Atlanta Crackers

The Atlanta Crackers (distinct from the Atlanta Black Crackers) were minor league baseball teams based in Atlanta, Georgia between 1901 and 1965. The Crackers were Atlanta's home team until the Atlanta Braves moved from Milwaukee in 1966. [http://www.geocities.com/big_bunko/total.htm]

For sixty years (until 1961), the Crackers were part of the Class AA Southern Association, a period during which they won more games than any other Association team, earning the nickname the "Yankees of the Minors"http://www.atlantacracker.com/team.htm] . In 1962, after the Association disbanded [http://dev.ngerr.gsu.edu/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-838 New Georgia Encyclopedia: Minor League Baseball ] ] , a Class AAA International League team moved to Atlanta and adopted the name "Crackers."

The Crackers played in Ponce de Leon Park from 1907 until a fire on September 9, 1923 destroyed the all-wood stadium [ [http://dev.ngerr.gsu.edu/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2475 New Georgia Encyclopedia: Ponce de Leon Ballpark ] ] . Spiller Field (a stadium later also called Ponce de Leon Park), became their home starting in the 1924 season; it was named in honor of a wealthy businessman who paid for the new concrete-and-steel stadiumhttp://www.atlantacracker.com/stadium.htm] . That new park was unusual because it was constructed around a magnolia tree that became part of the outfield. Balls landing in the tree remained in play, until Earl Mann took over the team in 1947 and had the outfield wall moved in about fifty feet [ [http://www.ajc.com/living/content/living/0403/25tree.html Tree stands as link to city's baseball roots] , an April 25, 2003 article from "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution"] . The Crackers played their last season in the newly-built Atlanta Stadium (later known as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium) .

The Crackers were independent of major league farm systems until 1950. In their final decade and a half, they were affiliated with the Braves of both Boston and Milwaukee (1950-58), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959-61), St. Louis Cardinals (1962-63), Minnesota Twins (1964), and, in their final season as the Crackers, they were the top farm team of the big-league Atlanta Braves, playing a lame-duck season in Milwaukee under court order. This team now plays in Richmond, Virginia in the International League as the Braves' Class AAA farm team, the Richmond Braves. However, plans are underway for the Richmond Braves to move to Buford, Georgia (northeast of Atlanta) in 2009 under the name Gwinnett Braves (after the county of location), thus marking a homecoming of sorts if the transition goes forward as planned.

Origin of the team's name

The origins of the team's name are unknown, according to Tim Darnell, who wrote The Crackers: Early Days of Atlanta Baseball [The Crackers: Early Days of Atlanta Baseball (Athens, GA: Hill Street Press, 2003) by Tim Darnell http://hillstreetpress.com/Crackers.html] . He cited three theories during a talk before a University of Georgia audience in 2002 [ [http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/072602/uga_20020726012.shtml OnlineAthens: UGALife: Russell Research Library continues series 'Legends of the Dead Ball Era' 07/26/02 ] ] :
*It may have been a shortened version of the name of a 19th century professional baseball team, the Atlanta Firecrackers.
*It may have come from the pejorative for poor, uneducated white Southerners, often specifically Georgians, and with equally obscure etymology.
*It could be a reference to a then-colloquial term for someone who is quick and smart, a variant on "Cracker Jack ballplayer", for example.

While the "Georgia cracker" is the most obvious association, it raises a question as to why a Negro League ball club would have called itself "Black Crackers". Georgia history books once explained that stagecoach and wagon drivers, using whips to speed up their teams, would often respond "I'm a cracker from Georgia" when asked of their origin. This usage, extending to post-Civil War years, would have crossed racial lines and would not have had any derogatory connotation.

Well-known players

Famous members of the team included:
* Luke Appling a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who later played for the Chicago White Sox
* Art Fowler, longtime major league pitcher and pitching coach
* Lloyd Gearhart, who later played with the New York Giants
* Eddie Mathews, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, later the only man to play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta
* Tim McCarver, who went on to become a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals
* Bob Montag, who hit 113 home runs, the most of any Cracker and the second-most in Association history [ [http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2800 New Georgia Encyclopedia: Bob Montag (1923-2005) ] ]
* Nat Peeples, the only African-American player in the Southern Association
* Paul Richards, a catcher and then catcher-manager with the Crackers in the 1930s who became a major league manager with the Chicago White Sox (1951-54, 1976) and Baltimore Orioles (1955-61) and general manager with the Orioles (1955-58), Houston Colt .45s/Astros (1961-65) and Atlanta Braves (1966-72)
* Chuck Tanner, who is better known as the manager of four different major league teams during the 1970s and 1980s

In addition, famed major league play-by-play announcer Ernie Harwell called Cracker games on the radio from 1943 to 1949 before being traded to Brooklyn Dodgers for catcher Cliff Dapper, the only time an announcer has been traded for a player.

References


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