Joe Adcock and the city that loved him

Joe Adcock

When a new city gets a major league baseball team, things can get crazy. In 1953 the Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee, giving Suds City their first major league club since their brief tenure in the inaugural season of the American League. It’s probably safe to say that no team was ever embraced in quite the same way as the Braves in Milwaukee. The town went nuts.

Residents of Milwaukee had to get used to big league ball, and many of the new fans had never gone to games of any level before. In the first few seasons the fans would regularly cheer when a Brave batter hit a loud foul or a deep fly ball, even if it ended in the bottom of a mitt. Fans rarely jeered or booed, but they weren’t cheering at the correct time either. But even though they didn’t always follow the game properly, Milwaukee fans loved their team.

In 1953 the locals held special days for Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Andy Pafko, Sid Gordon, Jack Dittmer, and Joe Adcock, their muscular first baseman. After a while the hospitality started to pile up: local businesses gave the players free steaks, free ice cream, free cheese, complimentary gasoline, free laundry services and more. Being a Milwaukee Brave, no matter how good you were or how much you played, was a cause for celebrity.

Adcock was a handsome, strong, well-built man. His bulging muscles popped out from the flannels of his uniform. Female fans in Milwaukee drooled over him, and everyone was thrilled at his power hitting exploits. The hard working Midwesterners of Milwaukee identified with him.

The adulation was genuine: Milwaukee was the best baseball town in the majors for six or seven years, every game at County Stadium was a spectacle. Fans flocked to root for their new team, the Braves led the NL in attendance five straight years. But the love affair only lasted as long as the team was successful. Milwaukee did a commendable job challenging the Dodgers in the 1950s, winning two pennants, losing a three-game playoff for a third, and finishing in second place five times. With Hank Aaron, Mathews, Spahn, Adcock and crew, the team was exciting.

By 1962, the Braves were no longer the new kids on the block. That season the NL expanded to ten teams, and Milwaukee sank in the standings. Adcock was 34 and he hit 29 home runs, but it was his final year in a Brave uniform. He was traded at the winter meetings to Cleveland. Milwaukee had finished ninth in the ten-team league in attendance, luring about a third of the fans they’d drawn at their peak. The bloom was off the rose

The Braves announced their intention to move to Atlanta shortly after the ‘65 season. Their ownership group had been seeking a new home for more than a year, anxious to find a more favorable ballpark lease in a more populous city. Actually, Atlanta itself had a smaller population in 1965 than Milwaukee, but the surrounding suburban area was larger. The Atlanta Braves drew poorly their first season, last in the league. But soon, through marketing efforts and with the popularity of Hank Aaron, the turnstyle started to hum and as the only major league club in the deep south, the Braves prospered.          

Adcock hit the longest recorded home runs in about half of the ballparks in the National League during his career. He was a scary power hitter but one of those guys who was never “the man”, instead serving as a very important part of the team. He was unusually big for his era, a 6-foot-4 southern boy who was country strong. He probably could have been a professional in basketball and football.

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