The Southern Association was one of the longest lasting and most storied minor league organizations in history. On this day in 1962, it closed its doors, suspending operations permanently.
When taking a look back at the history of minor league baseball, the Southern Association is amongst the most prominent of the early leagues. Its history stretched from 1901 into the 1960’s, with a very stable lineup of teams. Hall of Fame players such as Tris Speaker, Harmon Killebrew, and Luis Aparicio all made appearances in the league, which was considered to be on par with the current AA level.
However, as the world began to change, the Southern Association remained the same. As integration spread throughout the Majors, the south, and the league, refused to follow suit. Attendance began to fall off, and the league began to lose franchises. First New Orleans, and then Memphis, departed, leading the Association to find new franchises to bring in.
The dropoff in support was dramatic. After drawing just under 1.5 million spectators in 1952, the Southern Association only attracted 647,831 fans in 1961. The Dixie Series, which was considered to be the Minor League World Series, had not been held since 1958. The Civil Rights Movement targeted the league with boycotts. Only one black player, Nat Peeples, saw action in the league, and he had just two games in 1954.
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With the boycotts, the dwindling attendance numbers, and the shuffling of teams, the writing was on the wall. On this day in 1962, the Southern Association closed its doors for good, suspending operations permanently.
It did not take long for the franchises to find new homes. The Atlanta Crackers joined the International League, with Little Rock following in 1963. Four teams joined the Southern League, and Memphis and Shrevesport joined the Texas League. Little Rock, now known as the Arkansas Travelers, would eventually leave the AAA ranks, and join the Texas League as well in the latter part of the decade.
One has to wonder if the Southern Association would still be around today if they had accepted the changing times. Admittedly, given the rampant segregation in the South at the time, it would have been more difficult to integrate their teams. And yet, that stubbornness and refusal to accept change led to their downfall.
The Southern Association lives on in minor league history as one of the more storied leagues ever to play ball. And yet, it went out with a whimper, as the more progressive leagues around them flourished.