The Atlanta Crackers (distinct from the Atlanta Black Crackers) were minor league baseball teams based in Atlanta, Georgia between 1901 and 1965. The Crackers were Atlanta's home team until the Atlanta Braves moved from Milwaukee in 1966.
For sixty years (until 1961), the Crackers were part of the Class AA Southern Association, a period during which they won more games than any other Association team, earning the nickname the "Yankees of the Minors". In 1962, the Association disbanded. The former Miami Marlins, a Class AAA International League team that had spent 1961 playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Charleston, West Virginia, moved to Atlanta and adopted the name "Crackers."
The Crackers played in Ponce de Leon Park from 1907 until a fire on September 9, 1923 destroyed the all-wood stadium. Spiller Field (a stadium later also called Ponce de Leon Park), became their home starting in the 1924 season; it was named in honor of a wealthy businessman who paid for the new concrete-and-steel stadium. That new park was unusual because it was constructed around a magnolia tree that became part of the outfield. Balls landing in the tree remained in play, until Earl Mann took over the team in 1947 and had the outfield wall moved in about fifty feet. The Crackers played their last season in the newly-built Atlanta Stadium (later known as Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium) .
The Crackers were independent of major league farm systems until 1950. They then became a AA affiliate of the Boston/Milwaukee Braves (1950-58) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1959-61) during the last decade of the Southern Association's existence. As an International League team, they were the top affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals (1962-63), Minnesota Twins (1964) and the Braves again (1965). The team then played in Richmond, Virginia in the International League as the Braves' Class AAA farm team, the Richmond Braves through the 2008 season. The team moved to newly built Coolray Field in Buford, Georgia in Gwinnett County, Georgia (northeast of Atlanta) in 2009 and now plays as the Gwinnett Braves, thus marking a homecoming of sorts. The close proximity of the Class AAA and MLB clubs makes for a near zero delay when players are called up or sent down.
There are several theories as to the origin of the word cracker:
- The pejorative cracker, a racist term for southern whites, is the most obvious association. However, it raises a question as to why a Negro League ball club would have called itself "Black Crackers".
- The most popular theory today is that name comes from the sound of whips used to drive cattle and oxen and people. Florida and Georgia cattlemen cracked whips to flush their stock out of the scrub while settlers used whips to spur on oxen that pulled their carts and wagons (see Cracker Country). However, given the racial connotations of whip-cracking slave owners, this theory is also problematic for the Negro League team.
- The term Georgia cracker specifically has less racially-charged connotation relating to the original setters of Georgia.
- The word comes from the practice of "corncracking" or grinding dried corn for use as grits and meal, as in the lyrics of the folk song Blue Tailed Fly, "Jimmy crack corn."
- It could be a reference to a then-colloquial term for someone who is quick and smart, a variant on "Cracker Jack ballplayer", for example.
Famous members of the team included:
- Luke Appling a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who later played for the Chicago White Sox
- Art Fowler, longtime major league pitcher and pitching coach
- Lloyd Gearhart, who later played with the New York Giants
- Eddie Mathews, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, later the only man to play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta
- Tim McCarver, who went on to become a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals
- Bob Montag, who hit 113 home runs, the most of any Cracker and the second-most in Association history
- Ollie O'Mara, shortstop for the Brooklyn Robins and one-time oldest living Brooklyn Dodger.
- Nat Peeples, the only African-American player in the Southern Association
- Paul Richards, a catcher and then catcher-manager with the Crackers in the 1930s who became a major league manager with the Chicago White Sox (1951-54, 1976) and Baltimore Orioles (1955-61) and general manager with the Orioles (1955-58), Houston Colt .45s/Astros (1961-65) and Atlanta Braves (1966-72)
- Chuck Tanner, who is better known as the manager of four different major league teams during the 1970s and 1980s
- Ralph "Country" Brown (1947-52), member of the 1950 Southern Association championship team, later played for the Chattanooga Lookouts (1952-57)
In addition, famed major league play-by-play announcer Ernie Harwell called Cracker games on the radio from 1943 to 1949 before being traded to Brooklyn Dodgers for catcher Cliff Dapper, the only time an announcer has been traded for a player.