Baseball in Georgia
- The Crackers, Black Crackers, Peaches, Tourists, Foxes, and Indians
White minor league clubs and black professional and barnstorming teams provided Georgians with high-quality play for nearly 100 years prior to the 1966 arrival of the Braves in Atlanta. The Atlanta Crackers (1901-1965) of the class A Southern Association (also known as the Southern League) and the Atlanta Black Crackers (ca. 1921-1949), a charter member of the Negro Southern League, are the best-known and most fondly remembered early professional teams, particularly in the Atlanta area. However, numerous class C South Atlantic League (Sally League) teams offered professional baseball to residents in other parts of the state. Additionally, many semi-professional, mill- and town-teams thrived during the first half of the 20th century.
As a youth, Dick Russell would frequently take the train to see the 1909 Southern Association champion Atlanta Crackers play at Ponce de Leon Park, a field they would later share with the Black Crackers. Minor league teams during this period tended to be independent operations with the right to sell their players to the highest bidder. Unlike minor league teams of today, they were not operated as "farm" teams for major league clubs. As such, teams like the Crackers were well stocked with major-league caliber players and seasoned former big leaguers. The Sally League had affiliates in smaller cities in Georgia: Columbus (1910 league champions), Augusta, Savannah, Macon and, briefly, Albany.
- The Atlanta Crackers
The Atlanta Crackers are one of professional baseball's most successful franchises in history. From their inception in 1901 until their last season in 1965, they won a total of 17 league championships, or pennants. During their 64 year history, the Atlanta Crackers won more titles than any other team except the great New York Yankees. This is one reason why the Crackers were often called the Yankees of the Minors; at one point the Crackers even wore Yankee-like pinstripes!
The Atlanta Crackers were members of the Southern Association from 1901 until 1961. This organization, originally a Single-A and then later a Double-A league, was baseball's most stable, financially successful minor league for many years. Atlanta led the league in attendance more than any other franchise. They are also the now-defunct Southern Association's all-time winningest team. In 1962, the Crackers joined the Triple-A International League, where they won their last championship in 1962, when they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs (yes, the Maple Leafs) to win the Junior World Series.
- Ponce de Leon Park
The original Ponce de Leon Ball Park first welcomed the Atlanta Crackers on May 23, 1907. More than 8,000 people attended to welcome the Crackers to their new home. Costing $60,000 to build, the wooden stadium could accommodate about 9,000 fans. Prior to that, the Crackers played at various parks throughout the city.
On Sept. 9, 1923, the wooden stadium burned to the ground, destroying the team's uniforms, trophies and records. But a wealthy concessionaire named R. J. Spiller came to the team's rescue. Using $250,000 of his own money, Spiller rebuilt the park on a nearby piece of Ponce de Leon property across from a Sears & Roebuck warehouse building. The new park debuted in time for the 1924 season, and was widely hailed as the finest minor league stadium in the nation.
Spiller Field's grandstands could seat 9,000 people; there was enough room for 5,000 more people in the left and right field bleachers. The fence was 365 feet down the left field line; 321 to right; and a mammoth 462 feet from home plate to center field, where a giant magnolia tree stood.
Today, all that is left of Spiller Field (later called Ponce de Leon Ball Park) is the giant magnolia, a silent sentinel standing in tribute to the heroic past.