Book Review: Baseball In Atlanta
Many people assume that the history of baseball in Atlanta began in 1966 with the Braves' arrival from Milwaukee. However, the truth is that the sport’s origin in Atlanta began nearly a century before that. Baseball in Atlanta explores the more than 125 years of America’s game through words and archival photos.
Baseball’s true origins in the city began in the 1880s with the introduction of the sport through social organizations of the era. Teams were created through different towns, businesses, and professions as a way to use sports as a way to build camaraderie between workers, neighborhoods, and schools. These were all amateur leagues, where the goal was not financial gain, but for the purposes of getting healthy exercise and friendly competition.
Atlanta was still a very small town in the 1800s, but by the turn of the century its growth as a manufacturing and business center had begun. Many of the factories and mills began forming industrial teams and leagues as a perk for their workers, who were otherwise working for meager wages. Companies saw it as a way to compete with other similar organizations in a similar field, beyond just the sales floor. Soon professions such as firemen, lawyers and organizations such as schools were added to the mix.
The earliest school team recorded in Atlanta was at Georgia Tech. Its’ coach was John Heisman, who was much more famous for coaching the football team and would later be honored through the naming of college football’s top award in his honor. The South was totally segregated at that time, but baseball saw no color line. Soon a league was formed within the black colleges that were a part of the Atlanta University complex.
The first paid, or professional sports team in Atlanta was the Atlanta Crackers in the 1920s. They would play baseball against other regional cities such as Chattanooga, Montgomery, Jacksonville, and Birmingham. The team played in a number of stadiums over its history, with Ponce de Leon Park becoming its permanent home. Over time, the Crackers became a minor league powerhouse, winning more than 17 Southern League/Southern Association. They became known as “The Yankees of the Minor Leagues”. The Bronx Bombers themselves visited Atlanta on their way back north after the completion of spring training. Ruth, Gehrig, and Mantle all played in Ponce de Leon Park at some point during their careers.
Like most cities in the South, Atlanta was still a segregated society. Soon a Black Crackers team was organized and played on its own circuit. It also played at Ponce de Leon, but it played there only when the Crackers were playing out of town. It was actually the Brooklyn Dodgers who broke the color line. The Dodgers arrived in Atlanta in 1949, bringing Jackie Robinson with them. There was great interest in his story, and both the white and black communities wanted to see him play. However, city leaders were worried that a race riot might ensue if the two races were mixed. However, the game was played before a crowd of both black and white fans, becoming the first integrated game in the Deep South. The game was played with no violence occurring.
The 1960s saw Atlanta become the business center of the South, and city leaders saw professional sports as a way to gain more attention nationwide. They actively began to recruit teams to the Atlanta area. They even had a stadium built before they even had a team to play in it. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was built in 53 weeks at a cost of $18 million. It looked like at first the Kansas City Athletics would move to Atlanta, but when that fell through, the Milwaukee Braves moved to the city and the new stadium, which would become their home for the next 30 years. The stars in the early years were Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Joe Torre.
These were not the pennant contending of current years, as the 1960s and 1970s produced some awful years. The lone bright spot in those early years was Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s HR record with #715. The team almost was sold to another city, but Ted Turner of broadcasting fame bought the team and used it as a marketing tool for his fledgling cable TV network. Atlanta was suddenly America’s Team, favored by fans throughout the country who could only receive the Braves games on TV.
The Braves finally grew much better, and notched several appearances in the World Series, finally winning it all in 1995, defeating the Cleveland Indians in an exciting six-game series. It would be several years before the team began its long streak of divisional and league titles. In 1996 the Braves moved across the street to their new home, Turner Field. Their new stadium had served as the Olympic Games stadium for the 1996 Olympic Games. Though they won several titles in Turner Field, they would never win a World Series in that stadium.
The book was published before the Braves' 2021 World Series victory and their move into Truist Park. We’ve only covered a brief overview of the content in the book. It is filled with hundreds of photos detailing the history of baseball in Atlanta. The book also offers up great stories about the many top players, managers, and personalities that have been a part of baseball lore in the city. It is a great read for any fan of baseball in the South.