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Posted: April 15, 2014 6:21 p.m.

Negro League team finds home in Atlanta

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The Atlanta Black Crackers Negro League baseball team became the first baseball team in Atlanta to win a championship, capturing the 1938 second-half pennant in the Negro American League.

A baseball team named the Black Crackers may draw laughs and snickers today, but in the 1930s, the name struck fear into opposing teams throughout the southeast.

As the first championship baseball team in Atlanta, the Black Crackers have etched themselves in not only Negro League history, but in baseball lore.

Legendary first baseman Red Moore helped put the team on the map in 1938, leading the Atlanta squad to its first title in the team’s 20-year existence.

Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said that while the team had a brief stint in Atlanta, its impact was felt for decades after.

“A lot of people do get a chuckle out of the name, but one of the things that Negro League teams did when they moved into a city that had an existing white team was add ‘blank’ to the team’s name,” Kendrick said. “Atlanta had the Crackers, so you add black to it, and you have the name.

“It was a code to show that they were a professional-level team,” he said. “While we look at it as an oxymoronic name today, it showed that they were at the top level of baseball.”

Kendrick said the Black Crackers were a team that saw success in Atlanta, despite feelings in the south towards integration.

“They had a pretty good run for a while,” Kendrick said. “They existed off and on in the city and played in Ponce de Leon Park and Perry Stadium. While they weren’t always located in Atlanta, most of their success came in the city, including their run to a second-half pennant in 1938. Some of their former players, like Red Moore, were recognized as great players even back then and have done a lot for the game of baseball.”

The Black Crackers’ history begins with the founding of the team in 1919 as an independent before joining the Negro Southern League in 1920. The Atlanta team stayed in the league for 17 years, splitting time with their white counterparts, the Atlanta Crackers.

In 1938 the team was invited to play in the Negro American League, a newly formed organization created in 1937 that included teams from Birmingham, Chicago, Saint Louis and the well-known Kansas City Monarchs. Atlanta won the second-half pennant that season, going 21-14 overall. The Black Crackers played the Memphis Red Sox, who won the first-half pennant that season, in a contested playoff, but the two teams played just a pair of games and the rest of the series was canceled by the league president due to game cancelation conflicts.

After the 1938 season, the Atlanta Black Crackers were moved to Indianapolis. The team returned to Atlanta in 1940 and rejoined the Negro Southern League before finishing out its history as an independent. The team disbanded in 1952 following Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color barrier 1947.

“When we look at baseball today and we reflect on Jackie Robinson, we remember his courageous nature and the steps he took to integrate the game,” Kendrick said. “We have to remember though that without teams like the Atlanta Black Crackers and the Negro Leagues, we wouldn’t have had Jackie Robinson. We wouldn’t have had one of our greatest heroes.”

Kendrick said that Robinson’s act not only impacted the game, but American society as well.

“He affected not only the way the game is played, but it changed our country,” he said. “That’s what we try to remind people every single day in our museum. It’s a part of our country’s story that not only affects sports, but our daily lives.”

While the Black Crackers’ may be just a part of Georgia’s history today, one of its former players has made sure that history still lives on.

At 97-years-old, Moore still represents the Black Crackers at Major League Baseball functions, reminding current players and fans that the game’s history is still alive and well, long after Robinson broke down baseball’s color barrier.

For more information on the Atlanta Black Crackers and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, visit nlbm.com.

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