Posts Tagged ‘I Had A Hammer’

1957 World Series

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Milwaukee inaugurated the Braves ball club to its new home city just a couple of weeks before the 1953 season began.  Acclimation from its previous location of Boston did not present a problem, given the enthusiasm showered by Milwaukeeans on their new major league ambassadors.  Four years later, the Braves powered through their National League competition to face the august New York Yankees in the 1957 World Series—it went seven games.

Initially scheduled to pitch Game Seven, Warren Spahn got sidelined by the flu, forcing Braves skipper Fred Haney to tap Lew Burdette for the deciding game, played at Yankee Stadium.  Burdette went the distance, blanked the Yankees 5-0, and notched his third victory in the ’57 series.  And he did it on two days rest, scattering seven hits and walked one batter—an intentional walk.  Burdette received the World Series MVP Award, predictably.

Milwaukee erupted in a celebration reaching from the citizenry on the streets to the power brokers in government.  Richard J.H. Johnston of the New York Times wrote, “Mayor Frank Zeidler burst from his office in City Hall and rushed to the building’s bell tower.  He and his laughing aides took turns at the bell rope to set in motion a great booming that was heard all over the city.  The first signal sent up from City Hall was five ear-shattering clangs of the bell, one for each of the Braves’ five runs in their 5-to-0 victory over the New York Yankees.”

Sid Gray of the New York Herald Tribune quoted Yankee star Mickey Mantle on praising the Braves:  “And that [Eddie] Mathews, they told me he was no gloveman.  They must have been kidding.  He was great.  So was their entire club on defense.”

Hank Aaron, the 1957 National League Most Valuable Player, assessed Burdette’s momentum combined with a sense of vindication in his autobiography I Had a Hammer:  “The way he was going, I think Burdette could have pitched if he’d been up all night working in one of those coal mines back in West Virginia.  Burdette had been traded by the Yankees before he ever got a chance to really pitch for them, and he hadn’t forgotten it.”

Burdette overcame a Yankee threat in the bottom of the ninth, a pure storybook opportunity for the boys in pinstripes to reverse the game’s course.  Yogi Berra fouled out, but Gil McDougald followed with a single.  Then, Yankee rookie Tony Kobe flied out to centerfield, governed by Aaron.

Two outs, one man on base.

Jerry Coleman singled.

Two outs, two men on base.

Tommy Byrne singled.

Two outs, bases loaded.

Burdette faced fearsome Yankee slugger Moose Skowron, upon whose shoulders the hopes of Yankee fans stood.  Alas, another World Series victory was not to be for the boys from the Bronx.  Bob Cooke of the Herald Tribune described the play and its impact on Yankee manager Casey Stengel:  “And then came the end, but not peacefully.  Moose Skowron shot a grounder to the right of [Braves third baseman] Eddie Mathews.  The latter scooped it up with a great, backhand catch, and danced to third where he forced Coleman for the final out.

“Stengel had disappeared.  He was on his way to the clubhouse and a long winter.”

Pitching the seventh game of a World Series at Yankee Stadium did not faze Burdette, an example of calm.  In his 2012 book Bushville Wins! The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball, John Klima wrote, “Burdette looked utterly unbothered on the mound.  He was so laid-back, yet so determined to win, that even the guys who had played with him for years, marveled at how the pressure that would kill other men couldn’t touch him.”

That night, upon the team’s landing at Billy Mitchell Field, approximately 12,000 Milwaukeeans greeted, cheered, and celebrated their baseball heroes.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 12, 2015.

Hank Aaron Hits #715

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

It was a glorious moment.

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record, previously thought unassailable, when he hit his 715th career home run.  Aaron’s historic blast occurred during a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves; it was the first home game of the 1974 season for the Braves.

When Aaron knocked an Al Downing pitch over the left field fence in the fourth inning to create a new home run record, he triggered a celebration with enough energy to power the state of Georgia.  In the article “End of the Glorious Ordeal” in the April 15, 1974 issue of Sports Illustrated, Ron Fimrite wrote, “It ended in a carnival atmosphere that would have been more congenial to the man he surpassed as baseball’s alltime [sic] home-run champion.”

Indeed, Babe Ruth was gregarious with an appetite for life that could not be matched, measured, or modulated.  Aaron, in contrast, had a quiet dignity.  In the April 11, 1974 edition of the Atlanta Daily World, Charles E. Price wrote, “A player who dresses at the plate, waiting to get to the plate before adjusting his helmet, only to take an unassuming stance at the plate, Hank then has the appearance of any other player.”

Fimrite, too, opined on Aaron’s contrasting demeanor.  “This is not the sort of party one gives for Henry Aaron, who through the long weeks of on-field pressure and mass media harassment had expressed no more agitation than a man brushing aside a housefly.  Aaron had labored for most of his 21-year career in shadows cast by more flamboyant superstars, and if he was enjoying his newfound celebrity, he gave no hint of it.  He seemed to be nothing more than a man trying to do his job and live a normal life in the presence of incessant chaos.”

In his autobiography I Had A Hammer, Aaron recalled that he and his wife, Billy, hosted a party after the historic game.  Before the party started, as he enjoyed some quiet, Aaron realized the true impact of his achievement.  “When I was alone and the door was shut, I got down on my knees and closed my eyes and thanked God for pulling me through,” wrote Aaron.  “At that moment, I knew what the past twenty-five years of my life had been all about.  I had done something that nobody else in the world had ever done, and with it came a feeling that nobody else has ever had—not exactly, anyway.  I didn’t feel a wild sense of joy.  I didn’t feel like celebrating.  But I probably felt closer to God at that moment than at any other in my life.  I felt a deep sense of gratitude and a wonderful surge of liberation all at the same time.  I also felt a stream of tears running down my face.”

Hank Aaron began his major league career with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954; the Braves moved to Atlanta after the 1965 season.  Aaron stayed with the Braves organization through the 1974 season, and then finished his career with the Milwaukee Brewers.  Aaron retired after the 1976 season with 755 home runs.  It remained the major league record until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.  Bonds retired after the 2007 season with 762 home runs.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 8, 2015.