With an interest in Atlanta politics and Atlanta’s sports history, alumnus and author/editor Tim Darnell, ’83, enjoys the luxury of being able to focus his attention on both. He has more than 20 years of experience in newspapers, magazines and Web sites. Author of four books, most recently The Crackers: Early Days of Atlanta Baseball and 101 Atlanta Sports Legends, Darnell currently works as a weekend editor at All News 106.7 radio and is a freelance journalist, providing political commentary in Atlanta and across the state of Georgia.
DC: Looking back on your time here as a student at Georgia State, and your field of study, did it have an influence on your desire to publish books later on? You
TD: Well, I think it really played more of a role in my interest in politics more so than writing books. Writing is always something that has come relatively easy for me. I only took one journalism class in high school and one in college but I knew when I went to Georgia State that I wanted to major in political science. I had some really outstanding professors at Georgia State. The two that I remember most fondly were Dr. Charles Pyles, who passed away a number of years ago and Dr. William Thomas. I wrote a few articles for the GSU Signal. Politics, journalism and sports just all kind of came together after I graduated. I have very fond memories of Georgia State. It kind of makes me sad to hear that Kell Hall is going to be demolished because I am sure I am not the only Georgia State grad whose first classes were held there. My father, who graduated back in the ‘70’s, had classes in there as well. The fact that he was the first one in our family to graduate from college, and he went to Georgia State, played a huge role in me wanting to go to GSU.
DC: Was there a specific event that took place in politics that grabbed your attention and got you interested in wanting to be a part of it?
TD: Yes, I remember it very distinctly. It was in 1968 and I think I was maybe seven years old. I was kind of a weird kid. I was not very athletic and I was very interested in the news and I remember the 1968 presidential election very clearly between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. I remember some of the campaign commercials by all three of those candidates and for whatever reason, I don’t know why, but it just kind of sparked an interest and I’ve been following politics ever since. My original goal when I went to GSU was that I wanted to go into politics at one point. A couple of years after graduating I got a job at a weekly newspaper in Sandy Springs and I’ve pretty much been in journalism ever since. I did run for office myself in 1988. I ran for state representative in my district. It was an open seat and there were seven of us in the race and I came in fifth and after that experience that just kind of satisfied any desire I had to be a candidate for public office. I had worked on a senate campaign two years prior to that and then in ‘88 ran for office and that’s really my last involvement in politics directly. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to do some election night analysis on a couple of local radio stations. I’ve also been on CSPAN a couple of times as an analyst during recent presidential elections and that continues to be one of my great interests to this day.
DC: As an avid baseball fan, you wrote a book on the Atlanta Crackers and the history of baseball in Atlanta. What prompted you to write the book?
TD: The initial book came about in 1995. I was working on a magazine at the time and I was given the assignment to go out and talk to a couple of former Cracker players. It was a great assignment and I found out that the Atlanta Crackers were one of the most successful franchises in professional baseball history at the minor league level. No one had ever written anything on it. No one had ever written a book about one of the most historically successful, winningest professional baseball teams in history. Baseball, more than any other sport, focuses on stats and numbers and the fact that no one had ever done a book about these guys was just fascinating to me. So I started the research and I self-published the original book in 1995. That was ironically the very same year of the Major League Baseball players strike and no publisher wanted to do any book about baseball. I wound up self-publishing it myself and a few years later it was picked up by Hill Street Press out of Athens, Ga. and that became the book called The Crackers: The Early Days of Atlanta Baseball. What strikes me the most about Atlanta’s baseball history is the team really set the stage for all of the history of winning and success that came to Atlanta later on. The Crackers really played a role in helping make Atlanta one of the premiere sports capitols in the nation. The fact that no one had ever told these guys stories before in book format and, you know, obviously by the time I got around to it several of the executives and players were no longer with us, which I really regret. But it became the only book ever written about the team and it’s just been very gratifying to have played a role in telling these guy’s stories.
DC: You’ve also authored a book about Atlanta’s sports legends. It’s yet another book that is a one-of-a kind with regards to Atlanta sports.
TD: Right, 101 Atlanta Sports Legends came about when I realized that, after I’d done the book on the Crackers, that Atlanta had this tremendous history of sports excellence and achievement and I wanted to cover a wide variety of sports from trap shooting to swimming as well as baseball, basketball, football and hockey and everything in between. I also wanted to include the executives and the businessmen and the broadcasters that made Atlanta a sports capitol from Earl Mann to Ted Turner to Arthur Blank. The book came out a few years ago and there are actually more than 101 people in the book because I included some honorable mentions as well. All totaled there are profiles of about 150 people and venues that are included. People may not remember Ponce de Leon Ballpark, Alexander Memorial Coliseum, East Lake Country Club, the Omni, facilities that helped make Atlanta what it is today.
DC: You’re still a big fan of Georgia State sports. Is there a specific memory that stands out to you with regards to the Panthers?
TD: As far as sports goes, a couple of years after I graduated, Bob Reinhart was Georgia State’s head coach and he led the Panthers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in the Omni against Arkansas. That was the first time Georgia State basketball had ever played in a national tournament. Also, obviously the very first game in Georgia State football history when they played Shorter in the Georgia Dome. I am a season ticket holder for football seeing 30,000 people at the Georgia Dome was a tremendous highlight of the football program. I drive through Georgia State’s campus quite frequently when I’m heading downtown. That little corridor off of Courtland Street, right near Hurt Park, I crossed that roadway many times going between the student center and the other side of the campus. I spent a lot of hours in the library doing research, on the top floors where all of the history and political books are located so I think those are some of the memories that will always stay with me. Walking up the ramps of Kell Hall to some of my first classes, which used to be a parking deck. I remember my father telling me about that. I have fond memories of talking to Dr. Langdale, who was president when I was there. He was probably one of the most physically and intellectually imposing individuals I have ever met and he was a true leader and someone that I admired tremendously.