Forty-Eight Years Ago, Milwaukee Got a Preview of its Home Team-to-Be
As the crowd of over 16,000 settled in for a night of baseball between two struggling teams on a warm June night in Milwaukee, a good portion of the fans in attendance felt as though they were watching their hometown team-to-be. It was 1969, the second summer in a row in which the cash-strapped Chicago White Sox were playing “home games” in Milwaukee at County Stadium, vacated three years prior by the Atlanta-bound Braves. The Milwaukee White Sox stunt was organized by a group led by a young Bud Selig, who was intent on showing the baseball powers that be that Milwaukee was a viable marketplace and that the sale of Sox to his group would be the best way forward for both the franchise and the sport. Per game, Sox were drawing over three times as many costumers in Milwaukee as they were in Chicago.
As it turned out, the Milwaukee hopefuls were indeed correct in their assumption they were watching their future hometown nine. But no one would have guessed that it was the Sox opponent that night, the newly christened Seattle Pilots, who would soon make the shift to Milwaukee. As lowly as the support for the Sox was in Chicago, the Pilots were not faring much better in Seattle, drawing only about 11,000 fans per home game. Troubling too, was the news that broke just as the Pilots arrived in the Cream City – that the ground breaking on the new domed stadium that Seattle had promised to the league in order to secure the franchise would be delayed and the new park would not be ready until 1974 at the soonest.
There seemed to be little enthusiasm in Milwaukee to see the Pilots, as the paid attendance for the game was the lower than any of the Sox Milwaukee games but for an April 1969 match hampered by bad weather. And any rooters for the new club would have been deflated pretty quickly, as the Sox jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead after three innings, chasing Seattle starter (and future Cy Young Award winner) Mike Marshall.
Oddly, the least impressive performance of the evening probably belonged to the man who would eventually emerge as the first Brewers star. Seattle second basemen Tommy Harper stuck out three times and made three errors in the field, leading the Milwaukee Journal to note, “Harper plays second the way Wilt Chamberlain shoots free throws.” A year later, however, Harper batted .296 for the Brewers with 31 homers and 38 steals, earning him a spot on the AL All Star team and sixth place in the league’s MVP voting. Mike Heagan, another early Brewers star, fared much better on the night, collecting a pair of hits and scoring one of the Pilots’ three runs.
When Sox hurler Billy Wynne got Don Mincher to fly to center for the final out of the game, it was the Sox fifth straight win at County Stadium and the buzz that the club would soon move north and just maybe would be able to carry over that Milwaukee magic to 1970 was palpable. Selig and company made a strong play to buy the White Sox that off-season, but the American League, not wanting to yield the Chicago market, refused to allow the deal. Instead, the club was sold to a group that vowed to keep the team in Chicago. A few months later, with the Pilots in a financial free-fall and their stadium deal dead, Selig made a move for the year-old club. Just days before the 1970 season, his group’s offer was approved and Milwaukee was Big League once again.