ALL STAR GAMES: 1955, 1975 WORLD SERIES: 1957, 1958, 1982
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 local sentiment was "brewing" to get a Major League franchise, half a century after the Brewers left town to become the St. Louis Browns. In March 1953 the Braves' owner Lou Perini suddenly announced that his team was going to move from Boston (Braves Field) to Milwaukee, setting an MLB record for fastest franchise relocation. The Braves quickly won the hearts of the city folk, setting major league attendance records for three consecutive years. 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. The 1950s-era Braves had two superb veteran pitchers, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette; and two young sluggers, Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. Mathews racked up 512 lifetime home runs, tied with the Cubs' Ernie Banks, while Spahn won 363 lifetime games, an achievement not even approximated since he retired at the end of the 1965 season. Aaron went with the Braves to Atlanta, where he surpassed Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record, but returned to Milwaukee to play with the Brewers in 1975, finishing his career with 755 home runs.
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 original capacity was 36,011, but 8,000 of those seats were just temporary bleachers which were repositioned for football games. The cover of the very first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1954 showed Eddie Mathews at bat, with the original truncated upper deck of County Stadium behind first base. In 1954 the lower deck was extended to the right field corner, the temporary bleachers were repositioned, and during the summer two sections were added to both decks on the third base side. In 1955 a new fence was built across virtually the entire outfield, reducing the outfield dimensions by as much as 12 feet to short right and short left fields. The new fence was eight feet high, twice as high as the original fence, which remained in place for some reason; grass grew in the gap between the two fences. The permanent bleachers were installed in 1961, replacing a nice row of evergreen trees (known as "Perini's Woods") beyond center field. The outfield dimensions were nearly the same as before, and (except for the left field corner) remained constant for the rest of the stadium's lifetime. From 1961 until the 1974-1976 phased expansion, there was a picnic area along the third base side, just like in Kansas City. At some point during that era, a loudspeaker tower was installed behind the center field bleachers, followed thereafter by a giant "beer keg" and adjacent hut where "Bernie Brewer" waited for home runs to celebrate.
The field layout at County Stadium was laterally symmetrical, and the only notable feature was the short distance to the foul poles, just 315 feet. (Originally, the distance down the lines was 320 feet, until the grandstand was extended to just beyond the foul poles -- right field in 1954, left field in 1975.) 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. There was an entry portal about midway back in each section of the lower deck, but only in every other section in the upper deck. In addition, four up-front entry portals provided easy access for box seat patrons. County Stadium's location was so-so, in a low-lying area near the intersection of two Interstate highways a few miles west of downtown. When the Milwaukee area was hit by severe floods in 1987 and 1997 (June 21), water covered the entire field. In 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 1965 the Braves made a deal with the city of Atlanta, where the gleaming new circular Atlanta Stadium was beckoning to greedy owners, but their plans to relocate were postponed for one year because of a court order. After a final "lame duck" year in Milwaukee, the Braves skipped town for a second time and headed to Atlanta. 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 future MLB Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig) brought the team to Milwaukee in 1970 and renamed them (appropriately enough) the "Brewers." With new funding, the grandstand was finally completed: In 1974, the upper deck was extended to the right field corner, in 1975 the lower deck was extended to the left field corner, and in 1976 the upper deck was extended to the left field corner. The capacity of 53,192 was really too big for a medium-size city such as Milwaukee, however, and they probably should have left the upper deck alone. Attendance gradually climbed as the Brewers became a serious contender with star players such as Robin Yount, peaking at just under 30,000 per game a year in 1983, a year after they won the AL pennant. But for the next 17 years, attendance reverted to a "normal" average of about 20,000 per game, not very profitable. Milwaukee is one of those smaller markets that will probably depend on revenue sharing (and government subsidies) for the indefinite future. The Seligs successfully lobbied for 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.
County Stadium was one of only six ballparks to have hosted World Series games for two separate teams, the others being Fenway Park, Braves Field, Shibe Park, the Polo Grounds, and Sportsman's Park. (Congratulations to Mark London for correctly answering the trivia question!) In the other five cases, however, two teams resided in the same city at the same time, and this not being true of County Stadium, it was totally unique.
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.)
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), Gershman (1993), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Rosen (2001), www.stadiumsofnfl.com, www.baseball-fever.com
FAN TIPS: Adam Myers, Matt Warman, Peter Ballou, Bruce Orser
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