When the struggling Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee in March 1953, the city went wild for its new baseball team. Soon, the Braves were winning games, drawing bigger crowds than any team besides the Brooklyn Dodgers, and turning Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn into Hall of Famers. Within five years the team would win a World Series and two pennants.
It seemed the dawn of a new dynasty. Impassioned fans wore their hearts on their sleeves. Yet in October 1964, team owners made a shocking announcement: the Braves were moving to Atlanta.
Decades later, Concordia University Wisconsin Associate Professor of History Patrick W. Steele, PhD, has unpacked the reasons for the Braves’ departure with his first published book, “Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee.”
A book premiere will take place March 28 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Zimmerman Architectural Studios, Inc., 2122 W. Mt. Vernon Ave., Milwaukee.
Q. What led you to write this book?
A. I have always wanted to know the reasons why the team left Milwaukee despite outdrawing every other team in baseball over 13 years, with the exception of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Many people have had their theories as to why, and growing up near Milwaukee, I routinely heard a number of them. Fans blamed the greedy owners and the lure of Coca Cola cash. Team management claimed they weren’t getting enough local support. What I hope readers will learn is that the fans were not the reason why the team left Milwaukee, despite what the Braves organization has maintained since 1965.
Q. Did you grow up a Braves fan?
A. No, they left before I was even born. I grew up following the Brewers and the Red Sox. I do go to the Braves games when they come to town though, just because there’s a level of nostalgia. My mom grew up a huge Braves fan and she was the one who was really disappointed when they left. She’s the one I dedicated the book to. Her and my 3-year-old granddaughter, because she lives in the Braves network. My two favorite Braves fans.
Q. What did you draw from in order to write it?
A. Extensive primary research, newspaper analyses, and interviews with relevant people associated with the move of the Braves from Milwaukee to Atlanta. I had the opportunity to talk to Bill Bartholomay, the former owner who is still chairman emeritus. It’s hard to get access to him, but I told him right up front that I wanted to tell the story as fairly as possible. Everything else that’s been written has painted him very unpleasantly, and I basically said, “Look, this is your opportunity to tell your story.” I don’t think, if given the chance, that he would do anything differently than he did, but I truly don’t think that he set out to maliciously move the team.
Q. There’s always a lesson in history. What do you think the bigger lesson in this story is?
A. There’s a lot of little lessons, but the bigger thing…you know, people always say, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, the flip side is true, too. If you don’t build it, they won’t come. I think that’s what the county didn’t understand at the time. If you don’t subsidize professional sports, another city will step up and do it and you’ll end up losing the assets you have. There’s plenty of other examples of that. Ultimately, I think it comes down to the city and the City of Milwaukee didn’t understand the profitability they had at the time.
Q. So do you wish things could have ended differently?
A. If you sit down and watch a Brewers spring training or whatever, you’ll still see people with their Braves caps on. The ghost of the Braves still lingers. They were only here for 13 years, and yet, 50-plus years later we’re still living with their legacy. Maybe it was better for us long-term that they were only here for that brief period of time, because it gives us a bit of nostalgia to hang onto. They can simply be who they were in our memories: the winning team with those gorgeous uniforms.
Q. Where can people who are interested learn more?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Patrick Steele, an assistant professor of history, earned his B.A. and M.A. in history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He attended Marquette University, where he earned his PhD in Modern American history. Before arriving at Concordia, he taught at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac, and Wisconsin Lutheran College. His dissertation was entitled Strategic Air Warfare and Nuclear Strategy: The Formulation of Military Policy in the Truman Administration, 1945-1950.The courses that he teaches at CUW include those in Asian history, the Vietnam War, American history, the Modern Middle East, and the history of sports, including baseball and football.
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