Man releases book on the Milwaukee Braves
WEST BEND, Wis. (AP) — When it comes to the Milwaukee Braves, whose fault was it?
The Daily News reports that Patrick Steele’s book, “Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee,” hopes to answer those questions that still simmer in the minds of baseball fans in Milwaukee and throughout in Wisconsin a half-century later, while also providing a different prospective on what went down leading to the Braves leaving Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1965.
Steele, a former softball coach and an associate professor at Concordia University in Mequon, wrote the book, published by the University of Wisconsin Press and released Tuesday, March 27, for several reasons.
“The idea for the book first originated when Bob Buege first put his book out,” said Steele, who is a member of the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association.
Buege wrote “The Milwaukee Braves: A Baseball Eulogy” and it was released in 1988. Buege wrote the foreword for Steele’s book.
Steele thought Buege and many other books about the Braves didn’t answer the question of why.
“Since then, I’ve been trying to answer that question,” Steele said.
His reasons for writing the book also include seeing the heartbreak it caused his mom, Kathye, a die-hard supporter of the franchise when it was in Milwaukee.
“She never understood why they left,” Patrick said. “I want to tell the story for her and for fans like her, explain to them, ‘Hey, it wasn’t your fault.’ Because in many ways the Atlanta Braves organization still blames the fans of Milwaukee for them leaving which I think is really unfair.”
He added, “It had to be more than greedy owners. There had to be more.”
Through nearly five years of research, Steele found there were a slew of reasons and very few of them had to do with the fans.
The Chicago-based ownership group in the 1960s, led by William Bartholomay, who purchased the franchise from Lou Perini in 1962, said attendance was the factor.
“Attendance was down all over baseball,” Steele said, adding the Braves did this because that’s the easiest party to blame in the fiasco.
When asked whom he thought was to blame for the Braves leaving for Atlanta, Steele said more of the blame should be put on Milwaukee County and the Braves franchise, not the fans. He acknowledged the fans had a small part, but not as big as they’ve been made out to be.
In the appendix is a line chart showing the attendance data of the first 13 years of existence of the Milwaukee Braves, the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. According to the data in the book, the Atlanta Braves drew fewer fans than the Brewers, which included a strike in 1981.
The Atlanta Braves didn’t pass the Milwaukee Braves in total attendance until season 13.
“While this does not demonstrate profitability of the Braves or the Brewers, it does show that Milwaukee was not the bad baseball town that the Braves ownership claimed when the team left Wisconsin,”
It was a shock to Steele after his research and writing to see where the blame was being put and where it wasn’t.
“The biggest kind of wow moment was the hostility from the county, particularly the supervisors,” Steele said. “I tried to put myself into the shoes of people making those decisions because I don’t think it’s fair to criticize people in retrospect without really understanding what their perspective was.”
Steele said it was Milwaukee County officials who started the movement that ultimately sent the Braves south.
“They made the Braves economically inviable in Milwaukee and that’s what was shocking to me,” he said.
He wrote extensively about the constant changes county officials made to the lease agreement with Milwaukee County Stadium. For example, the Braves were responsible for the upkeep of the parking lot, while the county kept the revenue.
“When I read in multiple sources in their own documents, that the Braves paid more to use County Stadium more than any other team in Major League Baseball paid to use their facilities,” Steele said.
In his epilogue, Steele writes a section entitled, “So who lost?
The Braves were 92-62 in their first season in Milwaukee in 1953 and drew a then-record 1.8 million fans, an unfathomable figure by that era’s standards.
Four years later, the Braves celebrated a World Series title and a National League pennant the following season. Attendance figures were beyond comprehension, but eventually those numbers settled down. Not helping the matter was the rise of the Green Bay Packers and the Vince Lombardi years.
Steele said the new ownership group overpaid for the organization.
Eventually, Atlanta dangled a tempting offer, much like the one Milwaukee did to get the Braves out of Boston, a new stadium and an eager fan base.
“If it wouldn’t have been Atlanta, it would’ve been somewhere else,”
Steele interviewed Bartholomay for the book.
“He said, ‘Look, when the club was in Milwaukee, my wife and I had a place out in Lake Geneva,’” Steele said. ”’For us to go to a ballgame, it was get in the car, drive over to County Stadium, get up to the suite, it was 40 minutes.
“To catch a game in Atlanta, I had to go to the airport, get on a plane, fly down to Atlanta, stay down there for a couple days. It wasn’t convenient.’”
Steele said the Braves weren’t forced out of Milwaukee. He believes if the ownership sold the team to local interest, the Braves may have never left. He also believes the team shattering attendance records did more harm than good.
“They wanted to be owners and the only option was to go somewhere else where they could get a better stadium deal,” Steele said.
Information from: Daily News, http://www.gmtoday.com