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The Best Place For Baseball History

A week after looking unsuccessfully for evidence of baseball maverick Bill Veeck in Milwaukee, Peter Wilt finds - without looking - a piece of Milwaukee baseball history at the old Pabst Brewery.

 

Last week I searched and searched for  and for the most part failed.  This week I was just looking to have a Pabst Blue Ribbon in the beer's famous birthplace when I accidentally stumbled across a remarkable piece of Milwaukee baseball history. 

The old Boston Red Sox autographs I discovered on Friday really stunned me and the Red Sox fan in my party. The autographs gained more meaning the next day when it dawned on me why the Red Sox were in Milwaukee visiting the Pabst Brewery that day almost 60 years ago.

I had made plans to meet a few friends at the News Room Pub prior to attending the Milwaukee Admirals game and Dropkick Murphys concert at the Bradley Center on Friday. I love the News Room Pub, because its walls are covered with chalk autographs of historic figures who have spoken to the Milwaukee Press Club over the last century. Autographs include legends from Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron and Mark Twain to Cecil B. deMille. It also brings back great memories of the night I danced and shared drinks there with Broadway star Chita Rivera in their back room and the adjoining Safe House.

I changed plans that day, however, to meet my guests at the Best Place Tavern at the old Pabst Brewery instead. The itinerary change from one historic venue to another led to an amazing piece of baseball history. Best Place Tavern is named after Pabst Brewery founder Jacob Best, but it is also a true description as one of the very best places in Milwaukee. It is living history. The two outdoor courtyards host fabulous statues of King Gambrinus and Captain Frederick Pabst respectively and are a perfect place to enjoy a cold beer on a warm summer day. Private tours showcase Captain Pabst’s old office, the Pabst board room and Pabst’s former corporate offices.    

The Best Place gift shop is like a museum where the artifacts are all for sale. Blue Ribbon Hall is a large room that is ideal for receptions of all kinds and often hosts public concerts and other events. Blue Ribbon Hall has a balcony with seating for 50 people, a bar, leaded glass windows, intricate woodwork and historic murals drawn by famed artist Edgar Miller.

Just off the northeast corner of Blue Ribbon Hall is an ante room that resembles a church’s baptismal room. It is a small, ornate room that has a table with an antique Pabst Blue Ribbon display case in the center. Inside the display case is where I serendipitously came across the piece of Milwaukee baseball history.  It was the old Pabst Brewery guest book. Visitors, famous and not so famous, to the Milwaukee landmark had signed the brewery’s guest book through most of the 20th century. Names in this book from 1953 include Groucho Marx, Lon Chaney and….the entire Boston Red Sox American League baseball team – 31 signatures in all!

Every autograph was followed by a handwritten “Boston Red Sox”. The first name that jumped out to me was the fourth from the top – “James Piersall”.  Jimmy Piersall’s line of work was talented outfielder, but he was better known as a man who struggled with mental illness. His story was told in the 1957 motion picture “Fear Strikes Out” starring Anthony Perkins as Piersall and Karl Malden as his overbearing father.

Jimmy had a colorful and often volatile 17 year career and hit 104 home runs…he famously ran backwards around the bases when he hit his 100th homer while with the New York Mets. After retiring, he paired with Harry Caray as a Chicago White Sox announcer until he was fired for choking a reporter, insulting White Sox owner Bill Veeck’s wife and excessive on-air criticism of team management.

The second name I recognized was Red Sox Manager Lou Boudreau. Boudreau was a Hall of Fame shortstop and long time Chicago Cubs radio announcer. Other signatures included outfielder Dom DiMaggio, Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Curt Gowdy and a slew of names familiar to anyone with a 1950s baseball card collection.

The biggest name on the 1953 Red Sox though, was the only one that was missing. Superstar outfielder Ted Williams’ autograph is nowhere to be found.  The list included Billy Goodman, Hoot Evers and George Kell…Johnny Lipon, Mel Parnell and Gus Niarhos. But the man many believe was the greatest hitter of all time missed this trip to Milwaukee and the Pabst Brewery.  Williams missed it for the same reason he missed all of the 1943, 44 and 45 seasons and most of the 1952 and 53 seasons.  The Splendid Splinter was in the midst of a tour of duty as a naval aviator in the US Marine Corps in Korea that saw him take part in 39 combat missions that year.  Williams spent the last half of those 1953 missions as future astronaut John Glenn’s wing man.

Upon discovery of the autographs in the guest book, I was excited, but it wasn’t until I thought about it the next day that I realized how truly remarkable this find was.  I began to wonder why the Red Sox would have been in Milwaukee at the brewery.  The Red Sox are an American League team and the Milwaukee Braves who they must have been in town to play against were in the National League.  Then I considered the entry date for the signatures:  April 8, 1953.

The Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee in….1953!  April 8th….opening day must have been coming up!  A little bit of research uncovered the specific nature of the Red Sox visit to Brew Town and the Pabst Brewery.  The new Milwaukee Braves had scheduled a week of baseball activities to celebrate the team’s arrival.  The culmination would be two exhibition games – the Milwaukee Braves very first games in Milwaukee. 

The Red Sox’ crosstown rival abandoned Beantown leaving all of Boston’s baseball riches and the Braves’ nationally recognized Jimmy Fund charity to Tom Yawkey’s team.  As a bit of a thank you, Yawkey’s Red Sox agreed to provide the opposition for the Braves very first games in their new home, Milwaukee County Stadium on April 9th and 10th.  The Red Sox arrived in Milwaukee April 8th for the last of their annual “Boston City Series” and the Braves arrived in their new city the next day by train.  Mayor Frank Zeidler temporarily rechristened Wisconsin Avenue as “Braves Avenue” and the Braves paraded down Braves Avenue to County Stadium in front of more than 200,000 wildly happy fans.    

Milwaukee had built a stadium with no promises for a team, but their anticipation and dream came true when Lou Perini abandoned Boston and headed west to become the first major league baseball team to relocate in 50 years.  The move began baseball’s manifest destiny.  The Browns, A’s, Giants, Dodgers and Senators followed in the next decade.  All moved to greener pastures: Baltimore, Kansas City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minnesota.

And sadly, just a dozen years after they arrived, the Braves followed suit – literally – and moved again -this time to Atlanta.  Milwaukee was no longer the greener pasture, but in its wake, the Braves left memories - memories of their fabulous welcome, two National League pennants, a World Series title and children learning to love Major League Baseball.

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Bob McBride February 28, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Another interesting one, Peter. Thanks for consistently keeping the quality above the norm.
peter wilt February 28, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Thanks very much Bob. i appreciate it. Not sure how long i can keep 'em coming, but it's fun while it lasts....speaking of which, my friend Andy Crossley has an amazing blog on defunct (mostly 2nd tier or minor league) sports teams, called "Fun While It Lasted". Current post is on the Milwaukee Does: http://www.funwhileitlasted.net/2012/02/26/95-milwaukee-does-milwaukee-express/ He also did a post on my experiences with the Milwaukee Admirals (though the Ads are very much alive): http://www.funwhileitlasted.net/2012/01/17/breaking-into-sports-peter-wilt/
David Tatarowicz March 03, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Peter --ditto on Bob's comment -- you help bring the "National Pastime" back to life.
peter wilt March 03, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Thanks very much David!
Paul Tenpenny May 05, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Hey Pete, Great meeting you the other day, keep up the good work.

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