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.