Michael Fuss is a big man…if you were trapped in a burning building, you’d hope a guy this big was coming to get you out! Michael Fuss has a big heart; he’s generous and kind to his friends; he makes sure his “family” gets to the doctor or the grocery store and everyone in the neighborhood knows him!! He’s got a big, deep voice – Fireman Mike Fuss is a big, gruff, garrulous guy. Mike is a fixture in Madison for a number of reasons; he’s lived here forever; he’s been in the neighborhood almost forever; he was with the Madison Fire Department for 31 years; he still (at his advanced age) plays in a couple of softball leagues and he plays pedal steel guitar in a very popular Madison band. A collector of firehouse-related, fire truck related items, Mike’s been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He lives in Old Fire Station # 8 – it houses his collection of fire trucks and his collection of Eddie Mathews/Milwaukee Braves memorabilia…and he loves giving tours!! It might be a tad presumptuous to refer to Mike as a renaissance man; however, his interests are certainly broad. He was – and sometimes, still is – the firehouse cook. Most firehouses operate on a so-many-days-on-duty, so-many-days-off-duty schedule so during on-duty days they eat and sleep at the firehouse… It didn’t take long for people to realize that Mike is a terrific cook!! Sometimes I think I can actually feel my arteries hardening but, may gosh, is it good!!
He is also a very fine musician – not just player-musician! I could introduce you to dozens of hugely talented guitarists who at some point in their careers thought it would be helpful, cool and fun to add pedal steel to the list of instruments they’d mastered. The majority of those fine players came away from that endeavor beaten, bruised and humbled…Pedal steel guitar is difficult to learn and still more difficult to play well…Mike plays it very well! Furthermore, as the lead singer in the band, it appears he knows all the words to all the songs written since 1951. Did I mention the fire safety classes he teaches and the softball games every week and the fact that he’s on the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association’s board of directors? If you call him, don’t be at all surprised to be asked – gruffly – to leave a message and he’ll call you back – he will, too!
A few years ago Mike remodeled the upstairs part of the firehouse into living areas and his Eddie Mathews/Milwaukee Braves museum. Mike and Eddie became friends in the early 1980’s when Eddie was working with/scouting the Madison Muskies baseball team. Before I ever met Mike I remember seeing him at card memorabilia shows. After Eddie had finished signing autographs, the two of them – and sometimes wives – and sometimes other players – would go off in the huge motor home to get supper and a “pop”. I don’t think either of them ever went out for a “drink” – they went out for a “pop”…Eddie’s term, I think…
My wife, Gayle, and I had the good fortune to visit the Mathews-Braves-firehouse shrine in October 2005. It blew away our expectations (which were pretty high anyway)!! One of the things I hadn’t really given thought to – Mike’s warm and private relationship with Eddie and with the Mathews family. He has stuff no one else would have had access to…add to that the friendships with other Braves players that developed out of his close relationship with Eddie…it has all made for a great tribute to a great player and a great team!!
Here’s the interview – I’m in the firehouse home of Fireman Mike Fuss…
DK: Well, here we are with Mike Fuss. Tell us a little about yourself, Mike…
FM: Well, I was born October 19, 1947 in Madison, WI . I’m 57 years old, my birthday is six days after my hero, Eddie Mathews’ birthday. I wanted to be a fireman since I was four years old and, when I grew up a little more, I wanted to play for the Milwaukee Braves. So I wanted to do two things; well, I accomplished one and I feel like I’m a part of the Milwaukee Braves organization and that makes me feel really good. So, you could kinda say I accomplished both – at least I’m around it. And I was on the fire department for 31 yrs – I retired five years ago. I have a son and a stepson- both of their names are Mike-and they’re both on the Madison fire department. I live in an old fire station on Madison’s northeast side – close to Oscar Mayer’s. I grew up in this neighborhood – I lived four blocks away from this fire station and I used to come down here every day when I was a kid. My son, Mike Jr., was up in Wisconsin Rapids for four years on their fire department, then he came here and has been on here for nine years. My stepson, Mike, was on the fire department in Milwaukee for five years and he’s been on here (Madison) for 12 years. I have a daughter, Julie, who is married and lives up by Lodi and has two children. My son, Mike, has two children and my other son, Mike, has two children. So it’s two, two and two. (He laughs) I have lived in this fire station for 15 years. It was my life’s dream to be stationed here and I was for the last two years it was open. So now I have tours once in awhile, not like I used to, but it’s still open to the public. And I have a Milwaukee Braves display to show people. It’s very interesting, I think. And I just love the people to see this. So if anybody is interested all they have to do is just get a hold of me and they can come and see it.
DK: How would they get a hold of you, Mike?
FM: Call 608-244-6732 or my cell phone 608-669-4141 (Eddie Mathew’s #). I also have e-mail, the address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I also play in a country/western band and we have a website, zip-country.com, so you can see our schedule. You’ll see a list of bands and ours is Cherokee and that will also give you a photo and biography and our schedule for the year. We play old country and western and 50’s & 60’s music. We could do a whole night of either if we would have to.
DK: Would you talk about the fire trucks and the firehouse?
FM: This fire station was built in 1948 and was opened in 1949. When I was coming down here there was only one fire truck and it was really special to me. It was the first fire engine I really got to spend time around…I drew pictures of it…I followed it to fires whenever I could. It was involved in an accident January 15, 1959. The station was opened Jan 15, 1949 – so it was 10 yrs before the truck was involved in an accident. I got pretty sentimentally attached to it. It was replaced by a pumper and an aerial ladder truck and I have all three of those trucks in the station. I also have two other trucks in stations in Madison. The station is still open for tours but not as much, because I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on so it takes up more and more of my time.
DK: What kinds of trucks are those?
FM: The one that is very special to me is a 1941 Pirsch. It was made in Kenosha, WI. The pumper that replaced it with a 1959 FWD made in Clintonville, WI. The aerial ladder is a 1959 Pirsch from Kenosha. And I have a 1950 Pirsch aerial ladder and a 1956 pumper. I did have another 1956 Pirsch pumper that was a twin to this one, but I sold it. I also had a 1959 Pirsch pumper from Monona, WI and I also sold that. This station is a three bay station, it used to house the quad – that’s the one that’s special to me – and it housed an engine and an aerial – then they built an addition where they put an ambulance when we got ambulance service in 1965. So, at various times, there were between 6 and 10 men stationed here. And I used to cook and I also drove the ambulance.
DK: Any exciting stories from the fire dept that we ought to throw in here? I’m sure there were some…
FM: Yes, I did get to work with both of my sons before I retired which was really nice. And I did go to a few fires with them. And I did get close to biting the dust or kicking the bucket at a fire at the Salvation Army downtown Madison in 1976. The fire was at 2:00 A.M. and only five blocks away and we could smell it as soon as we walked out the door. So we knew we had a fire right away. So we got there and were told to search the building – we did that – we didn’t find anyone and then we were told to go to the roof and ventilate. We got up there and I had a saw – I tried to get through the roof and I couldn’t through it. I looked around and about 15 feet away I saw the flames, this fire was really gaining and I felt that the fire was right underneath us. So I told the officer we’d better get off this roof. And he agreed…there were three of us. We got down and in just minutes maybe (I was on a hand line-a fire hose) and all of a sudden this building collapsed right where we’d been. We’d just got out of where all that happened. Then the wall came right down at us so I just threw the nozzle and the bricks were flying and we just got out of there – but if we had been up on that roof we would have all been dead because we’d been down in the middle of the building, in the middle of the fire. So that was a very, very close call. And my name is Michael and I am sure St. Michael the archangel had a little something to do with that – he was protecting me.
DK: I believe that – I believe that. (Pause…) Um… talk a little about that funky motor home…
FM: OK… I’ve got a motor home that’s a 1999 Tropicale. It’s made in California and is a 36 footer. I’ve been to Branson, Nashville, I’ve been to Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, up north in Wisconsin. Then one day I was going down the road with my wife while she was driving and I decided I had never got to see the back of it going down the road. So I decided when we were coming back – not too far from your house in IL – coming back from Kentucky. And I thought wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice mural of the Braves up there. I could see the Braves script and a tomahawk and I thought that sure would be neat and that’s what I did. And I added Milwaukee Braves Historical Association. Then I decided I needed something else on there, so I added my hero, Eddie Mathews. Then I thought I gotta have somebody else, so I had Hank, then I added Spahnie, then I thought we should have the president of the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association so I put Johnny Logan on there and then I added Felix Mantilla because he’s such a great guy and I thought he deserved to be on there, too. Then I have the tomahawk and the “Braves” on the front and I have Eddie’s number 41 on the side and on the back and it’s just kind of a thing I like. It’s nice to drive down the road and people wave at you – they like the Braves and stuff on it. Kind of a neat thing and I love it.
DK: Good. Talk a little bit about the fact that at your great advanced age you’re still playing ball.
FM: Well I’ve always loved to play baseball and I played it but was not major league caliber – not even minor league caliber. But I had fun doing it. Then I started playing softball and I played that most of my adult life and I am still playing slow pitch softball one night a week and I just love it because I’m the catcher. I tore my rotator cuff – ripped it all the way – that was five yrs ago and I had to have surgery. The Doctor said
I’d never play again. But, I just exercise and do everything and still do it every day. And I throw the ball, but I don’t trust it – I used to play 3rd base and the outfield, but catching is great because I get to run a lot – I like to run and I love to back up that 1st baseman but I end up backing up everybody, but that’s alright – I’m kind of a take charge guy out in the field and I’m telling them what to do. And they like that cause we’re all older guys. But I love playing and I’m going to keep playing. I had a bad year though.
DK: What does that mean?
FM: Didn’t hit well at all and I was overweight – that had a lot to do with it, and I couldn’t run as well as I wanted to and I just couldn’t hit.
DK: Isn’t that terrible?
FM: Yeah, it’s just bad.
DK: I know. I finally had to quit. So…start somewhere far back, I mean you used to go see the games in Milwaukee; start somewhere there, work this way in time to when you and Eddie got to be friends.
FM: When I was a kid in 1953 the Braves came here, but I never got to a game ‘til 1955. My first game they were playing the Cubs. And they lost 5 to 4. And I remember it was in September. And I went down with my Dad, my Grandpa and my great uncle and we were coming down Blue Mound road to 60th Street and there is a Catholic Church on the left across from the cemetery. Well, wouldn’t it be they had a fire there in the steeple, and I can remember the trucks and the aerial ladders up – so that was even before we got into the park…I was eight years old. We had stopped at a restaurant by Highway 83 – that restaurant is gone now – it’s where the ski hill was. I can remember being in that restaurant and we were excited about going to the Braves game. We got down there and when we walked into the stadium I couldn’t believe it!! When you walked through the little tunnels that come up to the seats and you’d look at that playing field and it was just like…MAN…!!! This is just overwhelming!!! There was just so much to see and it was so neat to see a real baseball park!! So, I can remember Del Rice was catching – there was a close play at home – the umpire called the guy safe and Del Rice took that ball and he threw it on home plate and that ball flew up into the air at least 15 feet. I kept looking and there it went – I can remember that so vividly!!
DK: Did he get thrown out of the game?
FM: Nope. No, he didn’t.
FM: That’s when I got to see Eddie for the first time. I had heard about him, but hadn’t seen him. After that I’d get to probably five, six games a year maybe.
DK: Had you listened to the games on the radio?
FM: Yes, listened to them every night or day with Dad or Grandpa. So that was a continuous thing. We couldn’t get enough of the Braves – and it was that way everywhere.
DK: I remember…
FM: It was like there was magic in this state – no matter where you were – all they talked about was the Braves, Eddie Mathews – Eddie Mathews name was the first name that came to anybody – it was Eddie. And then Aaron when he got here and Spahn and they talked about those guys too, but, it was always Eddie. Eddie was Wisconsin’s hero. There was no doubt about that, because he still is. You talk to most people and that’s what they’ll say about it. Everybody loved the Braves and we’d go down there and as I got older we’d sit outside until they were done playing and then we’d get their autographs. So, Johnny would come out, Logan, and there would be a swarm of kids around him and he’d be walking and talking and he’d just be going “Wait, wait till I get to the car, then I’ll sign”. And everybody would say “OK” and we’d line up and we’d have some stuff for him to sign and he’d only open his window halfway, but he’d sign. He was really good about that. And then Eddie would walk out and everybody was just swarming him – he’d sign, he’d walk and sign and he’d get to his car and keep signing. And I can remember when he had Eddie, Jr. one day – he walked out with him and he (Eddie Jr.) looked just like his dad – it was unreal. And he signed some more and a guy came up to him and handed him some venison steaks because he knew Eddie liked them, so Eddie said, “Hey, come over to my house and have a few beers sometime, too.” He was so down to earth!! Then we would get everyone’s autographs, but the only bad one, the only one who wouldn’t sign for us kids- why I don’t know – it was Aaron, he would not sign. He’d walk right by you and people would say “Hey, Hank!” and he wouldn’t do it. The only time I saw him sign was for a kid in a wheel chair in that parking lot. So, in the 1965 season, the lame duck season, the Braves had just lost a double-header and me, my buddy and my cousin decided to go down to the game, so we did. Eddie didn’t play – he was hurt. We waited for them to get out and they were getting on the bus, because they were going to fly out or something, so they went right to the bus. I saw Aaron get on the bus and he was sitting by the window so I went up to him with a scorecard and I asked him to sign it and he signed it and I about fell off!! I thought, “Oh man, this is something”, but he did sign it. Then Joey Jay- I can remember him walking out and then Johnny Antonelli when he came back, he signed… and Lou Burdette…he wouldn’t sign the one night Spahn threw his 300th victory; I was there that night. Burdette was so nice and he came up to me and I said “Lou, can I have your autograph?” and he put his arm around me and said, “Son, you don’t want my autograph”…And I said, “Yes, I do” and I talked to him – and we kept walking and talking, but he wouldn’t sign. (Laughs) I was there the night of Spahn’s 300th victory and Gino Cimoli was playing left and he made a shoestring catch – saved the game – they won 2-1 over the Cubs. Eddie threw a ball in the stands in the last inning – I remember that. Which you seldom ever saw something like that, but he did, it went right into the stands from third base. They won 2-1 and Gino Cimoli hit a two- run homer to win the game. I sat in the upper deck on the right side – first base – it was just marvelous sitting in that stadium. I miss that stadium – I don’t like Miller Park at all – I’d like County Stadium back. Even when the Brewers were there – there’s something about that stadium…being in that stadium…it had a beautiful view at night – it was so pretty with all the lights in the city…and the Johnston Cookie factory down the road there – then they had all the trains going by – and it was really neat back then. It was a great time for me, I just loved going down there. I loved being in that stadium. But I loved it when the Braves were there, but when they moved everybody was just sick. There are people yet that hate them for moving – they’ll still get mad if you talk to them. They don’t want anything to do with them. They don’t want anything to do with Atlanta. They don’t even want to talk about it – they’re so miserable that they lost their team – and a lot of people think that was a dirty trick that they pulled. If Fred Miller had been alive then – there was no way he would have ever let that team move. It would have still been there.
DK: He’d probably own it.
FM: Yep, yep. He never would have let what Selig did, he never would have let – Selig was supposed to be a big Braves guy, but to me he was a traitor for ripping down that stadium. It was all money and now he lost it all. And they’re so far in debt they’re never going to get out.
DK: The Brewers you mean?
FM: Yeah, but they put this Little League field there, which is alright, but if they had to rip the stadium down they could’ve left that playing field there. That would’ve been so neat, because people could’ve walked on there and could’ve said, “Hey, this is where Eddie played, Spahnie, all the guys on the National league, all the guys on the American league, for the All Star Game, the Yankees, Mickey Mantle”. There are so many heroes there and you could have walked down this field where they played. Now you look at Miller Park and you say, “Who’s played there? Oh, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa. Oh, what did they do – oh, really nothing. Just took steroids”. That’s the way I feel about that. Because I told Eddie after McGuire hit 70 home runs I said, “Well, I tell you if you and Hank were still playing…if he hit 70, you would have hit 100”. That’s true. But… anyway…the way I got to meet Eddie was I’d see him when I’d get autographs, but then-later- he was a scout for the Oakland A’s. And he would come here to check out the Madison Muskies.
DK: And what year was that?
FM: That was in 1983. But in ’84 is when I met him. He would scout the games then he would go over to the closest pub – the closest gin mill – that’s what he would call them.
DK: To have “a pop”…
FM: Yeah, a little treat. So, he’d go over there and I didn’t know it at the time, but a couple of my buddies told me. And they said, “Come on, we’re going to meet him – we got this all set up”. And I said, “Oh man, this is gonna be great!” So I went over there and I got to meet him and I sat and drank with him.
DK: Did he remember you from before—-in the autograph days?
FM: No, no. But I told him. Then I showed him his batting stance. I went through that. He liked that. Then he said “I’m in the book, just call me in San Diego”. I said “ok”. So I started calling him and we’d talk, then he would come back for shows and things and I’d see him. He was here twice in the last couple of years that he was alive. It was so great to be with him and the last time I saw him was at a card show and then we went to his daughter’s home and we had a great time there. Afterwards I took him to the hotel and Bob Buhl was there, too, so then we just sat and talked and listened to stories and it was just a ball and that was the last time I got to see him. That was the last time I was with him.
DK: How long was that before he died?
FM: Well, that was in August and he died in February…But I’d been e-mailing him and talking to him on the ‘phone and then he went into the hospital. Stephanie and Johnny went out to see him just before he died.
DK: And you were in contact with them?
FM: Yeah, all the time. And then, they went out and saw him in the hospital and he was on a respirator and they told him I said” hi”, and he said “hi” to me and they said he was getting better and he was sitting up in bed signing autographs. And then he took a turn for the worse. I had a CD of our band, because he liked country music, but we had some delays getting it finished so I got it out to him too late and he didn’t get to hear it. So then, the last game they played at County Stadium, I was at that game. I dressed up in his jersey and cap and took his jacket and bat. I asked the Brewers when I got down there if I could put his cap, bat and jacket on home plate and they made a big deal about it and said if you had told us a couple of days ago about this – but this is all worked out and we can’t change it. So I just said, “That’s fine”…so all they did was have a moment of silence, but I could have run out on the field for him or had Johnny or somebody and I had told the family I was going to do this. Well, they had this piped into Eddie’s room so he got to see it. He was supposed to be there, but he couldn’t come back. So, when I was out there in the parking lot… everybody thought I was Eddie. They were coming up to me thinking I was Eddie. They were taking pictures and wanting autographs and I said “I’m not Eddie”. And they said, “oh, yes, you are”. I said “no, I’m not”. And they said “well, we want your autograph” and I said, “well, I’ll give you my autograph but I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do; I’m going to sign my name but I’m going to print ‘FOR EDDIE MATHEWS’ cause he can’t be here”. They said “Oh, that’s fine”. So I must have signed 200 of them. I went through the stands and let them hold the bat and jacket and everything, you know, and they were yelling at me “Hey, Eddie”. There were about 20 people I couldn’t convince that I wasn’t Eddie. They thought I was. So, it was kinda neat to do that, I just wish I could’ve got on the field and ran over to third base like he used to. It would’ve been kinda neat, but to me the Brewers organization-they don’t care about the history of the Braves at all – they just don’t want anything to do with the Braves. So that’s how I met Eddie and became friends with the family and I’m still real good friends with the family and Eddie’s first wife, Virjean. She’s a neat lady. And I still see all of them and we have a nice – I don’t know – almost like a familial relationship.
DK: Any stories about Eddie’s family?
FM: Well…I’ll talk about Johnny. Johnny was really close to his Dad. He got to be the ball boy for Atlanta. And he told me a lot of stories. He was his Dad’s companion. They were of the same mold. And they liked to do things together and they just got along well and Johnny was there when Hank hit that 715th home run. So Eddie told him, “Johnny, you go up to Hank and congratulate him”. And Johnny was afraid, because he was young and very hesitant. But he went and did it. Johnny was very shy and Hank was a superhero. Another story…He switched with the ball boys behind the plate the last time Phil Niekro pitched a no hitter. He said, “ I just want to watch him pitch” and he threw the no-hitter. So, Johnny was proud of that.
DK: Was he running balls out? Was he the dugout ball boy?
FM: Yeah, so he got to see the whole thing and got to sit behind home plate…back by the fence. So he got to see it all. He’s got a lot of stories – he tells me a lot. He was really proud to be the ball boy and learned a lot there and he’s still got his uniform from Atlanta. And he got to meet a lot of people like Dusty Baker and Darryl Evans. Darryl Evans showed up at his Dad’s funeral. That was real nice. Aaron wasn’t there but he sent some flowers.
DK: Any more things about the family, Stephanie, Eddie Jr. or anything like that?
FM: Eddie Jr. is an anaesthetist. He really looked like Eddie when he was young.
DK: I’ve seen pictures. Anything about Stephanie?
FM: She’s a real sweetheart. She’s looks a lot like her mother, but she looks like Eddie, too. She’s just a sweet lady – very down to earth. Never cared that her dad was famous – well she cared that he was famous, but they never talked to anybody about stuff.
DK: Talk about the Braves players. You did that a little bit and you mentioned some more people when you were talking about your vehicle. Talk about the other guys.
FM: I just want to say one thing that’s about Eddie: Bob Buege interviewed Eddie and wrote a book about him and I just want to say Bob had Eddie down – if you read the book… it is Eddie talking. He had him down so well – I told him that the other day. I said you had him – it was Eddie talking – you can hear him talking.
DK: I didn’t hear Eddie talk as much as you did, but, for the amount I did hear him – I agree – he nailed it.
FM: Ok, the other players. I think one of the most gentlemanly is Del Crandall. I think you can’t find a finer person than that guy. He was kinda out of the spotlight. Everyone knew him, but he was kinda like Aaron – he didn’t make a big deal about things and he stayed away from drinking and all that. I think there was a real gentleman. I think his backup, Del Rice, I think he was a great guy who didn’t get the recognition – he didn’t get to play all the time, but I thought he was a heck of a catcher.
DK: He was.
FM: And Bob Buhl, him and Eddie were really close all those years.
DK: We have pictures of them in the locker room.
FM: They went hunting and fishing together – they did a lot together. And the last time I saw Buhl was at the last game at County Stadium – and they brought him in on the cart – he couldn’t walk.
DK: But he got off the cart at third base and walked-slooowly-over to the mound and got a standing ovation…unbelievable…!!!
FM: Yep, yep. And see his wife died and he had a lot of problems and one day he was at a card show up at Midway (Motor Lodge) with Eddie. When I talked to Eddie he said “take Bob out to the bar…when I get done signing I’ll come out”. I said, “ok”. Bob said, “Ok, I’m ready but I got to go real slow, I might have to sit down”. I said. “ that’s fine – we’ve got all day”. So, then I had a nice talk with him and we got about halfway there and he said “Mike, I have to sit down”. I said “that’s ok”. So we did and we sat there for 20 minutes. We just talked. Then we went out there to the table and sat down and Johnny Mathews came out and we were all sitting there, and Chico Carrasquel and somebody else was there and we were all drinking and talking. Then Eddie came and he and Bob started telling stories. I mean it was just great! I just sat there and listened – I didn’t say anything – because that’s the best thing you do – you know just keep them talking. If you would start firing stuff at them or you’re not listening to them – they’re not going to talk. So then, Eddie was clowning around and we were talking about singing and he said, “ yeah, I’m going to be singing a song and I’m going to be FROG” – because that’s when he had throat cancer and that’s when he lost his voice pretty much. He couldn’t talk very well – he could still talk, but it was, you know…tough…And he beat the cancer – he beat it!! So, Buhl and Eddie were two buddies who went through a lot together…and how ironic is it that they died on the same week-end…Bob died February 16th, 2001 and Eddie died February 18th, 2001.
DK: Don’t you have a story about Joe Adcock?
FM: I got one when I was a kid and I’m waiting outside the stadium to get autographs and Joe came out and he had those colored postcards…?
DK: The Bill & Bob’s…?
FM: Yeah. Well, he had a bunch of those and he was walking to his car and I asked him “Joe, can I have your autograph” and he goes “Yeah!” And he had a real high voice and you wouldn’t put that voice to him – him being a big guy like that. And he had dark black hair and he combed it back to the side. With a hat on you never saw that and you would think, “man, oh, man”. And I said “can I have your autograph” and he said”yes” and I can’t remember what I said to him but I can remember him saying “I cain’t, I cain’t!” And I don’t know what it was I asked him. But he signed a beautiful signature and he signed for everybody – he just gave the cards –and that’s how he did that. He was a real gentleman – he was quiet…and he married a Wisconsin girl.
DK: Ok, Jack Dittmer?
FM: Ok, I didn’t know much about him when he came – it was real early. And they got Danny O’Connell right away, so, I’ve only known him since the association. I know he’s a great guy. I know he’s got the car dealership – I know people that go down there and they see him and then they’ll come back and tell me, because I’ll tell them to go see him. But, that’s about all.
DK: Talk about Johnny Logan…
FM: Oh…Johnny. Ha, Ha, Ha! Here’s a 78-year-old kid. The guy is really strong. He’s a tough guy – he really is. Because he acts like he’s 20 years old. He works out every day. He’s in great health – he’s moving all the time – he’s never sitting around except for his nap. But, I remember when he was playing and then I would go to card shows – he’d be there and you’d go up to him and say “hi” and he’d say, “I’m not signing today, I’m not signing today.” Well, nobody really cared, but that would be the first thing he’d say. But, he’d talk to you. He’s told a lot of stories about the Braves and a lot of stories about him and Eddie. One I can remember was him and Eddie walking down the street in Boston and a couple of Navy guys in uniforms were walking toward them and Johnny said, “Hey, those guys are in uniform, they’re going to be walking right up to us.” And Eddie said “So what.” Johnny said “What are we going to do?” Eddie just said “Nothing – don’t worry about it.” And Johnny walked up to him and said “Aren’t you going to do anything?” “Well, what shall I do?” Johnny said, “Well, I don’t know – well are they going to move or are we going to move?” Eddie said, “I don’t know, we’re just going to keep walking.” Ha, Ha, Ha! This many years later I can’t believe that it was always Buhl, Spahn, Burdette and Eddie hanging out together. Johnny wasn’t really palling around with those guys all the time. And you think he would have been. But, Johnny told that one story about they’d go out, Eddie, Spahnie, Burdette and Buhl, and they’d be drinking every night, and Eddie would have a hangover when they’d be playing and he’d tell Johnny “oh man” – and Johnny would say “Don’t you see what’s going on?” Eddie’d say, “What do you mean?” And Johnny’d say, “Those guys are pitchers, they got the day off – you don’t!!” Ha, ha, ha!!
DK: How about the outfielders…
FM: Andy Pafko – I’d watch him in left field – and do the head first slide, and there was another gentleman, a real sweetheart. Bruton was too. But he lied about his age… like 10 years or something. And I don’t know if he was the one who started that – and I want to say someone else started that – Perini or somebody started the lie. But, he just went along with it. He came into the league with people thinking he was a 21 year old rookie and he was actually a 31 year old rookie.
DK: Who else?
FM: I loved to watch Buhl pitch and Carlton Willey. I loved to watch him and I loved Spahn and Burdette – I loved to see them pitch. I liked it when Carlton pitched – I liked his style – and Buhl, too. I loved watching them. And then they had Red Murff for awhile, relief pitcher, I watched him… and I liked that motorscooter thing that they hauled pitchers in on.
DK: That was so cool! I wonder what ever happened to that?
FM: I do too. I know where the last one they had – it ended up in Atlanta, but it came back here to Fort Atkinson. They had it in an antique store and I think it might be gone now. They wanted $11,000.00 for it. It just had a picture of the laughing Brave – that’s all it had on it. I saw it, I went and looked at it. If he would have said $2000.00 I would have bought it. Not $11,000.00.
DK: Talk about Felix Mantilla…
FM: Skinny guy when he was playing. But there is a down to earth guy who likes to be around people and likes to have fun and he’s a gentleman, too.
DK: I know he is. And his wife seems to be a sweetheart, too.
FM: Yeah, Kay is really nice and they fit together perfect. They have been here (fire station) and I’ve cooked them a meal and I took them over to the Mallard’s game and he threw out the first pitch. That’s one thing…I lined him and Johnny up over there with Steve Schmidt – the guy that owns it. He asked me, “do you think you could get Johnny?” I said, “Well I’ll talk to him”. So I did and I got Felix, too. But Felix he was a great player, I mean he was a really terrific player and I think in ’59 that was a dirty deal – and they blamed him – and that throw wasn’t that bad. Torre just didn’t get it on the bounce. And some people really blamed Felix and I don’t think that’s right. He was a great utility player – he could play anywhere. That was a nice thing…when he went with Boston – I mean he was a great player there – he did really well!!
DK: Talk a little bit about the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association. Start back as far as you can think about where it started and where you got hooked up with it and then end up what the “historian” (Mike’s title with the Historical Association Board is “Historian”) is about and all that kind of stuff.
FM: Well, the place where it really occurred was Johnny and Eddie and Tony Pipita? I’m not sure how to spell it. They were all sitting around and Tony owned a Mama-Mia’s – he bought it out – it’s called Pappa’s – it’s not Mama-Mia’s. So they were just messing around one day talking about the association and Johnny wanted to get it going. So him and Tony and Bud Lea, I guess, they’re the ones who got it going. And they had the meetings at Tony’s place on Burleigh. So then, about I don’t know how many months into it I heard about it and I called them and talked to them and told them I wanted to join. Johnny happened to be there and I talked to Johnny for awhile. And then I called Tony back and I said my wife does embroidery and I have an idea for this association. So I told them, you know, and I told Johnny and they told me to come down to their place sometime and show them. So I made up a polo shirt and the first one I made up I had a left handed batter for Eddie. He was the first one. I had Milwaukee Braves Historical Association – this was before I did any of this stuff. I got the idea, you know. So then, I told them I was coming down and I called up Johnny Mathews and I took him with me. He knows Tony and Johnny. We got there and they were in a meeting and they came out to the bar with Bud Lea and I showed them this stuff. In fact, I put it on a cap, too. And they liked it. And they said, “could you do anything else with it?” And I said, “yeah, I can do stuff with it”. They said, “ok, come down to the next meeting”. And I started going to the meetings and I wasn’t a member, but Johnny said you come down and sit at these meetings.
DK: When you say member – you’re talking member of the board?
FM: Yeah, so it was about the fifth meeting maybe – no maybe longer than that – maybe the eighth, ninth, somewhere around there. Bob Allen (former Braves statistician and assistant to Donald Davidson) nominated me to be on the board – and it passed just like that – right there. So then I got going and I gave them some ideas and I got the embroidery going with all the logos and started trying to do other things – sold stuff at the dinners – we started all these dinners (banquets for the members). And then we met at Tony’s place all the time and then we started moving different places. And then this association was really growing and we kept getting new members and people were interested in the Braves and then we got good dinners where more people showed up-I mean players, not just one. Of course we got all the regular ones all the time, but got to get them mixed around more. And then I got a lot of ideas yet, but I can’t do anything about them right now. I love being a board member – I really do. But I just think, you know, I hope we get back to having meetings at least once a month. As far as a historian goes – I kinda got tagged with that – I didn’t really want that, because I don’t know everything about the Braves and I don’t claim to, but the one part of it is the uniforms and I’m really big on that and I can tell you a lot about that – I can tell you if they’re real or not – and I can tell you where they’re from and I can tell you the detail, point out things, but as far as a historian – I am only somewhat of an historian. I’m not a great historian like Bob Buege or you and a few others – you all know a lot more of this than I do. I can’t name every date and things like that – but that’s what they tagged me with – I didn’t really want that on there, but I wanted more…just being around the Braves, I guess.
DK: Let’s talk about your memorabilia.
FM: I started collecting this stuff – the stuff that I had when I was a kid – I can’t find it – I don’t know what happened to it. I had a lot of signatures on scorecards. And there were treasured ones, but they are gone as far as I know – I don’t know what happened to them. That postcard with Adcock – I don’t know what happened to it. And he signed it ‘To Mike Best Wishes – Joe Adcock’. I started collecting the rest of this stuff around ’89 or ’90…the bulk of it from ’96-2004. The main part consists of Eddie Mathews stuff… Bob Buege (co-author of Eddie Mathews and the National Pastime) calls it the “Shrine of Eddie Mathews”…which I guess you could. I got jerseys, caps, bats, pants, jackets, bags, gloves – and this is all of Eddies – the locker tag from Shea Stadium. I’ve got three minor league team balls from each year he was in the minors. The one I’m really exceptionally happy about that I got was the one from the Hi-Toms (High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms of the Class D North Carolina State League.) And it was signed by all the players and they’re named in his book. Then I’ve got the one from the Atlanta Crackers which he signed and all the players. And I got the one ’51 from the Brewers and he only played seven or eight games and he hit a grand slam in one of them. One thing I’m trying to find out is what his number was then. I’m trying to find that.
DK: For the ’51 Brewers? How come you don’t know that? Never asked?
FM: Well, I’ve never found a program or anything, yeah, I’ve tried getting scorecards and that, you know.
DK: You ought to be able to find that.
FM: That’s what I think, too. I’d like to find it for the Crackers and the Hi-Toms, too. All of them. He was #10 when he was with Houston and he was #7 with Detroit. And he was #41 with the Braves and #41 when he managed and coached. I’m really proud of those three balls – especially the Hi-Toms one. There’s a story behind that one. A guy told me it was his Grandmother’s. It was given to her when she worked for a man and lady cleaning house and she cleaned the house one day and they said we’re going to the ballgame. Her favorite was Eddie. This is when she was really young and so was he. So, they got her a ball and they had everybody sign it and she gave it to her grandson who, later put it on ebay. And I saw it and it was pretty neat, he said she got that ball and she was crazy about Eddie. And then she gave it to him and then he sells it. So he sent me a picture and an article from a paper about the ballpark there – it’s still there. They’ve got a banner with Eddie’s number on it and so he sent me a picture of that. Pretty neat, huh? And then it showed a picture of him standing outside the gate with the ball. So I got that. And I‘ve got a lot of model bats (store bats) that were Eddie’s. And they’re all different models. They’re all Eddie’s. I’ve got other bats – pro bats – Johnny Logan, Roy McMillan, but the rest are Eddie’s. In fact I have a coach’s bat, a fungo bat and I’ve got a jersey from Ernie Johnson. I’ve got ‘Old Timers’ jerseys, like Red Schoendienst; either Bobby Avila’s or Roy McMillan’s, because there is no tag on it – just number 11. And the same for the big guy – can’t think of his name…oh, yeah, Len Gabrielson. Well, I’ve got one from Billy Martin, too. He was a Brave for only two months. And then I got Lou Burdette’s warm-up jacket and I’ve got Eddie’s warm-up jacket – the last one he wore. I’ve got jerseys from when he managed…and pants…and caps – I’ve got a pair of Hank Aaron’s stirrups – Andy Pafko’s spikes, Del Crandall’s spikes. I do have Eddie’s Boston cap – one of his caps from when he was a rookie. I’ve got a Hank Aaron cap when he played in the ‘60’s here in Milwaukee. I’ve got different little Braves things that are just memorabilia…Frank Thomas’ cap and undershirt…lots more…
DK: Cool! Was this (the main “museum” room) originally a fireman’s bedroom?
FM: That was a dining room, that part was. And there’s stuff out in the hallway. I do like that shot of County Stadium that I picked up at one of Troy’s (Kinunen) auctions. That’s out in the hallway – I think that’s a neat shot.
DK: I like that Miller sign down there on the stairs that says Braves on it. It’s old fashioned.
FM: I got that from my good friend Artie Rickun when he was on Burleigh. Ha, ha. That’s gotta be at least 12 years ago…Time flies when you’re having fun…
DK: Well, I think we should try to get some pictures. They’ll be way better than a thousand words…