The Demise of a Great Franchise: The Boston Braves

The Demise of a Great Franchise: The Boston Braves

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The Demise of a Great Franchise: The Boston Braves

Sixty-four years ago today, March 13, 1953, on the day that will become known a “Black Friday” in Boston, Braves owner Lou Perini announces he will seek permission from the National League to move his franchise to Milwaukee, home of the team’s top minor-league affiliate. The Braves owner cites poor attendance as the reason for asking to relocate the club, after spending 82 years in the New England city.

If there is any doubt as to why Perini and the Braves felt compelled to move to Milwaukee in 1953, check out the featured photo. That’s from Opening Day, 1952 with near-empty stands. They drew only 281,000 fans for the entire year. Only two games drew more than 10,000.  And there was a great baseball town like Milwaukee begging for a major league team.

The move to Milwaukee brought a sad end to one of baseball’s great franchises, the Boston Braves. As a matter of fact, the Braves were the longest continuous playing team in American professional sports, having started in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings, a member of the National Association. 

Here’s a few words about the Braves’ great history:

In 1876, Boston Red Caps became a charter member of the newly formed National League and were a powerhouse for most of the 19th century. By 1883 they had adopted the name “Beaneaters.” The 1898 team finished 102-47, a club record for wins that stood for nearly a century. They won eight pennants in the 19th century, two under baseball pioneer Harry Wright, and five under Hall-of-Fame manager Frank Selee. The Boston franchise played at South End Grounds form 1871-1914.

With the arrival of the American League in 1901, things changed drastically for the Beaneaters. The team was decimated by competition from the new American League Boston entry, and many of their stars jumped to the new team under the lure of higher contracts. They only managed one winning season from 1900 to 1913, and lost 100 games five times.

In 1907, wearing all-white uniforms they were called the “Doves” and the “Rustlers” in 1911.  The team adopted an official name, the Braves, for the first time in 1912.This was followed two years later by one of the most memorable seasons in baseball history. After starting the 1914 season a dismal 4-18 start, the Braves seemed to be headed for last place. At one point they were in the cellar at 26-40, 15 games out. From this low point, the “Miracle Braves,” led by stars Johnny Evers and Rabbit Maranville, got hot, closed out at 25-6, and won the National League pennant and the World Series over the heavily-favored Philadelphia Athletics. They are the only team to win a pennant after being in last place on the Fourth of July.

Their new park, Braves Field opened in August 1915. It was the largest park in the majors at the time, with 40,000 seats. The Braves again fell on hard times, with winning records only twice from 1917 to 1932. The Braves were competitive in 1933 and 1934 under manager Bill McKechnie, but they were hit hard by the Great Depression. Looking for a way to get more fans and more money, owner Judge Fuchs acquired Babe Ruth. Ruth was told he could take over as manager once McKechnie stepped down—perhaps as early as 1936. With his skills severely diminished and seeing a franchise in complete disarray, Ruth retired on June 1. They ultimately finished 38-115, easily the worst season in franchise history. Their .248 winning percentage is the third-worst in baseball history.

After 1935, new ownership changed the name to the “Bees” but under manager Casey Stengel, they fielded some of the worst teams ever. Things looked brighter when Lou Perini took over and they were again the Braves. By 1946, with phenom pitcher, Warren Spahn, the Braves were contenders. In 1948, the team won the pennant, behind the pitching of Spahn and Johnny Sain, who won 39 games between them, and “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” entered the baseball lexicon. The Braves lost the 1948 World Series in six games to the Indians.

Sam Jethroe was acquired by trade from the Brooklyn Dodgers, on April 18, 1950 and became the franchise’s first African-American player and went on to become the National League Rookie of the Year at age 32. A former Negro League star and military veteran, Jethroe remains the oldest player to have won Rookie of the Year honors. In 1950, Jethroe hit .273 with 100 runs, 18 home runs, 58 RBI, and led the National League with 35 steals

1948 turned out to be the Braves’ last hurrah in Boston. Amid four mediocre seasons, attendance steadily dwindled until, on March 13, 1953, Perini announced he was moving the team to Milwaukee, thus becoming the Milwaukee Braves where they won pennants in 1957 and 1958, with a World Series championship in 1957.

I’ll leave the story here. As we all know they later moved to Atlanta and went on to great success in the 1990s under general manager John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox, with a World Series championship in 1995.

Here’s a list of some notable player in Braves history:

  • Earl Averill Boston Braves (1941), HOF (1975)
  • Dave Bancroft Boston Braves (1924–27), HOF (1971)
  • Alvin Dark Boston Braves (1946-49), ROY (1948)
  • Johnny Evers Boston Braves (1914–17, 1929), HOF (1946)
  • Burleigh Grimes Boston Braves (1930), HOF (1964)
  • Billy Herman Boston Braves (1946), HOF (1975)
  • Rogers Hornsby Boston Braves (1928), HOF (1942)
  • Sam Jethroe Boston Braves (1950–52) ROY (1950)
  • Ernie Lombardi Boston Braves (1942), HOF(1986)
  • Al Lopez Boston Bees (1936–40), HOF (1977)
  • Bill McKechnie Boston Braves (1913, Manager 1930-37), HOF (1962)
  • Rabbit Maranville Boston Braves (1912–20, 1929–35), HOF (1954)e
  • Eddie Mathews Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1952–66),HOF (1978)
  • Christy Mathewson Owner/Executive, Boston Braves (1922–25), HOF as Player (1936)
  • Rube Marquard Boston Braves (1922–25), HOF (1971)
  • Joe Medwick Boston Braves (1945), HOF (1968)
  • Al Simmons Boston Bees (1939), HOF (1953)
  • George Sisler Boston Braves (1928–30), HOF (1939)
  • Billy Southworth Boston Braves (1921–23, Manager 1946-49, 1950–51), HOF (2008)
  • Warren Spahn Boston Braves Boston/Milwaukee Braves (1942, 1946–64), HOF (1973)
  • Casey Stengel Boston Braves (1924–25,Manager 1938-43), HOF (1966)
  • Babe Ruth Boston Braves (1935), HOF(1936)
  • Ed Walsh Boston Braves (1917), HOF (1946)
  • Lloyd Waner Boston Braves (1941), HOF (1967)
  • Paul Waner Boston Braves (1941–42), HOF (1952)

-Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: All obtained from Google search in public domain and the Leslie Jones Boston Public Library collection

Information: Excerpts edited from the Boston Braves Wikipedia page. 

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

4 Comments

  1. Andy Castellanos · March 13, 2017 Reply

    Gary: Amazing post of one of the greatest franchise in baseball history.
    The 1914 Miracle Braves- for the first time in any sports the word “Miracle” was used on a team.

  2. Terry Wallace · March 13, 2017 Reply

    Was the Braves’ willingness to sign African American players a factor in turning into box office poison, considering the history of Boston race relations?

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