ALL STAR GAMES: 1955, 1975
County Stadium was the second baseball stadium built with public financing, two decades after Cleveland Stadium was built. It was also the first stadium that successfully lured a major league baseball franchise into moving from one city to another. It was ostensibly built for the minor league Brewers, but the city fathers had Bigger Things In Mind. In 1953 the Braves' owner Lou Perini suddenly announced that his team was going to move immediately from Boston to Milwaukee. The Braves quickly won the hearts of the cityfolk, setting major league attendance records for three consecutive years. The 1950s-era Braves had a superb veteran pitcher, Warren Spahn, and two young sluggers, Eddie Mathews (the hero of my younger brother Chris) and Hank Aaron. Not many people remember Mathews or Spahn, both of whom have passed away. Mathews racked up 512 lifetime home runs, tied with the Cubs' Ernie Banks in 14th place, while Spahn won 363 lifetime games, an achievement not even approximated since he retired at the end of the 1965 season. The Braves beat the Yankees in 1957 but lost in the rematch one year later. More than three decades passed before they made it back to the World Series again...
County Stadium was the third stadium in the "modern 20th century" class. That is, it had a curved grandstand behind home plate, with two straight wings forming an acute angle. Actually, however, it took many years before County Stadium took final shape. Like other "expandable" minor-to-major league stadiums of the 1950s era (Metropolitan Stadium in the Twin Cities, Municipal Stadium in Kansas City), County Stadium grew in fits and starts over the years. In 1953, when the Braves arrived, the grandstand extended only about 30 feet beyond third base and about 100 feet beyond first base. The cover of the very first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1953 showed a batter at County Stadium, with the original truncated upper deck behind first base. Before the 1954 season began, the lower deck was extended to the right field corner, and two sections were added to both decks on the third base side. There were a variety of temporary bleachers in the outfield and along the third base side over the years, and the outfield dimensions shifted slightly a few times. The permanent bleachers were installed in 1961, replacing a nice row of evergreen trees beyond center field. From 1961 until the 1973 expansion, there was a picnic area along the third base side, just like in Kansas City.
The field layout at County Stadium was laterally symmetrical, and the only notable feature was the short distance to the foul poles, 315 feet. (Until the grandstand was extended to just beyond the left field foul pole in 1973, the distance down the line was 320 feet.) A panoramic photograph in Ira Rosen's book Blue Skies, Green Fields also shows that the corners of the upper decks just barely crossed the imaginary extended foul lines. Architecturally there wasn't much special about it, but the fact that it was one of the last stadiums with the second deck set fairly close to the infield (supported by steel beams) gave it a special old-fashioned ambience that came to be more greatly prized as the ballpark aged. Because of the broad arc of the grandstand behind home plate, many lower-deck seats were rather far from the infield. The location was so-so, near the intersection of two Interstate highways a few miles west of downtown. In the new edition of Green Cathedrals, Phil Lowry notes of of County Stadium, "Best bratwurst and the best tailgate parties in the majors."
As the Braves' attendance slipped during the 1960s and cities in the South began clamoring for a share of the major league action, in 1966 the Braves skipped town once again and headed to Atlanta, where a gleaming new circular stadium was beckoning to greedy owners. Thus, after thirteen brief years of baseball, Milwaukee was once again out in the cold, literally and figuratively. In hopes of broadening their market and/or exploring the possibility of relocation, the Chicago White Sox played nine of their "home" games in Milwaukee in 1968 and eleven games in 1969.
CINEMA: All of the "home" baseball game scenes in the movie Major League (starring Charlie Sheen and Bob "Mr. Baseball" Uecker) were filmed in Milwaukee County Stadium, even though the movie was about the Cleveland Indians! Actually, this cinematic license was appropriate, because the two stadiums were rather similar -- large, plain, symmetrical, double-decked, usually with many empty seats.
Fortunately for Milwaukee, the Seattle Pilots expansion franchise failed in 1969, and a new local ownership group (led by none other than present MLB Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig himself) brought the team to Milwaukee in 1970 and renamed them (appropriately enough) the "Brewers." With new funding, the upper deck (or left wing?) of the grandstand was finally completed in 1973, but the capacity of 53,000 was really too big for a medium-size city such as Milwaukee. Even though the Brewers became a serious contender with star players such as Robin Yount, winning the AL pennant in 1982, the franchise has always had a hard time drawing enough fans to make a profit. Milwaukee is one of those smaller markets that will probably depend on revenue sharing (and government subsidies) for the indefinite future. In hopes of galvanizing fan interest, the Selig family's Brewers secured public funding to build a new stadium, but there was a fatal construction accident in 1999 that delayed opening of Miller Park until 2001. So, County Stadium got one more year of use before the wrecking ball came.
The Green Bay Packers played about half of their "home" football games in Milwaukee County Stadium from 1953 until 1994. For much if not all of that time, the gridiron was positioned parallel to the first base line, with one goal line coinciding with the third base line, and just barely fit within the fence perimeter. (An archival photograph from Marquette University, taken in 1952 or 1953, shows the gridiron at an angle of about 15 degrees from the first base line, with the temporary bleachers moved forward into what would be left field. It would appear that the original "lopsided" grandstand (not completed until 1973) was designed in part with football in mind.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Gershman (1993), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Rosen (2001), www.stadiumsofnfl.com
FAN TIPS: Adam Myers, Matt Warman