Baseball in Alabama by Doug Wedge

Baseball in Alabama, by Doug Wedge; History Press: South Carolina; $22.95 paperback

Spring is heralded by the crack of a bat against a baseball across Alabama. This state produces Hall of Fame baseball players in such quantities that Major League Baseball would not be the same without them. And these players come from all backgrounds, often remarkably assisted by college, professional or youth league coaches who care enough to bring budding talent along. Doug Wedge, successful author of "The Cy Young Catcher" and a respected baseball historian, tracks the careers of Alabamians who have made baseball the legendary sport it is today.

As if a bellwether of success in the major leagues, Alex Grammas of Birmingham made his name mainly with the St. Louis Cardinals. Wedge follows his baseball career as a player. What is particularly interesting and little discussed elsewhere is how after years on the field, a coach was born. Grammas, in his third base coaching position commented how his joy came from teaching others how to bring out the best in themselves.

Of course, players like Willie Mays, Bo Jackson and a host of others didn't arise from nowhere. Great coaching intervened in their lives. Jackson at Auburn was coached by Hal Baird, whose legacy was built on discovering new talent and molding it in professionalism. The hard scrabble rules of teams like the Birmingham Barons and Mobile Bears are explored, showing how tough players arose from the plethora of minor league teams across the state.

In fact, players like Mobile's truly incredible Satchel Paige, and the kid who grew up behind Birmingham's Rickwood Stadium, Bob Veale, make you realize what Alabama could have been had our boys been in the same leagues before the end of Jim Crow. In fact, Hank Aaron and Billy Williams were also from Mobile and makes you wonder if the Bay's water did something to propel these young men to eternal baseball fame.

But Wedge doesn't entertain with facts alone. He is particularly skilled at quotations, of which he is a master. He finds just the right anecdotes, too. Rogers Hornsby, the world class player from St. Louis, made an equally tremendous contribution to baseball as the hitting coach of the Chicago Cubs. He could see talent, and saw to it that Lou Johnson and Williams were brought into spring training. Hornsby, who hit over .400 in three seasons during his career, only taught about keeping an eye on the strike zone. he didn't even care how someone held the bat. Hall of Famers and batting kings came about as a result.

Alabama's minor leagues, college teams, and robust baseball culture is explored and explained. Names of the greats and near-greats pepper the stories you read here, all told in memorable tales which you'll tell your friends. If you love the game, you'll love this book.
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