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The Seattle Pilots Visit Milwaukee

In the Milwaukee clubhouse there’s a sign that reads: "What you say here, what you see here, what you do here and what you hear here, let it stay here."  The same sign hangs in the clubhouse in Minneapolis.  Also, I suppose, in the CIA offices in Washington.  If I were a CIA man, could I write a book? – Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four is memorable for a lot of reasons.  Certainly, there are too many reasons to go into here.  However, as a Brewers fan, one brief passage from the book always stood out to me.  On June 16, Bouton and the Pilots played the Chicago White Sox in Milwaukee.  That remains the only road game in Milwaukee in Pilots/Brewers history.

But how did a White Sox game find its way to Milwaukee?  The story begins in 1953.  The Milwaukee Brewers, an American Association club, had played for fifty years in old Borchert Field, a rectangular stadium built in 1888.  The ballpark was aging and deteriorating and the city of Milwaukee decided to build a new stadium, with an eye on attracting a major league team.  Just days before the new stadium was set to open, the Boston Braves applied for permission to move to Milwaukee.  The request was approved by the other National League clubs and the new Milwaukee Braves played their first game, an exhibition against the Boston Red Sox, on April 6, 1953.  In their final season in Boston, the Braves drew a total of 281,278 fans, an average of 3653 fans per game (the Braves played sixteen doubleheaders at home).  The Milwaukee Braves passed that mark by May 20, the fourteen home game of the season en route to a National League record 1,826,397 fans.

Things went well for the Braves in Milwaukee as they finished first or second in every year from 1953-1960 except 1954.  The Braves won the NL pennant in 1957 and 1958, and won the World Series in 1957.  Alas, the good times did not last.  Despite winning 83 games each year from 1961 to 1965, the Braves did not finish higher than fourth, and attendance suffered.  From a high of 2,215,404 in 1957, attendance dropped to under 800,000 in 1962 and 1963 before spiking to 910,911 in 1964.  Kept by injunction in Wisconsin for one more season, the Braves drew only 555,584 fans in 1965 before moving to Atlanta.

One minority owner of the Atlanta Braves, Allan H. "Bud" Selig, sought to keep major league baseball alive in Milwaukee.  A series of exhibition games in County Stadium proved popular, including a White Sox-Twins affair that drew over 50,000 paying customers.  With White Sox attendance sagging, the Chicago front office decided to play nine regular-season games in Milwaukee in 1968.  The nine games drew an average of nearly 30,000 fans, 20,000 more per game than the White Sox’s true home games in Chicago.  In 1969, the White Sox scheduled eleven games (one for every other American League team) in Milwaukee.  The fifth Milwaukee game of the season was the June 16 tilt against the Seattle Pilots.

Four of the Pilots’ starters on June 16 played for the Milwaukee Brewers the next season.  Tommy Harper led off and played second followed by Mike Hegan in right field.  Wayne Comer hit fifth and played center, behind Tommy Davis and Don Mincher.  Jerry McNertney batted seventh and donned the tools of ignorance, sandwiched between John Donaldson and Ray Oyler.  Kinesiologist Mike Marshall toed the rubber for the Pilots.

Marshall was knocked around, giving up five runs in only 2 1/3 innings.  Future Brewer Bob Locker poured gas on the fire, walking all three batters he faced.  Jim Bouton finally cleaned up the mess by recording five outs while allowing just one batter to reach base.  Diego Segui and 1970 Brewer John O’Donoghue each tossed two scoreless innings to close out the game.  Meanwhile, Billy Wynne threw a complete game in his season debut, picking up the win by a score of 8-3.

Mike Hegan and Don Mincher were the only Pilots with two hits.  Seattle actually outhit the White Sox 8-7, but all Pilots base knocks were singles and three double plays did not help matters.  When Merritt Ranew pinch hit for O’Donoghue in the ninth, he became the only player who played in County Stadium as a member of the Braves and Pilots.

With that loss, one of many during the first and only Pilots campaign, the Seattle Pilots bid Milwaukee adieu.  Financial problems in Seattle led to the Pilots being put up for sale after the season.  Legal maneuverings held up the sale to Selig’s ownership group, but days before the 1970 season Milwaukee was officially awarded a second major league franchise.  When the new Milwaukee Brewers took the field for the first time on April 7, 1970, they ensured June 16, 1969 would remain the only time the Pilots/Brewers franchise played in Milwaukee as a visiting team.