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Bob Montag

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TEMECULA, CALIF.: Bob Montag, 82, Crackers slugger


During his eight seasons with the Atlanta Crackers at Ponce de Leon Park, left-handed slugger Bob Montag thrilled baseball fans with his towering home runs and untiring willingness to sign autographs.

"Bob was by far the most popular and recognizable name in Crackers baseball in the era I played," said Buck Riddle of Atlanta, first baseman 1956-58. "He had a nice swing and a good eye."

The outfielder's legendary home run came during the Crackers' most magical season, its Dixie Series-winning year of 1954. His blast cleared the right field fence and landed 450 feet away, in the coal car of a train bound for Nashville.

Mr. Montag recounted the story in the 2003 book "The Crackers: Early Days of Atlanta Baseball" by Tim Darnell: "A few days later our trainer told me there was some guy outside the locker room who wanted to see me. The train's fireman showed this ball that was covered with coal dust. He'd written on it, 'Atlanta to Nashville to Atlanta---518 Miles.' I autographed it for him."

That season Mr. Montag smashed home run No. 39, setting the club record. He got a break from the umpire, columnist Furman Bisher wrote in a 1986 Atlanta Journal article. "One Sunday afternoon he pulled a long drive into the right-field bank, foul by 10 feet, but the umpire signaled it fair, and Montag went into his majestic trot around the bases. Since he broke the club record by one, it was later written: 'The Cracker home run record is shared by Bob Montag and Bob Burns (the umpire who signaled the 39th home run fair)."

Mr. Montag retired from the Crackers --- and from baseball ---in 1959, having hit a record 113 home runs for the team, one short of the Southern Association record.

Robert Edward Montag, 82, of Temecula, Calif., formerly of Sandy Springs, died Monday of multiple organ failure at Rancho Springs Hospital in Murrieta, Calif. The body will be cremated. Memorial service plans in Atlanta will be announced. Miller-Jones Mortuary in Sun City, Calif., is in charge of arrangements.

The Cincinnati native joined the Army in 1943 and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

"When he was injured, he was told he would never walk again," said his daughter, Debbie Galladora of Temecula. "He rehabbed in Europe and came back to the States to play baseball. Dad was a fighter."

Mr. Montag played for minor league teams in Rhode Island, Utah, Texas, Wisconsin and Ohio before joining the Crackers---the Milwaukee Braves' AA Southern Association affiliate --- in 1952.

In Atlanta, he became "something of a live local fable," Mr. Bisher wrote. "He hit home runs in prodigious amounts. He even looked good striking out."

But "he was not a good fielder. His arm would not throw well," Mr. Bisher reported. That, along with some injuries, kept him from graduating to the major leagues.

Mr. Montag loved playing in Atlanta. "The fans were so good to me that no place else could be home again," he said in a 1984 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. "I used to get a bigger hand for hitting a fly ball than other guys would get for hitting a home run."

He never became an Atlanta Braves fan. "Today's players are overpaid and underworked," he said in 1984. "I just don't enjoy the way they play the game, like it's a job. Times have changed. We couldn't wait to get to the park and hated to go home. If you dropped a bomb in a major league dressing room 30 minutes after a game today, you wouldn't hit a soul."

After retiring from baseball, Mr. Montag was a regional sales representative for TV Guide for 25 years.

He was a volunteer and fund-raiser for the American Federation for the Blind, which honored him by creating the Robert Montag Youth Award.

Even though he left Atlanta in 1998 to be near his daughter and grandchildren, Crackers fans still tracked him down asking for autographs, his daughter said.

"Bob Montag was a hero to many generations of Atlanta Cracker fans and an integral part of Atlanta sports history," Mr. Darnell said.

Survivors include a brother, Edward Montag of Cincinnati, and two grandchildren.

© 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Mar. 26, 2005
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