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The Memphis Redbirds are a Minor League Baseball team of the International League and the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. They are located in Memphis, Tennessee, and are named for their Major League Baseball affiliate. The Redbirds play their home games at AutoZone Park, which opened in 2000 and is located in Downtown Memphis. The team previously played at Tim McCarver Stadium in 1998 and 1999.
The Redbirds were established as an expansion team of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1998. In conjunction with Major League Baseball's reorganization of Minor League Baseball in 2021, they were placed in the Triple-A East, which became the International League in 2022. A total of eight managers have led the club and its over 500 players. As of the completion of the 2021 season, the Redbirds have played in 3,260 regular season games and compiled a win–loss record of 1,640–1,620. They have appeared in the postseason on seven occasions won the PCL championship in 2000, 2009, 2017, and 2018. The Redbirds won the Triple-A National Championship Game in 2018. They have postseason record of 34–24. Combining all 3,318 regular season and postseason games, Memphis has an all-time record of 1,674–1,644.
The first professional baseball team in Memphis was the Memphis Reds of the League Alliance in 1877. A different Reds team was created as a charter member of the original Southern League in 1885. The city's Southern League team was known as the Grays in 1886 and 1888, the Browns in 1887, simply Memphis in 1889, the Giants in 1892 and 1894, the Fever Germs in 1893, and the Lambs/Giants in 1895.
The city's longest-operating baseball team, first known as Memphis Egyptians, was formed in 1901 as a charter member of the Southern Association. From 1909 to 1911, this club was called the Turtles before receiving its best-known moniker, the Chickasaws, often shortened to Chicks, in 1912. The original Chicks remained in the league through 1960, winning eight pennants, one playoff championship, and one Dixie Series title. Russwood Park, their home ballpark, was destroyed by fire in April 1960. With the cost of building a new facility too high, the team dropped out of the league after the 1960 season.
After a seven-year span with no professional team, Memphis became host to the Memphis Blues, a Double-A team of the Texas League, in 1968. After six seasons, the Blues moved up to the Triple-A International League in 1974, but the franchise was revoked by the league due to financial problems after the 1976 season. Memphis gained an expansion team in the Double-A Southern League that played from 1978 to 1997. The Chicks were relocated to nearby Jackson as the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx in 1998 to make way for a new Triple-A team.
The Memphis Redbirds were created as an expansion franchise of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1998. Initially, the team was owned as a non-profit community entity called the Memphis Redbirds Baseball Foundation, which operated the Redbirds until 2009 when management was turned over to Global Spectrum, a Comcast-owned company. While a new ballpark, AutoZone Park, was constructed for the team, they played their first two seasons (1998–99) at the city's Tim McCarver Stadium.
The Redbirds became the top minor league affiliate of the Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals. Memphis' team name, logo, color scheme, and uniforms were all based on those of the St. Louis team. In their inaugural season, the club was managed by Gaylen Pitts. The Redbirds played their first game on the road at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. In game one of the doubleheader, the Omaha Royals defeated the Redbirds, 3–2. The team finished their first season of play with a 74–70 record, three games out of first place, leaving them second out of four teams in their division. They finished the 1999 season in third place with a 74–64 record.
In 2000, Memphis moved into the newly constructed AutoZone Park. In the park's first regular season game, held on April 14, the Redbirds defeated the Iowa Cubs, 14–3. Memphis went on to clinch the Pacific Coast League's American Conference East Division championship by ending the season in first place, 131⁄2 games ahead of the second-place Oklahoma RedHawks. In the American Conference series, the Redbirds defeated the Albuquerque Isotopes, three games to two, and advanced to the league finals. Memphis then defeated the Salt Lake Buzz, 3–1, to win the PCL championship. The Redbirds went on to face the Indianapolis Indians, league champions of the Triple-A International League, in the best-of-five Triple-A World Series. Memphis lost, three games to one.
The team finished each of the next three seasons in fourth place—2001 (62–81), 2002 (71–71), and 2003 (64–79). The 2002 campaign was a particularly tight race within the American Conference East Division, as the fourth-place Redbirds were a mere three games behind first-place Oklahoma. Tom Spencer became manager of the Redbirds in 2013. He was replaced midseason by Danny Sheaffer. Memphis hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game at AutoZone Park in 2003. Players Jason Bowers, Matt Duff, and Jason Ryan represented Memphis, as they were elected to the PCL All-Star Team.
Pitcher Dan Haren was selected for the 2004 PCL All-Star Team and was chosen as the PCL Star of the Game—the most valuable player representing the league. Memphis ended the 2004 season in second place, eight games behind first-place Oklahoma, with a 73–71 record. The team finished third (71–72) in 2005, 3+1⁄2 games behind the eventual league champion Nashville Sounds. From 2006 to 2007, Memphis finished further out of first place with records of 58–86 in 2006 and 56–88 in 2007.
The 2008 season began a reversal of the team's fortunes. Though winding up in second place in 2008, the team, under second-year manager Chris Maloney, managed a second-place finish with their 75–67 record. In 2009, the Redbirds' first-place finish (77–67) earned them the American Conference North Division title and a return to the postseason for the first time in nine seasons. In the American Conference series, Memphis faced the Albuquerque Isotopes, sweeping them in three-straight games. They continued to also defeat the Sacramento River Cats, 3–0, in the finals to win their second PCL championship. They then competed against the International League's Durham Bulls in the Bricktown Showdown for the Triple-A National Championship, but were defeated in the single game, 5–4.
Having finished the 2010 season in a tie for first place with the Iowa Cubs (82–62), Memphis was awarded the American Conference North title by virtue of having won the regular season series against Iowa. Memphis started the postseason by defeating the Oklahoma City RedHawks, 3–0, to win the American Conference championship. The Tacoma Rainiers then swept the Redbirds, defeating them for the PCL crown in three-straight games.
The 2011, the club narrowly missed the postseason, finishing second with a 77–66 record. In 2012, manager Chris Maloney, the longest-tenured skipper in team history, was hired as St. Louis' first base coach. He was replaced by Ron Warner. He led the Redbirds to finish in third place (57–87) and 27 games out of first. The team fared better in 2013, ending up in second place (69–75), just one game behind the eventual league champion Omaha Storm Chasers.
In March 2014, the Redbirds were purchased by their major league parent club, the St. Louis Cardinals. The transaction also included the City of Memphis acquiring AutoZone Park and then leasing it to the team. Ron Warner led his club to a first-place finish (79–64), clinching the American Conference South. They were defeated in the conference series, three games to one, by Omaha, who later won the PCL title. The 2015 club, under manager Mike Shildt, finished in second place (73–71), two games behind the Round Rock Express.
The Cardinals sold their majority interest in the team to Peter B. Freund of Trinity Baseball Holdings in March 2016. Memphis ended the 2016 season in fourth place with a 65–77 record. Prior to the 2017 season, the Redbirds unveiled new logos and uniforms. The primary logo is designed to look like a neon sign, such as those seen on nearby Beale Street, consisting of the team name and a redesigned image of team mascot, Rockey the Redbird. A secondary logo uses similar neon tubing to form a "M" in the shape of a music note to honor the city's blues and rock 'n' roll heritage. Led by PCL Manager of the Year Stubby Clapp, the 2017 Redbirds clinched the division title with a 91–50 record. They went on to defeat the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, 3–2, to win the American Conference championship. In the PCL finals, the Redbirds defeated the El Paso Chihuahuas, 3–2, to win their third PCL championship. Memphis lost the Triple-A National Championship Game, 5–3, against the International League's Durham Bulls, whom they also faced in 2009.
Stubby Clapp won the PCL Manager of the Year Award again in 2018. Right-hander Dakota Hudson won the PCL Pitcher of the Year Award, a first for Redbirds pitchers. The team once again finished with the league's best record, winning the 2018 American Southern Division title with an 83–57 record. They defeated the Oklahoma City Dodgers, three games to one, to win the American Conference championship. The Redbirds won their second PCL championship in as many years by beating the Fresno Grizzlies, 3–1. They went on to win the 2018 Triple-A National Championship against the Durham Bulls, 14–4. First baseman Alex Mejia was named the game's MVP.
Memphis finished the 2019 season in second place with a 69–71 record under manager Ben Johnson. The start of the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before ultimately being cancelled on June 30.
Following the 2020 season, Major League Baseball assumed control of Minor League Baseball in a move to increase player salaries, modernize facility standards, and reduce travel. As a result, the Pacific Coast League was disbanded, and the Redbirds were placed in the Triple-A East, where they continued to serve as the top farm club for the St. Louis Cardinals. Memphis began competition in the new league on May 4 with a 7–5 loss to the Durham Bulls at AutoZone Park. They lost the next four games before collecting their first Triple-A East win with a 7–6 victory in 10 innings over Durham on May 9. Memphis ended the season in fifth place in the Southeastern Division with a 57–63 record. No playoffs were held to determine a league champion; instead, the team with the best regular-season record was the declared the winner. However, 10 games that had been postponed from the start of the season were reinserted into the schedule as a postseason tournament called the Triple-A Final Stretch in which all 30 Triple-A clubs competed for the highest winning percentage over that stretch. Memphis finished the tournament tied for 13th place with a 4–4 record. In 2022, the Triple-A East became known as the International League (IL), the name historically used by the regional circuit prior to the 2021 reorganization. Memphis began IL play with an Opening Night win against the Gwinnett Stripers, 2–1, at AutoZone Park on April 5.