Some days I can remember 1956 as if it were yesterday; the heart stopping, heart pounding excitement of every single game. We knew it: This is it…this is our year…this is the year we’re going to win it all!!! …and it went…right…down…to
…the…very…last…game…!!! In many respects THIS was the most exciting pennant race in all my memory!! …Not as satisfying as ’57 or ’58, but way more exciting!!
The hysterical devotion and exuberance of the fans in Milwaukee, in all Wisconsin and in surrounding areas had not diminished an iota. Prior to 1953 many regarded Milwaukee as a suburb of Chicago (75 miles away). By 1956 busloads of fans were coming from Chicago for the Braves’ game. Attendance figures went over a million on July 4th, 1955– long before any other Major League team hit that big, magic number.
The history of Milwaukee is as a city of industry with a population of serious, hard-working, plain-speaking folk. There was no horse racing venue, no dog track, no gambling forum, no symphony orchestra and only a few very modest art galleries. The largely Polish and German populace amused itself by bowling, family and neighborhood picnics or joining one of the plentiful singing societies. The “average fan” at Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds or Wrigley Field spent about 50 cents every time he or she attends a game…the “average Braves fan” spends $1.07 at every game!!
In 1955 between 600,000 and 700,000 fans came to County Stadium from out-of-town; they each spent about $11.00 apiece at each game. In 1955 fans spent over $1.4 million on ice cream, beer, hot dogs, hot chocolate, coffee, pop and souvenirs.
…And it carried over into the community…Milwaukee folks used to go to Chicago to shop; now many of those Chicagoans are finding places to shop in Milwaukee. Mayor Frank Zeidler, generally a quiet man, is loquacious about the Braves. He cites the tough Wisconsin winters, the cabin fever and the coming of baseball in the spring. He quotes national figures regarding juvenile crime being up 8% nationally, yet down 2 ½ % in Milwaukee.
Team Boosters Iron-Ons
The recreation department organized knothole clubs – the girls’ knothole club had over 500 members – some 12,000 kids a year got to go to the game. It gave families a common language…more families attended games – sometimes as whole families – sometimes as fathers and sons – sometimes as mothers and daughters. Stadium security noted virtually no trouble at games – Milwaukee may be a city of drinkers, but not a city of drunkards.
Spic and Span Dry Cleaners, in a brief TV commercial announced that a couple of the Braves players would be appearing at one of their stores to sign autographs. Police estimated that 20,000 kids and parents showed up. The ensuing scene made the newspapers, but was handled quietly and reasonably well by all parties. Edward A. Miller, President of the dry cleaning chain said, “The players and their wives are decent, appreciative men and women. They’re the kind of people you’d welcome in your home. Having them on the weekly TV show means everybody knows them – they’re part of our community.” He further noted, “If they’d been cynical or taken advantage of the community, this would have all died down a long time ago. Instead you see them in churches, in hospitals, in boys & girls clubs – they’re having way more than an economic impact.”
Spic and Span sponsored a contest wherein entrants were to describe in 50 words or less: “What the Milwaukee Braves Mean to Me.” The prize was a 10 day vacation for two in Florida. The entry of the lady who won said, “I bless the Braves for pulling our middle-aged marriage out of the rut and into the groove. It’s sure fun to be going steady again, dating for games and having something to talk about besides the kids and the mortgage. We haven’t been such close companions since our courtin’ days.”
The Robert A. Johnston Company of Milwaukee was one of the country’s largest manufacturers of candies, cookies (over 7,000,000 a day), biscuits and chocolate. As you enter their building there’s a sign you can’t miss:
All requests for leave of absence owing to
funerals, lame backs, housecleaning, moving, sore
throats, headaches, indigestion, etc., must be
handed in not later than 10:00 AM
on the day of the game.
The Johnston Company employed about 1100 people. Half of them, including 38 year old President, Eugene J. Fretz, carry around a transistor radio on game days. The Company has several ball teams that play each other plus teams from other big companies. They believe it helps labor-management relations to have additional common interests and common meeting places. The general feeling at Johnston is that they’ve become better neighbors and better friends since the Braves came to town. One former employee remembers that there used to be a big flashing sign on top of the building that was visible from the ball park. One night Eddie Mathews struck out twice. The next day there was a crew on top of the Johnston building fixing the sign so it no longer flashed. The ex-employee said: “That Gene Fretz is a good Braves fan.”
Erwin H. Uihlein was President of the Schlitz Brewing Company during the 1950’s. His take on the Braves was that their impact on the community was “About the healthiest thing that ever happened to the city.” He cites not only economic ramifications but, also, psychological ramifications. He believed that Milwaukee used to have a small-town inferiority complex; but, the Braves have become the symbol of the city’s new status: Big League!!!
Somebody referred to the fan-player mutual admiration society as “mutual mass hypnosis.” Fan affection was not in proportion to the standings or whether they were home or on the road…attendance continued to grow!! Remember Hal Goodnough – a friend of Charlie Grimm who came to Milwaukee with the team?
Goodnough was the Braves goodwill ambassador who traveled thousands of miles around the state in a Nash Statesman (shouldn’t it have been an Ambassador, too?) talking to men’s clubs, women’s clubs and kid’s clubs about the Braves – he had great stories. Sauk City (pop. 1200), a tad north and west of Madison, hadn’t had a passenger train in town in 20 years. So they had a train backed into town and loaded 12 cars full of fans and went to a game. Lannon, (pop. 385), hired buses for 502 fanaticals to go to the game. Goodnough was speaking in Shawano. As he came out to his car and elderly man is shoving nickels in the parking meter; He says, “I just wanted to do something for the Braves.” Visiting Milwaukee during the summer, German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, remarked that as a boy he’d always wished he could be adopted into an American Indian tribe. After the ceremony, he puffed on a peace pipe, admired his newfound Indian headdress and asked if he was now a chief. The answer: “In Milwaukee it’s better to be a Brave.” When the fans voted to give Joe Adcock a Cadillac for being their fave Brave, said Joe, “Ten years ago I was picking cotton for a dollar a day – tomorrow I’ll be driving a Cadillac…no wonder I love Milwaukee.” Bobby Thomson: “I love the city; it’s really big league! These people are for you 100%. The players are fans, too – fans of the city, fans of the people who come to see them play. Many plan to make Milwaukee their permanent home…(many did!!). Louie Armstrong, on a tour date in Milwaukee after observing the player – fan enthusiasm: “They are just plain happy-crazy here in this town.”
As seems to be part of the nature of the beast, we lost some old friends as 1956 rolled around…and…we gained some new friends…The only major league trade that the Braves made between the 1955 and 1956 season took place on April 9, 1956 when they traded George Crowe to the Reds for Bob Hazle and “a player to be named later”… who turned out to be Corky Valentine. You can skip this next paragraph if you wish – it’s what a professional might call “editorializing” – probably with a dilettante it’s just whining…I was incredibly saddened by the loss of George Crowe; he was one of my faves!! How does a 14 year old decide “favorites” –? It’s pretty subjective. After all, what do you really know…the stats on cards, whatever Earl Gillespie and Blaine Walsh tell you, an occasional mention in the sports section? I knew George Crowe was a big, strong guy – hit .281 with 15 homers in 1955 – good fielder – only eight errors in 746 chances: .989. I never heard of Bob Hazle – they sent him down to Wichita (A.A.). I’d heard of Corky Valentine but I thought we had all the pitching we needed – and, as it turned out, he never played for us or anyone else in the ML again…I was bummed (…and, for corn’s sake, George Crowe hit 31 homers for the Reds in ’57…). OK…, OK…, I’m done with it…
Ben Taylor, Charlie Grimm, George Crowe-All 1st Basemen
Some other old friends who moved on after 1955: Ben Taylor…his last game was 9/21/55. He is “Uncle Ben” to nephew, Hawk Taylor, who will enter the scene in 1957. Ben Taylor hailed from Superman’s hometown, Metropolis, IL, broke in with the St. Louis Browns in ’51 and did not play in the majors after 1955.
This was also Charlie White’s last season with the Braves; he went over to the Baltimore Orioles system, but never played in the Bigs again.
John Edelman from West Chester State Teacher’s College could throw smoke but only got to pitch 5.2 innings on a pitching-rich team; he was released on 6/22/56 and never made it back up.
Charlie Gorin was another good pitcher – 1.86 ERA in ’54 – who only got 10 innings in the ML and was gone…but certainly not forgotten.
Joey Ja, ’53 bonus baby, split the 1955 season between Toledo and the Braves. He will split the ’56 season between Wichita and Atlanta and be back in ’57.
Dave Koslo, a Wisconsin favorite from Menasha, broke in with the Giants in 1941 and retired after the ’55 season. His 2.50 ERA led the league in 1949. Koslo is a tough signature as he passed away in 1975.
Roberto Vargas only ML season was 1955 – he got to pitch 24.2 innings. He is retired in Puerto Rico. His autograph is available; however, due to a serious injury to his hand, his vintage signature differs greatly from his post-injury signature.
We welcomed several new friends in 1956. On July 17 the Braves bought Toby Atwell, catcher, from the Pirates. He’d come up with the Cubbies in ’52 and gone to Pittsburgh in the middle of ’53 in the Ralph Kiner trade.
Wes Covington was a rookie in 1956. He’d been at Eau Claire (Northern) in ’52, hitting .330 with 24 homers in 108 games. In Evansville in ’53 he only got in 42 games before going off to military service through the ’54 season. At Jacksonville (Sally) in ’55 he led the league with a .326 BA.
Earl Hersh, another West Chester State Teacher’s College guy, was at Hagerstown (Piedmont) in ’53, Evansville ( ) in ’54 (hit .347) and Atlanta (So. Ass’n) in ’55. He was the Southern Association All-Star 1B hitting .314 with 25 homers in 155 games.
Puerto Rican favorite, Milwaukee favorite, fan favorite Felix Mantilla was also a rookie in 1956. Felix was Rookie of the Year at Evansville (3I) in ’52, hitting .323. At Jacksonville (Sally), he was the All-star shortstop in ’54 and had good solid stats at Toledo (A.A.) in ’54 and ’55.
Frank Torre was another from this grand group of rookies in 1956. In ’51, Frank hit .314 at Hartford in the Eastern League and .313 at Denver in the Western League (he could hit anywhere!!). He served his Uncle Sam in ’52 and ’53 and hit .294 at Atlanta (Southern) while handling 1006 chances without an error in ’54. At Toledo (A.A.) in ’55, Frank hit .327.
Red Murff was a 34 year old rookie when he reported for spring training in 1956. Red was at Baton Rouge in ’50, Texas City in ’51, Tyler in ’52 and Dallas (Texas League) from ’53 to ’55. The Sporting News named him Minor League Player of the Year in 1955. The Texas League named him Pitcher of the Year; his 10 shutouts tied a Texas League record set by Dizzy Dean. He went 27-11 with a 1.99 ERA in 303 IP’s.
Taylor Phillips was also a Braves rookie in 1956. He wowed‘em in Waycross in ’51 with a 1.40 ERA. It went up a bit in Atlanta (Southern) in ’53 – 3.52. However, in military service during ’54-’55, he went 31-2 (21-0 in ’55). Upon his discharge in November ’55 he played winter ball in Puerto Rico for the Caguas Club.
Lou Sleater came to the Braves via the Rule 5 Major League Draft. Lou came up with the Browns in 1950, was traded to Washington and ended up in 1955 with the KC A’s.
Bob Trowbridge is the final Rookie candidate from the glorious class of ’56. Bob was at Eau Claire (Northern) in 1950 where he was 16-8 with a 2.97 ERA. Called into his Uncle Sam’s employ from ’51-53, Bob was an astonishing 61-5 at Nellis AFB-Las Vegas with over 1200 strike-outs. At Jacksonville (Sally) he went 18-8, 2.84 ERA. He was named an A.A. All Star Pitcher at Toledo in ’55 racking up 135 SO’s in 182 IP’s.
So, then for you team-ball guys…and gals…your key signatures to consider: You gotta remember the date of the Crowe/Hazle-Valentine trade – 4/9/56. They all might have been around to sign a ball during spring training. Also – John Edelman wasn’t released until 6/22/56 – I’d also bet on Joey Jay being at spring training. In terms of the new guys: Toby Atwell didn’t get there until July; the rest were probably at spring training. The keys in terms of playing for the Braves only during the 1956 season: Toby Atwell, Earl Hersh and Lou Sleater.
A sorta short synopsis of the 1956 season certainly starts with opening day…if you’ve been keeping track you know the Braves haven’t lost the season opener since coming to Milwaukee in 1953.
’56 Opening Day Ticket
Tuesday, April 17, 1956 dawned in the low 30’s; by game time the temperature had soared to 39 degrees. The skies were dark and gloomy; the portent of precipitation – ponderous. And what to the wondering eye should appear, but 39,766 boisterous fans, bundled for joy and unbowed by the weather. Lou Burdette scattered four hits over the first three innings; allowed one more in the sixth and sat down the final 11 Cubbies in order. The sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings were, alternately, in rain or snow. Every position player got at least one hit; Aaron and Adcock hit homers…and a good time was had by all!! At least all the Braves fans had a good time – the final score: Braves-6, Cubs-0.
The rest of April was at least as unusual; in 14 days the Braves played a total of seven games, winning four while losing three. Due to inclement weather and scheduling, no games were played from 4/23 through 4/29. May’s weather was nearly as bad with seven games postponed due to rain or cold. However, the win-loss record was a much-improved 15-7 and a ton of home runs were hit including a MLB record 15(!!) in a double-header with the cubs on May 30th.
Bruton – Meyer Discussion
Mathews, Aaron and Thomson hit back-to-back-to back homers in the 1st so starter Meyer promptly conked Bruton who was less than pleased-they both got thrown out. The same three hit homers in the second game also-Thomson hit two. The Braves were in first place by one game at the end of the month. St. Louis was in 2nd; Pittsburgh in 3rd – out 1 ½ games; Cincinnati – out by 2 – in 4th and Brooklyn in 5th – out by three games.
June started disastrously; three out of four losses to the Pirates; three out of four losses to the Dodgers (dropping them to fourth place); two out of three losses to the Giants and two more losses to the Phillies, which dropped them to fifth place. They won the third game with the Phils on 6/13 (Danny O’Connell tied a ML record by hitting three consecutive triples) and, also, a make-up game with the Giants on 6/14. But, after two losses to the Dodgers on 6/15 and 6/16, the venerable, affable, lovable Charlie Grimm resigned, stepped down, was asked to leave, was fired or some other version…the bottom line, the voluble Jolly Cholly was no longer the manager of the Milwaukee Braves – and with a 17-game exception in 1960 – was no longer a major league manager.
Was it for the best? Certainly far less capable managers in the history of the game have survived/carried on through longer, more trying circumstances…opinions vary. In general, however, Milwaukee Braves fans will always remember Charlie Grimm with a great fondness – he was a winner – .546 life-time, .562 with the Braves. He was a genial free-spirit; a left-handed banjo player and a darned good baseball man. His ashes are spread on Wrigley Field…very cool…!!
Charlie’s good friend, Fred Haney, made his Braves debut on Sunday, June 17th in a double-header against the Dodgers…in spades!!! His first move (in accord with Grimm’s intent) was to keep Joe Adcock (who’d hit a pinch-hit HR on Saturday) in the line-up. Adcock was a notorious streak hitter and scary-strong and scary-dangerous when he was hot…and he was lookin’ hot!! Prior to Sunday’s game, Joe had borrowed a bat from Carl Furillo (Dodger RF). The big guy from Coushatta, LA hit two homers in game one. The second, the game-winner, was the first HR ball to go over the left field stands at Ebbets Field. Joe hit a third homer in game 2 off big Don Newcombe. The Braves won both games…and the following nine games. By the end of June they were tied (with Cincinnati) for first place in the National League. Oh, yeah…Furillo couldn’t get his bat back fast enough…but, it was too late…Joe ordered identical bats for himself – and just kept hitting!!
Haney’s approach to managing was pretty modest. He noted that if all the “free-swingers” on the team had all been hitting, he probably wouldn’t have made any changes. What he did change to was, what in modern parlance, we have come to call “small ball” – get a couple runs early, move the runner over, utilize the bunt: bunt’em on, bunt’em over, bunt’em home, use the squeeze play, let the pitchers (“We got pitchers…!!”) protect the lead. For the “free-swingers”: Give them some extra batting practice for timing, for confidence. He acknowledged the good Braves’ bench: “…Play’em all a little bit so when they come off the bench, they’re ready to deliver.”
From the ’56 All-Star Set
July was up and down until the All-Star break; July 10th at Washington with the NL winning 7-3. As soon as the break was over, the Braves went on a tear. They “welcomed” the Dodgers to Milwaukee on the 12th…and beat them four times in three days. Adcock had a homer in every game. He continued against the Pirates and Giants ending up with eight home runs in nine games. However, game 1 of the 3 game series with the Giants had something close to a riot in the 2nd inning when Ruben Gomez hit Adcock with a brushback pitch and, per Adcock, added insult to injury as Joe was going down to first.
Joe charged the mound, Gomez ran away into the dugout, both were thrown out of the game and fined. (You may have heard parts of a few additional details to this story but Tommie Ferguson, visitors clubhouse guy, tells it way better so I’ll include it in the interview with him…) Adcock’s incredible power has been variously noted; he didn’t hit home runs into the 1st or 2nd row of the bleachers – his were tape measure shots. At least one reporter has said (tongue-in-cheek) that the only reason Adcock’s towering shots were not compared to Mickey Mantle’s was “because Don Davidson (diminutive Director of Braves Public Relations) doesn’t own a tape measure.”
The rest of July found the Braves winning 12 games versus only two losses at home and going 4-3 on the road. Near the end of July, they led the NL by 5 ½ games.
August had it’s high points and low points but he upshot was that come September 1st, the Braves were still in first by 2 ½ games over the Dodgers and 3 ½ over the Redlegs.
September 3, 1956 – Labor Day – the Braves won game one of the double-header with Cincinnati; however, the second game loss was the first of a five-game losing streak. On 9/9 they won a double-header against the Cubs, then split a pair with the Dodgers and won a double-header with the Phillies on 9/13. The two wins went 13 innings and 12 innings respectively. The second game (Spahn vs. Roberts) marked Spahn’s 200th win which he called “My Greatest Thrill in Baseball – I only wish it could’ve been back home in Milwaukee.”
Spahn’s 200 wins were 44 vs. St. Louis, 38 vs. Cincinnati, 32 vs. the Giants, 27 vs. Pittsburgh, 23 vs. the Cubs, 23 vs. the Phillies and 13 vs. the Dodgers. In spite of all that the Braves ended up splitting the Philadelphia series, which dropped them to second in the league standings. On 9/17 they split a double-header with the Giants; then squeaked by the first game with the Pirates (9/20) on a sensational, two-on, two-out, running and diving catch by speedy Bill Bruton. They lost the second game to the Pittsburghers. Back home against the Cubs on Friday, 9/21, they won…which left them a mere .002 behind the Dodgers. Unfortunately they lost Saturday’s game 5-4 in 10 innings and gained no ground on the dodgers who, fortunately, lost to the Pirates. On Sunday, 9/23, in the last home game of the year, before 47,014 rowdy, enthusiastic fans: They won!! At least one of those fans had flown from his home in Dayton, Ohio, for the express purpose of seeing “his” Braves in their final home game of the season. The win put them in 1st place. The fans put them over the 2 million attendance mark for the third year in a row – no other NL team had ever come close to 2 million fans in a single season. Bruton had a grand-slam, Buhl got the win, Woo–Hoo…!!!
Monday was a day off. Tuesday, 9/25, Spahnie beat the Redlegs 7-1, virtually eliminating them from the pennant race. It was win #203 lifetime for Spahn…it was win #20 in 1956…and it was his 10th win in the last seven weeks (on 8/7 he was 10-9). The 26th and 27th are off days. The final three-game series of the season is Friday, Saturday and Sunday in St. Louis.
1956 ‘Phantom’ World Series Program
Pennant fever enthralls Milwaukee and baseball fans around the country. On Wednesday, 9/26, the Phillies with Robin Roberts pitching are playing the Dodgers.
In a downtown Milwaukee restaurant/bar fans are listening to the game on the radio. The bartender remarks to another customer, “Look at’em…they’re standing and clapping and cheering like they’re at the stadium.”
A mailman delivers World Series tickets to a home and remarks, “You’re some of the lucky ones.” He hears the radio inside and asks, “Are the Phils still winning? I don’t think I can stand it ‘til Sunday.”
Pedestrians are able to hear the game while walking down the street because it’s on in so many houses, so many passing cars and so many portable radios.
A husband is heard to say, “I can’t understand my wife…she’s never seen a game, she’s never even talked about the Braves…but this past two weeks the Braves is all she talks about…they lose, she can’t sleep…you figure it out.”
A lady in a store says, “I don’t even want to see the World Series games. It’s those three games in St. Louis I wish I could see. I can’t stand to listen to the broadcasts and I can’t stand not to. Do you think we’re really going to win?”
Friday’s morning newspaper has a piece about the “whole country pulling for the Milwaukee Braves”. In St. Louis there’s a rush for tickets. Louisville, KY radio, which does not broadcast baseball will carry the three games. Stations in Minneapolis-St. Paul are frantically scrambling for hook-ups. Kansas City fans are cheering whenever Braves scores are showing on the scoreboard. Ft. Worth, a Brooklyn minor league town, is cheering for the Braves. In Grand Island, NB, instead of election talk, radio stations are promoting the Braves. In Denver, where Billy Bruton, Ernie Johnson, Chuck Tanner, Jack Dittmer and Frank Torre played some minor league ball, they’re saying they have a “personal interest” in the Braves. If the electrical tension of pennant fever is running high in the people of Milwaukee, they’re not the only ones buzzing…!!
Busch Stadium- St. Louis
Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO, Friday, September 28, 1956 – the first game of the three-game series. All the world was watching. In Milwaukee, if you owned a radio, it was tuned in to the game. There’s no easy way to say it – they lost… the score – who remembers?– was 5-4. The Dodgers and Pirates were rained out. Milwaukee’s lead is cut to one-half game. Whaddya gonna say? No sense looking to blame anyone…re-group…we’ll get it tomorrow…
Saturday – it was incredible – Bruton hit a home run in the first inning off Herm Wehmeier. The Braves Boosters – some 500 strong – sounded more like 5000 according to newspaper reports – they snake-danced throughout the stadium.
Braves Boosters Whoop It Up!!!
Spahn pitched a no-hitter into the sixth inning when Don Blasingame and Al Dark hit back-to-back doubles to tie the score. Both pitchers pitched scoreless ball into the 12th inning when Musial doubled with one out, Boyer was walked intentionally to set up the double play and Rip Repulski hit a smash down to third base that took a hop and went off Mathews’ knee and into foul territory. By the time anyone got to it, Musial had scored the winning run. Spahn wept as he came off the mound. A veteran AP photographer ran up to take Spahn’s picture; Spahn threw his glove at him. Later, they shook hands and Spahn apologized. The photographer said, “It’s OK, I wanted you to win as much as anybody in that park.” Lou Perini was also choked up as he came up to Spahn in the locker room and said, “Warren, you’ve been with me a long time. You are a credit to yourself and to this club. You all have done a great job. You are the kind of fellows I just love.” Perini, Haney and Spahn all went over to console Eddie Mathews who also was near tears. Eddie’s knee was all red from where the ball hit him. Fred Haney told the team, “This ballgame tonight we were just not supposed to win. You’ll never get a better pitched game than Spahnnie gave us. We just couldn’t win it for him. Over on the St. Louis side, Cardinals General Manager, Frank Lane, asked someone if it were true that Spahn had wept. Upon being assured that it was true, Lane remarked, “What the hell do they expect him to do after losing a game like that – whistle?” There were some great plays in the game: Bobby Del Greco had two incredible catches; Johnny Logan had a great, leaping catch; Spahn knocked down a hard smash and threw for the put-out. However, the bottom line for the season was that Brooklyn had won both games; thus, going into the league-lead by one game. For Milwaukee to have any chance for the pennant, the Dodgers would have to lose on Sunday and the Braves would have to win. This would result in a tie and force a play-off. On Sunday, Mathews got a homer and a couple singles and Burdette netted his 19th win for the season. Oh, yeah…the Dodgers won, too…once more, a bridesmaid – let’s talk again next year…
In terms of all aspects of Milwaukee Braves memorabilia collecting, 1956 appears to me to be something of a lull-year; there appears (to me) to be a less stuff out there compared to prior and subsequent years. My five-cent (no…one-cent) theory on that might have to do with the great numbers of people who jumped on the Braves bandwagon from the day they hit town and compared to the humongous numbers of collectibles during the Pennant/World Series years, these just overshadowed/outnumbered the1956 items…or not. I don’t know – I do know I have/own less ephemera from ’56 than from any other year including the final years. I’m certainly open to your opinions…
1956 had to have been something of a banner year for Topps – no competition…at least in Bravesland!! They bought out Bowman; neither Johnston Cookies nor Red Man issued a set. It was good from the perspective of the collector because they gave us 21 cards instead of only 12 (’55). It was good because they put out another horizontal set close to as beautiful as ‘55’s. The backs of the cards had cartoon art that in time would become yet another collectible. They issued 11 of the 21 with gray or white backs; another area of collectibles’ for those who love the variations in sets. In that same vein, the team card (#95) had at least two variations. It appeared to some of us as maybe a less-than-good thing that perhaps Topps spent so much to buy Bowman that they couldn’t afford photographs to go out and get new pictures for the ’56 cards. I collect only Braves cards anymore (and can’t remember 50 years ago regarding other teams), however, it appears Topps used the very same photos in ’55 and in ’56. If you remember, this is the third year of the same pose for the Hank Aaron cards. OK, OK, calm down…it’s going to be all better next year!!
A couple of cool ’56 collectibles are practically identical except for color. The Dairy Queen Stars statue is white – like DQ soft serve (for those of you into mnemonics). It’s about three inches tall, plastic with the player name on the front of the base. Eddie Mathews is the only Brave in this series. Since I cannot recall ever seeing these back in the day, I’m guessing either you could buy them at the Dairy Queen or they were part of some DQ promotion. If you know, let me know. The Big League Stars statues are bronze – well, plastic painted or tinted bronze. Except for that they’re exactly the same as the DQ version. Again, the only Brave is Eddie Mathews. Unlike the DQ version, The Big Leaguer came on a “card” in a clear plastic “blister-pack”. The card is part of the collectible as it has stats and a picture and even a little bendy-guy thingy that enables the card to “stand up” for displaying your hero. Unfortunately, I found my Big League statue and card years apart; the card was customized/mutilated by it’s former owner as you can see. However, since it’s the only card I’ve ever seen, I’m overjoyed to have it!! Per SCD’s Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, you could apparently buy the statues in sets of both American League and National League or as just American or just National Leaguers. From my experience only, these seem to be scarce; I do have one other DQ Mathews, but the bat is broken and gone.
Since I have as yet been unable to figure out a meshing of schedules with Mike Rodell, I’m including a couple funky ’56 schedules. The pencil has the home games schedule from May through September. In that tiny little space they found enough room to also note night games, ladies days and doubleheaders. Interestingly, the advertiser, E.R. Schultz-Blatz distributor, had his businesses in LaCrosse (WI) and Prairie Du Chien (WI). These towns are 210 and 180 miles from Milwaukee…just another demonstration of “Braves-power” around the state of Wisconsin. This one has no eraser but, rather, a plastic baseball.
These round, metal schedules, had, to the best of my knowledge, their inaugural year in 1956. Two businesses that I’m aware of used them: A.O. Smith Manufacturing and West Side Bank. If A.O. Smith continued after ’56 I am unaware of it. West Side Bank certainly utilized them from ‘57 through ‘64 – I’ve never seen a ’65; more on that next time… Made out of what appears to be some sort of “pot metal”, they have aged quite well. You can still find these at shows, on eBay, even in shops. They are almost always in really good condition.
North Western-Hanna Fuel Company gave customers a larger, blank-backed, hang-on-the-wall schedule. Coal was still a common, viable fuel for home or businesses in 1956 – North Western-Hanna appears to have catered to business/industrial customers. I have NW-H calendars from ’55 through ’58 – there may be more. They all have the same front – even the Indian logo – in spite of the fact that the Braves went to the laughing Brave at the beginning of the ’57 season.
The Socony Mobil Oil Company schedule is a tri-fold that measures 8 ½ x 11 when unfolded. In addition to having a home and away schedule it also has a large seating diagram of the stadium – helpful then in choosing good seats – helpful now especially if you collect tickets. There is also a map showing how to get to the stadium – note – there is no interstate system yet!! There is a small diagram showing how seating is arranged for the two Green Bay Packers games played annually in County Stadium.
Schedules were also used in political campaigns. Here’s Fred Frick running for – I’m guessing – VFW Post Commander and “Fighting Bob” Beaudry running for District Attorney. Fred chose a bi-fold with both home and away noted. “Fighting Bob” has the last half of the season’s home games on a matchbook. No information was forthcoming at press time regarding the outcome of either election…
Various retailers gave away Braves’ schedules to show appreciation and to advertise – anticipating us looking at their name daily or certainly weekly as we checked who would be today’s opponent and, even, maybe, game time. Gas stations had a stack in by the cash register – remember; this was before the advent of self-serve – and, sometimes, the pump jockey brought one out to you with your change…probably dating myself again…
I know practically nothing abut these West Allis Bank photos. Were they a series? Did they give them away as promotion/premium? Are there others? Keep those cards and letters coming…I like to know these things…
While these look exactly like Exhibit cards, they are, in fact, Exhibit proofs (or so I’m told…and it is so conjectured in The Standard Catalog…). To the best of my knowledge and examination, except for the paper, they are identical to their regular counter-parts. I see some color-shading that might or might not count – shadings of gray and sepia seem to exist in all the ’47-’66 Exhibits…or, maybe the “sepia” ones are Canadian but not listed as Canadian in any lists I own…(?).
The 1956 PM15 yellow Basepath pins are fairly difficult to come by. In terms of the set, we got more than our share: Five Braves – Aaron, Adcock, Bruton, Logan, Mathews – in a 32 pin set – Yay!! Pins are 7/8” with that cool yellow basepath framing the picture. I’ve only seen a couple other of these pins…I’d like more!! The ’56 Topps pins have the same photo as the ’56 Topps card but with a different background. Pins are 1 1/8 and these four are the only Braves in the set of 60. They came with bubble gum – just like the cards – how cool is that!?!
I have information (but less than irrefutable proof) that the WHIRLY BIRD Play Catch Game “As Seen On TV” came out in 1956. Spahnie lent his name and support to it’s advertising promotion. Keep in mind how many things were advertised with the “As Seen On TV” line – TV was still pretty new, pretty big-deal in my neighborhood. The packaging uses still-shots of some of the TV action-shots. Another interesting aspect: Many Braves lent their name and fame to various products; however, most were in a local market – this was a National promotion!! The Whirly Bird Game came in a couple different packaging configurations; at least one included only one “scoring saucer”/target/mitt. These still show up on eBay; regularly and affordably.
Gayle and I had the good fortune to attend the National Sports Collector’s Convention in Anaheim this past July. I haven’t heard any “official” attendance figures or “grade”; however, anytime I go to a show and come home with “stuff” – it’s a good show!! We came home with good stuff!! I only mention that because while at the show, I was asked if I collect bats – apparently I’ve been remiss – so…here’s a couple that have connections to 1956…
I needn’t again go into how much George Crowe was one of my favorites…this is his signature model C192 Hillerich & Bradsby bat. It is 36” long and weighs 34 ½ oz. This is the bat of a strong man. Per the center brand, this bat dates from between 1950 and 1960. There are lots of ball marks indicating heavy use and also some rack marks. This bat is not cracked.
The Wes Covington bat is the only bat of his I’ve ever been able to find. It is another
H & B, also from between ’50 and ’60. Probably it was originally 35” long. Lack or little by way of ball and/or rack marks indicates minimal or no game use. It has been sawed in half – lengthwise – and has what appears to be nail or screw holes. When I brought this to Wes to sign he looked up and asked where I’d gotten it. I said one of the Nationals. I asked why he asked me. He said this was one of his game bats that he had cut in half to use as part of the décor in a bar he’d owned in downtown Milwaukee while he played here. He went on to say that it – and some other things-had been stolen from that bar. Reluctantly – believe me! – I asked him if he wanted it back…obviously…and thankfully…he didn’t – he just laughed and signed it.
The Felix Mantilla signature model S2 by H & B is 35” long, weighs 32 oz. and is from the ’50-‘60’s era. It shows ball and rack marks indicating moderate use. It appears to have been variously repaired and may have been displayed at one time.
Here are a couple of Joe Adcock bats – both eminently collectible – but for totally different reasons. The first one is a block-letter H & B model L5, 34” long and 32 oz. from the ’50-‘60’s. Block letters often indicate Rookie or first year bats; not in this case. For a number of years, beginning in the mid ‘50’s and continuing into the ‘60’s, the Braves, in concert with the Milwaukee Sentinel, sponsored a program called “Silver Sluggers”. Various members of the Braves Minor League coaching staff and scouting staff set up “try-out” camps all around Wisconsin and even into surrounding states. About 50 of the best young players were divided into two teams and were invited to Milwaukee on a late summer week-end to play each other in County Stadium as the prelude to the Braves game.
The second Adcock bat is something of an oddity in so far as it is the only non-H & B used by Big Joe. This is a signature model Adirondack 73V (see Dave Bushing and Dan Knoll’s MastroNet Reference and Price Guide For Collecting Game Used Baseball Bats/p. 149). It is 34.5” long and weighs just over 32 oz. with most of the weight in the barrel. It is from the period 1958-’60. It has plenty of ball marks, rack marks and cleat marks to indicate at least moderate usage. Another little oddity/curiosity is that this bat does not have “flexible” right above “whip action”. Generally ’58-’60 Adirondacks have “flexible” on them; supposedly it was not removed until the ’61-’63 era. This might be one of them there transition era bats – hope that makes it worth about $86 gazillion – Ha!!
Last but certainly not least is this Bill Bruton Signature Model K55. It’s just shy of 35” long and weighs 31 oz. This bat is not cracked, is from ’61-’64, has ball marks, bat rack marks, cleat marks and either rosin or pine tar on the handle…this bat got plenty of use!! It also has Billy’s familiar #38 on the knob in marker. Near the knob there are holes from something-maybe used to display it.
Well, that’s about it for the nonce…for those who’ve noticed and inquired – yes, I have slowed down a tad. In the midst of researching and writing this chapter it occurred to me that I really need to be a collector first and a mundane scribe of recreational entertainment second. As we travel this sportive way together perhaps I will learn how to better balance these two incredibly enjoyable – yet quite different – tasks. Until that comes to pass, however, I’m afraid you will continue to note a somewhat greater time lapse between chapters.
I was saddened this week to hear – belatedly – of the passing (in April) of ’54 Brave Billy Queen. He was always a gracious signer…seemed a gracious man. I found out from good friend and fellow Brave-Crazy, Rob Gleeson. We were fortunate to spend most of a day with Rob and Carol while we were in California for the National. Sad as the news was, the call had at least two glad aspects: Talking about the Braves with Rob is always a joy – he’s a long-time, knowledgeable, insightful collector. Secondly, he turned me on to a web-site that I was heretofore unfamiliar with (…was there something about dangling prepositions? Nah…!!). The web-site is historicalbaseball.com – it has obituaries, dates of death, information about players and links to other helpful sites. Check it out…!!! Rob also noted the trivia-question piece of information answered in the picture below of Eddie Mathews: Whose bat did Eddie use in this picture? Hoo Ha!!!
Eddie with a Billy Queen bat…You Win!!
At this juncture I am tentatively planning to do 1957 in two parts. The first part would be the actual season and the memorabilia associated with it; the second part would be the World Series and that memorabilia. If you have thoughts, let me know – as always: Keep those cards and letters coming.
Until then…please stay tuned…
Go Get’em, Braves!!