The house that Al Lang built

If you don’t know who Al Lang is, that’s o.k. For most of my life I didn’t know who he was either. It turns out he was a mayor of St Petersburg, FL about 90 years ago. As it turns out there are a lot of people who know Al’s name, and have no idea who he was.

The reason? His name was loaned to a little baseball field that was home to more spring training games than any other… to teams like the Cardinals, Yankees, Mets… and players like Ruth, Gehrig, Musial, and (ah hem) Crawford.

I’m not the world’s biggest baseball fan, and there were a couple of spring training sites closer to home (there’s a total of three on this little sliver of land on the Gulf of Mexico known as Pinellas County), so I’ve only seen a couple games played there. But I do appreciate history, and there are precious few places you can find it in Florida. So even I was a little sad to hear the Rays were leaving it for a new site further south, leaving Al Lang vacant… and a likely candidate for demolition. (It was a little weird being the only team to play spring training games in the same city they played in the regular season… with as many fans, but I digress.)

A great article about Al Lang appeared on late last week. Here’s a few pieces, in case you’re not interested in the whole thing.

ESPN – Saying goodbye to a baseball treasure:

Goodbye to a place that, for some reason, has inspired about a million fewer tears and a billion fewer verses of poetry than Dodgertown this spring, even though the history of this site is even deeper, even longer, even richer…

“Al Lang was sort of like a sperm bank for major league baseball,” said (Andy) Van Slyke. “It was a breeding ground for a lot of good players.

“Put it this way. There’s no other field in the history of the game that produced as many stars as Al Lang. So I think they need to take out a cubic foot of dirt, take it to Cooperstown and say, ‘This is the dirt that produced more major leaguers than any other field in the history of the game.'” …

George Kissell is one of those names that just about no one outside baseball seems to know — but everyone inside the baseball universe worships. He was the brains, the soul, the energizer behind the Cardinals’ player-development system from the late 1950s until as recently as 2004.

He taught a converted catcher named Joe Torre how to play third base. He taught Lou Brock how to slide. He took a minor league infielder named Earl Weaver under his wing and taught him many of the intricacies that made the Earl famous.

And Kissell’s home office, for almost all those years, was Al Lang Field.

Give the gift of words.