Former Mississippi State University player and head baseball coach Jimmy Bragan is among three initial inductees into the Southern League Hall of Fame. Also in the first class are former league presidents Billy Hitchcock, a former Atlanta Braves coach, and Don Mincher, a 13-year Major League veteran.
The league announced the creation of the hall of fame this week in Marietta, Ga. The first three inductees were unanimous selections by the board of directors. The first induction ceremony will coincide with the 2014 season, the 50th anniversary of the league’s modern era that started in 1964.
– Jimmy Bragan, who died in 2001 at age 72, was an infielder, manager and league president in Minor League Baseball, a scout and coach at the Major League level, and a college baseball coach during a 40-plus year career in the game.
He was born in Birmingham, Ala., and played at Mississippi State University from 1947-50. During his career at MSU, Bragan and his teammate won two SEC titles. Bragan led the team in hitting in 1949 with a .369 average and in 1950 with a .371 average. He was named to the All-SEC team in 1949.
After college, Bragan signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played in the in the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds farm system from 1950-1957, never advancing above the Double-A level. After his playing career, Bragan was a coach and manager in the Dodgers, Reds and Expos organizations.
“I’ve known Jimmy since 1941 or 42,” former college teammate and Major League player Alex Grammas told the Florida Times-Union after Bragan’s death in 2001. “He could turn a double play as well as any second baseman I’ve even seen, and he was competitive.”
Bragan served as a major league coach with Cincinnati, Montreal and Milwaukee. He was the head coach at Mississippi State in 1975, compiling a 16-24 record. He left that job to be a major league scout.
In 1980, he succeeded Billy Hitchcock as President of the Southern League. He presided over a host of new stadiums in the league, including fields in Greenville, Huntsville, Birmingham and Charlotte. Southern League attendance steadily climbed toward two million in the 1980s.
Bragan’s honors include inductions into the Mississippi State University, South Atlantic League and Alabama Sports halls of fame. In 1994, he received the King of Baseball award, which is presented annually at the Baseball Winter Meetings, in recognition of those who exhibit long-time dedication to the game.
“Jimmy Bragan was one of the people I admired the most as a leader of our league and as a man,” current Southern League President Don Mincher told the Times-Union in 2001.
He was the brother of Major League catcher, shortstop, manager and coach Bobby Bragan.
— Billy Hitchcock played all four infield positions during a nine-year American League career.
He broke in with the 1942 Detroit Tigers, spent three years in the Army Air Force in the Pacific during World War II, and resumed his major league career from 1946-53.
Hitchcock spent the next several years as a manager and coach with the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. His career managing record was 274 wins, 261 losses (.514). Hitchcock then scouted for the Montreal Expos from 1968-71.
In 1980 he was presented with the “King of Baseball” award given by Minor League Baseball. With Hitchcock as league president, the Southern League added teams, expanded the playoffs and introduced split-season play. Hitchcock led a rejuvenation of the league that included stadium refurbishments and a concerted effort to make the league more family-friendly. The league’s attendance figures rose dramatically during his tenure, from 333,500 in 1971 to over 1.7 million in 1980.
Hitchcock died in 2006 at 89.
– Don Mincher, assumed the interim president title in February 2000 when the league’s former president (Arnold Fielkow) resigned, and was subsequently elected president later that year. Before becoming Southern League President, Don Mincher was general manager of the Southern League’s Huntsville Stars from 1984 until he was elected president of the league in 2000.
Mincher brought a wealth of baseball knowledge to the Stars and the Southern League as a former major leaguer, having played 13 seasons with different teams, capped off by a World Series win in 1972 as a member of the Oakland Athletics. Mincher was enshrined in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, and was presented the Warren Giles Award for Minor League Baseball’s most outstanding service as a league president that same year.
In 2010, Mincher was named “King of Baseball” — the highest honor bestowed by Minor League Baseball.
Mincher died in April 2012 at 73.
Besides the three initial inductees, there will also be an inductee from each of the 10 Southern League clubs. After the inaugural year, there will be three inductees every year. Plans to recognize potential Hall of Fame inductees from the league’s earlier years (beginning in 1885) will be made possible through a special ballot. More information will be forthcoming regarding the nomination and voting process in the months ahead. While a physical location for the Hall of Fame is not currently in the plans, a web site will be developed and a plaque will be placed in the Southern League office listing inductees from year to year.
The mission of the Southern League Hall of Fame is to recognize individuals for their accomplishments and/or contributions to the League on the field of play or in an administrative role. This shall include but not necessarily be limited to: players, managers, coaches, umpires, league and team executives, owners, or media members.
(Some information in this article was provided through a Southern League news release.)