AUGUSTA — This week Major League Baseball teams are reporting to Spring Training sites all across Florida and Arizona. But, did you know that there was a time that Augusta was the center of the baseball universe this time of year?

These days it’s quiet at the corner of 3rd and Hale, but if you listen closely you can hear the history.

“The field where Ty Cobb played is literally still there,” said Milledge Murray, a local baseball historian with the North Augusta Heritage Council.

“I think it’s very unusual for a place to be maintained,” added fellow local baseball historian Lamar Garrard.  “The actual field is there. The streets are the same.”

For the first quarter of the 20th century, what is now the Exchange Club Fairgrounds played host to Spring Training for several Major League teams, like the Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Braves, Boston Red Sox and New York Giants.

“So many Hall of Famers were here,” Murray said.

Among them, Tris Speaker, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb, who ended up marrying an Augusta woman and living most of his life here.

“He was very well respected in this town,” said Murray. “He was just well thought-of.”

But how did Augusta become a Spring Training destination? “This is where the railroad stopped and Florida had not been developed yet,” Murray said. “So Augusta was a great place for Spring Training.”

Branch Rickey is most famous for signing Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but years earlier he is on record as saying that Augusta’s Warren Park was the finest minor league park in America.

When Spring Training moved south, a new park, Jennings Stadium, was built where Walton Way meets the Canal. It was home to Augusta minor league teams for 35 years. Today the Peabody Apartments stand on the site.

“Jennings Stadium was a great baseball park, said Garrard. “You sat in those old wooden bleachers that were close enough to the field that you could actually see the players very well. I can remember the peanuts. You always think about that!”

Maybe the most famous player to play at Jennings: A young Henry Aaron, some 20 years before he became Major League Baseball’s all-time home run king.

But in 1963 the Augusta team left, taking more than 70 years of baseball history with it.

“The stadium was sold. Peabody Apartments were built, and baseball left Augusta. It didn’t return until 1988,” said Murray.

That’s when the Pirates moved into Heaton Stadium, which is now Lake Olmstead Stadium. There a new generation of future Hall of Famers continues to write Augusta’s baseball history.

We do have a good past,” said Murray. “We have a good recent past. If you think about all of these great Major League players that have been from here.”

“Baseball was a place to be, place to relax, place to go. It was a big deal,” said Garrard.


Historian Milledge Murray of the North Augusta Heritage Council on Hall of Famer Ty Cobb’s relationship with Augusta:

“Most people think of early Augusta minor league baseball as focused on the Detroit Tigers. In reality they were more associated with the New York Yankees. Several executives from New York lived in the Augusta area but the Augusta teams produced a lot of great Yankee players. Ralph Houk played here, Casey Stengel was here, Cy Young was here. We had some periods where we were associated with the Detroit Tigers. Of course Ty Cobb was with the Tigers after the 1905 season. He lived here during his entire playing career. I’ve had the opportunity to go to Cooperstown a number of times and every part of it is just wonderful but one thing that I think is important is when you go into the big hall where the plaques are, you go down and kind of in the center in a special place they’ve got the first five players and they’ve got four of them on corners and one player in the center and that’s Ty Cobb. He lived here on Williams Street for his entire playing career, he raised his family here. He was very respected in this town. He had a business on Broad Street called the Ty Cobb Tire Company. He was just well thought of. I would hope that Augusta would do a little better job of recognizing all that he has done.”

Murray on misconceptions about Ty Cobb’s reputation:

“I had the opportunity to go the Hargate Library at the University of Georgia and had the chance to read some of the original letters they had pertaining to the Ty Cobb Health Foundation and before…I saw a copy of his will, he left 25-percent of his estate to the Ty Cobb Health Care Foundation…and also the last 10-12 years of his life he was very active with that health care foundation and when he was doing something where they paid him he would endorse that check over to the foundation. He did that a lot. The Ty Cobb foundation has given out over 15-million dollars worth of scholarships. It’s just tremendous what all they have done.”

Murray on night baseball coming to Augusta five years before it came to Major League Baseball:

“A unique story relating to baseball in Augusta is that the first Major League night game was played in 1936 in Cincinnati. Well in 1930 Marvin Wolf who was the owner of the Augusta Wolves baseball team…one of the fascinating things that happened at Jennings Stadium, which was located at the corner of 15th and Walton Way and the canal and that area, that’s where Jennings Stadium…and it was called Municipal Stadium early on…and they began play there in 1928 and in 1930 Wolf said ‘I am going to try to experiment and bring night baseball to Augusta’. It’s 1930, that’s 6 years before the Major Leagues. He contracted with General Electric to come out and put these fancy lights at Jennings Stadium and what’s interesting is that lights at night have to shine down. Well the way they did it they shined up so it was almost like a ball but it didn’t light the field. I think it was like 5,000 people there, they’re playing a team in Columbia and the Columbia pitcher struck out 23 out of 27 Wolves batters and that is a Sally League record that stands to this day…they couldn’t see it!!!”

Murray on Brooklyn unofficially adopting the city of Augusta as its mascot:

“But there’s so many other things that happened relating to baseball in Augusta that I think are unique. One that’s pretty special, and it kind of relates to the hospitality for which Augusta’s been known, certainly with the Masters a town of great hospitality. And certainly in that early era when you had the great hotels and the early golf courses: Hampton Terrace Golf Club, Palmetto in Aiken. The Brooklyn Dodger team, who were called the Superbas at the time, they were here during Spring Training in 1899 and 1900 and during that period of time they became what were called National Baseball Champions. You didn’t have the American League then. They adopted the city of Augusta as their mascot. I thought that was interesting that they’re mascot in New York would be this town.”

Local baseball historian Lamar Garrard on Spring Training in Augusta:

“This is Spring Training time, today pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida. It would have been a great time at Warren Park where the Exchange Club is, the field is still there. A hundred years ago you would have had all kinds of teams. Different teams have come here for spring training. At that time you had the Boston Braves came down, Ty Cobb brought the Detroit Tigers, you had people like Connie Mack came through with his A’s, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis was there. You had Presidents down there to watch the games, President Taft. I guess what the game would be like, it would be pretty exciting. The weather’s beautiful. Warren Park’s a big park, it’s down in a great part of town at the time. And a lot of Augusta people had a great interest in it, so I think it was an exciting time.”

Garrard on Augusta’s “other” most famous baseball icon:

“Augusta has tremendous baseball history. It goes back to the mid-1880s, probably in that time frame. The most famous player of that time was George Stallings, graduated from Richmond Academy and then later he managed the Augusta Electricians in the 1890s and went on to manage the World Champion 1914 Boston Braves. He’s called the Miracle Man because the Braves at that time, I think, were in last place in July and they finished first and beat Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and that’s why he’s called the Miracle Man, the Miracle Braves of 1914. Maybe one of Augusta’s most famous baseball icons other than Ty Cobb.”

Garrard on The Jennings Stadium experience:

“Jennings Stadium was a great baseball park. Bill Johnson, who was a great Yankee third baseman, played here in 1938 and 39, and maybe the first part of 40. He was an outfielder here in Augusta, but Bill told me that Augusta was a great baseball town, had great fans and he loved playing here. And you hear that from other players. Dooley Womack who pitched here in the 60s and went on to pitch for the Yankees in the latter days of Mantle, he loved pitching in Augusta…said it was a great park, great fans. When I envision the stadium I envision this Green Monsther. It was all dark green, it had a large parking lot and, in those days, tickets were probably 50 cents, maybe a dollar for a box seat so most everybody could go. And the average attendance was around 4, 5, 600 people a night. But the most exciting game I ever witnessed was Augusta of 1957 they had Ty Cobb recognition night and I went to that game and there were about 5 or 6 thousand people, they were just packed. The place was just brimming with excitement. All kind of newspaper reporters, radio people there. And Cobb was there and he was very gracious. He signed a program for me which was very special to me.”