1957 Braves achieved greatness for a moment

I admit it: 40 years after the Milwaukee Braves picked up and moved to Atlanta, I’m still just barely on board with the idea that the guys on the current ball club have a genuine ancestral link to the crew that made history by relocating a major league franchise in the Deep South.

Despite all of the high-tech efforts to propel MLB into the 21st century, the reality is that baseball’s glacial pace and sometimes awkward
resistance to change are important pillars in the charm of the game itself.

When Henry & Co. left Milwaukee after the end of the 1965 season, I only tagged along, figuratively speaking, because Henry Aaron was still a Brave. He would play nine more seasons, often attired in those odd-looking jerseys that Atlanta came up with in the 1970s. I went from being a Braves fan whose favorite player was Aaron to being an Aaron fan who rooted for the Braves because he was on the team.

Obviously, that left me somewhat out in the cold once Aaron hung it up after his two-season swan song with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975-76. Talk about confusion: The return to the Brewers made him an American Leaguer, for pete’s sake.

I wrote an article many years ago talking about the Braves’ 13-year run in Milwaukee, noting that only a handful of victories prevented that team from being ranked among some of the all-time best. The club wound up second behind the Dodgers in 1956 by all of one game, won the pennant and World Series the following year, a pennant again in 1958 (and World Series loss to the Yankees), and then finished in a flatfooted tie for the flag in 1959 with the now replanted Los Angeles Dodgers.

The two-game playoff that followed was my introduction to the dark side of fandom: I remember the family being huddled around a tiny black-and-white TV for the second and final game of a playoff against the Dodgers as a groundball trickled past Felix Mantilla and the hopes of a third straight pennant went with it.

The Braves would finish second in 1960, then plummet to the middle of the National League pack before the stunning announcement in 1965 of their planned departure to Atlanta.

So in a four-year span, Milwaukee essentially came within two wins of logging four pennants in a row. Ultimately, the club would become a kind of poster child for a MLB team that achieved much less than what might have been expected from an objective analysis of their roster.

What prompts me to recall this stuff is the feature from our veteran columnist Rich Marazzi (pages 30-31 and 34, with SPORT magazine photos in color) further on in this issue. Marazzi has produced a three-part series on the 1957 Milwaukee club, with the second of three parts this week, and the final installment – covering the remaining position players and the pitchers – a few weeks later.

Aaron photograph captures the imagination
Publishing the second part of Marazzi’s feature gave us the opportunity to include the remarkable photography that baby boomers will remember from the heyday of SPORT magazine. Toronto-based The SPORT Gallery is offering dozens of the stunning color photography from the famed magazine that predates even Sports Illustrated.

For collectors who haven’t visited the company’s website, www.thesportgallery.com, I would urge you to give it a look. Many of the photos will bring back fond memories of a different era in baseball (and magazine publishing).

The part I can’t believe is that I hadn’t seen the photo before that ended up on this week’s cover.

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