Monday, May 06, 2013

Play Ball: Baseball in Atlanta

“Before the Braves, the Crackers were our team.”—President Jimmy Carter

Today we have a guest post by award-winning journalist Tim Darnell.

With the recent Hollywood blockbuster film “42,” it’s easy to forget that, 64 years ago, another racial barrier was smashed in Atlanta.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers came to Atlanta in April 1949 to play a three-game exhibition series against the Atlanta Crackers. Rickey, the owner and GM of the Dodgers, and Earl Mann, owner and GM of the Crackers, were close friends, and both arranged the contest.

If the games went off, it would mark the first time in Atlanta history that blacks and whites would compete against each other in a professional sporting contest. The Ku Klux Klan, however, had other ideas.

Here’s an excerpt from THE CRACKERS: EARLY DAYS OF ATLANTA BASEBALL, that describes the event:

“The Klan’s Grand Dragon called Dad, threatening him if Robinson played here,” recalls Oreon Mann. “My father rarely ever angry, but, Lord, when he did … Well, after telling this Grand Dragon where to go, he called (then-police chief) Herbert Jenkins.

“The Klan called later again at the park, and Jenkins happened to be standing there when the call came in. Dad told the Grand Dragon that he was going to put Jenkins on the line, and told him to repeat his threats to the Atlanta police chief.

“We never heard from that Grand Dragon again.”

Learn more about this historic event in Atlanta history in Tim Darnell's THE CRACKERS: EARLY DAYS OF ATLANTA BASEBALL. Beginning in an era before traffic jams, air-conditioning, and Atlanta’s ascension to international fame, Tim Darnell chronicles the emergence of amateur and minor-league baseball in various forms in Atlanta from just after the Civil War through the rise of the Crackers (1901–65). THE CRACKERS is a light-hearted, fun, and engrossing history of a time, a people, and one very special centerfield magnolia tree whose stories are legend to this day.

“There has always been something very magical about the early days of minor-league baseball, and Darnell makes that magic come alive.”—Jim Huber, CNN/Sports Illustrated

Tim Darnell has written for numerous Atlanta sports and political publications. He is also the author of 101 Atlanta Sports Legends and The Georgia Tech Trivia Book.