Jackson, who was born in Milwaukee 50 years ago, learned something about the town on Sept. 23, 1957 after Henry Aaron hit Billy Muffett's curve ball 405 feet, and about eight inches higher than Wally Moon could jump. The Braves had finally won a pennant, and John Quinn, the general manager who had assembled the team and soon would become expendable, hugged his wife and wept in the company box upstairs. Downtown, Marquette students snake-danced in the streets. In the dressing room the players showered each other with champagne and smeared each other with sauce from the barbecued ribs and shrimp Ray Jackson had brought in. But the police began pulling in the sidewalks at 1:45 a.m., as they always do in Milwaukee, though out around the stadium nobody realized that. A group of late-working newspapermen adjourned to Ray Jackson's at 2 a.m. to finish the ribs. The cops raided the place 15 minutes later. "I thought it would be New Year's Eve," Ray Jackson said to the sergeant.
Marquette students can be counted on to cavort if the Braves win this pennant, but there will be more concern on streets in Atlanta, where Sports Editor Furman Bisher has suggested that ideally Milwaukee should miss a pennant by one percentage point. This seems feasible to Milwaukee County Board Chairman Eugene Grobschmidt, who has allegedly enraged the team by suggesting that the Braves are not striving as mightily as they are able. ("Naw, we're not sore at him," says Catcher Gene Oliver. "He's a clown.") It is not feasible to Aaron, who has cashed two World Series checks in 12 seasons. "We'll take it this year," Aaron says. Nor is Mathews whistling Dixie. Whether or not the Braves leave them laughing when they say goodby, this 13th season is such a solemn challenge to him that he keeps apologizing for being so "corny" about it. Last spring Manager Bragan made Mathews the captain, and he took it seriously.
"So did we," said Oliver. "We kid about it. Like we say, 'Let's go to this restaurant, if it's O.K. with the captain.' But he really is the captain. He would be anyway, because he's such a class guy, but he really took charge. Early this year he was talking to guys in slumps, patting them on the fanny and saying, 'Get 'em tomorrow.' He was hitting .210 himself, but you wouldn't know it."
Oliver, about to open a gym in Rock Island, Ill., was appointed calisthenics leader by Bragan in Florida. "You figure a veteran player would say the hell with calisthenics," Oliver said, "but Eddie went right to work, and the rest of them followed him. One day when he was going bad he was on deck to hit against Hal Woodeshick [a left-hander]. Bragan went out and asked him if he thought he could hit him better than Mike de la Hoz. He said, 'no,' and sat down."
"It sounds corny," Mathews said for the third time in 10 minutes, "but I'm more interested in the team winning. I have enough records of my own. I don't think about them. Well, I do know I have 474 home runs, but only because Musial had 475. The only record I want is for Henry and I to beat Ruth's and Gehrig's home runs. I don't know why, but I want that one." (They trailed at the moment 1,208-867, but Mathews is only 33, Aaron 31.)
"There are some problems guys have that they won't take to the management," Mathews said, "so they come to me. Hell, I used to make the problems. Marriage settled me down somewhat, but I still got in those bar brawls.
"Look, it sounds corny," Mathews went on, "but this year has been more rewarding, or fulfilling or whatever you want to call it, than all the others. I guess it's because I feel like I'm something more than just a goddamn ballplayer."
If the players do not have Georgia on their minds, Bill Bartholomay, youthful board chairman of the new syndicate deficit-financing the Braves, can't get it off his. Who, he was asked, will get the World Series tickets if the Braves win the pennant? "Our primary obligation," he said, "is to the season ticket-holders right here in Atlanta—uh, Milwaukee." Nobody caught the slip, except Lou Chapman of the
Milwaukee Sentinel. Early in his 13-year stewardship as chronicler of the Braves' deeds and misdeeds, Chapman's ubiquitous reporting earned him the sobriquet Gummy (for gumshoe) from Manager Fred Haney. The same kind of work earned him a one-day banishment from the Braves' clubhouse last June. His crime: quoting a player's suggestion that the Braves would be more likely to win the pennant with positive support in Atlanta than with the civic indifference of Milwaukee.
The first of the lawsuits is likely to come up in late November or early December. Generally, the idea is to pressure baseball into awarding Milwaukee a new franchise by holding the old one for legalistic ransom. They asked Ray Jackson to become a co-petitioner.
Ray is still a fan. The only tip to the diminution of his fervor is the array of Braves' pictures behind his bar. Lee Maye, now with Houston, is still there. Mack Jones isn't yet. Such negligence would not have been tolerable a few years ago. But Ray has something else on his mind: the plans for the bigger, better restaurant he'll build next door. Yes, he'll take the pictures with him.