Jackson’s professional baseball history goes back more than a century, to 1904, when the first team came into existence. Until the early 1950s, teams played home games at the grandstand on the fairgrounds. Between 1953 and 1974, however, the city lacked a squad; thereafter, teams began playing at Smith-Wills Stadium, and since 2005 a Minor League team has played at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
The Greenville Cotton Pickers, Natchez Indians, and Vicksburg Hill Climbers were the first professional teams organized in the state of Mississippi. All began play in 1902, the inaugural year of the Class D Cotton States League and the beginning of the modern era of Minor League baseball. In 1904 the Jackson Senators began life in the Class D Delta League. The league folded after only one year, and the next year the Jackson team was known as the Blind Tigers, an apparent reference to sponsorship by a group of bootleggers operating on Rankin County’s Gold Coast. That year the team affiliated with the Cotton States League, remaining there through 1931. In 1905 play was suspended because of a yellow fever epidemic. From 1906 to 1908 the team played as the Senators, and they were league champs in 1908. That same year the legislature approved statewide Prohibition, initiating a tradition of brown-bagging alcohol in the first-base bleachers while the third-base bleachers were reserved for families.
The Cotton States League did not play in 1909, and in 1910 the team returned as the Tigers. They became the Drummers in 1911, the Senators again in 1912, and in 1913 the Lawmakers. World War I brought a temporary halt to Minor League baseball in the South, and when the sport resumed in 1921, the Jackson team was known as the Red Sox. Its moniker changed back to the Senators four years later, and the team won league championships in 1927, 1928, and 1931. The squad moved to the Class B Southeastern League in 1932 and to the Class C Dixie League the following year. In 1934–35 the team was known as the Mississippians. It became the Senators again in 1936 and rejoined the now Class C Cotton States League; in 1937 the team moved back to the Class B Southeastern League, remaining there until 1950. The team was a farm club of the Detroit Tigers in 1936, of the New York Yankees in 1937–38, of the Boston Braves from 1946 to 1950, and again of the Detroit Tigers in 1953.
In 1946 independent oilman Emmett A. Vaughey Jr. purchased and reorganized the Jackson Baseball Club, serving as its president for three years. In 1948 Vaughey sponsored a promotion in which children in Jackson orphanages could write a short essay on “Why I would like to meet Babe Ruth.” A boy from the Baptist Orphanage won the contest and, chaperoned by sportswriter Purser Hewitt of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, traveled to New York and he met the Babe and received an autographed baseball.
The 1950 season was shortened by the conflict in Korea. The Southeastern League ceased to exist at the end of the season, and no professional teams played in Jackson in 1951 or 1952. The year 1953 brought a return to the Class C Cotton States League, which attempted to exclude the Hot Springs Bathers during the season after the team signed an African American player, Jim Tugerson. Several teams refused to take the field and consequently forfeited games. The Jackson franchise collapsed following a 3 August 1953 tornado that blew the roof off the grandstand, necessitating a move to nearby Yazoo City for the remainder of the season. The Senators’ owner, president, and manager, Willis Hudlin, told the Clarion-Ledger, “Unless there is a new park, Jackson will be without baseball in ’fifty-four. Not only for ’fifty-four but probably for years to come. With a new park, there is a chance for affiliation with the Southern Association.” The following day J. M. Dean, executive secretary of the Mississippi State Fair, sounded the death knell: “There will be no attempt to restore the grandstand to accommodate baseball.” Whether for purely economic reasons or in a further attempt to stem the tide of integration, Jackson remained without professional baseball for twenty-one years.
In 1974 the New York Mets brought their AA farm club to Jackson to coincide with construction of Smith-Wills Stadium. The Jackson Mets remained until 1990, and a year after their departure, the Houston Astros moved their AA Texas League affiliate to Jackson. After a fan vote the team was named the Jackson Generals, in honor of General Andrew Jackson. The Generals won championships in 1993 and 1996 before moving to Round Rock, Texas, after the 1999 season.
The Jackson Senators were reincarnated and played in the Central League from 2002 to 2004, winning the championship in 2003. The Senators folded in 2005 when the Atlanta Braves moved their AA farm club from Greenville, South Carolina, to the newly constructed Trustmark Park in Pearl. For the past decade, the Mississippi Braves have played in the South Division of the Southern League.
- Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (1997)
- John D. McCain, The Story of Jackson, 2 vols. (1953)
- James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1994)
- Rick Wolff, ed., The Baseball Encyclopedia (1993)