Our guest blogger today is Patrick Steele. His new book, Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee, is published today.
For thirteen seasons, Milwaukee Braves fans had gathered to celebrate the opening of the baseball season with enthusiasm, hope, and lots of beer. The secular holiday, still celebrated today near the remains of old County Stadium, was the sign that winter was over and spring was finally at hand. But 1966 was different. Instead, the Braves celebrated Opening Day in Atlanta, Georgia, where they played the Pittsburgh Pirates before a crowd of little more than 50,000 at their new ballpark. One fan in the stands suggested that it was hard to get excited because they “had to go north and import a bunch of damn Yankees from Milwaukee” and that Atlanta “ought to have our own ball club.” Most Milwaukee fans would have taken the team back in a heartbeat, but that was not to be.
It is hard to grasp in 2018 what it must have felt like in April 1966 when the major league baseball season began without Milwaukee represented among its ranks. County Stadium was ready for the new season, but the grandstands and concourses were empty. Stadium workers had groomed the infield and even went so far as to put the tarp upon it, in case of rain. William Anderson, the stadium manager told reporters that they could not risk leaving it off because if it rained, “you would have had mud. It’s just a normal precaution.” The outfield padding was placed upon the walls and crews continued to prepare for games, and frankly, a season that would never come.
Rather than live baseball at County Stadium, Milwaukee fans were to get their baseball fix through television. Twenty-five Saturday games were scheduled to be broadcast throughout southeastern Wisconsin on WTMJ television, in addition to three holiday games and the All Star game. This was a sad consolation for an area that had supported baseball in record numbers. Even worse, this would be the first season without professional or minor league baseball since the late 1800s.
Milwaukee would miss out on Opening Day celebrations until 1970 when major league baseball formally returned to the city with the introduction of the Milwaukee Brewers. The team was greeted warmly when they arrived in Wisconsin, but they were not out of the shadow of the Braves. Many fans were excited about the prospects of the new team, but others still reminisced about the 1953 opener between the Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. Even Milwaukee County Board chairman Eugene Grobschmidt opined that the crowd that greeted the Brewers when they arrived in Wisconsin was bigger than the crowds that had met the Braves after their arrival from Boston. He was optimistic that the team would draw at least one million fans in 1970 because the people are “sore, and they are going to show the world we are a baseball city.”
It would not be until 1973, however, that attendance reached the million fans per year mark, although since then the Brewers have failed only twice to draw at least one million, in 1974 and in the strike-shortened year of 1981. But every year, regardless of the team’s standing the previous year, Opening Day has remained a special celebration across Southeastern Wisconsin. It will be celebrated soon, but one cannot escape the ghosts of the Milwaukee Braves that day. You will still see Braves caps emblazoned with the white “M” worn proudly amidst the sea of blue-and-gold Brewers gear.
 “Braves Draw Light Yawn”, Milwaukee Sentinel, April 13, 1966.
 Alicia Armstrong, “Stadium Deserted”, Milwaukee Journal, April 12, 1966.
 “Area to Get Baseball TV”, Milwaukee Journal, April 13, 1966.
 “Games Expected To Draw Million”, Milwaukee Sentinel, April 7, 1970.
is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin. He is a member of the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association.