The Retirees Club of AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company celebrated an era in the company’s history on Wednesday, July 14, when 13 former ACIPCO baseball players gathered to remember their days on the diamond. They played on the company’s YMCA Industrial League team for blacks, the Birmingham Amateur Baseball Federation (BABF) team for whites, and other teams in the 1940s and 1950s. Some 20 of the company’s players from that era survive, and all were honored.
The program included highlights of a storied history, beginning with formation of the company’s first BABF team in 1916. That team won its first city championship just two years later, won the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in 1940 and 1941, and won division titles in the 1950s.
The company’s first team in the YMCA Industrial League was formed in 1924. The players were so good that most of them left after their first season to help start the Birmingham Black Barons. The team won four city championships from 1928 to 1932, gave repeat performances in 1940 and 1953, and won the state championship in 1954. The 1940 team included standouts Lorenzo “Piper” Davis and Artie Wilson.
The players told stories of working hard in the ACIPCO shops all day and then going to the baseball diamond to play ball, with coworkers, family and friends cheering in the stands. Thousands of fans would show up for the big rivalry games.
They swapped stories of knuckle balls, home runs and left-handed pitchers, punctuated with laughter and a few tall tales. The wife and daughter of the late Ira Read – Janice Read and Sharon Lancaster – attended and gave the Retirees Club a game ball signed by the 1946 BABF team. Player John Washington contributed his own memento to the archive, a game ball from his five seasons as catcher for the BABF team starting in 1947.
Players in attendance were Bill “Scoop” Cofer, Eugene “Gabby” Garrett, Charlie “Buttercup” Gilbert, Sam Hairston Jr., Hoyt Hale, Earl Harry, Edgar Hudson, Joe “Bull” Marbury, Bill “Wild Bill” Kallaher, John Reach, Buford Tucker, John Washington and Thomas Weaver. In addition to the players, among the 103 attendees were David Henry, Retirees Club officer and the program’s organizer; Penny Brown, Retirees Club president; Larry and Virginia Berry; Phillip and Charlotte Burgett; Phil and Peggy Selig; Garry and Betty Wates; and Dr. Phillip Ratliff, director of education at Vulcan Park and Museum and curator of “From Factory to Field: The Dream of Baseball in Birmingham,” an exhibit on view in Vulcan’s Linn-Henley Gallery through Oct. 3.