The Braves, despite their pockets of success over the years, left town with a whimper. “What I remember most vividly is that there weren’t many people in the ballpark,” says Kahn, who covered the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune in 1952, the Braves’ last season in Braves Field. “When Brooklyn [visited the Braves], it was unusual. Jackie Robinson was still a big drawing card, and around the National League the Dodgers played in front of big crowds. Not in Boston. We used to joke that Braves Field was a good place to read a book because it was so quiet.”
Brave old world
HANK AARON: might have changed Boston’s racial reputation.
George Altison, 77, grew up in Allston, just a couple blocks from Braves Field. He’s now the business manager of the Boston Braves Historical Association (BBHA, boston-braves.com), a 14-year-old group, 500 or so members strong, which webmaster Byron Magrane, 32, describes, aptly, as “basically a bunch of guys who get together every year and reminisce about the Braves.”
In the early ’40s, when Altison was 11, he became a member of the “Knot Hole Gang,” a group of diehard youngsters who availed themselves of owner Lou Perini’s idea to swell Braves Field’s meager attendance: free admission for kids to the park’s left-field pavilion.
Then, “when I was 14, I started working there as a concessionaire for Harry M. Stevens, Inc. [the USA’s first sports food service],” says Altison. He worked in Fenway, too, but the Braves were his team. He lived down the block. He was a fan, as was his father before him. “They called us the blue-collar fans compared to the Red Sox fans.”
While Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx were tearing it up down the street in Kenmore Square, Altison was in Allston, rooting for players with exquisitely evocative names like Whitey Wietelmann, Sibby Sisti, and Buddy Gremp. “To my eyes,” he says, “the Boston Braves were the number-one team, win or lose.”
Art “Lefty” Johnson, 88, was teammates with Wietelmann, Sisti, and Gremp. (And, for that matter, with Sig “Chops” Broskie” and Skippy Roberge.) The southpaw pitched for the Braves between 1940 and 1942, finishing his career with a 7-16 record and a 3.68 ERA. He pitched only 195-plus innings all told, 183 of them in ’41. But his short time with the Braves is a “very fond memory.”
Johnson turned pro right out of high school, in Winchester. “As a matter of fact, my father signed a contract when I was still a junior in high school to be effective the day I graduated.” After a few steps up the minor-league ladder, he was called up.
The Braves were exactly where he wanted to be. “Oh, I was always a Braves fan. I liked the National League because of the brand of ball that they played: the bunt, the hit-and-run, the steal. The Red Sox, they always played for the home run and the big scores. I liked the fundamentals. In my opinion, that’s what the game was all about.”
Alas, the Braves’ proficiency with fundamentals came perhaps at the expense of their popularity. “The Red Sox were always more popular in Boston, yes,” recalls Johnson. “The average fan likes to see the home run, the hits off the Monster wall. Not the 1-0 games that are over in an hour and 31 minutes.”