Art Clarkson, a former owner of the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) and founder of professional hockey’s Birmingham Bulls, passed away Monday at the age of 78.
Clarkson is credited as an influential figure in Barons history. He brought baseball to Birmingham with the Barons in 1981 and was later responsible for building Hoover Met, a ballpark that opened in suburban Hoover in 1988 and hosted the franchise through the 2012 season. (It remains operational today for the annual SEC Baseball Tournament, and other events.)
In 1991, Clarkson shifted his focus from baseball to pro hockey when he founded the Birmingham Bulls in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). He was the managing partner of the team for six seasons before selling and shifting the focus once again. This time it was arena football. Clarkson’s football career took him around the country, from Huntsville to Green Bay. When It was time to retire, he returned to where is all began, Birmingham.
Art Clarkson’s favorite movie was Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. “If you build it, they will come”, was a famous line from the film that always stuck with him. One final dream came to the newly retired promoter. Clarkson woke up one morning in the summer of 2016 and said “I’m bringing the Bulls back to Birmingham”. He brought the team to Pelham with a multi-million dollar renovated arena. In November of 2017, the puck dropped once again for the Birmingham Bulls in front of a sold out crowd.
Clarkson built it and they came.
In May 2019, Clarkson stepped down as managing partner of the Birmingham Bulls due to health issues. On October 7, just 11 days from Opening Night, Art Clarkson passed away quietly at his home. His legacy will remain in Birmingham with the Bulls and the Barons. If you have ever been to a ballgame in Birmingham on any day in that last 40 years, your trip to the ballpark would not have been possible without Art Clarkson. If you have ever bundled up to watch a hockey game (or giant Coke Can Race) in the last 30 years in the Magic City, your night at the rink would not have happened without Art Clarkson.
Art touched a lot of lives. He helped start careers for young athletes on the field, then gave them opportunities off the field when their playing days were over. He was the king of the promotion and his name will always be synonymous with pro sports in Birmingham.
We extend our condolences to the family and friends of former Barons owner, Art Clarkson, who passed away last night. Clarkson was a vital member of the Birmingham sports community, bringing the Barons back to Birmingham in 1981 and then leading the move to the Hoover Met. pic.twitter.com/WyCrWvDxy5
— Birmingham Barons (@BhamBarons) October 8, 2019
“The Sports world lost a pioneer today,” said Joe Stroud, President, Birmingham Bulls. “Art prided himself on being the PT Barnum of minor league sports and he lived every minute of every day being the heartbeat of his team.”
“Art was as much as a friend as he was my boss, I can’t thank him enough for introducing my family to the Bulls logo,” said Jamey Hicks, Head Coach, Birmingham Bulls. “I miss him already. In my eyes, he is Mr. Hockey of Birmingham but he will always be known as a pioneer of minor league sports. Our thoughts are with Kathy, the kids and the extended family.”