The Atlanta Crackers were one of professional baseball’s most successful minor league franchises. From 1901 until 1965 they won seventeen league championships—more than any other team in organized baseball except the New York Yankees. National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Luke Appling and Eddie Mathews started their careers with the Crackers, as did players Tommie Aaron, Tim McCarver, and Chuck Tanner, as well as announcers Skip Carey and Ernie Harwell.
The origin of the nickname “Crackers” is unknown. Cracker was once a derogatory term for a poor white southerner, but it was also used to denote someone quick and efficient at any task. One theory is that the team was named after local farmers who cracked whips over oxen and horses. Another theory is that the name originated from the city’s previous team, the Firecrackers.
The Atlanta Crackers joined the Southern Association in 1902 under the leadership of Charles Abner Powell, a colorful and innovative executive and creator of the “rain check” and “ladies’ day” at the ballpark. Over the following decades the Crackers played as a Class A1, AA, and AAA team for several major league organizations, including the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, and St. Louis Cardinals.
At different times the Crackers were owned by Georgia Railway and Electric Company (later Georgia Power Company), the city of Atlanta, the Coca-Cola Company, and Earl Mann, who was also general manager for several decades. In their early years the team played at various ballparks throughout the city, but from 1907 until 1965 Ponce de Leon Ballpark was its home.
The Crackers won more league championships than any other Southern Association team. The Crackers twice won the Dixie Series, which pitted the Southern Association champion against the top team from the Texas League. Finishing with the Southern Association’s best record, winning its play-off series to capture the pennant, and winning the Dixie Series was a feat called “hitting the Southern Association’s grand slam,” which the Crackers did twice (in 1938 and 1954), more often than any other team in the league.
At the end of World War II (1941-45) the Southern Association saw record attendance, as did most of professional baseball. In 1946 the league drew 1.8 million fans, which far surpassed the previous high of 1.35 million in 1925. Atlanta drew 395,699 fans in 1946, breaking all other league records, including its own record of 330,795 in 1935. The following year, league attendance reached 2.1 million, and the Crackers again led the league with 404,584.
The team and its ballpark were segregated, but in 1949 the Crackers made history when they played against Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers in a three-game exhibition series. The final game on April 10, 1949, drew an all-time Ponce de Leon crowd of 25,221, including 13,885 black fans. The Crackers won one of the three games, and the series marked the first time in Atlanta history that blacks and whites competed against each other in a professional sports event.
The Crackers traveled by bus to play in Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee; otherwise they traveled by rail, in “cattle cars,” as the players called them, often with no air conditioning. Players wore thick flannel uniforms throughout the season, even during hot summer afternoon games.
By the late 1950s Atlanta was becoming a metropolis. The team’s fan base dwindled with the growing availability of television, air conditioning, and other entertainment options in the city. The Crackers’ final championship came in 1962, when, as a franchise in the Triple A International League, they won the Junior World Series. In 1965 the team played out its final season in the newly constructed Atlanta Stadium. The franchise disbanded in 1966, when the Braves relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta.