Professional baseball still missing from Middle Georgia

sports@macon.comJuly 22, 2013 

It’s another summer without professional baseball at Luther Williams Field. Not counting a couple of local leagues that have occasionally tried to fill the gap, Macon hasn’t had a minor league team of any kind since the Macon Music played in the independent South Coast League in the 2007 season, and we haven’t had an affiliated club since the Braves pulled up stakes and headed north to Rome -- where a new stadium awaited them -- in 2003.

Macon is not the only major city in the state that once had a team that is now without baseball. Columbus and Albany, which both have excellent stadiums, have a baseball void, as well.

The Peach State currently is the home of four minor-league teams. They include the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves that play in the International League, as well as the Rome Braves, the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Augusta Green Jackets, all members of the Single-A South Atlantic (Sally) League.

Macon, Albany and Columbus all had teams in the Sally League in the past.

Kudos to Warner Robins for looking at the possibility of building a new stadium in the International City with hopes of landing an affiliated team. A Warner Robins team would be a perfect fit for the Sally League, with three teams already in the state. It would be great if Warner Robins and Macon both fielded teams in that league. Can you imagine the rivalry?

Luther Williams Field has so much history, and it should be put back into use. A major renovation is needed, and, if accomplished, I am sure it would be an attractive site to relocate a team.

At one time in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Georgia had more than 20 minor-league teams, mostly Class D teams, with many of those in the Middle and South Georgia areas. The Georgia-Florida League played from 1935 through the 1958 season and was primarily made up of teams from Georgia. During the league’s 24-year run, they had teams in Albany, Americus, Cordele, Dublin, Fitzgerald, Moultrie, Thomasville, Tifton and Valdosta. Only Panama City and Tallahassee represented Florida.

The Georgia State League operated from 1948 through the 1956 season and included teams in Dublin, Eastman, Fitzgerald, Hazelhurst/Baxley, Sandersville, Sparta, Vidalia/Lyons, Jesup, Statesboro, Thomson, Tifton and Douglas. It was not uncommon for teams to play in the Georgia-Florida League one season and the Georgia State League the next.

The Georgia-Alabama league, which was in operation from 1946-1951, consisted of teams in western Georgia and eastern Alabama, including Rome, Carrollton, Newnan, LaGrange and Griffin, along with Opelika, Valley, Alexander City and Tallassee, Ala.

All three leagues played approximately 130 games each season and used basically the same operating principles. As an example, the Georgia-Florida League in 1951 limited roster size to 17 players per team with a monthly payroll of $2,600.

Plenty of fans came out to see the games. During the 1949 season, Dublin, playing in the Georgia State League, attracted more than 62,000 spectators.

The Class D leagues produced some outstanding players and managers, as well. Among them was Willie McCovey, who led the Georgia State League in RBI with 113 while playing for the Sandersville Giants in 1955. He went on to a 22-year major league career, mostly with the San Francisco Giants, finishing with a .270 career batting average and 521 home runs. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.

Hall of Fame skipper Earl Weaver, who died in January, managed Fitzgerald in 1957 and held the same spot with Dublin in 1958. He went on to become manager of the Baltimore Orioles and guided them to a World Series championship in 1970. Weaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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