Building the Brewers: Bud Selig and the Return of Major League Baseball to Milwaukee – Chapter Breakdown

When I submitted my book proposal to McFarland, one of the items was an Abstract.  It’s a fancy way to say outline/descriptive table of contents.

My original Abstract had around 14 chapters and a larger scope for the book.  I wrapped up the book in 2004 when Bud Selig’s family sold the team to Mark Attanasio’s ownership group.  During the writing process I found it easier and more interesting to do a deeper dive on events from 1964-70, which was my original plan anyway.  Once I got into the 1980’s-90’s, I started glossing over things and summarizing entire years.  It didn’t look, feel, or sound right to me – nor to the fine staff at McFarland.

So I backtracked to my original vision with a look at Milwaukee’s incredible baseball history through the Braves leaving town in 1965, followed by the five year fight to bring a team back to the city.  I decided to carry the story through the early struggles of the new Brewers franchise and end in early 1978 – right before the team becomes a popular pennant contender.

Even though I made several changes to the chapter structure and vision for the book, I never really needed to update the Abstract.  After all, I already had a contract in hand!  Yet, I did make updates because it gave me a solid outline to fall back on.  The Abstract is also an easy way for me to tell you what’s in each chapter of the book, and I added a few additional notes in italics below.  So away we go…

Dedication

To be revealed in the book

Preface

Origins of the project, how research was conducted, why the book is important, what it contains/doesn’t contain, insights the author has gained, etc.

Introduction

Introducing the story of baseball’s return to Milwaukee and the early years of the Brewers franchise until the team turned the corner into a contender.

Chapter One – The Borchert Field Brewers

This chapter charts a history of baseball in Milwaukee going back to the early days of the city and takes the reader into the 1920’s when Milwaukee’s Borchert Field became the place to be for baseball fans. We take a deep look at Borchert Field’s namesake – Otto Borchert – and how Bud Selig and Bob Uecker grew up at the ballpark. Many of Selig’s experiences at Borchert when Bill Veeck was owner in the 1940’s were re-born later on during the Brewers early MLB years. Selig’s boyhood experiences beyond Borchert Field, such as a trip to New York with his mother and seeing Jackie Robinson play at Wrigley field help cement his love of baseball.

Chapter Two – Borchert Field to Bushville

Milwaukee County Stadium prepares to open, but to the newly moved Boston Braves rather than the minor league Brewers. The Brewers leave town and the Braves go on to captivate fans such as young Selig throughout the 1950’s. The team and community celebrate a World Series win in 1957 and several seasons of contending baseball, but an ownership change in 1962 leads to a franchise move to Atlanta. Selig joins an ownership group called “Teams Inc.” and vows to fight to keep major league baseball in the city.

Chapter Three – You’re All We’ve Got Now

Selig and his group soldier on as the only hope for baseball in Milwaukee as court battles ensue and fan anger turns to apathy. The Braves take the field in Atlanta and it becomes clear the team is gone for good.

While I didn’t write much in my updated Abstract about this chapter, as you can probably imagine it’s a pretty emotional section.  This is the beginning of what I call (internally, but not in the book) the “slammed doors and dead ends” period, covering 1964 to early 1970.

Bud Selig is around 30-31 years old in this chapter and brings a lot of youthful energy to the potential ownership group of a future team.  He’s ready to put up a strong fight to bring baseball back to Milwaukee, but in the coming chapters you’ll see the odds stack against him and one too many dead ends nearly break his will to continue.

Chapter Four – A Team That Didn’t Exist

Selig crashes owners meetings in his quest to bring baseball back to Milwaukee. His group, now called Milwaukee Brewers Inc., begs for expansion to Milwaukee to no avail. They hatch the idea of an exhibition game between the Twins and White Sox as a way to prove baseball interest is still high in Milwaukee. A hell of a crowd attends the game.

Proving your potential ownership group is financially solid is one thing, but imagine having to continually extol the virtues of the city of Milwaukee.  The Braves drew an incredible amount of fans to County Stadium in the 1950’s and while the attendance dropped in the early 1960’s, a number of factors caused the drop-off.

I have often felt Braves fans were unjustly scapegoated and many wound up thinking their lack of support in the early 60’s led to the team moving.  In my opinion, this is a lot of bunk.  The obvious answer on the surface is new Braves ownership were lured to Atlanta over a big TV contract, new stadium, and being the first team in the deep south.

Interestingly enough, at the same time the Cleveland Indians faced a similar drop in attendance and internal instability, they stayed the course in Cleveland where they remain to this day.  This is just one of the many quirky twists and turns found in this chapter.

The other twist in Chapter Four comes in MLB executives telling Selig that a new Milwaukee team would take away from the Chicago and Minnesota fan base.  Yet Selig finds great allies in Minnesota’s Calvin Griffith and brothers John and Arthur Allyn from the Chicago White Sox.

The Twins/White Sox exhibition paved the way toward the Sox playing a small slate of regular season games in County Stadium during 1968-69.  Meanwhile, Selig attends owners meetings where’s he’s called “that Buddy guy from Milwaukee” and told expansion is/is not/is/is not on the books.  When Selig says “the owners treated us like we had leprosy” he isn’t kidding.

I never editorialize in the book and simply present the facts to allow the reader come to their own conclusion.  I’m confident you’ll draw a LOT of conclusions in this chapter.

Chapter Five – The Pilots Take Flight

We meet Emil Sick and learn how this brewing company owner investing in minor league baseball and his namesake stadium. The Seattle Pilots and their GM Marvin Milkes are also introduced. Excitement in Seattle soars as the city is awarded an expansion team.

This was a fun chapter to research and write because the more I dug, the more I realized how much Seattle and Milwaukee had in common in terms of baseball history.  Both were hard-working populations with a support of minor league baseball going back to the late 1800’s.  When Seattle was awarded the Pilots the vibe was similar to the initial buzz in Milwaukee over the Braves.

With that in mind, imagine for a moment how you’d feel if all you wanted was to own a major league baseball team, and that dream came true.  Brothers Dewey and Max Soriano were filled with happiness and gratitude over being awarded the expansion Pilots franchise.  There were just a couple huge problems:

Their ownership group (Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc.) didn’t have enough money to keep the team afloat for a season, let alone until 1972-ish when the Kingdome would be completed.  I honestly believe if the American League didn’t push for expansion to Seattle in 1969 and held off for a couple years, the Pilots probably would have survived…and the Brewers may never have existed.

The other issue was Sicks’ Stadium being barely suitable for minor league baseball, and certainly not ready for the Pilots.  Seats were still frantically being added on Opening Day to increase capacity to 30,000.  Ironically, any large crowd meant the toilets might not flush in the late innings!  It didn’t help matters that ticket prices were as high as the New York Yankees.  When fans came out and got a taste of the lackluster ballpark and team combined with the overpriced tickets, they often failed to return.

By early summer trouble was brewing.  The Sorianos earlier had asked former Cleveland Indians owner William Daley to pay the expansion fee in exchange for a 47% stake in ownership.  Still strapped for cash, the Sorianos took out a $3.5 million loan from the Bank of California.  It was a move they would come to regret, and plays heavily in the next chapter.

Chapter Six – The Pilots Crash Land

The sad realities of a broken down stadium and a financially distraught franchise are covered in detail. This chapter follows the Seattle organization off the diamond through several attempts to keep the team afloat. The bankruptcy court proceedings are chronicled alongside players getting ready for the 1970 season in spring training. Selig acquires the Pilots just as training camp is about to break. First Selig shed tears, then reality set in. The team had a week to move operations to Milwaukee and open the season.

What I didn’t mention in the Abstract is what is going on in the background while the Pilots crash and burn.  Talk about a baseball soap opera!  Mystery!  Intrigue!  Drama!  My oh my!

In one corner you have Seattle.  Several local would-be ownership groups pop up in late 1969/early 1970.  Most can raise the money to cover the asking price for the franchise (roughly $10 million) but either don’t have deep enough pockets to run the team after that, or can’t cover the $3.5 million loan the current ownership group took out from the Bank of California.

In Milwaukee, Selig finds his old friend Arthur Allyn of the White Sox ready to sell his troubled franchise.  They settle on a handshake deal that falls through, leaving Selig to wonder if he’ll ever get a team.  MLB has also passed him over in favor of expansion franchises in Montreal and San Diego.  The Washington Senators appear to be up for sale and Selig inquires, only to find out they will not sell if he plans to relocate the team to Milwaukee.

Just as a dejected Selig admits Milwaukee may never get a team, the Pilots go to hell in a handbasket. I’m sometimes asked why the Pilots failed after such early excitement. I hope this chapter explains the myriad of reasons why the only modern team to play just one season in a city moved away.

Chapter Seven – One Million or Bust

Everything is here from the early days of the young Brewers franchise – press conferences, hiring staff, selling tickets, the team’s boisterous arrival at the Milwaukee airport, and the very first Opening Day in franchise history. Milkes and Selig work hard to promote the team with everything from witches casting a pennant winning spell to Hank Aaron returning for an exhibition game. Milkes strikes gold by hiring 69-year-old Milt Mason to play Bernie Brewer from atop the stadium scoreboard.

Milkes only lasted one season as Brewers GM after being held over from the Seattle Pilots franchise, but left his mark with Bernie Brewer.  By this point in the book you will have already gotten to know Milkes through his time in Seattle.  He’s a pretty intense workaholic who loves to shuffle players between the majors and minors, and seems to get a charge out of making trades.

Sometimes Milkes gets it right with his player transactions, but more often than not makes a mistake that a future GM will have to clean up.  One of the Seattle writers said “Milkes couldn’t scout Joe DiMaggio.”  It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort.  By August of 1970 he worked himself into a hospital stay due to exhaustion.

On the field, the new Brewers soldiered through their inaugural season as best they could – through countless roster changes, goofy promotions, poor play, and the inheritance of a west coast game schedule courtesy of the Pilots.  They spent most of April on the road and never really recovered, and in fact didn’t win their first franchise home game until early May.

The scene in Major League where the Indians break camp and fans are asking “who are these f’ing guys?” is reminiscent of the 1970 Brewers.  It’s hard to support a team when you can’t keep track of the players, and the season attendance proved this.  One Million or Bust is in reference to what Selig called the financial break-even attendance point.  In 1970 they didn’t hit the mark, but the hard work behind the scenes laid the groundwork for future success in upcoming chapters.

Chapter Eight – A Fun Place for Fans

Frank “Trader” Lane takes over for Milkes and makes his mark with countless trades.  The team goes on a statewide campaign with the goal of bringing in a million fans to County Stadium – considered to be the break-even financial mark. Bernie Brewer returns to County Stadium with a companion named Bonnie – the first in a number of enhancements to the ballpark designed to attract fans. Jim Wilson takes the reins as GM and continues the rebuild that Lane started. Del Crandall leads the team on the field to better results in 1973-74.  Selig begins to work on MLB owner’s committees studying expansion and interleague play.

This was an interesting chapter for me to research these are the years where the team really starts moving forward – financially, on the field, and especially in creating an identity that begins to resonate with fans.  One million fans finally come through the turnstiles at County Stadium, but making it happen is a lot of work.  Team executives and players travel the state and more or less “campaign” to sell tickets.  In some instances the team contingent outnumbers the attendees at the events, but the Brewers kept pushing forward.

In terms of identity, many of the new enhancements to County Stadium are Brewers-related.  However, the team still has links to the Milwaukee Braves days with former catcher Crandall as manager and an aging Hank Aaron playing out his final seasons.

Readers will find Frank “Trader” Lane to be quite a character.  He got the nickname “Trader” years before due to his extreme willingness to trade away any player – no matter how good or popular they were with fans.  Lane was in his 70’s when Selig hired him, and he showed no signs of slowing down as he made transactions aplenty.  Lane also knew how to joke around – he cracked that there was no truth to the rumor he was a colonel in the confederate army.   

This chapter is also when Selig finally gets a true seat at the table with his fellow owners.  Most of the old fogey owners want nothing to do with committees, so they turn to Selig and the other younger executives to crunch numbers and evaluate future meeting topics.  Unfortunately Selig finds out the hard way that months of committee work can easily be tossed aside without discussion.

Chapter Nine – Prospects and All-Stars

Wilson steps down as GM and scouting director Jim Baumer takes over. Young players like Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Jim Slaton, Charlie Moore, and Gorman Thomas play alongside Hank Aaron in his return to the city. The 1975 All-Star Game is played at County Stadium and Hammerin’ Hank calls it a career after the 1976 season. Baseball owners approve new franchises for Seattle and Toronto.

A lot more happens in this chapter than my Abstract revealed.  The biggest thing I found in my research was a sense of stability while still moving forward in the front office.  In 1978 Harry Dalton replaced Baumer as GM, and went on to be loved by Brewers fans, rightfully so.  I’m not sure that Wilson and Baumer ever got their due as architects of a stocked farm system and big league roster that was just a few players away of turning the corner.  That’s the “prospects” part of this chapter.

On the “All-Stars” side, landing the annual game in 1975 was a huge deal for an organization that was still treading water in the standings.  The ASG also brought Aaron full circle because like the first one he played in 1955, was before a home crowd at Milwaukee County Stadium.

I’m fascinated by baseball stories that bring individuals and teams full circle.  In this chapter not only does the Hammer come full circle, but the city of Seattle does as well after again being awarded an expansion team.  When the Brewers play in the Kingdome for the first time they find out that fans haven’t forgotten the Pilots messy bankruptcy and move to Milwaukee.

Chapter Ten – Saturday Night Massacre

The team heads in the right direction on paper by signing free agent Sal Bando and trading for Cecil Cooper, but the results on the field under manager Alex Grammas in 1977 are disappointing. Selig is desperate to turn things around with his foundering franchise, so he cleans house of upper management and the coaching staff in late 1977. After what was dubbed “The Saturday Night Massacre,” Selig hires Harry Dalton as general manager who in turn hires George Bamberger to manage the players. The team rebrands itself with a new logo and uniforms just in time for the 1978 season.

A couple of huge final moves not mentioned in the Abstract are the signing of free agent slugger Larry Hisle and the arrival of young future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.  The earlier signing of Bando ushered in a wave of players like Hisle being willing to play for Milwaukee.  In fact, Bando and Cooper were instrumental in convincing Hisle that Milwaukee was a good fit.

Other players such as journeyman pitcher Mike Caldwell begin to really emerge as future stars in this chapter.  They just needed a father figure to gently push the rudderless team in the right direction, and history proved that Bamberger was the right manager at the right time.  I’m fortunate to have former Brewers pitcher Lary Sorensen following me on Twitter.  Whenever I tweet about Bamberger, Lary responds about how instrumental he was during the early stages of his pitching career.

After the early iterations of my book fell apart, I went back to the drawing board and made a strong decision to wrap up when the team takes the field to start the 1978 season on the verge of success.  It felt right to end when the team was just about to break out after years of struggle.  Also, in my earlier versions, I had a hard time writing beyond 1978 and doing the story any justice.  This could have been a 3000 page book otherwise!

Epilogue

Looking at the impact of the team as Brewers baseball is passed from generation to generation, to the present day.

Acknowledgements

Acknowledging those who contributed interviews and supported me during the process.

Sources

Source material used in constructing this book.

Bibliography

Sources for quotes used in the book.

My original Epilogue was more fluff than substance and revolved more around feel-good tributes to Bud Selig at Miller Park.  I got some pretty negative feedback about it from a Beta reader that it was difficult to end on a high note without properly dissecting Selig’s reign as baseball commissioner, the sale of the Brewers to Mark Attanasio, and the intense fight to build Miller Park.

I completely agreed with the feedback.

Honestly, I think the baseball owners collusion era of the 1980’s through 2004 would make a great book, just about Selig and Miller Park alone.  Am I the guy to write it?  I’d never say never, but I have another idea “brewing” that I might tackle first.

Long story short, I re-wrote the Epilogue and feel better about how it wraps up.  This book wasn’t written as an attempt to convince readers how to feel about Selig as a team owner, commissioner, or human being.  Most of the people I interact with on social media already have a strong opinion one way or another about the man.

One question I get asked after researching the book is if I think the Milwaukee Brewers would exist without Selig.  In my opinion, there wouldn’t be a Brewers team without Selig.  I did wrap-up the Epilogue with Selig’s induction to the Hall of Fame and some great quotes about the Brewers being his favorite accomplishment, but not before posing a few points about his life and career for readers to think about.

The rest of the end of book “stuff” allows readers to locate information within and outside the book a lot easier.  If you want to go back and revisit the time Jackie Robinson spoke in Milwaukee and offered his opinions about the Braves leaving time, simply look for his name in the Appendix.  If you want to read the article where I found Robinson’s quote, it’ll be listed in Sources.

I compiled a “Where Are They Now?” section for an early version of the book.  It listed each player from the 1970 Brewers roster and gave an update on their lives after baseball.  It seemed a bit out of place as I revised the book, so it has since been put aside.  My goal is to update it and publish as a blog post when the book comes out.

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