Sad Riddance: The Milwaukee Braves' 1965 season amid a sport and a world in turmoil by Chuck Hildebrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let me say first that, if you are not a baseball fan with an interest in either the era or this particular team, this is probably not for you. BUT, if you are, then you'll enjoy "Sad Riddance." From the outset of the 20th century through 1952, baseball's major leagues enjoyed a 50-year period of amazing stability. However, between 1953 and 1971, no fewer than nine franchise shifts (with the Athletics relocating twice, first from Philadelphia to Kansas City, and then from there to Oakland, California) took place.
The first of these was the incredible story of the floundering Boston Braves' move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where a second-division team (the year before, in Boston) were welcomed as conquering heroes, and attendance records were smashed across the board as the Braves became a winner and then a champion. In the early 1960's however, while the team always won more games than they lost, they were not the powerhouse they had been at their height, and most of the old familiar names had departed, replaced by a parade of forgettable imports. Attendance fell, and the team was sold to a group out of Chicago, headed by Bill Bartholomay. Bartholomay spent two years assuring the city of Milwaukee that he intended to keep the team there, then went back on all of it by applying to the league to move the Braves to Atlanta, Georgia for the 1965 season.
Not so fast, though. Court action prevented the team from breaking its lease on Milwaukee County Stadium, and so the Braves headed into unprecedented territory, becoming the first and only team to ever have to play a lame duck season in a city while knowing they were leaving at the end of it. This book chronicles both the action on the field and the machinations in the court rooms, as well as giving a real feel for the city of Milwaukee itself.
The team still had eventual all-time home run king Henry Aaron and fan favorite Eddie Mathews, the only player to appear for all three incarnations of the Braves--in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta--as well as such players as Joe Torre, Phil Niekro and Rico Carty. Set against the backdrop of the National League's marvelous pennant race that year, the empty seats and broken hearts in Milwaukee are a stark counterpoint to a pennant race the team stayed in until as late as the end of August.
There are plenty of villains here: in addition to Bartholomay, there is reviled manager Bobby Bragan, who didn't seem to know when to shut his mouth and not say things to disparage the city of Milwaukee or his players, and do-nothing baseball commissioner Ford Frick.
While this book is rather long, and contains perhaps a little *too much* detail, I do recommend it to anyone who loved the Milwaukee Braves, or who wants to know how a city can lose a beloved professional sports franchise.
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