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Legends of ACIPCO’s Powerhouse Baseball Teams

Jun 14 , 2024
Community Involvement, Videos

On June 20, 2024, Major League Baseball (MLB) will celebrate the Negro Leagues baseball history by playing a regular season game at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field – America’s oldest baseball park built in 1910. As the MLB nation honors a storied baseball park and history, AMERICAN remembers its ties to the game and the Birmingham Black Barons, who called Rickwood home.

The story goes, an early ACIPCO Industrial League team was so good, they left their jobs with the company to form the first Birmingham Black Barons professional team. The Black Barons became charter members of the Negro Southern League in 1920.

A team photo from the 1930s. ACIPCO’s team in the Birmingham Industrial League was sponsored by the company’s YMCA branch at the time.

Before making their marks in baseball history, several star players wowed the crowds playing for the company’s semi-pro Industrial League teams.

Players including Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Artie Wilson and Edward “Big Ed” Steele were hired as much for their skill on the baseball diamond as for their ability to work in the ACIPCO plant. These names and others populated the company’s team rosters, making ACIPCO arguably the most dominant team in the Birmingham Industrial League (BIL) from the 1920s through 1940s, according to the Negro Southern League Museum Research Center and other sources.

The ACIPCO Pipemen, described by league historians as a powerhouse team, won 14 BIL titles from 1928 to 1943, nine of which were consecutive. Home games were played at Slossfield Community Center ballpark and drew 8,000 to 10,000 fans when archrivals such as Stockham Valve and Fittings took the field.

After winning the city championship, ACIPCO sent the 1949 team to St. Louis to watch a major league game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. Team manager Robert Bolden (center, left) holds the city championship trophy. To the right is team captain Shedrick Jones.

Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, considered among the top Negro Leagues versatile players during the 1940s, started with the ACIPCO Pipemen in 1939, after having played a few years with Midwest barnstorming teams. He played five seasons with ACIPCO (1939-1943), helping lead the team to five consecutive BIL championships. Davis played for the Birmingham Black Barons from 1942 to 1950 and, as Barons player-manager in 1948, recruited a teenage Willie Mays. With Mays in tow, Davis hit .353 that year and led the Black Barons to the Negro League World Series. Davis mentored Mays for three seasons.

In “Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays,” the now-legendary Mays described Davis as being like a second father, warm, friendly and respected by all the players. Davis became the first Black player signed by the Boston Red Sox organization in 1950.

Industrial League baseball continued until disbanded in 1958, largely due to television and the ability of fans to watch major league games at home, decreasing crowd support for amateur ball.

Lights were added to ACIPCO’s on-site baseball diamond in 1949. The first night game was played on May 19, 1949.

An entire other saga of baseball history took place from 1916 until 1958 with ACIPCO’s white teams in the Birmingham Amateur Baseball Federation (BABF). Between 1929 and 1954, ACIPCO BABF teams were 13-time contenders for the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) championship. They brought the NABF World Series trophy home in 1940 and 1941.

More Notable Players in ACIPCO Baseball

ACIPCO employee Ed Steele played nine seasons with the Pipemen (1935-1943) before signing with the Birmingham Black Barons, hitting over .400 in his last two seasons with the Pipemen. After playing nine seasons with the Barons, Steele managed the Detroit Stars and Detroit Clowns from 1955 to 1958, leading the Stars to a Negro American League championship in 1956.

ACIPCO ballplayers and others enjoy a 1949 game of checkers during their off time.

Leading hitter and No. 3 Machine Shop employee Artie Wilson played seven seasons for the ACIPCO Pipemen (1937-1943) before signing with the Birmingham Black Barons. For the 1943 season, he had 85 hits and 168 trips to the plate for a whopping .559 batting average. In his ACIPCO career, he hit over .400 in five of seven seasons and compiled a career batting average of .438.

From Foundry fittings to fields of dreams, ACIPCO employee Sam Hairston Sr. (1939-1940) played with Steele, Wilson, Davis and other ace Pipemen before playing briefly for the Birmingham Black Barons. This was followed by six seasons with the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns. In 1950 he became the first Black player to sign with the Chicago White Sox. He was a professional player, coach and scout for more than 50 years, and patriarch of a three-generation big-league baseball family. Hooper City named its community ballpark after Hairston.

After their ball careers, two notables from that decade landed jobs at ACIPCO. Joseph Marbury (Analytical Lab retiree) was a right-fielder with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1957 and 1958. His brother, the late Rendon Marbury (Cupola Melting retiree), played for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1956 and the Clowns in 1958. Both are honorary charter members of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

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