In the early 1900’s, Atlanta was home to a minor league baseball team that played at a baseball park located along Ponce de Leon Avenue. The team was named the Atlanta Crackers and the ballpark was unimaginatively named Ponce de Leon Ballpark. Locals, however, referred to it simply as Ponce Park.
The original ballpark, made entirely of wood, burned down in 1923 and a much nicer one, built from concrete and steel, took its place the next year. It was, by all accounts, a very nice ballpark with room for around 20,000 people, if one included standing room.
Without question, the most unique feature of the ballpark was the large Magnolia tree that grew in center field. According to league rules, any ball hit into the tree was considered “in play.” and, in fact, both Babe Ruth and Eddie Mathews hit home run balls into that tree.
One particular bit of City of Atlanta history became a part of baseball legend when, in 1948, the Atlanta Crackers were part of what is probably the most unusual trade in baseball history. It was a deal brokered by legendary Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey and it is the subject of this week’s Stories of Atlanta.
Another interesting and well-told story, Lance. I loved Ponce De Leon park. It was a great place to watch a ball game, mainly because of how close the seats were to the field.
Wish it was still there!
I tell the story of the trade of Ernie Harwell for Cliff Dapper during my Arboretum Eastside Beltline Tour for Trees Atlanta. The trade was needed because Dodger announcer, Red Barber, became ill that summer, and could not continue his duties. But the trade had larger and implications ( and I continue the story during the tour). In 1950 Ernie left the Dodgers for their nemesis the New York Giants. Harwell occupied the broadcasting booth in 1951 when Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard Around the World.,” a bottom of the ninth, 3-run home run in the third game of a playoff between the Bums and the Giants.
Let’s go forward to 1954, Ernie signs on to be an announcer for the Orioles first year in Baltimore. In the meantime, Bobby Thompson gets traded from the Giants to the Milwaukee Braves and joins the Braves in Florida during spring training. However, Thompson injures his ankle and the Braves must call up another outfielder.
The Atlanta Crackers playing in the segregated Southern Association had no black players, except a chap, Nat Peeples, was called up to play on opening day for the Crackers against the Bears in Mobile. Peeples did not perform well and was sent down to the Braves affiliate in Jacksonville (Sally League). There were two other black players down in Jacksonville: Felix Mantilla landed at AAA Toledo that year, and the other, Hank Aaron was called up to the Bigs to replace Bobby Thompson. Funny how all those pieces fit together!!!
@Rich Sussman Thanks so much for that awesome contribution to the Harwell story. Stories of Atlanta are snacks, little media bites that we hope will fuel the appetite for larger discussions about how Atlanta got to where it is today. After reading your Hank Aaron story, I feel like your Eastside Beltline Tour is definitely something I need to experience.
Have very much enjoyed your videos, Mr Russell. As an Atlanta native (Crawford Long Hospital-1949…..now many years removed from my hometown and state)…… I recall visits to old Poncey Park a few times as a kid to watch the Crackers in action. (Careful to not get stuck behind one of those obstructing iron girders that held up the canopy.) There is an old joke about how the ‘longest’ homerun in the history of the game was hit one night at the old park. It seems that a player, whose name is forgotten to history, smashed a tremendous drive that sailed high over the outfielder’s heads and zoomed right into the open door of a passing boxcar on the Southern Railway, which passed by the outfield on the ‘beltline’, and “didn’t stop rolling till Birmingham”. On a more truthful note, long time baseball TV announcer (and SL Cardinal catcher) Tim McCarver was , for a very short time, one of the Crackers. He played the 1962 season at Poncey and batted .275 for the year. I believe the stately old magnolia tree may still be there…..albeit behind some retail stores. There may be a plaque.
@Greg The player was Bob Montag:
Leave a comment