Normally the final month of any pennant race dwindles down to a fight between two teams, occasionally three, once in a great while four. Last week the National League, long dedicated to all-out fratricide, was filled with tension, consternation and confusion because there were not two, three or even four contenders, but six, all of them stumbling in the face of opportunity and causing frustrations not normally found on winning clubs. For instance, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have led the league for all but 16 days of the season, defied mathematics and lost four of seven games only to gain ground on most of their closest pursuers. Dodger pitching, which had allowed just 3.38 runs a game all season, last week gave up 6.43. And a disabled bullpen put added strain on the weary pitching arms of Don Drysdale (left) and Sandy Koufax (who had to be used in relief). But while the Dodgers were struggling, so were the teams that were trying to upend them....
MEANWHILE, CONSIDER POOR MILWAUKEE
The sun over Milwaukee's County Stadium was hot, but the beer in the cooler was cold, and everything was right with the world. The German-accented group behind home plate now and then directed its attention to the playing field and booed the Pirates. The Braves were playing the Phillies, but what the hell. You got the opener, Herman?
The year was 1957, when Al Cissa ran the nightly attendance pool in the press box and the guesses on each game went from 40,000 up. Now it is 1965, and last week when the Braves, with what Manager Bobby Bragan calls his "karate" batting attack, met the Cincinnati Reds in a pennant-pregnant series, the four successive night games attracted a total of 41,015 customers. The attendance pool is out; the hypersensitive management decided it was gambling. It's just as well, because there was a good chance of a coup; at many Milwaukee games this year a man who wanted the quarters badly enough could have counted the house, capita by capita.
September 5, 1965
It would be oversimplification to say that the ban on bring-your-own-beer parties was the beginning of the end of the phenomenal honeymoon between the big-league team and the Triple-A town. All concessionaires love captive audiences, and fans had been disarmed at the gate in towns like Philadelphia, where they frequently had littered left field with beer cans, sometimes without drinking the beer first (a profligacy highly unlikely in thrifty Milwaukee). But that prohibition is the only official act by the Braves' management about which Milwaukee's hoi polloi is truly resentful. For all the antitrust suits the politicians and vested interests may propose to hold the team in civic bondage, the Braves will ride to Atlanta this winter on a great groundswell of public apathy.
"Atlanta can have 'em," said a man with a 25¢ schooner of beer in a gloomy gin mill off Wisconsin Avenue. "Eight years I buy tickets, and then they want me to buy their beer—at their prices. They got to have all the money."
"As soon as they win," a bartender with a broader grudge complained, "they trade away all the good players. They wanted to get rid of the big salaries. Last winter they had Mathews on the block." The Braves did not pull out any plums when they took such as Ty Cline and Don Dillard for Joe Adcock, or Jack Curtis for Bob Buhl. But they gradually put together a team that is most respected around the National League and, Elder Statesman Ed Mathews believes, superior to the 1957 and 1958 champions. "Sure, it's a good team," said a gas-station attendant in suburban Wauwatosa, patio country where ex-fans drink the beer they can no longer bring to County Stadium. "I hope they win the World Series. Then what can they do for an encore in Atlanta?"
"It's just this town," said a cab driver who has lived in Milwaukee for 43 years. "They don't stay interested in anything very long. Nothing will ever go here except bowling—and beer drinking." The handwriting was on the wall before the beer ban and before the "bad" trades. Many Milwaukee fans never realized that a baseball team is like the farmer's durable ax: "Couple of new heads and a couple of new handles, but it's the same ax." They expected the Adcocks, Buhls and Johnny Logans to go on and on.
They were still going in 1959 when the Braves met the Dodgers in the playoff. The first game, in Milwaukee, drew only 18,297. Granted it was a Monday, on short notice with no advance sale. But in 1957, on a dreary Thursday afternoon in June, the Dodgers had drawn 31,051 to County Stadium. ("Doesn't anyone ever work in this town?" asked the late Arch Murray of the New York Post. Lou Zimmerman of the Milwaukee Deutsche Zeitung asked for German-language rights, to Murray's amazement.)
Something was different, and Ray Jackson knew it. The volume of business at his restaurant on Blue Mound Road, around the corner from the stadium, had gone up another $12,000 in 1959. It had gone nowhere but up and up and up since he mortgaged the place in April 1953 when the Braves moved in. In 1960, for the first time, there was no increase. He served dinner to an average of 175 persons before a night game and drinks to that many after. It was the baseball place in Milwaukee. Last Thursday night, before the finale of the pivotal series with the Reds, he served about 30 dinners. "Not bad," he said.
Jackson, who was born in Milwaukee 50 years ago, learned something about the town on Sept. 23, 1957 after Henry Aaron hit Billy Muffett's curve ball 405 feet, and about eight inches higher than Wally Moon could jump. The Braves had finally won a pennant, and John Quinn, the general manager who had assembled the team and soon would become expendable, hugged his wife and wept in the company box upstairs. Downtown, Marquette students snake-danced in the streets. In the dressing room the players showered each other with champagne and smeared each other with sauce from the barbecued ribs and shrimp Ray Jackson had brought in. But the police began pulling in the sidewalks at 1:45 a.m., as they always do in Milwaukee, though out around the stadium nobody realized that. A group of late-working newspapermen adjourned to Ray Jackson's at 2 a.m. to finish the ribs. The cops raided the place 15 minutes later. "I thought it would be New Year's Eve," Ray Jackson said to the sergeant.
Marquette students can be counted on to cavort if the Braves win this pennant, but there will be more concern on streets in Atlanta, where Sports Editor Furman Bisher has suggested that ideally Milwaukee should miss a pennant by one percentage point. This seems feasible to Milwaukee County Board Chairman Eugene Grobschmidt, who has allegedly enraged the team by suggesting that the Braves are not striving as mightily as they are able. ("Naw, we're not sore at him," says Catcher Gene Oliver. "He's a clown.") It is not feasible to Aaron, who has cashed two World Series checks in 12 seasons. "We'll take it this year," Aaron says. Nor is Mathews whistling Dixie. Whether or not the Braves leave them laughing when they say goodby, this 13th season is such a solemn challenge to him that he keeps apologizing for being so "corny" about it. Last spring Manager Bragan made Mathews the captain, and he took it seriously.
"So did we," said Oliver. "We kid about it. Like we say, 'Let's go to this restaurant, if it's O.K. with the captain.' But he really is the captain. He would be anyway, because he's such a class guy, but he really took charge. Early this year he was talking to guys in slumps, patting them on the fanny and saying, 'Get 'em tomorrow.' He was hitting .210 himself, but you wouldn't know it."
Oliver, about to open a gym in Rock Island, Ill., was appointed calisthenics leader by Bragan in Florida. "You figure a veteran player would say the hell with calisthenics," Oliver said, "but Eddie went right to work, and the rest of them followed him. One day when he was going bad he was on deck to hit against Hal Woodeshick [a left-hander]. Bragan went out and asked him if he thought he could hit him better than Mike de la Hoz. He said, 'no,' and sat down."
"It sounds corny," Mathews said for the third time in 10 minutes, "but I'm more interested in the team winning. I have enough records of my own. I don't think about them. Well, I do know I have 474 home runs, but only because Musial had 475. The only record I want is for Henry and I to beat Ruth's and Gehrig's home runs. I don't know why, but I want that one." (They trailed at the moment 1,208-867, but Mathews is only 33, Aaron 31.)
"There are some problems guys have that they won't take to the management," Mathews said, "so they come to me. Hell, I used to make the problems. Marriage settled me down somewhat, but I still got in those bar brawls.
"Look, it sounds corny," Mathews went on, "but this year has been more rewarding, or fulfilling or whatever you want to call it, than all the others. I guess it's because I feel like I'm something more than just a goddamn ballplayer."
If the players do not have Georgia on their minds, Bill Bartholomay, youthful board chairman of the new syndicate deficit-financing the Braves, can't get it off his. Who, he was asked, will get the World Series tickets if the Braves win the pennant? "Our primary obligation," he said, "is to the season ticket-holders right here in Atlanta—uh, Milwaukee." Nobody caught the slip, except Lou Chapman of the Milwaukee Sentinel. Early in his 13-year stewardship as chronicler of the Braves' deeds and misdeeds, Chapman's ubiquitous reporting earned him the sobriquet Gummy (for gumshoe) from Manager Fred Haney. The same kind of work earned him a one-day banishment from the Braves' clubhouse last June. His crime: quoting a player's suggestion that the Braves would be more likely to win the pennant with positive support in Atlanta than with the civic indifference of Milwaukee.
The first of the lawsuits is likely to come up in late November or early December. Generally, the idea is to pressure baseball into awarding Milwaukee a new franchise by holding the old one for legalistic ransom. They asked Ray Jackson to become a co-petitioner.
Ray is still a fan. The only tip to the diminution of his fervor is the array of Braves' pictures behind his bar. Lee Maye, now with Houston, is still there. Mack Jones isn't yet. Such negligence would not have been tolerable a few years ago. But Ray has something else on his mind: the plans for the bigger, better restaurant he'll build next door. Yes, he'll take the pictures with him.
"They wanted me to join the suit on the grounds that it will cost me business when the Braves leave," Jackson said. "Sure it will, but baseball has been good to me. Why should I be a sorehead? It was good while it lasted, but the party's over. That's all."