The Braves arrived and baseball was king in Black Milwaukee

Written by admin   // May 17, 2013   // 0 Comments

by Richard G. Carter

The Braves arrived and baseball was king in Black Milwaukee “Satchel Paige could throw a pork chop past a wolf…” Lou Myers, “Cobb” (1994)

This spring – as every year after baseball season begins — I recall what it was like as a youngster as minor league Milwaukee became a major league city when a big league team from the east coast moved in. Those around town in those days also remember.

I refer to the glorious spring of 1953 when construction magnate Louis R. Perini moved his Boston Braves, of the National League, to Milwaukee to replace the old Milwaukee Brewers, of the American Association. And local baseball fans who used to drive to Chicago to see the Cubs or White Sox were beside themselves with joy.

The year before, rumors were rampant that the major league St. Louis Browns might be moving in and our beloved Brewers would be moving out. But it didn’t happen, and in 1953, the Braves arrived from Boston to play in brand new County Stadium.

The Milwaukee Braves, of course, went on to play the New York Yankees in the World Series in 1957 and 1958 — beating the fabled Bronx Bombers the first year and narrowly losing to them in the second. And in ‘57, the victory celebration brought much of the city — especially downtown Milwaukee — to a standstill. Indeed, it was the largest outpouring of people since the end of World War II.

Not only that, the Braves barely lost the pennant in 1956 and 1959 – edged-out by the St. Louis Cardinals in ‘56 and losing a one-game play-off to the Los Angeles Dodgers in ‘59. Thus, the Braves nearly made the World Series four straight years.

One of the best memories for Black Milwaukeeans in those glory days was the Braves’ “A-B-C” outfield of Hank Aaron, Billy Bruton and Wes Covington. And how sweet it was. Young, emerging power-hitter Aaron in right, speedster Bruton in center and slugger Covington in left, made all of us proud as proud can be.

Now, a little more of the rich history of baseball and Black people from the 1930s to the ‘50s. In those days, with racial segregation in force throughout organized professional baseball, Black players plied their trade ‘barnstorming” in what was known as the Negro Leagues. And their popularity was astounding

Teams such as the Chicago American Giants, Indianapolis Clowns, Kansas City Monarchs and Birmingham Black Barons attracted big crowds in major league cities. Blacks and whites alike jammed large venues like Yankee Stadium in New York and Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago to see awesome talents such as Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Buck O’Neil, Luke Easter, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks and Monte Irvin, among others.

But many skilled, lesser known Black players did their thing in “semi-pro” baseball. Some were ambitious youngsters, while others in their 30s and 40s had jobs and played in their spare time. One was my late father, Sanford Carter, whose personal effects includes a box score from 1935 in Bismarck, N.D., in which he hit a triple off the legendary Paige.

Mr. Carter’s barnstorming teams — among them the Twin City Colored Giants and Milwaukee Tigers — also played in Racine and Janesville as well as Borchert Field in a racially mixed neighborhood at 3000 N. 8th St. Seating less than 12,000, it was home to the minor league Brewers and filled the block between N. 7th and 8th and W. Chambers and Burleigh Sts. The park was torn down in 1954 to make way for the I-43 Expressway.

As a wide-eyed youngster, I well recall watching Mr. Carter — a slick-fielding third-baseman in his 30s — making great plays at Borchert Field. As he grew older, he moved to the outfield and, on one occasion with me in attendance, made a diving grab of a line drive. This prompted the public address announcer to tell the crowd: “Let’s give a big hand to Sandy Carter for that fine catch in right field” – – making me burst with pride.

But even better for me, was seeing Mr. Carter — a powerful right-handed batter with unrealized major league potential — hit home runs into Borchert Field’s bandbox center field bleachers 392-feet from home plate, or over the much closer left and right field fences. And I also recall groaning when he would occasionally strike out.

Old-timers used to say “Sandy Carter would have made the big leagues if he came along a decade later, like Jackie {Robinson}.” This was reiterated in 1995, when Mr. Carter was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Old Time Ballplayers Association of Wisconsin — only its third Black member. Among those attending was Black baseball historian, Aaroneta Anderson. Ironically, the gala affair was in a jam-packed hall on Milwaukee’s mostly white South Side. I

n 1954, Henry “Hank” Aaron, then only 19, was brought up by the Braves from their Eau Claire farm team. Raw and talented, Aaron began in semi-pro in 1952 with the Mobile Black Bears and then the Indianapolis Clowns — still batting cross-handed.

Arriving in Milwaukee, Aaron had no place to stay and was without a baseball glove. Mr. Carter intervened, found him a place to live and provided him with a fielder’s glove.

Within a year or two, Aaron came into his own and the fabled “A-B-C” outfield of Aaron, Bruton and Covington was born. They performed admirably and Black baseball fans in town flocked to the stadium to have a good time and watch their heroes at work.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end. But times change.

Milwaukee native Richard G. Carter is a freelance columnist T


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Aaron

American Association

baseball

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chicago

Covington

Cubs

Milwaukee Braves

Milwaukee Brewers

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