I grew up a history buff. While most kids despised school, I tolerated it pretty well, and I even enjoyed most of the social sciences that I took. In the end, I even earned a degree in history - all the good that's really done me. Yet despite my obvious interest in baseball and the Braves, I don't really know that much about the sport or team's history. I know more than the normal fan - probably - but I would like to learn more.
And then I thought about you, our wonderful readers. I've seen several of you note in comments, etc. that you'd like to see more than just the analytic pieces that we've largely done over the last few months. So while I'm learning about Braves' history, I figured I'd involve you as well, and we'll see how this goes. Every week, I'll find some event or person from Braves history and spend 800ish words rambling on about what happened, and it what it/he/she meant to the team. Considering the biggest news of the offseason has been about the Braves moving "out" of Atlanta, I thought I'd start by discussing when the Braves arrived in Atlanta.
After spending 76 years in Boston, the Braves would spend a little more than a decade in Milwaukee. It was a fairly successful time for the Braves as they went 1146-890, good for a .563 winning percentage. They would make 2 consecutive World Series in 1957 and 1958, winning the one in '57, and they almost made a third consecutive, losing to the Dodgers in a 3-game playoff in 1959. A little trivia for you, the Milwaukee Braves are the only team to have played multiple seasons and never had a losing season.
That run of success, however, didn't bring all the boys to the yard. After selling over 2 million tickets each season from 1954-1957, attendance began dropping in 1958, and it didn't stop. The team would draw barely more than a million tickets in 1961, and owner Lou Perini sold the team the following season to William Bartholomay. Immediately, Bartholomay looked to move the team.
He found a willing taker in Atlanta. Atlanta had tried several times to lure a major sports franchise to the city as the growing city looked to blossom into one of the country's largest. The last effort failed to lure the Kansas City A's, but they wouldn't fail this time. The city's mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. succeeded in getting the city to spend $18 million on a new stadium, and that was enough for Bartholomay, who announced his intention to move the team for the 1965 season.
That announcement, of course, didn't make the citizens of Milwaukee terribly happy. Injunctions and court orders were filed to keep the team in Atlanta, but other than forcing the Braves to play out their lease through the 1965 season, Milwaukee was ultimately unsuccessful in keeping their MLB team. Probably out of protest, fans stayed away from the park in 1965 as the team would draw about 555,000 fans over the course of the entire season. While the fans' feelings were understandable, attendance had been dropping precipitously for years, and Major League Baseball ultimately remains a business.
And Atlanta offered a bright new future for business. The city proper had grown nearly 150,000 people in the 1950s, and the surrounding region had grown twice as much. Over the next several decades, the city would largely contain 450,000 people, but the surrounding areas and suburbs grew rapidly. In the 20 years between 1960 and 1980, the surrounding region would nearly 1 million new citizens and become a major metropolis.
The other advantage was the basic monopoly Atlanta offered on Major League Baseball for hundreds of miles. As the 1966 season rolled around, Atlanta and Houston were the only teams below the Mason-Dixon line on the eastern half of the United States, and frankly, Houston is nowhere near Atlanta. Even to this day, the Braves retain much of their TV and radio marketplace throughout the Southeast. Quite simply, the Braves and Bartholomay understood that the city and region were growing quickly, and they would be in the position to be the only player around.
Fast forward about 50 years, and the Braves are preparing to move again. Let's not be too dramatic, though. The move isn't exactly across the country. But baseball remains a business, and this was certainly a business decision. I'm sure some of you read about the Phillies new TV deal and how it affects the Braves. While I do think the analogy to the Rays is a little weird, there's little doubt that the Braves are at a disadvantage when it comes to their TV deal, and they need new streams of revenue. A move to Cobb County and adding attractions around the stadium offer that possibility.
But baseball doesn't see too many relocations anymore. The last one we saw was the Montreal Expos heading to Washington, and while we may see the A's or Rays move, I'm not sure either team will be moving in the near future. There simply aren't that many cities to move to anymore. Professional sports have kind of reached the limits on where they can exist within the United States, and until we develop faster systems of international travel or see population booms somewhere, there aren't likely to be too many relocations in the near future.