Minor league baseball has been an integral part of Georgia’s history since the state’s first teams took the diamond in the 1880s. During the recorded history of baseball in Georgia, thirty-seven cities have participated in twelve organized minor leagues. Numerous independent leagues, sometimes called semipro or outlaw leagues, have operated teams in the state over the years. Some leagues, organized and otherwise, lasted only a short period, while others have stood the test of time.
Many great players got their professional baseball start in Georgia. Ty Cobb, a Georgia native, started his career in Augusta in 1904, at the age of seventeen. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson also played in Georgia with independent clubs in Americus and Waycross in the 1920s, after his banishment from organized baseball as part of the Chicago White Sox scandal of 1919. A host of others who made it to the major leagues started in or came through the state during their careers.
In 1885 the Southern League was formed with teams from Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, and Macon participating. This was the first organized baseball league to include teams from Georgia. Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as Birmingham, Alabama, also had teams in the league. The Atlanta team won the league title, finishing the season at the top of the standings. Augusta was second by only one game, and Macon finished fourth overall. Savannah entered the Southern League in 1886 as the fifth Georgia team to play in the league during its history.
The Southern League was never financially stable, and it went out of business in 1899. In late 1900 three businessmen began organizing another league to be called the Southern Association. The Southern Association’s first season was in 1901. No Georgia teams played, however, since the backing for the Atlanta team fell through, and the Selma, Alabama, team took Atlanta’s place. The Atlanta team joined the Southern Association for its second season, in 1902.
When class distinctions were determined for baseball’s minor leagues in 1902, the Southern Association was assigned to Class A, which was the highest level and just below major league. Other classifications were B, C, and D. By this time the Atlanta club, called the Crackers, was the only Georgia team left in the league, and it would remain the cornerstone of the circuit, dominating the league until the league’s demise in 1961.
South Atlantic League
In 1904 the South Atlantic League was formed with teams from Augusta, Macon, and Savannah representing Georgia. Also known as the Sally League, this loop comprised teams from the southeastern United States throughout its existence. Columbus first joined the league in 1909, and Albany began play in 1911. With the exception of Albany, these Georgia cities remain mainstays in the Sally League. Albany rejoined the league in 2002.
Starting with the Class C distinction, the Sally League moved up to B, then A, and was a Class AA club in 1963. Today, the league plays Class A baseball.
Georgia State League
The Georgia State League was founded in 1906 as the first Georgia-only minor league. Albany, Americus, Columbus, Cordele, Valdosta, and Waycross were the original participants of the Class D loop, directed by league president J. W. Thomas. The Columbus club moved its operations to Brunswick on June 25, and Americus and Valdosta both disbanded during the first week of July of the same year. A week later, the rest of the league folded, citing financial difficulties throughout the circuit.
An attempt was made to bring back the league in 1913 under the new name of the Empire State League, with Thomasville and Brunswick replacing Columbus and Albany. The league changed its name back to Georgia State League in 1914, and drastic changes occurred in 1915, when the league moved the Americus team to Gainesville, Florida. A team from Dothan, Alabama, was admitted to play that year, and the name of the circuit was changed to the FLAG (Florida-Alabama-Georgia) League.
When the league reorganized in 1920, it had moved its location from south Georgia to the northwest part of the state. Teams from Carrollton, Cedartown, Griffin, LaGrange, Lindale, and Rome played Class D ball in this circuit. This formation of the league played only briefly before disbanding in 1921.
In 1948 a new Class D league with the same name was organized. The cities of Baxley, Douglas, Eastman, Fitzgerald, Sparta, and Vidalia-Lyons made up the league the first year. Over subsequent years, Dublin, Hazlehurst, Jesup, Sandersville, Statesboro, Thomson, and Tifton would also play in the circuit. Douglas was the only team to play every year from 1948 until the league folded in 1956.
Founded in 1910, the Class D Southeastern League counted Rome as its only Georgia city for its first two years; Cedartown joined the league for one year in 1912. Both cities withdrew after the 1912 season. In 1926, when the league revamped and became Class B, Albany, Columbus, and Savannah joined. Waycross also participated for a year in 1927, and Macon joined for one season in 1932. The circuit lasted until 1950 with teams from most of the states in the Southeast; Macon and Columbus were the last Georgia cities to play in the league.
Rome played for the 1913 season in the Class D Appalachian League, which started in 1911 and had several stops and starts until its reorganization in 1963. The league continues to play baseball today at the rookie level. Throughout its history it has mainly comprised teams from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The Georgia-Alabama League first came into existence in 1913 with Georgia teams from LaGrange and Newnan and four teams from Alabama. Rome joined the circuit in 1914, and Griffin came on board in 1915. The league operated through the 1917 season, when it ceased operations; the league played in 1920-21 as the Georgia State League. The Georgia-Alabama League was rekindled in 1928 with Carrollton, Cedartown, and Lindale as the Georgia teams. The loop lasted for three seasons before the Great Depression caused it to fold in 1930.
In 1946 the Georgia-Alabama League reorganized once more, with Carrollton, Griffin, LaGrange, Newnan, and Rome participating until its final disbanding in 1951.
The short-lived Dixie League operated in Georgia from 1916 to 1917. The Class D circuit included mostly Georgia teams—Bainbridge, Moultrie, Quitman, Tifton, and Valdosta—along with Alabama teams from Dothan and Eufaula. The league came back in 1933 but was located in the southern Mississippi River area and had no teams from Georgia.
This four-team circuit played Class D baseball for only one season, in 1931. Augusta, the only Georgia city in the loop along with three South Carolina teams, was champion of the league. The league went defunct in midseason, citing financial difficulties.
In 1935 the Georgia-Florida League was organized, with Albany, Americus, Moultrie, and Thomasville representing Georgia. Tallahassee and Panama City made up the Florida part of the league and would be the only Florida cities ever to play in the league. Dothan, Alabama, was also admitted for the 1942 season.
The league survived through the 1958 season, only breaking its stride from 1943 through 1945 for World War II (1941-45). During this twenty-one-year run, Brunswick, Cordele, Cordele-Americus, Dublin, Fitzgerald, Tifton, Valdosta, and Waycross, along with the original four Georgia teams, played at least one year in the Class D circuit. Albany was the only team to play every year during this stretch.
In 1962 the Georgia-Florida League reorganized with four teams and played Class D ball. When Classes B, C, and D were eliminated in 1963, the league moved up to Class A baseball. This was the last year of operation for the Georgia-Florida League.
Two teams from Georgia had short stints in this out-of-state circuit. In 1955 and 1956 Donalsonville played in the league, and in 1958 Columbus spent a season in the Class D loop.
When the Southern Association disbanded in 1961, the Atlanta Crackers moved over to the International League and played Class AAA baseball, starting in 1962. In 1965 the Crackers played their last season in Atlanta in the new Atlanta