If you are one of the fans among the peanuts and Cracker Jack,
your heart swelling at the crack of the bat during spring training
at Al Lang Stadium again, look around you. Somewhere in the crowd,
you may catch a glimpse of a lanky fellow in white flannels and
steel-rimmed glasses named Albert Fielding Lang, St. Petersburg's
This city, and probably all of Florida, can thank Al Lang
for putting us in the big leagues, and vice versa, where baseball
is concerned. He began a 70-year tradition of spring training
With no formal education past age 14, Lang became successful
in the laundry business in Pittsburgh. But in 1910, when he was
40, two things happened to change his life: He married Marie
Fagen, whom he called "My Girl," and his doctor told
him he had six months to live.
Lang sold his business, and the newlyweds moved to Florida.
Four days after arriving in St. Petersburg, they bought a home
at 340 Beach Drive NE, where they lived the rest of their married
Florida worked its magic, and Lang lived long and well. He
died at the age of 89 in 1960.
Although Florida was good for his health, his heart missed
one love he left up North: baseball. Because he could not live
where the teams were, he set about to bring them here. His success
in business had brought him in contact with many baseball officials,
and he persuaded them to bring their teams to Florida for spring
The St. Louis Browns were the first to come, in 1914, but
left for Florida's East Coast after one season. Lang then went
to Philadelphia to persuade friend Pat Moran, manager of the
Philadelphia Nationals, to bring his team here. That team came
here and went on to win 14 of its first 15 games in the regular
season, says Karl Grismer in his Story of St. Petersburg.
The Phillies loved Lang. St. Petersburg loved Lang, so much
that he was elected mayor in 1916 and re-elected in 1918.
In 1922, Lang began his baseball efforts anew, and was a major
factor in snaring the Boston Braves to the area, building a waterfront
park for them a block north of the present stadium, according
to newspaper clippings. In 1925, Lang snagged the New York Yankees.
A story by a visiting newspaper reporter describes Lang, clad
in white flannels, his "cronies" and 100 other people
greeting the Yankees at the Seaboard Railroad station, Second
Avenue and Ninth Street S: "With horns tooting, a fleet
of taxis took the players and journalists to our early spring
home, the Princess Martha Hotel."
In 1938, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who made St. Petersburg
their spring training home, and have ever since.
As a result, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, Lou Gehrig,
Bill Dickey -- the list goes on -- were all familiar faces in
All referred to Lang as "Uncle Al," for he was as
close to the players as to the managers. When St. Petersburg
built a ballpark in 1947 on the site of the present stadium,
it was named in honor of "Mr. Baseball," and the name
remained when the present Al Lang Stadium was built.
Bill Mills Sr., retired St. Petersburg businessman and baseball
backer, remembers when August Busch, head of the Anheuser-Busch
Brewing Co. in St. Louis, bought the Cardinals in 1953.
"Al went with us to St. Louis a number of times. He liked
Gussie Busch, and Gussie liked him," Mills said.
Mills remembers that Lang did a lot of things behind the scenes,
in addition to the things for which he is famous. "I remember
at his 85th birthday party, a fellow stood up and told everybody
that Al Lang had put him through college," Mills said. "Al
seemed embarrassed about it."
This tradition of giving to young people continued when Lang
gave $200,000 to Florida Presbyterian College, now Eckerd College,
and later bequeathed it another $200,000. He also left $100,000
to the Children's Home Society, and assorted grants to nieces,
nephews and other children. The Langs had no children.
Lawyer John Dew was just starting out in practice when he
used to see Al Lang at the Poinsettia Coffee Shop on Central
Avenue. "The thing I seem to remember most about Mr. Lang,"
Dew said, "was that he was kind and courtly. Just a gentleman."
Lyon Davis was in the enviable position of having "Uncle
Al," a close friend of his parents, Dr. William and Lucy
Davis, stop by daily at their home on First Avenue N across from
"He would sit on our porch, use our house as sort of
headquarters," Lyon Davis said.
Davis would go to the ball games after school and ask for
Uncle Al. "He would come, and I would get in the games free,"
Lang also gave Davis signed baseballs from every pennant winner,
a collection of about 25 balls. The collection was auctioned
off to raise money for the Museum of Fine Arts, as was a collection
of press pins.
Long after his reign as mayor, Lang remained a sort of unofficial
host, attending local functions and greeting friends and strangers
on the city's downtown streets.