George Will is a fan of Mobile’s unique professional baseball heritage, and he’s hopeful the city and professional baseball can move forward even after the city loses its minor league baseball team.
The famed journalist and baseball historian told AL.com Thursday that he would like to see Minor League Baseball represented in Mobile for years to come.
“To produce that kind of talent, you must have a fan base,” said Will, who has attended a game before at Mobile’s Hank Aaron Stadium. “As a baseball fan, I thank Mobile for all it’s done for the game.”
Indeed, Mobile has a unique tie to the history of America’s Pastime: Only New York City and Los Angeles can claim as many homegrown ballplayers who have been inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“Which means in per capita,” Will said about Mobile. “It’s the nation’s leader.”
Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams were either born in or raised in Mobile playing baseball. The 1969 World Series champion New York “Miracle” Mets had three Mobilians on its rosters who were all outfielders – Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Amos Otis. Jones and Agee played baseball together at the Mobile County Training School in the Africatown community.
Birmingham, by contrast, can claim only one Hall of Famer: Willie Mays, who comes from the Westfield community near Fairfield. Thirteen states do not have any native-born people in the Hall of Fame.
Mobile, though, will be without professional baseball of any kind once the 2019 Southern League season finishes in September. The Class AA-BayBears team will soon leave Mobile for Madison in North Alabama, where a new $46 million stadium will serve as the home to the team that is being rebranded the “Rocket City Trash Pandas.”
The BayBears made their home at Hank Aaron Stadium near Interstate 65 since 1997.
City officials in Mobile, meanwhile, are looking for a “prominent” location to relocate Aaron’s boyhood home-turned-museum. The small house outside Hank Aaron Stadium contains a treasure-trove of artifacts from the Aaron family, and highlights key moments during Aaron’s illustrious baseball career dating back to the days when he played semi-professional baseball in Mobile and during a brief stint with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League.
“I would hope that Mobile perhaps use Henry Aaron’s boyhood home as the anchor which to celebrate all of the city’s contributions to Major League Baseball,” Will said. “They certainly should be commemorated.”
George Talbot, spokesman for Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, said the city remains “committed to ensuring that the Hank Aaron home holds a place of honor and distinction in Mobile.”
Will said he attended a BayBears game once while former Major League Baseball player Brett Butler was the team’s manager in 2007.
“I had a good time,” Will recalls.
Will, 78, is a 1977 Pulitzer Prize winner in Commentary and writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He’s the author of numerous books, including one written in 1989 titled, “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball.” His latest book, released this month, is “The Conservative Sensibility.”