Me And Hank|
A Boy And His Hero, Tweny-Five Years Later
by Sandy Tolan
Free Press, 2000 | Buy the book
By now the open housing battle was over; Milwaukee and most of the suburbs had passed strong ordinances giving blacks the rights to move where they wanted. Father Groppi had taken his fight to the state capitol, marching with welfare mothers, occupying the state assembly building and getting himself arrested. Soon he'd take on one of our favorite teams, the Marquette Warriors, chastising them for their mascot, Willie Wampum, a Marquette student who'd do a war dance at halftime during the basketball games, wearing a giant, papier-mâché head of an Indian "warrior." As a result of Groppi's pressure, that dance would stop, and Willie Wampum would be no more.
The same year, 1969, Hank and the Braves enjoyed a brief resurgence: they won the National League Western Division, only to lose in the league championship series to the Miracle Mets, three games to none. You couldn't blame that on Hank: he hit a home run in each game.
The next year, Bud Selig brought baseball back to Milwaukee, luring the Seattle Pilots to the Great Lakes. "Milwaukee has a great setup there and the people there are major league," one player told the Sentinel. "Milwaukee is a major league town," said another. "The people there are real good major league fans." Those of us who cried about how Atlanta stole our Braves four years earlier were only too happy now to scoop up a franchise from Seattle, which was promptly renamed the Brewers, after our city's most famous industry. Apologies now to any young Seattle fans who felt robbed the way we did. On the other hand, it should be noted, the Seattle Pilots played only one year in the American League, in a place called Sick's Stadium, and the team, upon arrival, appeared truly ill. Despite the blind hope of spring and sportswriters' gushing over a new team in town ("the infield should be the Brewers' showpiece"; "
Gene Brabender, native Wisconsin son, figures to head up a sound staff which shouldn't disgrace itself"), the 1970 Brewers were basically a patched-up band of has-beens and never-would-bes.
But just as Milwaukee's love affair with the Braves was likened to Brooklyn's for its Dodgers, so our new team's embarrassments on the field endeared us to them -- just as New York took to those early Mets. We felt bad for our boys. On a cold April opening day, between trips to the men's room to stand under the heaters, I watched the California Angels pound our new team, 12-0. In that whole sorry season, one play stands out. Gene Brabender, the would-be favorite son from Black Earth, Wisconsin, was on the mound. The bases were loaded, one out.
"A swing and a chop back toward the mound. Double play ball, this should end the inning. Brabender turns to throw to second...and he throws the ball over Kubiak's head! It's into center field! One run is in! Here comes another one!...And now it's nine to nothing!" Forever I will recall the afflicted Brabender, running off the mound to back up the throw from center field, raising his arms to the heavens like Job.
Copyright © 2000 by Sandy Tolan. Excerpted with permission.