Art Clarkson, who ran two of Birmingham’s best-known minor league sports teams among many other ventures, has died at age 78, just months after retiring from his last sports management job.
Clarkson has had a hand in management of numerous sports operations across the country, but he is best known locally as the man who brought the Barons baseball team back to Rickwood Field and who ran the Birmingham Bulls hockey franchise in two different incarnations.
Clarkson bounced around many jobs in professional sports, in everything from baseball to soccer to the old World Football League, taking him to Memphis, Huntsville, Green Bay, Denver and Biloxi, among other cities.
He had worked on the idea of bringing minor league baseball back to Birmingham when the A’s departed after the 1975 season. He finally succeeded in 1981, when the Barons moved from Montgomery to Rickwood. Clarkson then persuaded Hoover leaders to build a new stadium for the Barons, and the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium became their home in 1988. He sold the team to a Japanese conglomerate in 1990.
Two years afterward, Clarkson brokered a deal to bring a minor league hockey team in Cincinnati to Birmingham as the next version of the Bulls. He ran the team, which played at what’s now called Legacy Arena in downtown Birmingham, for six seasons before selling; the team struggled after that and finally moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The current Bulls team, which plays at the Pelham Civic Center, is a revival of one he had run in the East Coast Hockey League, which itself was a makeover of a team in the World Hockey Association — a failed attempt at a direct competitor to the National Hockey League
Clarkson also worked a short stint in 2006 as a market consultant to the UAB Blazers football team under coach Watson Brown. But his last hurrah was with the current Bulls team.
“People kept asking me, ‘When are you going to start the Bulls back?’” Clarkson said in an interview with BirminghamWatch earlier this year. “I felt like I needed to do this. It was unfinished business.”