And they won from the beginning. First time out in their new home, with fans packed so tight that the birthrate must have gone up, Warren Spahn laid some vintage lefthanded brilliance on the St. Louis Cardinals, and Billy Bruton, the Braves' artful centerfielder, bought the last round with a 10th-inning homer. "You gotta visualize it," Logan says, sitting there in the grandstand behind home plate. He is 71, and his body has thickened like a faded middleweight's, but in what he wants you to see now, he is still the lean, hard-eyed gamer who was there when Aaron rose up in rightfield to become a national treasure. And when Burdette fidgeted on the mound to make hitters think every pitch he threw was a spitter. And when big Joe Adcock performed his most awe-inspiring feat-no, not the four homers in Brooklyn, but getting drilled by the New York Giants' head-hunting Ruben Gomez and chasing him off the field and into the clubhouse. "Gomez went in there and got an ice pick," Logan says, trotting out the rumor that has become legend. "The guys on his own team had to stop him."
Only once does Logan put himself in the spotlight, and then it is as a postscript to Aaron's lashing an 11th-inning homer to clinch the 1957 National League pennant. "If I didn't get a base hit before that," Logan says, "Aaron wouldn't have come up until the 12th, and maybe he wouldn't have hit a home run." A shy pause, verging on embarrassment. "I'm just saying, you know."
The Braves won the World Series that year, upending the majestic Yankees and earning Logan the ring that still adorns his left hand. He had a chance to win another in '58; instead, the Yankees got their revenge. After that, he slipped a little further from glory every year, unless you count his last stand with the 1964 Nankai Hawks, kings of all Japan. When there were no more games for him to play, Logan became just another working stiff. His big league salary had topped out at $35,000, and as he puts it, "Nothing ever came to my house except b-i-l-l-s." So he stayed in the ranch house where he and his wife, Dorothy, had raised three sons, and he worked any job he could find, from selling radio advertising to assisting welders on the Alaska pipeline. Baseball didn't have anything for him until the early '90s, when he started handling the radar gun for the Brewers, but people always knew who he was. A local character. A ballpark fixture. People didn't seek him out that often, though, until the move to the National League gave them a reason.
He was ready for his renaissance. "I tell everybody that calls, the only place you can meet me is County Stadium," Logan says. "That's where you have the atmosphere, that's where you have the nostalgic." The nostalgic. At first it's jarring to hear an adjective where a noun belongs, but the longer you to think about it, the more you realize that, after all these years, Johnny Logan has the right word at last.
The Mere mention of yesteryear's Braves is sure to summon an appropriate amount of yearning for the sweet used-to-be in Milwaukee—provided the audience is over 40. If the audience isn't, you might as well be discussing the identities of the original Crickets or the statesmanship of John Foster Dulles. For there is a generation of Milwaukeeans who have never known baseball except as it has been played by the Brewers, and they refuse to think they got the worst of the deal as long as there is secret stadium sauce for their brats.
Though the Brewers lost their only shot at World Series immortality in 1982, there is civic solace in the unshakable belief that they would have whipped the Cards if Rollie Fingers hadn't been too banged up to come marching out of the bullpen. And, yes, the Brewers didn't capitalize after they came out of the box in '87 with a 13-game winning streak. But they still have given Milwaukee one Hall of Fame certainty in Robin Yount and a worthy candidate in Paul Molitor. They also gave the city the cry of "Coooop!" (Nobody's booing, folks, they're just serenading sweet-swinging Cecil Cooper) and a succession of blue-collar swashbucklers such as Pete Vuckovich, Jim Gantner and Gorman Thomas. Frank Howard, the Brobding- nagian first base coach, liked to call Thomas "Garman," as in, "Bartender, another for Garman! And two more for me!" If you can't remember further back than Laverne & Shirley, it's a lot easier to drink to that bunch than to the ghosts of the '50s.
"Actually, Hank Aaron is the only old Brave I can remember," a 28-year-old sales rep named Gene confesses. Gene's last name has been classified top secret because he should be at work, not sitting in Major Goolsby's downtown sports bar in the middle of the afternoon watching the Brewers on TV as they open the 1998 season in Atlanta. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and if Gene ever doubted it, his sales manager—call him Brian—is by his side to confirm the rightness of his mission.
"My mother was a big Braves fan," Gene says. He is too young to realize how ancient a statement like that can make someone else feel. Brian, though five years older, is somehow less sensitized to local baseball history and the natural order of things. "American League or National League," he says, "it doesn't make any difference to me."
Maybe he will come around once he realizes that the Brewers aren't playing the dressed-up, drawn-out version of Home Run Derby that is baseball in the American League. As for young Gene, all he needs to do to expand on what Mom taught him about the old Braves is pay closer attention the next time he watches The Naked Gun. The movie's writers, David and Jerry Zucker, are Milwaukee expatriates who called two of their cops Adcock and Mathews.
But let us not be too harsh on Gene and Brian. They are where they should be on Opening Day, even if they don't last past the seventh inning. Got to get back to work sometime, right? Besides, they have seen more of the game than those drudges who were too timid to leave the office.