Just four months after the team left town, Boston Braves Field looked like a Kansas wheat farm. In this July 3, 1953 photo, a caretaker plows through the waist high grass of the infield. Later that year, Boston University purchased the property and changed its name to Nickerson Field. (AP File Photo)
Our hometown Red Sox are sinking faster in the standings than Facebook stock on the New York Stock Exchange.
True, the recent blockbuster trade that sent the unpopular Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for pitching prospects and payroll flexibility has raised hopes.
But overall, the 2012 baseball season has been an ongoing nightmare, complete with whining, underperforming superstars and a front office that seems more intent on selling commemorative ballpark T-shirts than putting a championship team on the playing field.
To paraphrase Richard Gere from the 1982 movie “An Officer and a Gentleman,” we as major league baseball fans have nowhere else to go.
This sad state of affairs wasn’t always the case. For half a century, Boston had the luxury of being a two-team town, with the Red Sox in the American League and the Braves in the National. But the Braves flew the coop for the greener pastures of Milwaukee in 1953, leaving us with only the Sox to cheer for.
Alas, we got the shorter end of the stick, for it is my contention that it was the Red Sox who should have left and not the franchise currently fighting for a postseason berth in Atlanta, its home since 1966. Here’s why:
A better home ballpark
This is going to sound sacrilegious given all the hoopla and heartfelt praise Fenway Park has received in this 100th anniversary commemoration season. But, let’s be honest. Fenway is overrated. Besides the need to take out a second mortgage to pay for tickets, parking, and sundry concessions, the park is physically cramped and uncomfortable, if not downright claustrophobic.
While far from perfect, Braves Field — or The Beehive or The Wigwam as it was sometimes known — offered a more commodious and pleasing aesthetic experience. Heck, it even had greater architectural quirks with the famed “Jury Box” bleacher section in right field. Situated along the twisting banks of the Charles River in Boston, the park may not have been the “lyric little bandbox” that the late novelist John Updike called Fenway, but it was a preferable place to watch a ballgame.
A superior winning tradition
The Braves won an impressive 10 National League pennants from 1876 to 1952, including a four-game “miracle” World Series sweep of Connie Mack’s heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics in 1914. If you count the four consecutive championships the team won from 1872 through 1875 in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, baseball’s first professional league, the Braves can boast of 14 championships. Historically, the Red Sox fall short of that record as they won only 12 pennants over a roughly similar time span.
A more progressive attitude
Under the longtime racist ownership of Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox were the last ball club in the big leagues to integrate with the arrival of reserve infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green in 1959. In fact, Yawkey had passed on the opportunity to sign Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Can you imagine how these two all-time greats would have fared playing alongside Ted Williams in the 1950s? I think there would have been a few more World Series championship banners in Fenway and no talk of the so-called “Curse of the Bambino.”
In contrast, the Braves were among the first teams to integrate their roster with the signing of outfielder Sam “The Jet” Jethroe in 1950. Jethroe led the National League in stolen bases that year with 35, en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors. Braves owner Lou Perini deserves a lot of credit, as he was able to successfully steer his organization away from the predominant Jim Crow attitudes that had kept African-Americans barred from organized baseball since the late 19th century.
Sure, the Red Sox sport nice home whites, but has a team ever boasted a better-looking set of threads than the Braves of the late 1940s and 1950s? The stylishly sloping tomahawk below the vibrant red and navy script that spelled out “Braves” on the front of the jersey was an instant sports classic. And road uniforms? Don’t even go there. The bland gray duds the Sox wear today wouldn’t cut it in a bad recreational softball league, let alone the majors.
Think about it. If the Braves had stayed, Boston fans would have been treated to the greatest ballplayer ever to lace up a pair of spikes. A prodigious power hitter, great outfielder, and underrated runner, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career homerun record in 1974 with No. 715 in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Instead, we got Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, and Josh Beckett. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Life is unfair.”
Or, to put it another way: Bostonians are the poorer because the Braves pulled up stakes so many years ago.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.