Lot # 183: 1954 Atlanta Crackers vs. Milwaukee Braves Ponce deLeon Park Official Scorecard w/rookie Hank Aaron (HOF) - Incredibly Significant Game!

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Item was in Auction "Spring, 2024 Premier Auction",
which ran from 3/11/2024 12:00 AM to
3/30/2024 9:00 PM

Occasionally one goes to a seemingly insignificant spring training baseball game and walks out with a scorecard from a game of enormous historical significance.  Whomever walked out of Ponce De Leon Park in Atlanta on March 26, 1954 with this scorecard did just that.

During the spring of 1954, much was made of young Hank Aaron's debut with the Milwaukee Braves.  Braves manager Charlie Grimm pronounced Aaron one of the finest prospects he'd ever laid eyes upon, and after two years of seasoning in the minor leagues, Aaron began spring training with the big club.  The Braves, meanwhile, were shaping their roster for the upcoming season, trimming players and assigning them to their minor league affiliates. 

In advance of a two-game exhibition series that saw the Milwaukee Braves visit their future home of Atlanta and play their Southern Association affiliate Atlanta Crackers, two things happened: first, Hank Aaron began his major league career, playing in the team's first spring training games.  Second, the Braves sent catcher/outfielder Nat Peeples to the Crackers, making him the first Black player ever to play in the Southern Association.

Peeples took the field that day wearing manager Whit Wyatt's uniform number 17, because the uniform the team provided for him did not fit.  The hometown club was walloped by the big league Braves, 11-0, with the Crackers managing just one hit - a fourth inning single by Peeples.  Aaron went 1-for-4 with a walk, though Eddie Mathews crushed a home run for the Braves.  Aaron, of course, went on to make his major league debut on Opening Day, just a few weeks later, and of course would live up to all his promise, becoming one of the greatest players who ever lived.

Peeples' career, unfortunately, took a different route.  He lasted exactly two regular-season games in the Southern Association before he was assigned to Jacksonville of the South Atlantic League.  Despite repeated quotes from manager Whit Wyatt that Peeples was the best player on the Crackers and hit four home runs during spring training, team president Earl Mann optioned him to Jacksonville "so he could play every day," newspapers reporting he was having trouble with the curveball.  Mann was quoted - quite literally - as saying "There definitely was no other reason for assigning him to Jacksonville."

The Southern Association continued to operate until 1961.  Aside from those two games in which Nat Peeples played, no other Black player ever took the field for a Southern Association team.

Presented here is an official Ponce De Leon Park scorecard for a Spring Training exhibition between the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association and the Milwaukee Braves.  The scorecard appears in VG/EX condition, with some light soiling and some age-related toning, as well as some pencil notations inside the scorecard.  There are definitely some discrepancies in the scoring (which only lasts through the 8th inning, the 9th inning is blank), largely with the Crackers lineup.  There are, however, enough consistencies between official boxscores and the scoring of this game - Aaron's batting record, Matthews' home run, the starting and relief pitchers, and most importantly, Peeples' hit.

A document of extreme historical significance, representing the immense struggles of Black athletes in the early 1950s - both their massive successes, and their unjust setbacks.  A document of both the rise of Hank Aaron and the fall of Nat Peeples (who never played in the Majors), and quite possibly the earliest scorecard in which Hank Aaron appears with a major league team.

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