SABR

Spring Training in Georgia: The Yannigans Are Coming!

By William F. Ross III

This article was published in the 2010 The National Pastime.

From the beginning of professional baseball in the nineteenth century and continuing through the first decades of the twentieth, Georgia was a popular site for major-league spring training. Between 1871 and 1953, more than 20 major-league baseball franchises from 14 cities held their spring training in the state (see table 1).1 When minor-league squads are included, well over 100 different teams worked out on Peach State diamonds between 1871 and 1966. The heyday for major-league spring training in the state was from 1902 to 1917, with an average of five to six major-league teams visiting each year, at a time when there were only 16 such teams. The minor leagues came to Georgia in large numbers in later years, operating out of multiteam training camps from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. Boston (NL), New York (AL), Philadelphia (NL), and Detroit (AL) were the most frequent major-league spring guests. Augusta, Macon, and Savannah were the most popular training sites, closely followed by Athens, Atlanta, Columbus, and Thomasville. Beyond acting as host to teams, the state has a prominent role in the history of preseason practice. Spring training as we think of it today—an intense, multiweek period of practice, instruction, and games—was “born” in Macon, Georgia. 

Red Sox in Macon, 1904: Members of the Boston Red Sox mix with locals in Macon during spring training in 1904. Players are, from right to left, unidentified, Lou Criger, two unidentified players, Hobe Ferris, unidentified, Chick Stahl, Jimmy Collins, and Long Tom Hughes. Candy LaChance (with mustache) is at the top of the photo. (BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY, PRINT DEPARTMENT, MCGREEVEY COLLECTION)Red Sox in Macon, 1904: Members of the Boston Red Sox mix with locals in Macon during spring training in 1904. Players are, from right to left, unidentified, Lou Criger, two unidentified players, Hobe Ferris, unidentified, Chick Stahl, Jimmy Collins, and Long Tom Hughes. Candy LaChance (with mustache) is at the top of the photo. (BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY, PRINT DEPARTMENT, MCGREEVEY COLLECTION)

In general, the evolution of spring training in the South took place in three stages. Spring training in its first and shortest-lived form was a series of exhibition games played by one team that began in a Southern city and worked its way north toward the team’s home city. This Southern jaunt was the norm for major league baseball’s earliest visits to the South in the nineteenth century. 

The second stage of development, coinciding with the turn of the century, was the move toward spending a longer period of time practicing in one location, including exhibition games on site, followed by more games on the way home. At first, these visits involved a couple of weeks of “warm-up” before the exhibition tour, but they soon evolved into longer, more focused training sessions. 

The final stage of spring-training development was the establishment of permanent locations for training, with contracted annual return visits and a schedule of local exhibition games. Spring training in Georgia encompassed the first two of these stages but failed to make the transition to semipermanent training sites, at least at the major-league level. This failure was not due to a lack of vision. Better weather and stronger local promotion—including the willingness to construct facilities at the host city’s expense—proved to be the successful mix that ultimately put Florida ahead of the Peach State. 

Professional baseball’s earliest visits to the South were not what we would consider today to be spring training. The Southern city was simply a starting point for an exhibition tour, not a location for any extended workouts. The team might be in the city a few days as players made their way there, and, once assembled, the club would kick off the exhibition schedule with a game against the local nine. While some exhibition tours passed through the state, Georgia was not a particular focus of these early trips. These tours were rarely if ever self-supporting, typically costing ownership more then they made in gate receipts. But as much as the owners might grumble about expenses, the perceived effectiveness of preseason practice made it essential. Working the team out in warmer weather was the focus of these swings through the South, with transportation and housing costs the price to be paid to get the team ready.2 Teams did not carry a large number of bench players in these early days and did not generally hold large-scale competitions between rookies and established players for playing time. They played their exhibition games with pretty much the same lineup they would use in the regular season. Not all teams made Southern trips during this period; many would simply work out at home for a few days before the start of the regular season. 

Table 1. Major-League Spring-Training Appearances
Year        Team Location   Year                Team Location  
1871 New York NA Savannah   1907 Philadelphia NL Savannah
1886 Detroit NL Savannah   1908 Boston NL Augusta
1887 Philadelphia NL Savannah   1908 Cleveland AL Macon
1894 Baltimore NL Macon   1908 New York AL Atlanta
1895 Baltimore NL Macon   1908 Philadelphia NL Savannah
1895 New York NL Savannah   1909 Boston NL Augusta
1896 Baltimore NL Macon   1909 Cincinnati NL Atlanta
1897 Baltimore NL Macon   1909 New York AL Macon
1897 Boston NL Savannah   1910 Boston NL Augusta
1897 Brooklyn NL Columbus   1910 New York AL Athens
1897 Philadelphia NL Augusta   1910 Philadelphia AL Atlanta
1897 Pittsburgh NL Atlanta   1911 Boston NL Augusta
1898 Baltimore NL Macon   1911 New York AL Athens
1898 Chicago NL Waycross   1911 Philadelphia AL Savannah
1898 Louisville NL Thomasville   1911 Washington AL Atlanta
1899 Brooklyn NL Augusta   1912 Boston NL Augusta
1899 Cincinnati NL Columbus   1912 Cincinnati NL Columbus
1899 Pittsburgh NL Thomasville*   1912 New York AL Atlanta
1900 Brooklyn NL Macon   1913 Boston NL Athens
1901 Boston NL Thomasville   1913 Brooklyn NL Augusta
1902 Baltimore AL Savannah   1913 St. Louis NL Columbus
1902 Boston AL Augusta   1914 Boston NL Macon
1902 Boston NL Thomasville   1914 Brooklyn NL Augusta
1902 Brooklyn NL Augusta   1914 Cleveland AL Athens
1902 New York AL Savannah   1915 Boston NL Macon
1902 Philadelphia NL Thomasville   1915 Buffalo FL Athens
1903 Boston AL Macon   1915 New York AL Savannah
1903 Boston NL Thomasville   1915 Newark/Indianapolis FL Valdosta
1903 Cincinnati NL Augusta   1915 Pittsburgh FL Augusta
1903 New York AL Augusta   1916 New York AL Macon
1903 New York NL Savannah   1917 New York AL Macon
1904 Boston AL Macon   1917 Pittsburgh NL Columbus
1904 Boston NL Thomasville   1917 Washington AL Augusta
1904 New York AL Atlanta   1918 New York AL Macon
1904 New York NL Savannah*   1918 Pittsburgh NL Columbus
1904 Philadelphia NL Savannah*   1918 Washington AL Augusta
1905 Boston AL Macon   1919 Boston NL Columbus
1905 Cleveland AL Atlanta   1919 Detroit AL Macon
1905 Detroit AL Augusta   1919 Washington AL Augusta
1905 New York NL Savannah   1920 Boston NL Columbus
1905 Philadelphia NL Augusta   1920 Detroit AL Macon
1906 Boston AL Macon   1922 Detroit AL Augusta
1906 Cleveland AL Atlanta   1923 Detroit AL Augusta
1906 Detroit AL Augusta   1924 Detroit AL Augusta
1906 Philadelphia NL Savannah   1925 Detroit AL Augusta
1907 Boston NL Thomasville   1926 Detroit AL Augusta
1907 Cleveland AL Macon   1928 New York NL Augusta
1907 Detroit AL Augusta   1932 Boston AL Savannah
1907 New York AL Atlanta   1953 St. Louis AL Thomasville

* Part of spring-training season.

AL—American League

FL—Federal League

NA—National Association

NL—National League

Cap Anson has been widely credited as “inventing” the practice of spring training during his tenure as manager of the Chicago White Stockings. However, it might be better to characterize his influence as popularizing, rather than inventing, the “Southern tour.” Author Charles Fountain points out that Southern exhibition trips began before Anson made his first trip and even before baseball was organized into leagues. (The first such trip was by an amateur team from New York preparing for the 1869 season by playing an exhibition schedule starting off in New Orleans.)3 Cap Anson was tremendously successful as a manager, winning five pennants between 1880 and 1886. His success in the later part of this period followed spring exhibition tours in the South, and by 1886 Anson was beginning each exhibition season with training in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Between training and touring, Anson appeared to be on to something. Baseball is nothing if not imitative of success; more teams looked South for the training edge they believed Anson had achieved.

Site selection was ever important. Anson most often took his squad to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and so did many other teams.4 The attractiveness of the location was partly due to the amenities available in Hot Springs and, again in imitation, a suspicion that there might be something “in the water” of the resort town. Hot Springs held such a mystique that well into the first decades of the twentieth century veterans might be sent there to “boil out the poisons” before joining the rest of the team at a spring-training camp somewhere else. While Hot Springs was an early and popular spring-training site, New Orleans, Savannah, and Jacksonville were also regular starting points for Southern exhibition tours.

The change from simply beginning each spring with a Southern exhibition tour to a system where a team practiced in one place for a period of time before going North occurred during the last years of the nineteenth century. Fountain credits Ned Hanlon and his Baltimore Orioles for this shift. In 1892, playing for Pittsburg (spelled without the final h at that time), Hanlon suffered a serious tendon injury on opening day—the team had had no spring warm-up. In the spring of 1894, now managing Baltimore, Hanlon took the Orioles to Macon, Georgia, and imposed an eight-week, eight-hour-a-day training regimen. Practice included on-field drills and strategy instruction. This entirely new approach at the major league level was the true beginning of what we think of today as spring training. That season the Orioles won the pennant. Then they won it again. And again: three straight pennants from 1894 to 1896. As before, success bred imitation. John McGraw, the Orioles’ third baseman back in 1894, eagerly took all this in. When in 1902 he became manager of the Giants, he held the same type of intensive training. Fountain writes: “McGraw made spring training a spectacle. The players loved it; the press waxed poetic. All of baseball and no small number of southern towns and cities benefited, as America grew more intimate with spring training and the places that hosted it.”5 More intimate, perhaps, though not necessarily better informed. One sporting magazine reported to its readers that Columbus, Georgia, was “almost on the Mississippi State line.”6 

Following Hanlon’s successes, teams no longer found it attractive to take spring training in the North nor to make a perfunctory Southern swing of exhibition games. In 1897, as New York contemplated holding practice that year in Lakewood, New Jersey, Sporting Life stated that “the idea of making the New Jersey health resort the training grounds is not a very happy one.”7 Hanlon had shown the way—success during the regular season was now contingent upon an intense series of warm-weather workouts. As a result, he also elevated Macon’s role in spring training as teams sought to replicate his methods, right down to the selection of a training location. 

A spring-training site had to meet several requirements. First, it had to be far enough south to provide warm weather. It also had to have convenient transportation. Thus, ports and cities well served by railroads were in the lead as host cities. Next, the site had to have accommodations for the players. A resort town, such as Thomasville, Georgia,8 or a larger urban area, such as Atlanta, was better able to house a team due to the greater availability of hotel rooms. Teams could, however, make alternate arrangements when other conditions were favorable. In 1902, the Boston (AL) players stayed in a YMCA in Augusta.9 Next, obviously, the host city had to have a ball field. Most of the spring-training sites in Georgia were also home to a minor-league team and thus had at least one diamond available. Two Peach State towns that hosted spring-training visits didn’t have minor-league teams, but Athens and Milledgeville were home to colleges (the University of Georgia and the Georgia College and State University, respectively) with collegiate ball fields. As a final consideration, the site had to be convenient for practice games with other squads, either in town or nearby. Again, minor-league cities and college towns could provide a local opponent, and Georgia’s extensive railroad system provided ample travel options for the teams. 

The selection of spring-training sites was also becoming affected by the growing size of spring rosters. Twenty to twenty-five men—a typical number as early as the late nineteenth century—could reasonably be accommodated in most small Southern towns, but larger groups all reporting at once could present a problem. One way to deal with the increasing number of men in camp was to have the “yannigans” (rookies and nonroster players)10 report to the spring-training site first, while veterans began at another location, such as the ever-popular Hot Springs. The arrival of the yannigans was the herald of spring for many Georgia cities in the Deadball Era. Some of the yannigans would be cut before the full team assembled on site. This crowding was also somewhat eased by sending pitchers and catchers to Hot Springs to limber up while the remainder of the team assembled in another city, or by having the batteries report earlier than the position players in order to get sufficient work—a practice that persists to the present day. 

Spring training was a very hectic time for the manager. In addition to evaluating talent, training the players, and monitoring injuries, the manager was often responsible for arranging the exhibition schedule, securing housing, and scheduling transportation for the team. Sometimes other distractions, such as contract holdouts or the loss of a player to other duties, added to these responsibilities. In 1896, for example, Hugh Jennings left Baltimore’s camp in Macon (with permission) to coach the University of Georgia team for two weeks, rejoining the Orioles when they came to Athens to play the college squad in an exhibition game.11 On top of all of this, the manager was usually a player as well and needed practice time himself. 

For the everyday players, spring training most often meant a combination of temptation and tedium. For men who spent each season playing in the larger cities of the North and Midwest, small Southern towns provided few recreational opportunities off of the diamond—except perhaps for gambling and drinking, something the players could ferret out whatever the size of the city. In 1903, while training in Macon, several Boston (AL) players took advantage of a local racetrack—as well as the hotel bar—and departed camp “for about a week to gamble and drink their way into condition.”12 Ballplayers generally were held in low regard in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and a small town could be very unfriendly to them. Couple this public perception with the fact that most of these men came from cities above the Mason-Dixon line, and tensions often ran high. Fountain relates an incident from the 1890s as an example. Denied a practice site in Jacksonville, perhaps because of the players’ reputation, the Cubs went to Waycross, Georgia, for training. “The townspeople received the northern interlopers coolly and warily, and the players exacerbated the tension with untoward and persistent advances on the young women of Waycross.” Following an incident wherein one player disrupted a tightrope act, the team was “invited to leave Waycross, not, as it turned out, for the assault on the aerialist—circus performers and actors had no more standing than ballplayers, apparently—but because the hotel manager claimed that his wife had been insulted by the ballplayers.”13 The team moved on to Savannah to begin its exhibition schedule. 

In these small towns, field conditions could be rough and living conditions even rougher. Team discipline often suffered. “In 1898, after [Jimmy] Ryan had resigned as [Chicago] Colts captain, old Tim [Donahue] led the team in a mutiny at their spring training camp. The Colts were staying at a Podunk hotel in Waycross, Georgia. There were only two bathtubs for 18 men . . . and the cuisine outraged the ballplayers. ‘The murmuring,’ the [Chicago] Tribune reported, ‘rose into a strenuous kick. Tim Donahue said that [first baseman Bill] Everett had barnacles in his stomach from the food. The men filed hungrily out of the dining room and held an indignation meeting.’”14 Adding to their frustration, players weren’t paid during spring training, though they were provided with housing, their travel costs were covered, and they received meals or a daily stipend. In 1919, the lack of pay was just one item in a growing laundry list of disagreements between Boston owner Harry Frazee and American League president Ban Johnson. Frazee in effect wanted to change the standard player contract, which stipulated that players were paid from opening day to the last day of the season. “[Frazee] wanted to pay the players during spring training, a plan the tight-fisted Johnson loathed. [The proposal] failed.”15 Players wouldn’t regularly be paid for spring training until after World War II. 

Weather could be an issue in spring training. While teams came to the South for milder spring weather than they would have experienced in their home cities, March and April in Georgia can be stormy, and complaints about training time lost to rain were common. Teams sometimes changed location when the weather foreclosed any possibility of practice. In 1904, for example, both the Phillies and the Giants left their training grounds in Savannah early, chased away by rainy weather. The Phillies headed home; McGraw took his team to Birmingham, Alabama. In mid-1911, Connie Mack announced plans to take his next spring training in Texas, a decision based in part on the bad weather his team had experienced in Georgia that year. It certainly didn’t hurt that the good folks in San Antonio would build a facility for him, a portent of things to come.16

Other options were available, however. Teams could usually find an indoor location, such as a local gym, in which to exercise and discuss strategy. At least one team refused to stop baseball practice when the rains arrived, choosing to take their practice game inside. Little known today, indoor baseball was once a very popular sport, using equipment and rules modified to indoor use. Modified, but still dangerous. In 1902, Boston’s George Prentiss lost his grip on the bat during an indoor game in Augusta, knocking out two of a female spectator’s front teeth. “The lady bled profusely, and she and several others present fainted.”17 Other sports could provide just as intense a workout and be safer for the audience. In Atlanta one year, the Washington Senators played football when the weather created field conditions that precluded baseball practice. 

Weather wasn’t the only outside influence that could affect spring training; sometimes conditions back home caused problems for a team. In 1911, the Washington squad was splitting practice time with the Atlanta team in Ponce de Leon Park. The Senators took the field each morning, and the Crackers followed in the afternoon. On March 17, the Senators’ home ballpark burned, prompting the team to extend its stay in Georgia. The fire destroyed the grandstand and bleachers, going on to damage a nearby hospital; within a few days the team contracted for a modern steel and concrete stadium to be built. Meanwhile, the Senators and Crackers were invited to a cookout in appreciation of the spring-training season just completed. The Atlanta Constitution reported: “Ball Players Are Barbecued.”18 Perhaps not the best headline to use for a team whose home field was a burned wreck. 

As training in the South became a regular activity in the first decades of the twentieth century, competition increased between Georgia cities to secure a team each spring. Clubs that liked their spring sites would attempt to secure the facilities for the next year even before the present year’s training was completed. Exhibition schedules began to be arranged and published in the winter, rather than simply a month or so before training began. Towns had come to realize the extent to which visiting teams could play into local efforts at business promotion, and thus they sought to attract specific clubs—or any professional nine—before a rival city won them over. Civic boosterism was growing in the South at the same time that the perceived disreputable character of ballplayers was on the wane. City councils had the responsibility to make the field ready for the visitors and the authority to approve the use of local facilities. Sometimes, however, a team might be prevented from getting its desired location. In the winter of 1913, the vice president of the Cleveland club traveled to Macon to secure a spring-training site for 1914. He met with local officials, newsmen, and hotel owners; together they finalized the team’s schedule for the following March. By the time he arrived back in Cleveland, a telegraph was waiting for him: Macon’s city council had voted to award its facilities to Boston (NL) for 1914. Working against Cleveland was the fact that the Boston club was managed by a well-known local—George Tweedy Stallings

George Stallings, the son of a Confederate officer, was a prominent man in Georgia.19 Born in Augusta in 1867, Stallings graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1886 and enrolled at Johns Hopkins for further education. Baseball intervened, and George left medical school to begin what would be a successful 41-year career in professional baseball, including 13 years managing in the major leagues.20 From his earliest stint as a manager, with Augusta in 1893, Stallings scheduled spring training in his home state whenever possible. This practice certainly lessened his travel time; most advantageous for him was to hold his spring training in the middle part of the state. Twelve times he brought his teams to the Peach State, including four times to Macon and once each to Milledgeville and Haddock. His 3,600-acre plantation, the Meadows, was located in Haddock, about three dozen rail miles northeast of Macon. Milledgeville was just up the road to the east of Haddock, closer than Macon but with less convenient transportation connections. Assembling his players in the area, Stallings could have the team come to his house for practice or just for a cookout. In 1915, he would bring the Braves up from Macon once a week for what he termed a “frolic.”21 In the 1920s, while managing the Detroit club, Ty Cobb borrowed a page from George’s book and had his Tigers take spring training in Augusta, where the Georgia Peach made his home. But even the great Cobb could not trump the convenience of holding spring-training workouts in your own backyard, which is what Stallings did with his 1924 Rochester team. 

Although no Federal League teams would train in the Peach State in 1914, the league did provide some excitement during spring training. Going into their first year as a self-proclaimed major league, the Federals disrupted the National and American Leagues, waging a battle for players and ignoring certain contract provisions that the two older leagues felt protected them from the loss of their players. In late March, the manager of the Pittsburgh Feds, Doc Gessler, arrived in Macon to scout some Boston (NL) players. This was a surreptitious trip—Doc registered under a false name. Gessler phoned Boston players at their hotel and succeeded in enticing Braves pitcher Hub Perdue to come by for a visit.22 Whether tipped off by a friendly hotel clerk or by Perdue himself, Boston manager George Stallings got wind of what was going on. Just as his father had been called upon 50 years earlier, it was now Stallings’ turn to fight the Federals. George appeared in Gessler’s room with a deputy sheriff in tow and served papers on Doc, preventing him from his undercover mission.23 Stallings had been prepared for this eventuality, having earlier received a tip that the manager of the Kansas City Federals was coming to Macon to lure away some Boston players. That it was Gessler who showed up and not Kansas City’s Stovall didn’t make a bit of difference to the Georgia native. Stallings had armed himself with an injunction against any tampering by the Federals. Gessler left town that evening and traveled to Augusta in an attempt to contact some of the Brooklyn (NL) players who were in training there. Unfortunately for him, Stallings had already alerted the Augusta authorities, who served an injunction on Gessler upon his arrival. Doc’s visit to the state was ultimately unsuccessful. 

To sum up George Stallings’ 1914 spring-training experiences: he wrested the use of Macon’s facilities away from Cleveland for his own team, fought off a raid by the Federal League, and, in an exhibition game in Macon, was credited with saving the life of Newark’s George Smith. First baseman Smith collapsed on the field “with heart failure,” and Stallings revived him “by using artificial methods to induce circulation and breathing.” 24 Should we be surprised that he led the “Miracle” Braves to the world championship that season?

A change was coming, however, that even George Stallings could not combat. A growing and obvious problem with the current situation would change everything: as roster sizes increased, taking spring training in a city with a single ball field became less practical. Having several fields available in one town was no improvement if they were not close to each other, since the manager could only be in one place at a time. Teams needed multiple fields in a single location. Even beyond the concept of multiple fields, team owners had an increasing interest in developing facilities that could host two or more major-league teams at once. On the other side of the equation, some cities were now considering making major investments in their local facilities in order to attract a team each spring. It is hard to overestimate the extent to which these cities valued the promotional value of seeing their town’s name in national stories filed from training camp. Local expenditures were nothing new, as towns were routinely responsible for the upkeep and condition of the playing field before the arrival of their spring visitors. What was new was the idea of having local governments build facilities in excess of what they would need during their own minor-league regular season. It was on this issue that Georgia just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) compete.

During training in 1911, the Boston (AL) and Cincinnati (NL) teams considered sharing a multifield facility in Georgia for spring training in 1912. Under this concept, the teams would be housed and served meals on site. President Taylor of the Boston club pushed this idea as a potential boost for a town, hoping to entice some municipality into constructing the facility.25 No town stepped forward, and while both teams trained in Georgia in 1912, they did so on opposite sides of the state. Small towns in Georgia simply could not afford to construct such facilities. Nor was any help available from the major-league teams themselves. Already losing money each year funding spring training, they had no incentive to spend even more by building their own facilities. A city that could find the money to provide multifield facilities would win the contest to host spring training in the future. Georgia came tantalizingly close to making this transition, with a privately financed project that was conceived as a multiteam facility but ended up as something very different.

In January 1915, newspapers reported the potential sale of a plantation in the Brunswick area—a parcel centered on an existing structure called Dover Hall— to a group of baseball men. Ty Cobb, George Stallings, and Boston (NL) team president James Gaffney were said to be examining the site, and early reports indicated that they were considering construction of a spring-training facility that could house “no less than a half-dozen clubs, including two or three big league teams and as many Class A organizations as will train in this county.”26 Stallings was credited with the idea, something he had started working on two years earlier following a personal visit to Dover Hall. However, when the time came to put money on the line, the purchasers, now including many other team owners and league executives, elected to create a private lodge and hunting preserve on the site.27

Table 2. Minor-League Spring-Training Appearances
Year Team Location   Year Team Location
1906 Buffalo EL Macon   1916 Indianapolis AA Albany
1909 Toledo AA Columbus   1917 Atlanta SA Athens
1910 Buffalo EL Macon   1917 Indianapolis AA Albany
1910 Newark EL Milledgeville   1917 Louisville AA Athens
1911 Buffalo EL Milledgeville   1924 Rochester IL Haddock
1912 Buffalo IL Athens   1931 Hartford EL Macon
1912 Toronto IL Macon   1932 Hartford EL Macon
1913 Newark IL Savannah   1947 Albany EL Brunswick
1913 Toronto IL Macon   1948 Albany EL Brunswick
1914 Cleveland AA Americus   1949 Albany EL Brunswick
1914 Newark IL Columbus   1950 Albany EL Brunswick
1914 Toledo SMA Americus   1955 Lancaster PL Savannah
1915 Cleveland AA Thomasville   1958 Stockton CL Albany
1916 Atlanta SA Valdosta        

AA—American Association, CL—California League, EL—Eastern League

IL—International League,  PL—Piedmont League

SA - Southern Association,  SMA—Southern Michigan Association

Minor-league teams also traveled to Georgia to train. One of the most frequent early visitors was Buffalo (1906, 1910, and 1911 as Eastern League members, and again in 1912 as members of the International League). This fact should not come as a surprise; George Stallings was Buffalo’s manager for three of those four years. Prior to World War I, most minor-league team appearances in the state were sporadic, and not always in the same town for each visit (see table 2). Between the wars, only a couple of minor-league teams came to Georgia to train. Most minor-league teams that called Georgia home took spring practice on their own fields, sometimes in combination with big-league teams. This relationship benefited both parties: major-league teams had some local competition for their first exhibition games, while the minor-league players could mix with, observe, and learn from the big leaguers. The Atlanta Crackers, however, sometimes traveled to take training, including a two-week trip to Hot Springs in 1910 and stints in other Georgia cities in 1916 and 1917. 

With the approach of World War I and even after America’s entry into that conflict, Georgia continued to be a popular spring destination for major-league teams. Spring training in 1918 featured numerous patriotic displays by the teams, including military drills with marching players, each man carrying a bat on his shoulder in place of a rifle. With the conclusion of the war, however, Georgia saw fewer major-league spring visitors. Three teams arrived in 1919, and two came in 1920. Manager Ty Cobb held spring training for his Tigers in Augusta from 1922 through 1926. No other major-league teams came to the state for training in those years, and none at all arrived in 1927. New York (NL) made a trip to the state in 1928, and Boston (AL) had a “last hurrah” in Savannah in 1932. St. Louis (AL), training in Thomasville in 1953, was the last major league team to hold spring training in Georgia. With the Browns’ departure at the end of the spring season, the sun set on major-league spring training in the state. Minor-league training in Georgia, on the other hand, was about to enter its “‘golden age.”(See table 3.) 

While the traditional spring-training destination cities in Georgia couldn’t afford to construct the multiteam practice facilities needed to continue to attract spring tenants, the federal government certainly could. During World War II, the government built military bases and industrial facilities throughout the state. After the war, many of these sites were no longer needed and were made available for lease. Several were converted to baseball use, including an air base in Waycross, which became “Bravesville” (EDITORS’ NOTE: See Papillon/Young article); a Veterans Administration complex in Thomasville, which housed the Baltimore Orioles’ minor-league teams for 12 years; the Cardinals’ 75-acre training complex in Albany, in use for nine years; and another air base—this one in Douglas—now owned by South Georgia College but leased to the Cincinnati Reds organization in the postwar era. These camps represented the last stage in the evolution of spring training—semipermanent facilities that housed multiple teams—applied at the minor-league level.28 With barracks and a mess hall already on site, room and board was not an issue at these new camps. The teams added ball fields and did some landscaping, but each site required few other improvements. “Bravesville” could accommodate eight of the parent club’s farm teams on four diamonds; the Orioles, with five diamonds, could accommodate 10 farm teams in Thomasville. The Cardinals were able to handle 12 teams on seven diamonds at their camp, and the Reds could train eight teams in Douglas. Newspaper reports praised each of these operations for bringing an “assembly line” process to player instruction.29 This heyday of minor-league camps, however, was not to last. 

Table 3. Minor-League Training Camps
Year              Organization      Location
1947–55 St. Louis Cardinals NL Albany
1953–66 Milwaukee /Atlanta Braves NL Waycross
1954–57 Cinncinati Reds NL Douglas
1954–65 Baltimore Orioles AL Thomasville
1954 Philadelphia Athletics AL Savannah
1967–68 Kansas City /Oakland Athletics AL Waycross

 

It looked as though it might end in 1957, when a bill was passed by the Georgia Senate that would have prohibited games played by interracial teams. (EDITORS’ NOTE: See article by Papillon and Young.) Teams differed in their responses to the pending legislation. The Braves stated that they would simply have to leave Waycross, while the Reds’ farm director, Bill McKechnie Jr., said, “we would have to adopt a policy of segregation,” since the team did not intend to relocate their spring-training operations.30 Ultimately, the bill failed, and the minor-league camps would survive for a while yet, but the end came when, once again, what the local government couldn’t do, the federal government could. By the late 1960s, the federal government was looking to sell off the Waycross and Thomasville properties, pushing the remaining minor-league training operations to make a decision about the future use of the sites. The industry trend was for farm clubs to train with their parent club in one location, and rather than purchase these Georgia properties, the Braves and Orioles pulled up stakes. When the Braves left Waycross, the Athletics took over the site for two spring seasons before moving their own operation west for 1969, marking the last spring-training appearance in the state by any outside major- or minor-league team. 

The focus of the major-league teams had shifted to Florida for spring training. Teams there visited each other’s training grounds for exhibition games, which became the spring ritual referred to as the “Grapefruit League,” a name coined by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1923.31 Those who had seen the coming trend toward camps built just for spring training—multiple baseball diamonds and sometimes multiple teams—would be vindicated as such facilities constructed in Florida became semipermanent bases of operations. These camps often were custom built for specific major-league teams, not federal “handme-downs” adapted by the organization. With good weather, improving transportation connections, increasingly aggressive self-promotion, and the willingness to pay for facilities and improvements to attract teams, the Sunshine State became the new home of spring training. Arizona, following Florida’s blueprint of selfpromotion and local willingness to build facilities, would also develop into a spring-training destination as more major-league teams were established west of the Mississippi. Georgia, the birthplace of modern spring training, would never again play spring host to the big leagues. 

WILLIAM F. ROSS III is writing a book on professional baseball in South Georgia during the Deadball Era.

Sources

The majority of the information presented in this article and the accompanying tables is based on contemporary newspaper and other periodical accounts. Primary sources include the Atlanta Constitution, Sporting Life, and The Sporting News. In all, more than 200 articles from more than 20 periodicals were used to prepare this account. The following books were also consulted:

Duren, Don. Boiling Out at the Springs: A History of Major League Baseball Spring Training at Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dallas: Hodge Printing Company, 2006. 

Fountain, Charles. Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 

Gillette, Gary, and Pete Palmer, eds. The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. 5th ed. New York: Sterling, 2008. 

Kaese, Harold. The Boston Braves, 1871–1953. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004. 

Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The People’s Game. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. 

Stout, Glenn, and Richard A. Johnson. Red Sox Century: The Definitive History of Baseball’s Most Storied Franchise. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 

Wiggins, Robert Peyton. The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League, 1914–1915. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009.

  • 1. In order to prepare these tables, decisions had to be made as to what constituted a spring-training site. For the twentieth century, a two-week minimum stay in one town was used as the general criteria. One week in a town to play two or three games, for example, would not qualify as a springtraining camp. Stays cut short by weather but scheduled to run longer were included. Nineteenth-century visits posed more of a problem since, in the earliest days of professional baseball, the Southern city was often nothing more than the assembly point for the team and not an established training camp. The general criteria for including nineteenth-century spring-training sites was a minimum of one week stay in the starting city with the announced intention to work out before hitting the road. It should be noted that this list differs in a couple of instances from spring-training information presented in the fifth edition of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. In cases of disagreement, the author has relied upon contemporary accounts. Minor-league team appearances in the state pose a special challenge. Before World War II, these teams were not given as much attention in the press, and as a consequence their visits to Georgia are not as well documented. Where sufficient evidence of a spring-training camp exists, it has been included here. Undoubtedly, there are other minor-league team appearances that did not make this list. College teams are perhaps the most difficult to trace in their rare spring-training appearances in Georgia. Harold Seymour mentions a 10-day spring-training visit by Yale players to Macon in 1920; little else is known of such appearances. The author welcomes any information that would improve the listings.
  • 2. In 1896, Baltimore reportedly spent $2,000 on hotels and railroad trips for the 25 players taking spring training. In 1910, the 16 major-league teams were spending a reported combined total of $150,000 in spring-training expenses; two years later this figure was up to $200,000 (roughly $4.4 million in 2009 dollars).
  • 3. Fountain, Under the March Sun, 10–11.
  • 4. At its height, Hot Springs would typically host four teams each spring— about as many as the entire state of Georgia did each year. In addition, many veterans would begin their training in Hot Springs before joining their teams in training camp elsewhere.
  • 5. Fountain, Under the March Sun, 16–17. Wilbert Robinson and Hugh Jennings were also on Hanlon’s squad during this revolution in spring-training tactics.
  • 6. Sporting Life, 31 December 1898, 1. The state of Alabama is between Georgia and Mississippi.
  • 7. Sporting Life, 9 January 1897, 3. It’s hard to know to what extent it may be the reporter who is making the argument; the same reporter, after all, would be traveling with the team for spring training.
  • 8. In the late 19th century, Thomasville became a popular winter getaway for the well-to-do; in 1887, it was described by Harpers Magazine as “the best winter resort on three continents.”
  • 9. Stout and Johnson, Red Sox Century, 20.
  • 10. The term yannigan, denoting a second-string player, reserve, or rookie was in general use by the late nineteenth century. See, for example, “All Hail Yannigans,” New York World, 4 April 1897, 8. In its time, the term could have the same positive or negative connotations that rookie has today, depending on context.
  • 11. Jennings also coached the university team to its signature win against the University of Pennsylvania in 1897—the first such visit by a Northern college to face a Southern opponent. Since college baseball seasons ended with the coming of summer, many major leaguers had the opportunity to coach college ball before their own regular season began.
  • 12. Stout and Johnson, Red Sox Century, 26.
  • 13. Fountain, Under the March Sun, 14.
  • 14. Bill Donahue, “Remembering Tim Donahue,” Elysian Fields Quarterly 14, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 84.
  • 15. Stout and Johnson, Red Sox Century, 138.
  • 16. Sporting Life, 3 June 1911, 5. Mack also cited a desire to train his players away from the presence of reporters.
  • 17. Atlanta Constitution, 5 April 1902, 1.
  • 18. Atlanta Constitution, 20 March 1911, 7.
  • 19. When George decided to change his principal crop from cotton to corn, peas, and hay, this was big enough news to be reported in the Atlanta Constitution, as was the time he gave up his drawing room in a railcar for President-Elect Taft. George Stallings’ father, William Henry Stallings, entered the war in 1861 as senior first lieutenant with Blodget’s Flying Artillery (later Milledge’s Battery). He later reenlisted as a private in a State Guard infantry unit in Augusta. National Archives, NARA M266.
  • 20. Stallings managed the Philadelphia Phillies (1897–98), the Detroit Tigers (1901), the New York Highlanders (1909–10), and the Boston Braves (1913–20), the latter stint including riding herd on the 1914 “Miracle” Braves. He managed seven different minor-league teams (some more than once), winning Eastern League championships with the Buffalo Bisons in 1904 and 1906. Connie Mack and George Stallings are reportedly the only two major-league managers to have regularly worn street clothes on the bench.
  • 21. Kaese, The Boston Braves, 168.
  • 22. Perdue himself would be back for spring training in Georgia as a manager, bringing his Louisville Colonels (American Association) to Athens in 1917.
  • 23. Labor law in Georgia at this time, written in part to strengthen the sharecropper system, made it illegal to offer a person employment when they were already under contract to someone else.
  • 24. Sporting Life, 28 March 1914, 3. Perhaps that short time at Johns Hopkins paid off.
  • 25. In the same vein, in late 1911, Hot Springs took steps to build more fields to attract more teams to the town.
  • 26. “Dover Hall, Near Brunswick, May Soon Be Converted into Mammoth Training Grounds,” Atlanta Constitution, 15 January 1915.
  • 27. For more information on this little-known but fascinating episode in Georgia’s baseball history, see Brian McKenna’s excellent article about Dover Hall on the SABR Biography Project Web site.
  • 28. A necessary condition for the development of this practice was the growth of the “farm” system tying minor-league teams to major-league “parent” clubs. Prior to World War II, many of the minor-league teams were without any formal major-league affiliation and thus made spring-training plans on their own.
  • 29. Due in part to the rise in public relations as a way to boost attendance for the upcoming season, virtually every hometown newspaper for each of the minorleague teams in training camp ran articles praising the operations. Often these were “canned” reports repeated verbatim in several papers at once.
  • 30. “Braves May Close Camp at Waycross,” Lawton Constitution, 15 February 1957. Thanks to Wynn Montgomery for bringing this episode to the author’s attention.
  • 31. Fountain, Under the March Sun, 35.
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