Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps it was dumb luck. But whatever the reason, I received an email late last week informing me that a new book regarding the Milwaukee Braves was about to hit the bookshelves.
The name of the book was called 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. You can check it out here if you’d like to purchase it on your E-Reader, and you can also check out a preview here.
It won’t hit the stores until July 3rd, but from what I was able to read from it and the conversation I shared with author John Klima – also a professional scout, by the way – it would be worth your while to put it at the top of your summer reading list.
What follows is a direct transcription of John’s thoughts and answers about my questions regarding what might have been one of the best teams to ever grace the city of Milwaukee.
Colin Bennett: What attracted to you about the 1957 Braves? Was it childhood nostalgia, or did you always think that there was something more important that needed to be told?
John Klima: I felt like it was a book that hadn’t been done because the Yankees lost, and baseball history is so skewed that if you stray from the formula, people don’t know what to think. So this book was a defiant and bold approach to narrative history, and it works because Milwaukee made it work.
CB: Baseball stories are very rarely just about baseball. What do you think readers and baseball fans can learn from a story like Bushville Wins!
JK: “Bushville Wins,” is really another way of saying, “the underdog wins.” Nobody gave Milwaukee a chance to win — they were thought to be too small-town, too-Midwestern, too-Small market, too little to matter. So you had a very dynamic team, time and place where the people came together, and you had the nation rooting for this small town team to beat the big bully in the room, the Yankees, and return baseball balance to the rest of the nation. We see the same struggles now — where small-market teams feel the deck is stacked against them by the East Coast teams, where fans feel like the TV contracts and the leagues favor the few. So Bushville Wins represents a triumph of the underdog, the beer-drinking, the tailgaiting togetherness that accompanies community pride in its local big league team.
CB: Do you think the Brewers now – like the Braves in 1957 – have a sort of “Bushville” climate attached to it? Why do you think that is or isn’t so?
CB: Milwaukee seems to have always been a city that was waiting for its shot, especially in the sports world. How important to the fans and the city was that move to bring the Boston Braves into the Brew City?
JK: It sparked one party after another. I talked to Bob Uecker, who told me (among other things in a very colorful interview),
and he told me it was like the end of World War II all over again. The team moved, they had a parade. A big one – 100,000 people. In 1957, during the World Series, there was a parade every single time the Braves came and went to the airport. Fans were sending prayer cards to the manager, Fred Haney. Baseball and the Braves became intertwined with faith and hope. It was quite something to write about for modern readers.
CB: In the early ’50s, Braves Owner Lou Perini was a visionary who led the expansion era of Major League baseball and eventually proved to the Giants and Dodgers that a move out west was possible. Now, looking at the climate of Major League Baseball, it would appear it is a coastal game once again. Money sits in the west coast and northeast, and teams like Milwaukee and Kansas City struggle for financing and notoriety. Why do you think this has happened, and what’s a small market team to do in your mind?
CB: In the opening pages of your book, you speak to the influence – and stuffiness – of the sportswriters who witnessed the event. Do you think this still exists today to the same degree? Are sportswriters generally slow to change because they grew up in these “golden ages” of sports? Is there anything that up-and-coming sportswriters can do to help break away from this?
CB: How do you compare Lou Perini, the owner of the Braves who first brought Major League Baseball to Milwaukee with his future replacement, Bud Selig – who brought the Brewers in 1970?
JK: Lou Perini should be in the Hall of Fame. He brought the game into the modern era — he envisioned everything Selig did — and Selig grew up watching him. He moved teams, built new parks, envisioned cable channels dedicated to baseball, dreamed of what became the World Baseball Classic, predicted teams would leave New York and go to places like Toronto and Minneapolis and beyond. He wanted diverse teams and new markets. He wanted competitive balance. I’ve always felt Selig owes a great deal of who he became as a baseball man to growing up in Lou Perini’s Milwaukee.
CB: Do you think baseball now is still trying to hold down small market teams, either on purpose or circumstantially?
JK: Yes, a combination of both factors. I think at the end of it, money talks. Bigger money talks louder. It’s the ultimate tale of small-market success — the 1957 team was built from within for about a decade, scouted and developed the right kinds of players, profiled them correctly at the major league level, had good baseball men from top to bottom, kept the right players and traded the right players. Even before free agency, you still had to have an entire organization working together and not a bunch of little fiefdoms doing their own thing. Cohesiveness plays and the Braves had it. Nobody gave Milwaukee a shot in the world and they shocked the world. Casey Stengel never talked much about beating Milwaukee in 1958, because to do so, he’d have to admit he lost in 1957. That just ain’t the Yankee way. [ed.'s note: emphasis his]
CB: I remember when I was a kid and the Brewers moved to the National League there was a big dust-up over tradition – as Milwaukee had been in the AL since 1970. It was interesting seeing how Perini made a point to say that Milwaukee will “represent the National League well.” Do you think that kind of attitude is still important to baseball people, and which league do you think best suits the city, people, and team Milwaukee has now?
JK: Yeah, I grew up with the Brewers as an American League team, too, and I was an Angel fan, so I was always pissed off about 1982. But I think Milwaukee really is a National League town, because it is an old school town. Roll Out the Barrel.
CB: Using your best scout’s eye – what do you think Milwaukee’s chances are this year to make a run at the division?