|Replaced by||Double-A South|
|Jackson Generals (2019)|
|Most titles||Birmingham Barons (7)|
The Southern League was a Minor League Baseball league that operated in the Southern United States from 1964 to 2020. Along with the Eastern League and Texas League, it was one of three circuits playing at the Double-A level, which is two grades below Major League Baseball. Its headquarters were in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Georgia. The league was replaced by Double-A South.
The league traced its roots to the original Southern League (1885-1899), the Southern Association (1901-1961), and the original South Atlantic League (1904-1963). The later circuit was renamed the Southern League in 1964, and the league elected to maintain records from that season onward. In its inaugural 1964 season, the Southern League consisted of eight teams from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. In its final season, following contractions, expansions, and relocations, the league consisted of ten teams in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
A league champion was determined at the end of every season. The Birmingham A's/Barons won 7 Southern League titles, the most among all teams in the league, followed by the Jacksonville Suns (6) and the Montgomery Rebels (5).
The original Southern League was formed prior to the 1885 season as an eight-team circuit playing in the Southern United States. It operated at various times as a Class B league. Fraught with financial problems, teams regularly dropped out before the season's end. After being nonoperational in 1891, 1892, and 1897, it disbanded permanently after halting play during the 1899 season.
The Southern Association was formed in 1901 as a Class B circuit operating in nearly the same footprint as the first Southern League. It was elevated to Class A in 1902, Class A1 in 1936, and Double-A in 1946. The Southern Association remained a premier Southern baseball league until Major League Baseball radio and television broadcasts began to undercut attendance in the 1950s. The league disbanded after 1961.
The original South Atlantic League, nicknamed the "SALLY League" and not related to the current South Atlantic League (formerly the Western Carolinas League), was formed in 1904. It operated at Class C until it was elevated to Class B in 1921 and Class A in 1946. A year after the Southern Association's disbandment, the SALLY League took its place at the Double-A level in 1963.
The Double-A SALLY League was reorganized as the Southern League in 1964. It elected to start with a clean slate and not maintain records prior to the 1964 season. The newly minted league wanted to distance itself from the SALLY League's past history in the low minors (Class C was roughly equivalent to an Advanced Rookie league today, while Class B was roughly equivalent to short-season Class A). Additionally, many leagues had contributed to its legacy. In its inaugural campaign, the six-team Southern League consisted of the Asheville Tourists, Birmingham Barons, Charlotte Hornets, Chattanooga Lookouts, Columbus Confederate Yankees, Knoxville Smokies, Lynchburg White Sox, and Macon Peaches. Sam C. Smith, previously president of the SALLY League, served as its president.
From 1967 to 1969, the league was reduced to six teams. It went back to eight clubs in 1970, but dropped to seven in 1971. With an odd number of teams, the Southern League joined forces with the Double-A Texas League as the Dixie Association in 1971. The two leagues played an interlocking schedule with individual league champions determined at the end of the season. Up to this point, the Southern League champions had been simply the regular season pennant winners. For the first time, the top two Southern League teams met in a best-of-three series to determine champions. The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Asheville Tourists, 2-1, and then defeated the Texas League champion Arkansas Travelers, 3-0, to win the Dixie Association championship. The partnership was dissolved after the season.
President Smith died suddenly in April 1971, and Billy Hitchcock became the new president that August. Hitchcock introduced a number of changes that are still in use today. In 1972, the Southern League was split into two divisions, Eastern and Western. The playoffs, which began in the Dixie Association, were continued and expanded to a best-of-five series. The league also began selecting postseason All-Star teams and issuing awards for the Most Valuable Player, Most Outstanding Pitcher, and Manager of the Year. In 1976, it introduced a split-season format with the schedule divided in half and first and second half champions from each division being crowned. This expanded the playoffs to two rounds with the winners of each half competing for each division's championship and the those winners meeting for the league championship. With the addition of two teams in 1978, the Southern League grew to 10 teams. Other improvements under Hitchcock's presidency included stadium refurbishments and efforts to make the league more family-friendly. Attendance figures rose dramatically during his tenure.
Jim Bragan became president in 1981 after Hitchcock's retirement. Over his 14 years leading the Southern League, attendance continued to grow as several cities built new ballparks. In 1994, Arnold D. Fielkow succeeded Bragan as president, and Don Mincher took over in 2000. Lori Webb became president in 2012 after Mincher's death that March.
The start of the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before ultimately being cancelled on June 30. The league ceased operations before the 2021 season in conjunction with Major League Baseball's reorganization of Minor League Baseball. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp were selected to move up to the Triple-A classification as members of the Triple-A East. The Jackson Generals were not invited to serve as any team's affiliate, effectively removing them from the Southern League and affiliated baseball. The other eight teams--the Biloxi Shuckers, Birmingham Barons, Chattanooga Lookouts, Mississippi Braves, Montgomery Biscuits, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Rocket City Trash Pandas, and Tennessee Smokies--were placed in the Double-A South.
As of its final season, the Southern League was divided into two divisions, North and South, of five teams each. Previously, from 1972 to 2004, the league was split into Eastern and Western divisions. There were no divisions in place from 1964 to 1970. Each club had 140 games scheduled per season. Utilizing a split-season schedule, each half consisted of 70 games. The season typically began during the first or second week of April and concluded in the first week of September on Labor Day.
The Southern League All-Star Game was an annual midsummer game between two teams of the league's players, one made up of All-Stars from North Division teams and the other from South Division teams. First held in 1964, the event predominantly consisted of a single team of the league's All-Stars versus a Major League Baseball team through 1998. The division versus division format was used continuously from 1999 to 2019. No game was held from 1991 to 1995 as the Southern League and the other two Double-A leagues, the Eastern League and Texas League, participated in the Double-A All-Star Game instead.
League members Dixie Association Other League active in 2020 Other Defunct League
A "^" indicates that team's article redirects to an article of an active team formerly of the Southern League
League champions were determined by different means since the Southern League's formation in 1964. Through 1970, champions were simply the regular season pennant winners. A single-round postseason playoff series to crown a champion was established in 1971 under the Dixie Association. The playoffs continued in 1972 and were expanded to two rounds in 1976.
Six presidents led the Southern League since its formation: