Throwback: Ponce De Leon Ball Park

If you’re a true Atlanta native you might have heard your grandpa tell stories about a baseball team that packed out a ballpark before “Sid Slid” and the Braves finally started winning games in ’91. The Atlanta Crackers were one of minor league baseballs most successful franchises from 1901 until 1965. The team’s name sounds racially charged, but it’s believed to be derived from the previous clubs handle, the Firecrackers. Not to mention, Atlanta’s negro team was called the Black Crackers.

These teams played at the Ponce De Leon Ball Park, known as “Old Poncey” to fans. The first stadium they built in 1907 was wooden, unfortunately it burned down in 1923. Thankfully, the owner of the concession stands was quite wealthy and funded the rebuild of the ball park. This time using steel and concrete, construction was completed in less than a year.

The new stadium was called “the most magnificent park in the minor leagues!”. More than 20,000 fans could attend games, those fortunate enough to get tickets in the grandstands could actually sit in bolted down seats opposed to the old wooden benches at the previous establishment.

One peculiar detail about the park was that a rather large Magnolia tree was located in the outfield. For whatever reason, they never cut it down and even had ground rules that applied to the hardwood. One major league pre-season, Babe Ruth actually came to town with the New York Yankees. Naturally, he’s one of the only two players that ever hit an inside-the-park home run straight into the Magnolia tree.

In 1961, As Ivan Allen was running for mayor, his campaign promised to build a modern sports facility to lure professional teams to Atlanta. After he won the election he chose to build the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Turner Field’s parking lot is currently located. In early ’64 the Braves agreed to move from Milwaukee to Atlanta. The stadium was completed a year later, the same year Atlanta won a new NFL expansion team, the Falcons.

With Atlanta becoming a professional sporting city it brought the unfortunate demise of the Atlanta Crackers. They finished out the ’65 season at the newly built stadium, but disbanded when the Braves arrived to start their first pennant race as southerners the following year.

Now with no team to play in “Old Poncey”, there wasn’t a need to keep the archaic Ball Park around anymore. It was was taking up valuable commercial space. Following suit the ball park was demolished in ’66 as well.

Oddly enough, the only reminder on the premises that Ponce De Leon Ball Park ever stood where Whole Foods and an eye sore of other retail stores are now located, is that the Magnolia tree still stands to this day.

The plaque located below the Magnolia reads:

Ponce De Leon ball park

Here on these grounds at Ponce De Leon Ball Park the Atlanta Crackers and the Atlanta Black Crackers began a tradition of baseball championship and athletic excellence which set the high standard for the baseball we enjoy in Atlanta now.

The Atlanta Crackers, known as “the Yankees of the minors” were led by Luke Appling, Eddie Mathews, Bob Montag, Ralph “Country” Brown, and many others. For many years they were owned and operated by “Mr. Atlanta Baseball” Earl Mann, who rose from peanut vendor to owner. Mann led Atlanta in becoming a major league city, and was instrumental in bringing the Braves to Atlanta.

The Atlanta Black Crackers fielded many of black baseball’s superstars including Norman “Geronimo” Lumpkin, James “Red” Moore, James “Gabby” Kemp and Vinicus (Nish) Williams. The Rev. John and Billie Hardened owned the Atlanta Black Crackers for many years and the team played on these grounds when the White Crackers were away.

Atlanta Moment In Time,

Preserved by
The Native Atlantans Club, Inc.
May 2004

With the cooperation of Whole Foods Market

Photo Credit: Tim Song(Top & Bottom Picture)