Bobby Pope

Georgia-Georgia Tech once called Luther Williams Field home

By BOBBY POPE

wmarshall@macon.com

Georgia and Georgia Tech play the final game of this year’s three-game baseball series Tuesday night at Turner Field. The Bulldogs won the first two games, taking a 3-2 win April 12 in Atlanta and a 13-5 win April 26 in Athens. The teams have met at the Braves’ major league park since 2003, averaging about 20,000 fans per game.

There was a time that Georgia Tech and Georgia met annually at Luther Williams Field, thanks to the efforts of the late Bob Bonifay. Bonifay, who served as the Macon Peaches’ general manager, back in the early 1960s when Pete Rose, Tommy Helms, Art Shamsky and Tony Perez played, was a promoter extraordinaire. He was a good friend of Georgia Tech head coach Jim Luck, and Bonifay also had three sons to play at Georgia Tech, (Ken, Brannon and Cam), and I am sure that helped him to get the games in Macon.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets met on an annual basis at Luther Williams from 1968 through 1979 with the Yellow Jackets winning seven of the 12 meetings.

The first Macon contest came in May of the 1968 season, and 5,255 fans packed into Luther Williams Field to see the game. The Georgia Tech-Georgia crowd attracted 1,529 more fans than the Atlanta Braves-Philadelphia Phillies game that same night in Atlanta. Tickets were $1 each for general admission and $1.50 for reserved seats.

Mayor Ronnie Thompson threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game, which was played for the benefit of youth baseball in Macon. That first Macon meeting turned out to be a pitchers duel between Georgia Tech’s Phil Hudson and Georgia’s Doug Tucker. Hudson allowed just three hits as the Yellow Jackets took a 1-0 win. The lone run came in the bottom of the first. Ken Bonifay walked to lead off the game, went to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a single by Ronnie King. Hudson was also the hero in 1969. He had a no-hitter through eight innings only to give up five hits and two runs in the ninth inning of a 9-2 Georgia Tech victory.

Georgia got its first win in Macon in 1970 taking a 7-2 decision. The biggest crowd during the 12-year span of 6,131 saw the Yellow Jackets take a 3-1 win in 10 innings in 1971. Former Lanier standout Brannon Bonifay had the game-winning single. It also took 10 innings the following season for the Yellow Jackets to eek out a 2-1 victory, and Georgia Tech won again in 1973, 3-2. Another Lanier product, Jimmy Turner, was the star in 1974, hitting a solo homer to break a tie game as the Bulldogs won 5-3. Former Windsor standout Jerry Bass gave up seven runs in the first three innings but went the distance as the Yellow Jackets outslugged Georgia 9-8 in 1975. Johnny Henderson, who played at Mount de Sales, drove in the winning run in the 14th to give Georgia a 6-5 victory in 1976. In the most-lopsided game between the rivals, Georgia crushed Georgia Tech 12-1 in 1977 and then made it three straight, claiming a 3-2 win in 1978. In the final game played in Macon in 1979, Georgia Tech won 9-6.

Macon was well-represented on the two teams during the time the games were played at Luther Williams. In addition to the Bonifay brothers, other local players on the Georgia Tech roster included Dennis Davis, Frank Turner, Bass, Mike Tarver and Billy Meeks while Mike Harrelson, Andy Durden, Tim Jackson, Gary Hutcheson, Duck Hatcher, Henderson, Turner and Billy Kilgore played for Georgia.

Both Georgia and Georgia Tech played in Macon this year. Georgia defeated Mercer 7-6 in 10 innings and Georgia Tech edged the Bears 6-5 in games played at Claude Smith Field. Mercer got revenge in Athens against the Bulldogs, winning 3-2, and in Atlanta against the Yellow Jackets, taking a 9-8 decision.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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