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NATIONAL PASTTIME
John Schulian
June 01, 1998
When it was the home of the Braves, Milwaukee was a National League city, and now that the Brewers are in the senior circuit, their fans are back where they belong
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June 01, 1998

National Pasttime

When it was the home of the Braves, Milwaukee was a National League city, and now that the Brewers are in the senior circuit, their fans are back where they belong

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The spoils of victory belong to Selig, who twice a day muddies up his Lexus when he drives over to watch Miller Park rising. When it is finished, it will be the equivalent of 22 stories high, a Goliath to County Stadium's David. But this is one fight that David won't win, for County Stadium will come tumbling down soon afterward, memories and all, a metaphor for what happens when the past gets in the future's way.

It seemed odd that Atlanta didn't do something, anything, to acknowledge Milwaukee's return to the National League when the Brewers opened the season at Turner Field. All that bittersweet history between the two cities, and then a wonderful bit of scheduling, more calculated than ironic, that brought everything full circle. But there wasn't so much as a wink or a nod from the lordly Braves, and surely Hank Aaron noticed.

Both cities have called him their own, and both must know down deep that they will never see a greater ballplayer than Hammerin' Hank, with his loping grace in rightfield and the bat he swung like a terrible swift sword. He obliterated the myth of Babe Ruth's invincibility by hitting 755 home runs, and look how equitable he was about it: The first 398 came in Milwaukee, the next 335 in Atlanta, and then he went back to where he started—actually switched leagues—for a two-season curtain call with the Brewers that produced the final 22. Given his curriculum vitae, it was no surprise to see Aaron show up to offer Milwaukee the welcome that the Braves neglected.

He hugged Bob Uecker, once a teammate, now the Brewers' play-by-play jester, and he reminisced about those days in Milwaukee when the fans were more like neighbors. "They knew everyone," Aaron said, "what position you played, who you were married to, your kids." Then he slipped off to watch the game on TV at a nearby hotel, leaving the impression that while there is a statue of him in Atlanta, his heart is somewhere else.

Milwaukee beckoned a week later. The Brewers wanted Aaron as the centerpiece of a ceremony before the first National League game at County Stadium in 33 years. He was only too happy to oblige, and 51,408 admirers were only too happy to see him. Johnny Logan was one of them, but Aaron didn't know he was there. Logan hung back in the stands, never venturing onto the field the way he usually does, never introducing himself to blank-faced young millionaires with Hey-I-was-a-big-leaguer-too bombast. He explained at first that he didn't have time to hang around for the game; he scouts Wisconsin for the Brewers, and there was a college doubleheader he had to catch. Which was the truth, but not the whole truth. Only later did that come out. "It was Hank's day," he said. "I didn't want to intrude."

So Logan stayed in section 8, on the third base side of home, and watched as Aaron, baseball in hand, was borne toward the pitcher's mound on the roar of the crowd. When he reached his destination, he waved, then wound up and threw the first pitch. It bounced before it reached the catcher. And the beauty of the moment was that it really didn't matter. Not to the storied slugger out there shrugging in mock embarrassment, not to the old shortstop who suddenly turned and hustled toward the exit and the job that keeps him young. Not to anyone who understood what would be remembered long after that ball in the dirt was forgotten: Milwaukee was back where it belongs, and so, if only for an afternoon, was Hank Aaron.

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