whichever is higher, plus fifteen percent of the net profits.

Rickwood Field is available for rent because the former tenant, the Birmingham Athletics, moved to Chattanooga in November of 1975.

The Texas League is currently a Class AA league and began in 1888. Cities in the league that are based in Texas are El Paso, Midland, San Antonio and Amarillo. There are also teams in Little Rock (AR), Jackson (MS) and Lafayette (LA). The Captains have been in Shreveport since moving from El Paso in 1971.

"Bobby Bragan and Carl Sawatski recommended Birmingham highly," Johnston said. Bragan, a Birmingham native, is a former Texas League president and is the new president of Minor League Baseball. Sawatski is vice president of the Texas League, and most believe he will replace Bragan as president very shortly.

Johnston also owns the American Association's Class AAA Des Moines, Iowa franchise.

According to Johnston, he is leaning toward naming the team the Birmingham Barons.

  
         
    Billy Hitchcock, president of the Southern League, is disappointed to hear that Rickwood Field would not be vacant. Hitchcock said he was working to bring Southern League baseball back to Birmingham in 1977. "For the Birmingham fans, I'm glad to see baseball back at Rickwood. I'm sorry we didn't have the opportunity to get a Southern League team back in Birmingham, but we would hope for an opportunity in the future to get Birmingham back in the Southern League where it belongs," Hitchcock said.

Glenn West, former General Manager for the Birmingham Athletics, helped Johnston and Texas League vice-president Carl Sawatski with the RIckwood rental. "Birmingham now has a team in a class league that has good cities and great attendance. I wanted to see Birmingham back in baseball, and I think Pittsburgh provides the ideal parent club. I'd say they're one of the top five in the major leagues in providing talent for their minor league teams," West said.

  
         
    Johnston rebuffs comments that adding Birmingham would spread the league too far out, thereby increasing travel costs, especially for Birmingham. "The Texas League is divided into the East and West Divisions, so it's not as bad as it looks at first. Birmingham will be going West only twice all year, and Western teams will be coming to Birmingham only twice. The remainder of the schedule will be against Eastern teams," Johnson said. Those teams include Little Rock, Jackson and Lafayette.

"I think Birmingham is a sleeping giant, baseball wise. Any city that ever drew 500,000 in one year can return. I'm not naive enough to think we can draw 500,000 again, but we can rekindle some of that interest," Johnston said.

The staff here will be headed up by Mike Holbrooks, the Captains' business manager. However, Holbrooks knew knew nothing of the move to Birmingham until Johnston called him a few days ago. "We had been looking, but I never envisioned going to Birmingham. I was thinking in terms of Longview, Kilgore, Tyler, Texas area or possibly Odyessa, Texas," Holbrooks said.

  
         
    Ray Johnston has abruptly cancelled Rickwood Field negotiations with the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board.

"I hope there'll be no ill feelings. I was serious about moving there this year, though I have a gut feeling Birmingham is better than a AA city. It's a sleeping giant, and the sky is the limit for anyone who goes in, gives that town solid management and a respectable club. But I must keep my franchise in Shreveport this season. The reason I thought about leaving was because the city had promised me new facilities and until two weeks ago the city officials hadn't done anything concrete about them. This week Shreveport said it would get us that facility. Since I had promised to keep a team there if this happened, I'm withdrawing from Birmingham. I think it's the fairest way. I can't say enough about the reception I received in Birmingham. It's a great city. And I hope no one believes I used that town as a lever on Shreveport. That wasn't the case at all," Johnston said.

Not everyone was sad to hear the news, however. Southern League president Billy Hitchcock expressed his pleasure that the door is again open for his league to move back into Birmingham. "We're sorry for the fans who were expecting baseball this summer. But Birmingham is too good a baseball town, and has too fine a facility, to be without baseball long. We feel that Birmingham should be in the Southern League, and we will continue to work along those lines, although our eight franchises are all set for the coming year. We hope that in the not too distant future something can be done to bring Southern League baseball back to Rickwood Field," Hitchcock said.

  
         
 
 
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Last Update: February 29, 2012