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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.

The Braves flew the coop for the greener pastures of Milwaukee in 1953, leaving us with only the Sox to cheer for.

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.

Flashier uniforms
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.

Henry Aaron
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.

Tags: Boston, Red Sox

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  • Nate

    Braves field may have been more comfortable, but I disagree that it had better architectural quirks. I’d say the Green Monster is a better quirk than a bleacher section with only 12 of 2,000 seats filled. Winning tradition is ridiculous also. The Sox have more pennants AND more than twice the world series titles. That miracle series win by the braves was bookended by 3 Red Sox World Series wins… and they didn’t need a miracle.

    Yawkey was a huge racist though, no arguing that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/NewtonsBob Bob Kavanagh

    remember, the braves won the WS in ’57 by beating the yankees

  • Fletcha

    Professor Whalen, I LOVE
    that old file photo of the “wheat field” amid the backdrop of the Boston Braves
    Field scoreboard and outfield stands. I’d never seen that before!

    There were times I had wondered the same thing – did the
    wrong team leave Boston – especially in the late ’90s when the Braves were the
    toast of the NL and frequently had the Sox’ number in regular-season
    interleague play. … But during the last decade, things changed for the Red Sox
    in a remarkable way, and this ‘what-if’ question doesn’t quite has as much oomph
    behind it now as it would even 10 years ago.

    A better home ballpark? It’s highly doubtful Braves Field
    would be standing today even if the Braves had stayed in Boston. Even Yankee Stadium is gone! … The spot where
    Henry Aaron’s record-breaking home run is now in a parking lot outside Turner
    Field. County Stadium, home of the Milwaukee Braves (and then the Brewers) gave
    way to Miller Park and its retractable roof. Even Yawkey dreamed of replacing
    Fenway (with a domed ballpark), and Harrington hired an architect to draw up
    plans for a New Fenway. Say what you will about John Henry’s ownership group,
    but he brought Boston two championships and he steered the wrecking ball away from
    Fenway.

    A superior winning tradition? First: No, I don’t count
    pennants won from 1872 through 1875 in the National Association of Professional
    Base Ball Players. Nobody does. … Second, the Red Sox franchise won seven World
    Series; the Braves won three. …
    Third, in my lifetime alone (I’m 41), the Red Sox have had more winning seasons
    (33 to 26), a similar amount of World Series appearances (4 vs. 5), and more
    World Series titles (2 to 1) compared to the Braves.

    A more progressive attitude? You’re correct there. But
    just how “progressive” is the Braves’ tomahawk chop? … Yes, Red Sox fans paid a terrible price for Tom Yawkey’s racism.
    The Sox’ first African-American superstar was Jim Rice, who broke into the big
    leagues 27 years after Robinson broke the color barrier. That’s a cold, hard
    fact that will never change. … But let
    us note: Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays didn’t break in with the Braves,
    either. Robinson and Mays ended up in New York, which is a more socially
    progressive city than Boston or just about anywhere else on the planet.

    Flashier uniforms? Seriously? Boston’s home whites are a
    true classic. While the Sox’ road grays are drab, the same could be said about
    most road grays, including those of the New York Yankees. … The Braves did
    nothing to promote fashion from 1972-86. They had poor Henry Aaron trot around
    in in some truly ugly duds near the end of his career.

    Speaking of Henry Aaron:
    With all due respect to Hammerin’ Hank, Ted Williams was the greatest
    hitter who ever lived. Had he not sacrificed a chunk of his career to serve our
    country in World War II and Korea, there is a VERY solid argument that
    Williams, not Aaron, would have been the first to pass Ruth on the all-time
    home run list. Boston didn’t name a tunnel after Ted for nothing.

    Yes, 2011 and 2012 have been stinkers for Red Sox fans, but
    this period merely falls in line with some of the more memorable flameouts that
    generations of fans have had to suffer through for more than a century. And here
    lies the important point: The Red Sox have been in Boston since 1901. They
    stayed. And for better or worse, it’s impossible to truly imagine the city
    without them.

    • durham kid

      Fletcha – thanks for such a well written and thorough rebuttal. I am not a big Fan of baseball (unless the season is near the end and the Sox are high in the standings) but I simply could not resist this story – mostly b/c I wanted to see the responses by die-hard Red Sox fans. And I can see you are one – and I appreciate your respectful reply to Professor Whalen.

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