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Home of the Braves?

By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 9, 2007

Then, “when I was 14, I started working there as a concessionaire for Harry M. Stevens, Inc. [the USA’s first sports food service],” says Altison. He worked in Fenway, too, but the Braves were his team. He lived down the block. He was a fan, as was his father before him. “They called us the blue-collar fans compared to the Red Sox fans.”

While Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx were tearing it up down the street in Kenmore Square, Altison was in Allston, rooting for players with exquisitely evocative names like Whitey Wietelmann, Sibby Sisti, and Buddy Gremp. “To my eyes,” he says, “the Boston Braves were the number-one team, win or lose.”

Art “Lefty” Johnson, 88, was teammates with Wietelmann, Sisti, and Gremp. (And, for that matter, with Sig “Chops” Broskie” and Skippy Roberge.) The southpaw pitched for the Braves between 1940 and 1942, finishing his career with a 7-16 record and a 3.68 ERA. He pitched only 195-plus innings all told, 183 of them in ’41. But his short time with the Braves is a “very fond memory.”

Johnson turned pro right out of high school, in Winchester. “As a matter of fact, my father signed a contract when I was still a junior in high school to be effective the day I graduated.” After a few steps up the minor-league ladder, he was called up.

The Braves were exactly where he wanted to be. “Oh, I was always a Braves fan. I liked the National League because of the brand of ball that they played: the bunt, the hit-and-run, the steal. The Red Sox, they always played for the home run and the big scores. I liked the fundamentals. In my opinion, that’s what the game was all about.”

Alas, the Braves’ proficiency with fundamentals came perhaps at the expense of their popularity. “The Red Sox were always more popular in Boston, yes,” recalls Johnson. “The average fan likes to see the home run, the hits off the Monster wall. Not the 1-0 games that are over in an hour and 31 minutes.”

Lefty Johnson loved playing in the majors. And he wasn’t a bad pitcher. But he tore his rotator cuff just before he enlisted in the Navy. And medical science wasn’t then what it is now. “But y’know, that’s life,” he says. “I watch every bunt and fly ball, and still dream of being there.”

New kids in town
The Red Sox (then the Boston Americans) had swooped into town with a vengeance in 1901. American League founder Ban Johnson “knew that if he was going to make his league work, if he was gonna win,” says Richard Johnson, “Boston would be a beachhead in that war.”

The war was won, and the way it happened, he says, “should be a business school case study.” First, Ban Johnson secured a prime piece of real estate for his team, setting up shop at the Huntington Avenue Grounds — directly across from the Beaneaters’ South End Grounds, separated by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad tracks. “It was like someone building a Dunkin’s across from a Honeydew,” says Richard Johnson, “except in a much bigger way.”

The next step? Poach the Beaneaters’ best and most beloved player, the great third baseman Jimmy Collins, inducing him to literally cross the tracks for a substantial pay increase.

Finally, says Johnson, “They charged half as much for a ticket! So, who are you gonna root for if you’re a fan? Fifty cents or a quarter? And are you gonna rip your Jimmy Collins picture down from the wall? It was basically, ‘In your face! We didn’t just throw down the gauntlet, we came in and burned your house down while you were asleep!’ ”

Nonetheless, while the Red Sox had a major edge in fan loyalty, there was little animosity between the two teams over the 52 years they shared this city. They played a three-game preseason series every year. The players got along and respected each other. And the fans — even while they had their loyalties — weren’t exactly divided into warring tribes. By the ’40s, “it was more sort of a class division, where the Red Sox were the team of the haves, and the Braves were the team of the immigrants and the have-nots. The Braves had the Knot Hole Gang, and the Red Sox didn’t. At Fenway you had to pay full price. At Braves Field, you got in for a nickel.”

“There never was the same animosity between fans of the two franchises that exists in, say, Chicago, where you’re either a White Sox fan or a Cubs fan. Unless you’re Hillary Clinton.”

But the vagaries of fate did allow the Red Sox to outshine their neighbors at inopportune times. “Even when the Braves have their greatest year in 1914,” notes Johnson, “it’s smack in the middle of the Red Sox’ golden era” with the Sox winning World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. Ironically, as the Braves played the ’14 series in Fenway, the Sox played the ’15 and ’16 series at newer Braves Field to fit larger crowds. “It didn’t work for the Braves, but it worked for them,” says Johnson. “The Braves never won a World Series at Braves Field.”

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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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