1953’s Opening Day Was One for the Ages

Every season starts somewhere, but Milwaukee’s biggest opening day came in 1953 with the Braves’ first game in Milwaukee.

WE’RE CELEBRATING MILWAUKEE’S 175TH ANNIVERSARY BY DELVING INTO THE CITY’S HISTORY WITH A NEW PHOTO EVERY MONTH. FIND MORE HERE.

On April 14, 1953, big league baseball returned to Milwaukee after an absence of 52 years. Barely a month before the opening day game pictured here, the Boston Braves announced that they were moving to the Cream City. After a half-century in the minors, Milwaukee greeted the news with an outpouring of joy not witnessed since V-J Day.

What made it possible, of course, was Milwaukee County Stadium. In a startling leap of faith, Milwaukee built the ballpark with no assurance that it would attract a major league tenant. “If you build it, they will come,” reasoned the community’s leaders, and the Braves made their dream come true. Sportswriters were soon describing County Stadium as “a lunatic asylum with bases.”

Rabid fans came by the thousands just to cheer in field practice, and the team set a National League attendance record in its very first season. Only four years later, the Midwestern upstarts, led by 23-year-old NL MVP Hank Aaron, beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Never was a victory so sweet.

The taste turned bitter in 1966, when the Braves deserted Milwaukee for Atlanta, but hope returned with the arrival of the Brewers from Seattle in 1970. (The program at right celebrated another homecoming – of the beloved Aaron to his adopted Milwaukee for his final two seasons.) County Stadium, much expanded from its original footprint, remained the Brewers’ home until it was replaced by Miller Park, now American Family Field, in 2001.

And how did Milwaukee fare on that opening day in 1953? The Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2, when rookie center elder Billy Bruton hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th. The fans went wild.

IN COLLABORATION WITH MILWAUKEE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY


TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

1. The National Soldiers Home was established in 1867 as one of three U.S. “asylums” for Union soldiers wounded in the Civil War. Old Main opened two years later and became an instant Milwaukee landmark. After decades of neglect, the building is being restored to once again house military veterans.

2. The Milwaukee Ski Club built this ski jump in 1937 to replace an earlier structure in Gordon Park.

3. Soldiers Home water tower

4. The original outfield fences were so low that players risked breaking their ribs when they went up for fly balls.

5. The opening day attendance: 34,357


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s April issue.

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