Any chance of that long-awaited World Series between the Red Sox and Braves, both of whom many moons ago did business roughly a mile apart along Commonwealth Avenue, vanished yet again Friday night when the Sox folded up in Houston.
The ever-diminishing hope of our town having a Trolley Series officially careened off the tracks when the distant sons of Tom Yawkey quietly surrendered, 5-0, to the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS.
As for the Braves, who abruptly left Braves Field behind for Milwaukee 68 years ago, they carried a 3-2 series lead over the Dodgers into Saturday night’s Game 6 of the NLCS.
“The baseball world learned today,” lamented Globe scribe Clif Keane on March 19, 1953, the morning after the Braves officially severed ties in Boston, “that baseball is big business and nothing else.”
At the time local construction king Lou Perini made off with his Braves, a big league team hadn’t relocated in more than a half-century. The teams that grew to be known as the Braves and Red Sox opened their businesses in Boston in the late 1800s, soon after the end of Civil War.
The Braves who took the field Saturday night in Atlanta, about 1,100 miles southwest of their old Comm. Ave. ballyard, are the oldest continuous-operating sports franchise in North America.
OK, it’s undoubtedly an Earl Torgeson-like stretch at first base to say they’re still our Braves, but we’re Boston, and if not for our history, our love of sports, and our grudges, we’re what, just Topeka without the charm?
For all the history of the teams, the Red Sox and Braves have yet to meet in the postseason. So once again, it’s maybe next year … or the one after that … or maybe …
Spahn and Sain, if you’re listening, a few of us here are keeping an LED on for ya.
Early last week, when it looked like the Sox and Braves once and for all might get to sort out Boston’s hardball supremacy, Bob Brady was among the most intrigued by the potential matchup. A retired attorney who grew up in Dorchester, and an ex-vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, Brady for more than 10 years has been president of the Boston Braves Historical Association.
“It would be nice to see them play each other,” mused Brady, whose BBHA membership numbers approximately 350. “And it would be nice, now that they’re the Atlanta Braves, basically to be able to say, you know, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish in 1948 — but it took us 73 years and two more cities to do it.”
For those of you just joining the broadcast, a quick primer on the 1948 baseball season:
▪ The Braves clinched the National League pennant with a 91-62-1 record. Staff aces Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain piled up 39 of those wins.
▪ In the American League, the Red Sox and Indians finished in a 96-58 dead heat. The Indians won the one-game playoff at Fenway, 8-3, with Sox skipper Joe McCarthy, shall we say, curiously opting to start Denny Galehouse instead of either of his aces, Mel Parnell or Ellis Kinder.
▪ The Sox went home, their interminable wait for a Series title extended to 30 years, and the Braves went on to lose to Cleveland in six. The Game 6 clincher, a 4-3 Indians victory, packed 40,103 into Braves Field. Time of game: 2:16.
▪ Sullen Braves fans quietly loaded into trolley cars, which, by the way, looped off Comm. Ave. and pulled up directly under the ballpark’s stands. The miracles of mid-20th century mass transit.
“Otherwise, the Braves and Red Sox did not come close to meeting,” noted Brady, 75. “So 1948 was the last gasp, the closest they came to meeting in the history of the two teams in Boston.”
Tony O’Malley, a 1961 Boston College graduate who grew up in Natick, recalled making many trips to Braves Field beginning in ‘48. Located on the grounds that today is Boston University’s Nickerson Field, the park was more expansive than Fenway.
“A more open feel … no left field wall, of course,” recalled O’Malley, now retired and living in Nashua, N.H. “And heck, you could get in for a buck!”
O’Malley recalled visiting family friends who lived in an apartment on Comm. Ave. the afternoon of the Oct. 4 one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Indians.
“Now, I was 8½ years old at the time, and I really didn’t understand what was going on,” said O’Malley. “Except that is was important and I had to be quiet, so everyone could listen to the game on the radio.”
Perini was compelled to leave town, in large part, because Braves attendance fell into an abyss in the 1950s. In ‘52, the same summer the Braves signed an unknown Henry Aaron, total attendance was a touch less than 282,000. Down the street, the 76-78 Red Sox, with a 34-year-old Ted Williams gone off to the Korean conflict, drew 1.1million into cozy Fenway.
“The handwriting wasn’t just written on the wall,” said Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum located at TD Garden, “it was spray-painted in fluorescent paint on the wall.”
Aaron signed in 1952. Perini packed up in ‘53. Aaron made his major league debut with the Braves in 1954 and was a central figure in their two World Series matchups with the Yankees in 1957 an ‘58.
There is no bigger “what if?” in Boston sports than how history, both sports and cultural, might have shifted had Aaron debuted with the 1954 Boston Braves and led them to their 1957 Series title over the Yankees.
“If the ‘57 Boston Braves defeated the Yankees,” mused Johnson, ‘I mean, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities to speculate the Red Sox would have been the team to move. It sounds nuts today, but slaying the Yankee dragon? My God, if they had done that … ”
Perini wasn’t thinking of such things when it came time to bolt for Wisconsin. His 1953 Braves drew 1.8 million to County Stadium and broke 2 million in attendance each of the following four seasons. In 1962, he sold the club for $5.5 million, which was 11 times his purchase price in ‘45.
Del Crandall, the last surviving member of the Braves to have played in Boston, died May 5. A section of the ballpark’s right field pavilion still stands at Nickerson Field. The club’s administrative offices now house BU police headquarters.
Perini’s move was so abrupt, recalled Brady, that Spahn never had chance to open the doors to his restaurant across the street on Comm. Ave. that he built over the winter.
“Hayes-Bickford moved in there instead,” said Brady, “and later it became a muffler shop.”
O’Malley, like millions upon millions of others, seamlessly shifted his hardball allegiance to the team housed in Kenmore Square.
“I’m Red Sox, through and through now,” he said, asked if he would feel an emotional attachment to a Sox-Braves World Series. “No emotion there for me … maybe if they were still the Milwaukee Braves, maybe, but once they moved out of Milwaukee, we sort of lost any thread to what was.”
There is no joy on Comm. Ave. today. The hope of a Trolley Series has struck out.