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Home of the Braves?

By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 9, 2007

But they did win the pennant there in 1948. And what might have taken place at Braves Field and at Fenway Park that fall is one of the great disappointments of Boston sports history. The Red Sox were terrific that season — but not quite good enough. They just missed the post-season, losing a one-game playoff to the Cleveland Indians, thus depriving the Hub of its last chance for a Boston/Boston subway series.

Even the Braves’ last pennant in this city, however, was arguably obscured in the hubbub surrounding the Sox’ heartbreaking World Series loss in 1946, Ted Williams’s second Triple Crown in 1947, and the epic pennant race with the Yankees chronicled by the late David Halberstam in The Summer of ’49. Even when they were playing well, the Braves couldn’t seem to catch a break.

Race to the top
If both Boston teams were talented in the ’40s, one area where they diverged drastically was in the area of race. In fact, by the mid-’50s, the Braves had one of the most integrated teams in the majors, with center fielder Billy Bruton, first baseman George Crowe, and a power-hitting right fielder named Henry Aaron, whose contract had been purchased by the team for $10,000 in 1952.

In 1945, Fenway Park played host to the now-infamous tryout of three Negro League players: outfielder Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes, second baseman Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars, and a fleet shortstop from the Kansas City Monarchs named Jackie Robinson. The Red Sox could have signed any one of them. Could have been the first team to break the color line. Instead, after 90 minutes of hitting and fielding drills, the players heard a chilling voice boom from the shadows of the grandstand from an unknown member of the Sox brass: “Get those niggers off the field!”

Robinson, of course, made history with the Brooklyn Dodgers two years later. Less well known is that Jethroe signed with the Boston Braves in 1950. He won the National League Rookie of the Year that season, and led the league in stolen bases in ’50 and ’51. The Red Sox? They wouldn’t integrate for nearly another decade, until 1959 — the last team in the majors to do so, when they signed infielder Pumpsie Green.

“Jackie Robinson had been retired for two and a half seasons before they signed Pumpsie Green,” says Johnson incredulously. “The Bruins were integrated before the Red Sox!

“The Braves were very progressive,” he continues. “But I don’t think they were out to make a social statement. They were like the Celtics: trying to get the best players they could, and they weren’t letting the old conventions dictate anything.”

Imagine for a moment what having Hammerin’ Hank in Boston for 22 seasons might have meant. If he’d hit those 755 home runs in the Hub, might it have done something to change the racial climate in this infamously segregated city?

“Hank Aaron would have been unbelievable,” says Magrane. “It probably would’ve taken some of the stigma out of race relations. Here’s a Boston baseball team with a phenomenal black player. You wouldn’t get some of the stigma that surrounded the Red Sox — you always hear that they were racist.”

A DIGNIFIED CROWD: Honey Fitz (second from left) was a regular at the team’s watering hole.
A change will do you good
The Braves’ fortunes took a turn after moving to Milwaukee: they played before a record 1.8 million ecstatic fans their first season in a brand new stadium; Eddie Mathews won the home-run title; and Spahn led the league with 23 wins. They won the World Series in ’57 and added another pennant in ’58.

In 1966, taking advantage of the burgeoning Southern market, the team headed to Atlanta, where their success was even greater: pennants in ’91, ’92, ’96, and ’99, a World Series in ’95, and 11 straight division titles. Broadcast nationwide on owner Ted Turner’s WTBS, they were marketed as “America’s Team.”

All that glory contrasts sharply with the team’s final years in Boston. “The handwriting was on the wall when only 200-something thousand came in 1952,” says Johnson. “Only two games topped 10,000, which was hard to believe. The Braves were at the cutting edge, but they were the second team in a town that, at times, didn’t even support the Red Sox that well.”

So many what-ifs. What if there had been a Red Sox-Braves World Series in 1948? And what if the Braves had won? Might we be rooting for John Smoltz instead of Curt Schilling?

“I still get a lot of calls and a lot of letters,” says Altison, “stating that the wrong team left Boston.”

Luckily, before leaving for Milwaukee, the Braves handed the reins of one of their signature achievements off to the Red Sox: the Jimmy Fund. Although it’s impossible to diminish the great work the Red Sox have done with the Jimmy Fund over the last five decades, it’s hardly ever remembered that it was the Braves who were the favorite team of the original “Jimmy,” the late Einar Gustafson. It was Braves players who crowded into his hospital room when he appeared on Truth or Consequences. It was Ashland-born owner Lou Perini who founded the charity with Braves PR man Billy Sullivan.

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Home of the Braves?
Thanks for the wonderful article on the old Boston Braves. I was 16 when they left town for good & have never totally forgotten them and the impact they had on my early childhood years. It all now seems like part of a lost ghost world. Day games, 50 cent tickets, those great uniforms with the Indian on the sleeve and the tomahawk on front. They can have all the big money & hype we must endure in MLB today. What I wouldn't give for just one more day, circa 1949-50, at Braves Field watching a big league doubleheader for fifty cents.
By bostonblakie on 05/12/2007 at 7:44:13
Home of the Braves?
I was born on November 7, 1952, so technically I was born when the Braves were still in Boston. However, I grew up hearing about the Milwaukee Braves, and not knowing their history. One day, probably in 1961, I was in my garage with my father, and I came across a datebook for 1952. I was excited by this, since it showed the calendar page for the day I was born. Then, I looked through the rest of the datebook, and saw schedules for the Boston Red Sox (the only sports team I cared about) and for something called the Boston Braves. My first guess was that they were an old minor league team. When I asked my dad about them, though, he told me that they were the team that was then called the Milwaukee Braves. My jaw dropped. I had watched the Braves play in the World Series in 1957 and 1958, and had watched them come close in 1959. "You mean that we could be watching Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Bill Bruton and the rest of the Braves, instead of the living-on-past-glories Red Sox?", I thought to myself. Shortly afterwards, Dad took me past Nickerson Field and showed me what was left of Braves Field. I thought that it was an incredibly stupid move to tear down part of a perfectly good ballpark to put up some stupid dormitories; but I looked at the old light towers, the right field wall, the old track for the outfield wall inside this wall, the right field pavilion, and even the trolley tracks next to the ballpark, and thought of what might have been. Sometimes, even today, I'll walk into the pavilion and look for the seams that mark the place where the Braves shifted the foul lines in the last years of the park. Or, I'll head to the western end, where another seam marks the end of the old pavilion (since expanded) and try to imagine the grandstand beginning a few feet away... the Jury Box in right... the bullpen nearby... seeing National League teams without the need for interleague play... and so on. I'm happy with the Red Sox now -- don't get me wrong -- but it would be nice to have a choice.
By thebigcat on 05/13/2007 at 1:37:51
Home of the Braves?
The article states that the Braves played at the largest field in the majors from 1936 to 1941. I am afraid that is not so. The Cleveland Indians played their first game in the old Lakefront Stadium (Municipal Stadium) on July 3, 1932. That stadium held nearly twice as many as Braves Field, 78189 versus 43,000. Enjoyed the article although more info on the '48 Braves would have been nice. I remember the World Series that year and some famous old Braves, Spahn, Sain, Vern Bickford, Bob Elliot, et al.
By Regis on 05/14/2007 at 8:04:06
Home of the Braves?
Admittedly, the wording of that paragraph could be clearer. But I meant only to point out that Braves Field was the biggest in baseball at the time it opened in 1915 -- while also noting, parenthetically, that it had a new nickname between '36 and '41.
By MM on 05/14/2007 at 11:59:09
Home of the Braves?
The Braves won 14 division titles in a row, not 11. The streak was ended only just last year. Thanks for this article!! I'm an Atlanta-born girl, whose father is from Massachusetts. I've always rooted for both teams, and felt that it was especially apt to do so since the Braves were once a Boston team. It surprises me how many 'rabid' Sox fans don't even know they were ever here. I can't wait for the series this weekend! Nothing makes me happier than being at the Greatest Park in America, watching my favorite teams battle it out.
By RachelC on 05/15/2007 at 1:54:15
Home of the Braves?
We mustn't forget the man who originated the idea to bring professional baseball to Boston, Ashburnham, MA native Iver Whitney Adams. Mr. Adams was the founder , organizer and President of the first-ever Boston Base Ball Club and of the Boston Red Stockings. From an invitation in 1871, and a declaration of financial backing by Mr. Adams, baseball great Harry Wright moved from managing the "Cincinnati Red Stockings" to work professionally with the first-ever base ball team in Boston, the "Boston Red Stockings" He managed the Boston Red Stockings (1871 - 1875), Boston Red Caps (1876 - 1881), Providence Grays (1882 - 1883) and Philadelphia Quakers/Phillies (1884 - 1893). His teams won six league championships (1872 - 1875, 1877, 1878) and he finished his managerial career with 1225 wins and 885 losses for a .581 winning percentage.
By riceflan on 01/01/2008 at 1:37:18

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