EPISODE #121: More Milwaukee Braves Baseball – With Patrick Steele

It’s been nearly two years since our first look at baseball’s still-revered Milwaukee Braves, and this week – courtesy of author/historian Patrick Steele (Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee) – we finally get the chance to go deeper into the team that, in its brief 13-season run: never posted a losing season, won two National League pennants, and, in 1957, brought “Cream City” its first and only World Series championship. 

Featuring a stellar lineup of mostly Braves farm club-developed players (including eventual Hall of Famers Henry [Hank] Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendienst, and Phil Niekro) the team immediately won the hearts of Wisconsin sports fans upon its hasty arrival from Boston in the midst of the 1953 pre-season – shattering then-modern-day attendance records, and ushering the city of Milwaukee into the world of America’s proverbial “big leagues.”

The Braves' surprising success in Milwaukee during the mid-1950’s prompted Major League Baseball to redefine itself as a big business, clearing the path for: franchises to relocate beyond the sport’s Northeast and Midwest strongholds; its two leagues to expand; and teams to leverage cities in high-stakes battles for local government-subsidized facilities.  

All of which, ironically, helped sowed the seeds for the club’s eventual relocation to Atlanta in 1966 – an acrimonious departure that generations of Milwaukee baseball fans still haven’t forgotten.  

PLUS: “There’s No Joy Left” – polka music king Frankie Yankovic’s song of “good riddance”!

Enjoy a FREE MONTH of The Great Courses Plus streaming video service – including the just-released 24-chapter lecture series “Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime” – created in conjunction with the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum!

Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee - buy here

EPISODE #114: New York's Polo Grounds - With Stew Thornley

We cap off the long Memorial Day holiday weekend with a look back at one of the New York metropolitan area’s most memorable sports stadiums of yore – the Polo Grounds – with author and Minnesota Twins official scorer Stew Thornley (The Polo Grounds: Essays and Memories of New York City's Historic Ballpark, 1880-1963).

The “Polo Grounds” was actually the name of multiple structures across upper Manhattan during its history.  As its name suggests, the original venue (1876-1889) was built for, well, polo.  Located between Fifth and Sixth (Lenox) Avenues just north of Central Park, it was converted to a baseball stadium in 1880, soon becoming home to the city’s first major league pro teams – the Metropolitans of the American Association and the Gothams (later, Giants) of the National League.

Pushed out by a re-gridding of the borough in 1889, the Giants relocated northward to what became the second incarnation of the park in the Coogan’s Hollow section of Washington Heights in 1890.  Coincidentally, it was also the year that most of the team’s best players bolted to the upstart Players’ League – also called the Giants, playing in their own new (and larger) stadium (called Brotherhood Park) right next door. 

When the PL folded at the end of the season, the recombined NL Giants moved over to Brotherhood Park, rechristening it the “Polo Grounds.”  This third version – later renovated after a fire in 1911 (technically becoming the stadium’s fourth version) – became the structure most remembered by long-time baseball fans, especially for its distinctive “bathtub” shape, very short distances to the left and right field walls, and unusually deep center field.

While synonymous with the history of baseball’s Giants (including Bobby Thompson’s 1951 historic playoff “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and Willie Mays’ dramatic over-the-shoulder catch during the team’s 1954 World Series run), the Polo Grounds was also home to the New York Yankees from 1913-1922 – and the first two seasons of the NL expansion New York Mets from 1962-63, while waiting for the new Shea Stadium in Queens to be completed.

The Polo Grounds was also the center of New York’s burgeoning professional football scene – notably the National Football League’s New York Giants from 1925-55 – but also the NFL’s oft-forgotten Brickley Giants (1922) and Bulldogs (1949).  

In later years, it also became the temporary home of the fledgling American Football League’s New York Titans from 1960-62, and the renamed “Jets” in 1963 – including the last-ever sporting event to be played there – a late-season (and typical) loss to the Buffalo Bills on December 14, 1963, in front of only 6,526 diehards.

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The Polo Grounds: Essays and Memories of New York City’s Historic Ballpark, 1880-1963 - buy here

EPISODE #110: Cleveland’s Historic League Park – With Ken Krsolovic

Author Ken Krsolovic (League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball, 1891-1946) joins the podcast to go deep into the history and legacy of Cleveland’s first major league sports stadium.

Originally built for the National League’s Cleveland Spiders, team owner Frank Robison strategically built the wood-constructed League Park at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Dunham (now East 66th) Street in the city’s Hough neighborhood, where the streetcar line he owned conveniently stopped.  It debuted on 5/1/1891 with a Spiders 12-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, with the legendary Cy Young throwing the first pitch.  Despite being competitive during the decade (including a Temple Cup in 1895), the Spiders drew poorly, leading Robison to ship his best players to his new fledgling St. Louis Browns franchise in 1899 – and the Spiders to on-field (20-134) and off-field (6,088 fans for the season) collapse.

After a year of minor league play, League Park became the home of the Cleveland Bluebirds (aka Blues) of the new “major” American League in 1901 – the team that would ultimately evolve (1902: Broncos; 1903-14: Naps) into today’s Cleveland Indians.  The park was rebuilt in 1910 as a then-state-of-the-art concrete-and-steel stadium, debuting on 4/21/1910 (a 5-0 Naps loss to the Detroit Tigers before 18,832) – a game also started by Cy Young.

Though the Indians were League Park’s primary team, they were not the only tenants over the stadium’s later decades.  In 1914-15, the Naps/Indians shared the stadium with the minor league Cleveland Bearcats/Spiders (actually, the temporarily relocated minor league Toledo Mud Hens) to discourage the upstart Federal League from placing a franchise in Cleveland.  The Negro American League’s Cleveland Buckeyes held court at the park during much of the 1940s – including a Negro World Series title in 1945. 

And the fledgling sport of professional football also called League Park home during the NFL’s formative 1920s in the forms of the Cleveland Tigers (1920-22), Indians (1923), Bulldogs (1924-27) – and most famously with the Cleveland Rams of the late 1930s/early 1940s.

Like the Rams, the baseball Indians began moonlighting games and eventually full seasons with the larger, more modern (and lighted) Municipal Stadium during the WWII and post-war eras – ultimately sealing the venerable League Park’s fate by 1946. 

After years of neglect and urbanization, a modern restoration of League Park and its original ticket house was completed in 2014, where fans can now play on the original field where Cleveland’s pro players once roamed.

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League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball 1891-1946 - buy here

 

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EPISODE #83: The Baltimore Orioles, Boston Beaneaters & the 1897 NL Pennant Race – With Bill Felber

Career journalist and baseball history author Bill Felber (A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant) joins the big show to discuss the most cut-throat pennant race in American baseball history – a multi-level study in contrast that also symbolically set the course of how the modern-day game would ultimately be played.

On one side was the original incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles – a charter member of the 1882 American Association who migrated to the National League ten years later (and not genealogically connected to today’s current American League club).  Led by eventual baseball Hall of Famers John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler, and managerial innovator “Foxy” Ned Hanlon (no relation to your humble host?), the original O’s had a reputation as the dirtiest team in baseball – though many of the tactics they employed (e.g., tight pitching, base-stealing, hit-and-run plays, and precise bunting) were simply edgy approaches to the rules that later became strategic staples of the modern game.

On the other, the comparatively saintly Boston Beaneaters – part of the longest lineage in baseball history dating back to the earliest days of the professional game and predecessors of today’s Atlanta Braves – and eight-time National League champs over the course of the late 1800s.  Boasting five of their own Cooperstown enshrinees – pitcher Kid Nichols, outfielders Hugh Duffy and Billy Hamilton, third baseman Jimmy Collins, and manager Franke Selee – the 1897 Beaneaters were the latest installment of a franchise that largely dominated the NL for most of the 1890s.

A hotly contested battle throughout the season, the pursuit of the pennant was the most intensely watched team sporting event in the country’s history to that time, right down to the dramatic final week that climaxed with a decisive three-game series.  The effective championship match on the last day of the season saw 30,000+ crazed Boston fans – including a rabid self-appointed supporters group known as the “Royal Rooters” – break down the gates of the 10,000-capacity South End Grounds to watch the Beaneaters grind out a win and bring down baseball’s first and most notorious “evil empire.”

PLUS: soap suds on the pitcher’s mound; the Temple Cup; late-Senator Ted Kennedy’s grandfather; the “Baltimore Chop,” and "Nuf Ced" McGreevy!

AND, we fire up the old Victrola to hear one of (if not) the earliest known recordings of the Boston “Royal Rooters” de facto fight song, that originated with the Beaneaters during this memorable season!

Thanks to 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Audible, and MyBookie for their support of this week’s episode!

A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant - buy here

EPISODE #72: Baseball’s “Miracle” Boston Braves with Historian Charlie Alexander

When you’re the oldest continuously operating franchise in baseball (or in all of American professional sports, for that matter), you’re bound to have some stories – and the proverbial dusty boxes of history sitting in the attic of the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park are certainly full of them. 

This week, we rope in noted baseball historian Charlie Alexander (The Miracle Braves, 1914-1916) to delve into one of the more interesting and oft-forgotten periods of Braves baseball history, when the then-Boston version of the franchise shocked the baseball establishment by rising from last place in the National League on July 4, 1914 to win the league pennant by an astonishing 10 ½ games by regular season’s end (going 68-17 over their final 87 games – a winning percentage of .782), and then sweeping the heavily favored Connie Mack-managed Philadelphia A’s four games to none in the 1914 World Series.

Although also uncharacteristically competitive in the next two seasons (finishing second in 1915 and third in 1916), the “Miracle Braves” of 1914 remained the high-water mark for the Boston franchise over the three decades that followed – finishing no higher than fourth in the eight-team NL during that time, including four seasons in dead last.   It wasn’t until 1948 that the team won another pennant (losing in the World Series to Cleveland) – the last hurrah of the Braves’ run in Boston until absconding to Milwaukee during the 1954 preseason.

Buckle up for stories featuring umpire-baiting and platoon-pioneering manager George Stallings, the double-play infield (and eventual baseball Hall of Fame) duo of Johnny Evers and “Rabbit” Maranville, and the ferocious pitching trio of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler – and the curious stadium swap between the Braves and the rival cross-town Red Sox during their respective 1914 and 1915 World Series championships.

Thank you SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly, and Audible for sponsoring this week’s show!

The Miracle Braves, 1914-1916 - buy book here

EPISODE #68: The Birth of Major League Baseball’s World Series with SABR Historian Steve Steinberg

At the beginning of the 20th century, the professional game of baseball had already taken on much of its modern shape – where pitching and managerial strategy dominated, and “manufactured” offense meant taught and tense contests, albeit often with limited scoring.  Stretching roughly from 1901-19, the period dubbed the “Deadball Era” by baseball historians saw teams play in expansive ball parks that limited hitting for power, while featuring baseballs that were, by modern-day comparison, more loosely wound, weakly bound and regularly overused. 

Against this backdrop, the established National and upstart American Leagues hammered out their seminal “National Agreement” in 1903, which not only proclaimed the competing circuits as equals, but also mandated a season-ending (and aspirationally titled) “World’s Championship Series” to determine annual supremacy in the sport – now known more simply as the World Series.

Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) historian Steve Steinberg (The World Series in the Deadball Era) joins the pod this week to discuss the October Classic’s eventful first years, as seen through the dramatically-licensed written journalistic accounts (featuring literary luminaries such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, and Damon Runyon, among others), and revealing black-and-white (and often uncredited) photography of the leading newspapers of the time – a media environment devoid of Internet, social media, television, or even radio coverage. 

Of course, we discuss the bevy of previously incarnated teams that featured prominently during the period, including the first-ever World Series champion Boston Americans (now Red Sox), the “miracle” Boston Braves of 1914, the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles) – and the two most dominant clubs of the era: John McGraw’s New York (now San Francisco) Giants and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia (later Kansas City, and ultimately Oakland) Athletics. 

Thanks to SportisHistoryCollecibles.com, Audible and Podfly for their sponsorship of this episode!

The World Series in the Deadball Era - buy book here