The game of baseball became a craze in the US by the mid 1850’s when it was introduced in New York. Baseball has a long history with Albany as well. Going back at least to the 1870’s when Albany had the D. E. Smith ball club. One of Albany’s early baseball parks was out near the site of the current airport and was even used in 1911 to land the very first airmail plane in the US. The first minor baseball league this writer has been able to find in Albany was in 1906. The Georgia State League in Albany played such teams as the Americus Pallbearers, the Columbus/Brunswick River Snipes, Cordele, Valdosta Stars and the Waycross Machinists. E. D. Alexander of Albany is the only team member mentioned and no statistics have been found as of this writing.
By 1911 Albany had a team in the South Atlantic League, also called the “SALLY” league. The team was called the Albany Babies. The Albany Babies played through 1916. Erskine Mayer played for the Albany Babies in 1911. Mayer went on to a career in Major League Baseball playing for Philadelphia Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Chicago White Sox.
There was a ten year gap between leagues, at which time the new team called the Albany Nuts (Southeastern League) was formed. The Albany Nuts played from 1926-1928. The Albany Nuts team was managed by Thomas Law (Rebel) McMillan. McMillan had played Shortstop and Centerfield for Superbas/Red/Highlanders from 1908-1912.
According to the Albany Dixie Website, it was sometime during this time period, in 1923, that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, of the “Black Sox Scandal” of 1919, played for the Americus, Ga. independent minor league baseball team which played games against the Albany Nutcrackers. The scandal involved 8 members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of trying to “fix” the World Series. Though acquitted, Jackson was not allowed to return to MLB.
This writer has been unable to determine if the Albany Nuts changed their name to the Albany Nutcrackers or if this was a different team. The Americus team and the Albany Nut Crackers played each other for the independent South Georgia League championship. John “Jack” Slappey of the Albany Nut Crackers pitched against Shoeless Joe Jackson and his famous bat “Black Betsy” in the championship series. Also according to the Albany Dixie Website, John Slappey may have been the first player in Major League Baseball history from Albany.
By 1935 Albany had a new team, the Albany Travelers. The travelers played the Americus Cardinals, Moultrie Steers and other teams. By 1939 the Americus Cardinals had moved to Albany. The Albany Cardinals, a St. Louis Cardinals minor league baseball team of the Class D Georgia-Florida League played their first game in Albany in 1939. The first games were played at the old field just off Monroe Street. The team soon moved to Hugh Mills Memorial Stadium. By 1949 the team had moved once again to the newly constructed Cardinal Park, which was located just north of the old Victory Club on Newton Road. Cardinal Park was constructed at a cost of $115,000.
The Albany Cardinals did not play during many of the WWII years. The games stopped from 1942 and picked up again in 1946. Several of the Albany Cardinal Team members fought and some even died in WWII. Albany Native Phil Clark played for the Albany Cardinals in 1953 and later when on to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Albany Cardinals played their last game in 1958 in Cardinal Stadium.
Albany has been home to or hosted many well known and locally known baseball players over the decades. Most Albanians recognize the names, Paul Eames, Merritt Ranew, Ray Knight, Ace Adams, to say nothing of Buster Posey; the names go on and on. Albany has also had many championship little league teams and highs school teams. Though the Paul Eames Stadium now stands empty, it too once hosted the Polecats, the Alligators, the South Georgia Peanuts the South Georgia Waves and even a female baseball team, the Silver Bullets. Baseball has come and gone from Albany over the years but it is likely that someday the “Boys of Summer” will once again return here.
Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.