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The Southern League was a Class B and Class C minor league baseball league which operated intermittently in the Southern United States from 1885 to 1899. Financial problems plagued the league and its member teams throughout their existence. It was not unusual for teams to depart the league during the season or for the league to cease operations without completing the season. It was this lack of financial support which ultimately caused the league to permanently disband in 1889. In 1901, a new league, called the Southern Association, was created from its remnants.

Southern League
CountryUnited States
Most titlesNew Orleans Pelicans (3)



The original Southern League was formed on February 11, 1885, in Atlanta.[1] It was the first professional league to operate in the South.[2] Henry W. Grady, managing editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was selected as the league's first president.[3] The eight-team circuit included the Atlanta Atlantas, Augusta Browns, Chattanooga Lookouts, Columbus Stars, Memphis Reds, Nashville Americans, and unnamed teams from Birmingham, Alabama, and Macon, Georgia.[4] Each team was scheduled to play 100 games during the season, but few would reach that mark as the Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Columbus clubs quit the league in the final two weeks of the season.[1][5] Atlanta captured the Southern League's first pennant with their 66–32 (.673) season record.[1] Nashville's Len Sowders was the league's first batting champion with a .309 batting average.[1]

Financial insolvency, a perpetual problem in the league,[3] forced the teams from Augusta and Chattanooga to drop out of the league in July 1886.[1] Atlanta repeated their previous winning season by capturing the 1886 league pennant with a 64–28 (.696) record.[1] Lefty Marr, mirroring Nashville teammate Len Sowders' feat from the previous season, was the league's batting champion with a .327 batting average.[1] Charleston Seagulls pitcher Gus Wehling had the lowest earned run average (0.78) for the season.[1] A new entrant to the league, the New Orleans Pelicans, won the 1887 league pennant with a 74–40 (.649) record.[1] Of the seven teams fielded during the 1887 season, only three (Charleston, Memphis, and New Orleans) made it to the end of the season on October 11; financial problems forced the others to drop out of the league.[6] Wally Andrews of Memphis was the league's batting champion (.413).[7]

Only four teams were able to compete during the 1888 season.[8] The season opened on April 7, was halted by early July.[9] The league champion Birmingham Maroons compiled a 32–19 .(627) season.[1] Memphis' John Sneed led the league with his .354 batting average.[9] The league played again in 1889 but only fielded four teams, which was partially to blame for the failure of the 1888 season.[10] After the first week or two of play, the Southern League reorganized by adding three other teams.[10] The league collapsed again that season after only three teams remained active by the middle of the season.[3] New Orleans (46–9, .836) was in first place at the time the league dissolved.[1] The circuit was non-operational from 1890 to 1891.[5]

The Southern League started up again in 1892, and the Birmingham Grays (73–50, .593) won the league pennant.[1] The 1893 Southern League featured the largest circuit in the league's history. The 12-team league was hampered by a poorly-designed schedule and insufficient financing which forced the owners of the Birmingham club, Charleston Seagulls, and Nashville Tigers to turn control of their teams over to the league, which continued to operate the clubs.[1][11] A meeting was held on July 1, at which the league's president, Hart, resigned despite those in attendance asking him to reconsider.[11] J.B. Nicklin of Chattanooga was elected as the new league president six days later.[11] Between mid July and early August, The Birmingham team transferred to Pensacola, Florida, but soon found themselves quarantined from the rest of the league due to an outbreak of yellow fever.[11] This development, in addition to ongoing financial debacles, caused the league to end the season on August 12.[11] The Augusta Electricians were awarded the pennant for the first part of the season, and the Macon Central City/Hornets were awarded the pennant for the second half.[1][11] Charlie Frank of Memphis won the league batting title with a .390 average.[12]

In 1894, some teams were forced to sell their players to other clubs in order to stay financially solvent, while others refused to continue play in the second half. Only Nashville, Mobile, New Orleans, and Memphis competed after the season's midpoint.[13] This prompted the Southern League to call the rest of the season off nine games into the second half.[14] Memphis was awarded the pennant for having the best overall record.[15]

The 1895 season saw the Chattanooga franchise being transferred to Mobile, Memphis disbanding in July, and Little Rock being removed from the circuit to keep the league with an even number of teams.[15] Though the Atlanta Crackers and Nashville Seraphs ended the 1895 season tied for first place, a series of events which transpired during and just after the season's end, resulted in Nashville claiming to be the rightful pennant winners and protesting the final standings.[16] Their grounds for protest included three points. Firstly, a game played on August 10, dubbed the "Glove Game", should have been thrown out because of the umpire's bad call surrounding a case of fan interference which potentially cost Nashville to lose the game. Secondly, the New Orleans Pelicans used an ineligible player who had been suspended from the Pennsylvania State League, and should forfeit all games in which he participated. Lastly, a game which Atlanta had played on the day after the season's end in order to make up for a rain-postponed game should be excluded from their record. Southern League and team representatives held a meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to determine a winner. The members decided to throw out the "Glove Game" on the basis that the umpire's ruling was illegal since there was no rule providing for the punishment of a club for the interference of an outsider. Atlanta's August 3 game was also declared null since it was played after the season was over. Nashville withdrew its protest of New Orleans’ ineligible player. These rulings caused the Seraphs' winning percentage to rise to .676 (71–34) and Atlanta's to fall to .667 (68–34), making Nashville the league pennant winner.[16] Chattanooga/Mobile's Lew Whistler won the league batting title with a .404 batting average.[17]

The New Orleans Pelicans (67–30, .744) won their third league pennant in 1896, giving them more championships in the original Southern League than any other club.[1] The league was in-operational in 1897 due to the lack of financial support.[1] In 1898, the league made it as far as July 4 before shutting down again. The Augusta, Georgia, club was in first place at the time with a 20–8 (.714) record.[1] The Southern League consisted of only four teams during its 1899 season.[18] The Mobile Blackbirds (23–16, .590) were in first place when the league suspended operations on May 1.[1] This was the final season of competition for the original Southern League—a lack of interest and financial support caused the league to fold for good.[5] Two years later, in 1901, the Southern Association was created by Abner Powell, Charley Frank, and Ike Fisher out of the remnants of the Southern League.[1]


Team nicknames were not official for most teams in the 19th century. Names were often bestowed by local sportswriters or civic leaders.[19] As such, some records only provide the city a team represented with no moniker.

  • a In 1889, Atlanta and Charleston were the same team.
  • b In 1889, Birmingham and Mobile were the same team.
  • c In 1893, Birmingham and Pensacola were the same team.
  • d In 1894, the Mobile Bluebirds and Atlanta Atlantas were the same team.
  • e In 1895, the Chattanooga Warriors and Mobile Bluebirds were the same team.
  • f In 1895, Memphis's team was called both the Giants and the Lambs.
  • g In 1896, the Columbus Babies and Columbus River Snipes were the same team.
  • h In 1899, the Montgomery Senators and Dallas Steers were the same team.

City timelineEdit

League championsEdit

  • 1885: Atlanta Atlantas
  • 1886: Atlanta Atlantas
  • 1887: New Orleans Pelicans
  • 1888: Birmingham Maroons
  • 1889: New Orleans Pelicans
  • 1890: non-operational
  • 1891: non-operational
  • 1892: Birmingham Grays
  • 1893: Augusta Electricians (1st half) / Macon Central City/Hornets (2nd half)
  • 1894: Memphis Grays
  • 1895: Nashville Seraphs
  • 1896: New Orleans Pelicans
  • 1897: non-operational
  • 1898: Augusta
  • 1899: Mobile Blackbirds


  • O'Neal, Bill (1994), The Southern League: Baseball in Dixie, 1885–1994, Eakin Press, ISBN 0890159521
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Timeline" (PDF). Southern Association Baseball. Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  2. ^ O'Neal, p. 2
  3. ^ a b c Darnell, Tim (November 30, 2007). "Southern League". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press. Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  4. ^ "1885 Southern League Statistics". Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c "League history". Southern League. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  6. ^ O'Neal, p. 6
  7. ^ O'Neal, pp. 6–7
  8. ^ "1888 Southern League Statistics". Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  9. ^ a b O'Neal, p. 8
  10. ^ a b O'Neal, p. 11
  11. ^ a b c d e f "The Southern League". Reach's Official Base Ball Guide for 1894. A. J. Reach Co. 1894. pp. 36–41. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  12. ^ O'Neal, p. 13
  13. ^ "1894 Southern Association Statistics". Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  14. ^ Traughber, Bill (August 4, 2008). "Looking Back: Nashville Plays Night Baseball In 1894". Nashville Sounds. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved October 8, 2008.
  15. ^ a b O'Neal, p. 15
  16. ^ a b Traughber, Bill (May 16, 2011). "Looking Back: The 1895 Nashville Seraphs". Nashville Sounds. Minor League Baseball. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
  17. ^ O'Neal, p. 16
  18. ^ "1899 Southern League Statistics". Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  19. ^ Nipper, Skip (October 1, 2013). "Name That Team". 262 Down Right. Retrieved February 1, 2015.