Negro Southern Leagues Museum
If you ever find yourself with an hour or two to spare in Birmingham, head over to the Negro Southern Leagues Museum, located right next to Regions Park (home of the Birmingham Barons). It’s open year round, admission free (amazingly enough, it’s the only museum I’ve ever been to that doesn’t solicit donations). No restrictions on photography, which is also unusual for any museum.
In addition to the narrative history of the many Negro Leagues, the process of integrating southern baseball, a collection of signed balls, video interviews with former players, and exhibits of old gear and uniforms, there is memorabilia associated with some famous and not-so-famous teams and players. Did you know the Harlem Globetrotters were a baseball team before they were a basketball team? I also found it interesting that many players played winter ball on integrated teams in Mexico long before the major leagues integrated.
If you’re a lawyer, or just like reading contracts, there are a number of early baseball player contracts. I got a kick out of the following letter, which appears to be in response to a request to be appointed as a scout.
In my opinion, the best exhibit is the interactive one with the hologram of Satchel Paige. Or, I should say, holograms. You go to home plate, select one of four pitches, and the hologram winds up and pitches to you. A row of lights in the floor tracks the pitch back to the plate. Care for a “wobbly ball,” anyone? His wind-up for the Hesitation pitch brings to mind Cueto’s finest hip-wiggle. [insert Paige Exhibit]
There’s also a research center for those interested in researching the history of the Negro leagues. Part of the mission of the museum is to track down former players and record their stories before they are lost to history. Definitely worth a side trip if you’re in the area.