BABE RUTH WAS HERE map
Baseball is America’s game and the game we Atlantans support more and better than any other professional sport. Long before Hank Aaron and the Braves flew South from Milwaukee, there were teams here, and they played at Ponce De Leon Park (AKA Spiller Field) in East Atlanta.
The park was torn down in favor of a parking lot (good call) shortly after Atlanta Stadium (AKA Atlanta Fulton County Stadium) was built in 1962. The distinguishing feature of Ponce De Leon Park is that it was built around a large Magnolia Tree, which for much of its history was in the field itself in very deep right center (when they moved the fences in it stood outside the stadium. All that remains of the field is that majestic magnolia, and it resides stoically behind the Borders, Whole Foods, and Home Depot at Midtown Place across from City Hall East. According to project ballpark, the tree in these photos is that tree, the Atlanta Baseball Tree.
The field was the home to the Atlanta Crackers from 1907-62. They were one of the best teams in the AA Southern Association, winning more games than any other team in the league. I understand that the team was huge in Atlanta, and is understood by reading Lewis Grizzard and the like. The team included players like future hall of famers, Luke Appling and Eddie Matthews, and also had players like broadcaster (and Steve Carlton’s Catcher) Tim McCarver and Manager Chuck Tanner.
It was also the home to the Atlanta Black Crackers (when the white Crackers were out of town) who won the second half of the 1938 Negro Leagues. The Championship that year versus the Memphis Red Sox was canceled for some reason after two games (Atlanta was down 2 games to none). I wish I new more about the Negro Leagues (As a kid I played football at the same stadium the Leland Giants played on years before), but I don’t. Players on that team included: Nat Peeples (The only black ballplayer to play in the Southern Association), Roy Welmaker, James “Red” Moore, Babe Davis, Don Pelham, Joe “Pig” Dixon, Felix “Chin” Evens, and Twelosh Howard, Pee Wee Butts, and Gabby Kemp (who played and managed the team). Negro League superstar Chico Renfroe reportedly started with the Black Crackers as a batboy.
The Tree is significant for another reason. Hitting a ball into the tree was considered a monumental task being about 450 feet from home plate. Only two players ever did it. The previously mentioned Cracker Eddie Matthews was one. The other player was the Immortal Babe Ruth, in an exhibition game vs. the Crackers. Or at least that’s the story I heard. So we have a tree that the greatest slugger in the history of the game rocked one off its leaves right in the heart of the city, and no one cares. I just thought it should be remembered.
I went back there to take these pictures. There was no plaque commemorating the site. There was sign saying “No Loitering or Trespassing,” so if you go to this place, be respectful. It is on semi-public land, namely a strip mall, so there should be no significant problems.
In response to request: here's one online old photo, you can clearly see the Ford Plant (now City Hall), the tree is in the bottom right corner approaching the traintracks. Photo found on Cycling.Jettmarks.com (an Atlanta Cycling Site)