Occasionally I have disagreed with baseball operators—publicly, privately and semiprivately, in print and out, in summer and in winter, in sickness and in health. I have called them backward, unimaginative and feckless. I have even been known to assail a few of the more worthy as greedy and rapacious. So how come they don't like me?
Despite these quarrels and an occasional mild rejoinder on their part—like kicking me out of baseball—I have never, until these past couple of years, felt called upon to apologize for having been associated with them or the game.
I have always believed that in their hearts the operators did have some basic affection for and responsibility to the sport and, when pushed to the waif, even some small affection for the customers who support it. It took the newest members of the exalted order of National League franchise owners, the Carpetbaggers of Milwaukee, to disabuse me.
The reason that the prospective departure of the Braves from Milwaukee disturbs me so much is that 1) for the first time in the history of franchise switches the deserted town will be left without major league baseball, and 2) Milwaukee is a town that was moved into. Of course this doesn't concern the Carpetbaggers. Here you find a group of would-be hotshots, having no connection with the city and little if any background in baseball, coming in to make a quick buck. If their personal fortune depends on taking a team away from fans who once were the most delirious and open-handed of all time—well, that's free enterprise, folks.
It was Lou Perini, the former owner of the Braves, who seems to have made the first move toward Atlanta. Or rather it was John McHale, then Perini's top lieutenant and now the Braves' president and general manager. McHale is an ex-first baseman who became Detroit's general manager at the age of 35. He is a nice enough guy but he is dull. His career at Milwaukee, and at Detroit before that, has been distinguished by a series of bad trades, trades that did a lot for other ball clubs.
It is on record that McHale visited Atlanta in 1962, a few months before he signed the Braves' final three-year lease to play at County Stadium in Milwaukee. A new 10-year contract was suggested, but McHale would sign for only three. By this time it was already known that the Braves were on the market.
There is no doubt at all that Perini had offers from perhaps half a dozen Milwaukee syndicates, because three groups that I remember contacted me about running the team for them. They weren't insubstantial people either. Joe Uihlein of the Schlitz beer family was one of the interested parties. By coincidence, I bumped into him one night in Rochester, Minn. and we had dinner together. Joe was willing to work out all the arrangements so that I would have something like 30% ownership, but I had to tell him that I didn't feel like going back to Milwaukee at that time. For those who haven't studied their history, I once owned the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.
Perini had been having his troubles with the Milwaukee County park commission over the stadium rental figure and perhaps he was incensed that the citizens had stopped supporting the team in the record-breaking manner to which he had become accustomed. On the other hand, this was a city that welcomed him when he came limping in from Boston, and it has hardly left him or his construction company any poorer. In fact, he has made a fortune there, although, in fairness, he has given much of that fortune back to the city in the form of charity. Even so, one might have thought, by standards of ordinary street-corner loyalty, that if he wanted to get rid of the team he would sell to local people. He didn't. Instead, he almost pointedly sold the club to a syndicate composed of half a dozen whippersnappers from Chicago, led by Bill Bartholomay.
I know most of these guys. They are all cut from the same bolt of tweed. They are the sons of wealthy families: the Ivy-type education, the finance-oriented backgrounds, the family firm. They are so similar, so indistinguishable, that there is no particular value to listing them by name. They have one final characteristic in common, too: the sum of their total knowledge of baseball is zero.
No, wait a minute. There is one exception, Del Coleman, who runs the Seeburg jukebox company. Coleman made his own money and he has a sizable personal income. Coleman is like the social-climbing wife who is accepted into a charity organization run by socialites because there has to be someone to do the hard, dirty work. Although Coleman is more able than all the rest put together, he seems flattered to be allowed to associate with them.