Boston Braves Finale

by David Pietrusza
It was September 21th 1952, and a three-quarter century old tradition was ingloriously
expiring, although no one could then know it.

The scene was Boston's spacious Braves Field, which through the decades had witnessed
more than its' share of losers. Appropriately, Brooklyn was trouncing the locals 8-2.

The lowly Boston Braves were coming to an end. Although the decision to abandon the Hub--
ending fifty years of major league stability--would not be made until the following March 18th,
these were to be the last inept innings of National League ball in New England.

Following World War II the usually-hapless Braves--like all baseball--enjoyed flush times.
Attendance scaled new heights in 1946, 1947 and 1948. Newcomer Billy Southworth piloted
the club into the first division and in 1948 delivered Boston's first NL flag since the "Miracle
Braves" of 1914.

Led by an ownership triumvirate dubbed "The Three Little Steam Shovels," the club pioneered
a raft of innovations. This trio of local construction magnates, Lou Perini, Guido Rugo, and
Joseph Maney, determined to revive a moribund franchise and gave it their best.

Consider these gimmicks:

  • Breaking the convention of mere weiners and mustard, Braves Field was the first (and
    perhaps last) ballpark to feature fried clams.
  • Introducing not only night games in 1946 but special sateen uniforms designed to
    increase player visibility.
  • A special night-game package that included a room, dinner and cab ride from the Hotel
    Somerset--a bargain at $4.50. The offer got written up in the Saturday Evening Post,
    and the pleased management hired a helicopter to deliver their copy to the park.
  • A phenomenal $40,000 signing bonus paid to LSU star Alvin Dark
  • The first color season highlight film in 1947--narrated by a particularly wooden play-by-
    play announcer named Jim Britt. Britt kept dropping articles from sentences ("throw ball
    to bag") and pronouncing "deluxe"--de-lukes."
  • Innovative schemes to attract fans from outside Boston proper, including flying them in
    from Cape Cod.
  • When fans complained about poor sight lines, the "Steam Shovels" went to work
    lowering the playing field by a full 18-inches, hauling away 1,500 tons of loam. The
    most remarkable fact: they did it during a two-week June 1947 Braves. When the club
    returned they had sunk a foot and a half in elevation but had risen from 4th to 2nd in the
  • Renovating Braves Field stands for Opening Day 1946. Sprucing up included painting
    the seats. As the paint job had not yet dried, five thousand fans departed with splotches
    of dark green added to their wardrobe. Perini & Co. announced they would pay any
    dry cleaning bill mailed into them and were flooded with 13,000 claims, some from as
    far away as California and Florida. The gambit cost a cool $6,000, and two lawyers
    sorted out the bills all summer.
  • Toying with a scheme to send a couple of teams to Italy to plant the National Pastime in
    the Old Country.
  • A pioneering television instructional program, "Baseball in Your Living Room" featuring
    manager Tommy Holmes on Boston's WNAC.

"Perhaps several of my ideas were too extreme for some," explained Perini, "but they were
always motivated in the best interests of the game."

Nineteen-forty-eight was when it all paid off. Fans prayed for "Spahn, Sain and a Day of Rain"
as Boston edged the Cards and the Dodgers in scrapping their way to their first flag in 34
seasons. Sain copped 24 triumphs while the younger Spahnie took 15, but it would be unfair
to say they had no help from the remainder of the staff. Bill Voiselle chipped in with 13 wins,
while freshman Vern Bickford posted a highly respectable 11-5 mark. Voiselle, Bickford and
righthander Bobby Hogue (8-2) actually had lower ERA's than Spahn. Wigwam hitters also
carried their own weight, pacing the circuit with a .275 mark. Bob Elliot drove in 100 runs
while Eddy Stanky, Al Dark, Tommy Holmes, Mike McCormick, and Jeff Heath all were
over the .300 mark.

An interesting facet of the 1948 campaign was that the Braves missed an All-Hub World
Series by a mere eyelash. The Red Sox and Indians both finished 96-58, and the Tribe took a
one-game playoff to face the Braves in the Series. Boston captured just two contests (behind
Spahn and Sain, natch) in dropping the Fall Classic to Cleveland.

That was 1948. By 1950 Boston was registering a $257,083 loss. Two years later disaster
was not just around the corner--it was staring the franchise in the face. The club finished a
forlorn seventh--and only 281,278 loyal customers passed through their rusting turnstiles.

Oh, the Braves tried. They started the year with an unprecedented PR blitz featuring a 10,361-
mile flying tour of their rookie prospects. From Weehawken to Havana, Boston publicity man
Billy Sullivan piloted his own plane as media mavens visited with top Wigwam rookies.

There were some good ones: In Richland, Washington they met with 6'8" pitcher Gene
Conley; in Wilmington, it was fleet flyhawk Billy Bruton; in San Juan, it was George Crowe; in
Santa Barbara, third sacker named Eddie Matthews.

As the season started the Braves received no cooperation from Mother Nature. Half of the
first 18 home dates were washed out. One drew only 1,105 fans. The club played poorly,
quickly plunged into the second division and stayed there. On May 31, with the club posting a
puny 13-22 mark, manager Tommy Holmes (who had replaced Billy Southworth in June
1951) was sacked. His replacement was Charlie Grimm, pilot of the Braves' Milwaukee
Brewers farmclub.

It all came down to September 21, 1952. The visiting Brooklyn Dodgers were about to clinch
their third pennant in five years, but the Boston Braves were about to board the Oblivion
Express. Only 8,222 fans--many of them Brooklyn partisans--were on hand to see the Bums
complete a sweep of a three-game series.

In two hours and twelve minutes, the Dodgers pummeled the Braves 8-2 behind

righthander Joe Black. It was a 2-2 deadlock until the eighth when the Dodgers broke
through, plating six. Jim Wilson took the loss in relief of Warren Spahn. The Braves managed
just three singles
--two by shortstop Johnny Logan, one by Eddie Matthews. The highlight of
the day for the Braves was a presentation of a string of striped bass to manager Charley
Grimm and some of his squad by the Martha's Vineyard Little League.

The Braves finished 64-89. Eddie Matthews smacked 25 homers--that was the good news--
but drove in just 58 runs and fanned a league-leading 115 times. Even Warren Spahn finished
just 14-19, despite a classy 2.98 ERA. Rookie Lou Burdette was 6-11. Boston's 1952 losses
were estimated at $700,000.

The franchise's actual demise occurred at a Bradenton, Florida hotel, the same hostelry that
had witnessed Commissioner Happy Chandler's unceremonious firing in 1951. Perini--who
had already printed a "1953 Boston Braves Media Guide" and had the 1953 All-Star Game
scheduled for Braves Field--needed unanimous Senior Circuit approval for his historic move.

On a motion from Walter O'Malley, seconded by Horace Stoneham, he got it.

As one glum Boston scribe observed: "This isn't a hotel--it's a funeral parlor."