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Home of the Braves?

50 years after the Boston Braves' departure, it’s worth asking: did the wrong team leave town?
By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 9, 2007

PLAYFUL RIVALS: Buddy Hassett and Elbie Fletcher vied for first base on the late ’30s Boston Bees. That’s manager Casey Stengel in the background.

Fifty years ago this fall, a Boston team beat the Yankees in the World Series. Fifty-five years ago, a Boston team signed the greatest home-run hitter who ever lived. Fifty-seven years ago, a Boston team became one of the first in the major leagues to integrate — and its first African-American player went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. That team, obviously, was not the Red Sox. That team was the Boston Braves.

That is, they used to be the Boston Braves, though by the time they achieved these milestones they had moved to Milwaukee — lured by a new stadium and a baseball-hungry fan base after several seasons of paltry attendance in Boston — and then later Atlanta, which they currently call home.

In 1953, after 76 seasons of baseball in the Hub, Boston’s other baseball team — Boston’s first baseball team — packed its bags and balls and planted home plate in the Midwest. It was front-page news: a baseball team hadn’t relocated in more than 50 years. This was, of course, four years before two New York teams — the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants — infamously left Gotham for, respectively, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But while the Dodgers remain part of Brooklyn’s founding myth, a mourned fragment of the city’s identity even today, the Braves have all but disappeared from Boston’s cultural memory. This despite the dogged efforts of a few hundred fans, some of whom still insist that the wrong team left town in 1953.

The Braves — known first, in 1876, as the Red Stockings or Red Caps, then variously as the Beaneaters, the Doves, the Rustlers, and the Bees — weren’t always a competitive squad. (Hell, even with future Hall of Famers George Sisler and Rogers Hornsby on their roster in 1928, they finished in second-to-last place with 103 losses, 44 and a half games out of first.)

But though their players often struggled on the field, the Braves franchise itself laid the groundwork for much of what we take for granted in baseball today: Sunday and night games, television and radio coverage, fan-appreciation days, even new uniform styles. They opened what was at one time the largest stadium in the majors. They were progressive on racial issues when the Red Sox were anything but. And they created the Jimmy Fund, which benefits Boston children with cancer.

“The Braves were always trying harder,” says Sports Museum of New England curator Richard Johnson. “They introduced satin uniforms because they looked better on TV. They lowered the field by two and a half feet, so the sightlines would be better. They introduced different items on the menu, like fried clams. The kind of stuff the Red Sox are doing now.”

Nowadays, Fenway is perpetually sold out, and it costs $315 for a family of four to watch a game. Back then, the Braves were quintessential working-class heroes: the players were underpaid underdogs; the stands were often all but empty; and kids were admitted for free. Those kids are now old men, but many of them still follow their team religiously — even as it plays in Atlanta (the Atlanta Braves come to Fenway on May 18). And they remember a time when Boston was a two-team town.

Cult of personality
The old Braves Field, built in 1915, was bulldozed long ago, but its right-field pavilion still stands, incorporated into the structure of BU’s Nickerson Field. Outside it stands a plaque, which proclaims that “the fans of New England will never forget the exploits of their Braves and the fond memories associated with Braves Field.”

Would that it were so. Several years ago, Johnson, who’s written books about both Boston baseball teams, remembers getting a call from a local sports-media figure who shall remain nameless: “Gee, could you tell me, when did the Braves become the Red Sox?” Johnson was dumbfounded. “It took me 10 minutes to explain that there were two teams.”

The story of the Boston Braves begins in 1870, five years after the Civil War. The Cincinnati Red Stockings of the National Association of Base Ball Players, who’d become the first completely professional team the previous year, voted to disband. So the Stockings’ Harry Wright, an English former cricketer (who more or less invented the job of team manager), his younger brother George (who more or less invented the position of shortstop), and a few other players decided — drawn by the Hub’s renown as a baseball hotbed — to move to Boston.

When the National Association dissolved in 1876, the team became a charter member of the new National League. Tracing its origins back to that first season in 1871 right up to the present-day in Atlanta makes it the oldest continuously playing team in American professional sports.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Baseball , Sports , AL East Division ,  More more >
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Home of the Braves?
Thanks for the wonderful article on the old Boston Braves. I was 16 when they left town for good & have never totally forgotten them and the impact they had on my early childhood years. It all now seems like part of a lost ghost world. Day games, 50 cent tickets, those great uniforms with the Indian on the sleeve and the tomahawk on front. They can have all the big money & hype we must endure in MLB today. What I wouldn't give for just one more day, circa 1949-50, at Braves Field watching a big league doubleheader for fifty cents.
By bostonblakie on 05/12/2007 at 7:44:13
Home of the Braves?
I was born on November 7, 1952, so technically I was born when the Braves were still in Boston. However, I grew up hearing about the Milwaukee Braves, and not knowing their history. One day, probably in 1961, I was in my garage with my father, and I came across a datebook for 1952. I was excited by this, since it showed the calendar page for the day I was born. Then, I looked through the rest of the datebook, and saw schedules for the Boston Red Sox (the only sports team I cared about) and for something called the Boston Braves. My first guess was that they were an old minor league team. When I asked my dad about them, though, he told me that they were the team that was then called the Milwaukee Braves. My jaw dropped. I had watched the Braves play in the World Series in 1957 and 1958, and had watched them come close in 1959. "You mean that we could be watching Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Bill Bruton and the rest of the Braves, instead of the living-on-past-glories Red Sox?", I thought to myself. Shortly afterwards, Dad took me past Nickerson Field and showed me what was left of Braves Field. I thought that it was an incredibly stupid move to tear down part of a perfectly good ballpark to put up some stupid dormitories; but I looked at the old light towers, the right field wall, the old track for the outfield wall inside this wall, the right field pavilion, and even the trolley tracks next to the ballpark, and thought of what might have been. Sometimes, even today, I'll walk into the pavilion and look for the seams that mark the place where the Braves shifted the foul lines in the last years of the park. Or, I'll head to the western end, where another seam marks the end of the old pavilion (since expanded) and try to imagine the grandstand beginning a few feet away... the Jury Box in right... the bullpen nearby... seeing National League teams without the need for interleague play... and so on. I'm happy with the Red Sox now -- don't get me wrong -- but it would be nice to have a choice.
By thebigcat on 05/13/2007 at 1:37:51
Home of the Braves?
The article states that the Braves played at the largest field in the majors from 1936 to 1941. I am afraid that is not so. The Cleveland Indians played their first game in the old Lakefront Stadium (Municipal Stadium) on July 3, 1932. That stadium held nearly twice as many as Braves Field, 78189 versus 43,000. Enjoyed the article although more info on the '48 Braves would have been nice. I remember the World Series that year and some famous old Braves, Spahn, Sain, Vern Bickford, Bob Elliot, et al.
By Regis on 05/14/2007 at 8:04:06
Home of the Braves?
Admittedly, the wording of that paragraph could be clearer. But I meant only to point out that Braves Field was the biggest in baseball at the time it opened in 1915 -- while also noting, parenthetically, that it had a new nickname between '36 and '41.
By MM on 05/14/2007 at 11:59:09
Home of the Braves?
The Braves won 14 division titles in a row, not 11. The streak was ended only just last year. Thanks for this article!! I'm an Atlanta-born girl, whose father is from Massachusetts. I've always rooted for both teams, and felt that it was especially apt to do so since the Braves were once a Boston team. It surprises me how many 'rabid' Sox fans don't even know they were ever here. I can't wait for the series this weekend! Nothing makes me happier than being at the Greatest Park in America, watching my favorite teams battle it out.
By RachelC on 05/15/2007 at 1:54:15
Home of the Braves?
We mustn't forget the man who originated the idea to bring professional baseball to Boston, Ashburnham, MA native Iver Whitney Adams. Mr. Adams was the founder , organizer and President of the first-ever Boston Base Ball Club and of the Boston Red Stockings. From an invitation in 1871, and a declaration of financial backing by Mr. Adams, baseball great Harry Wright moved from managing the "Cincinnati Red Stockings" to work professionally with the first-ever base ball team in Boston, the "Boston Red Stockings" He managed the Boston Red Stockings (1871 - 1875), Boston Red Caps (1876 - 1881), Providence Grays (1882 - 1883) and Philadelphia Quakers/Phillies (1884 - 1893). His teams won six league championships (1872 - 1875, 1877, 1878) and he finished his managerial career with 1225 wins and 885 losses for a .581 winning percentage.
By riceflan on 01/01/2008 at 1:37:18

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