Normally the final month of any pennant race dwindles down to a fight between two teams, occasionally three, once in a great while four. Last week the National League, long dedicated to all-out fratricide, was filled with tension, consternation and confusion because there were not two, three or even four contenders, but six, all of them stumbling in the face of opportunity and causing frustrations not normally found on winning clubs. For instance, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have led the league for all but 16 days of the season, defied mathematics and lost four of seven games only to gain ground on most of their closest pursuers. Dodger pitching, which had allowed just 3.38 runs a game all season, last week gave up 6.43. And a disabled bullpen put added strain on the weary pitching arms of Don Drysdale (left) and Sandy Koufax (who had to be used in relief). But while the Dodgers were struggling, so were the teams that were trying to upend them....
MEANWHILE, CONSIDER POOR MILWAUKEE
The sun over Milwaukee's County Stadium was hot, but the beer in the cooler was cold, and everything was right with the world. The German-accented group behind home plate now and then directed its attention to the playing field and booed the Pirates. The Braves were playing the Phillies, but what the hell. You got the opener, Herman?
The year was 1957, when Al Cissa ran the nightly attendance pool in the press box and the guesses on each game went from 40,000 up. Now it is 1965, and last week when the Braves, with what Manager Bobby Bragan calls his "karate" batting attack, met the Cincinnati Reds in a pennant-pregnant series, the four successive night games attracted a total of 41,015 customers. The attendance pool is out; the hypersensitive management decided it was gambling. It's just as well, because there was a good chance of a coup; at many Milwaukee games this year a man who wanted the quarters badly enough could have counted the house, capita by capita.
It would be oversimplification to say that the ban on bring-your-own-beer parties was the beginning of the end of the phenomenal honeymoon between the big-league team and the Triple-A town. All concessionaires love captive audiences, and fans had been disarmed at the gate in towns like Philadelphia, where they frequently had littered left field with beer cans, sometimes without drinking the beer first (a profligacy highly unlikely in thrifty Milwaukee). But that prohibition is the only official act by the Braves' management about which Milwaukee's hoi polloi is truly resentful. For all the antitrust suits the politicians and vested interests may propose to hold the team in civic bondage, the Braves will ride to Atlanta this winter on a great groundswell of public apathy.
" Atlanta can have 'em," said a man with a 25� schooner of beer in a gloomy gin mill off Wisconsin Avenue. "Eight years I buy tickets, and then they want me to buy their beer—at their prices. They got to have all the money."
"As soon as they win," a bartender with a broader grudge complained, "they trade away all the good players. They wanted to get rid of the big salaries. Last winter they had Mathews on the block." The Braves did not pull out any plums when they took such as Ty Cline and Don Dillard for Joe Adcock, or Jack Curtis for Bob Buhl. But they gradually put together a team that is most respected around the National League and, Elder Statesman Ed Mathews believes, superior to the 1957 and 1958 champions. "Sure, it's a good team," said a gas-station attendant in suburban Wauwatosa, patio country where ex-fans drink the beer they can no longer bring to County Stadium. "I hope they win the World Series. Then what can they do for an encore in Atlanta?"
"It's just this town," said a cab driver who has lived in Milwaukee for 43 years. "They don't stay interested in anything very long. Nothing will ever go here except bowling—and beer drinking." The handwriting was on the wall before the beer ban and before the "bad" trades. Many Milwaukee fans never realized that a baseball team is like the farmer's durable ax: "Couple of new heads and a couple of new handles, but it's the same ax." They expected the Adcocks, Buhls and Johnny Logans to go on and on.
They were still going in 1959 when the Braves met the Dodgers in the playoff. The first game, in Milwaukee, drew only 18,297. Granted it was a Monday, on short notice with no advance sale. But in 1957, on a dreary Thursday afternoon in June, the Dodgers had drawn 31,051 to County Stadium. ("Doesn't anyone ever work in this town?" asked the late Arch Murray of the
New York Post
. Lou Zimmerman of the
Milwaukee Deutsche Zeitung asked for German-language rights, to Murray's amazement.)
Something was different, and Ray Jackson knew it. The volume of business at his restaurant on Blue Mound Road, around the corner from the stadium, had gone up another $12,000 in 1959. It had gone nowhere but up and up and up since he mortgaged the place in April 1953 when the Braves moved in. In 1960, for the first time, there was no increase. He served dinner to an average of 175 persons before a night game and drinks to that many after. It was the baseball place in Milwaukee. Last Thursday night, before the finale of the pivotal series with the Reds, he served about 30 dinners. "Not bad," he said.