The untold saga of the Milwaukee-Brooklyn rivalry

In a guest post, an old friend of Dodger Thoughts, John Klima, offers a galvanizing look at his new book, Bushville Wins!, which focuses on the old Milwaukee Braves but brings in the Dodgers as a key supporting player …

Jon Weisman and I go back a long way. Many moons ago, we were both stuck in the salt mines, toiling away on Spring Street taking prep agate (which means high school sports scores to the uninitiated) and generally wishing we were dead.

Well, anyhow, I was a kid back then, and now here I am, a full-fledged, not once, but twice author. I do what we call “narrative history,” which is to say, I take facts and turn them into a story you can’t put down. My agent, the damn bad-ass Rafe Sagalyn from Washington D.C., probably best known as David Maraniss’ agent, once told me, “Book authors have to rise above journalism,” and I very much took that to heart. Old hands who know me from the Los Angeles Times know just how competitive and determined I am to make good. So this is just a shout to all you survivors – you can take me out of newspapers, but you cannot shake me as a writer.

I wanted to introduce Jon’s readers to the greatest rivalry they don’t know about – that of the Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves. And the book lets it be known that the Braves’ move from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 paved the way for the Dodgers and those guys up North I am smart enough not to mention by name on a Dodger blog, to change cities. So without anymore fuss, here’s what you can count on.

You could always depend on the Milwaukee Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers hating each other. The vitriol stewed on Sunday, July 31, 1954, at Ebbets Field. Braves first baseman Joe Adcock broke his favorite gamer bat in the ninth inning of the Friday night game. He borrowed a bat from a backup catcher named Charlie White and on Saturday hit four home runs and a double – 18 total bases, then the most prolific offensive day in major league history.


But on Sunday, there was hell to pay. In his first at-bat, Dodger pitcher Russ Meyer knocked Adcock down. That was to be expected. Joe got up and hit a double that nearly went out of the park. When Adcock faced Clem Labine in the fourth inning, Labine and the Dodgers had seen just about enough. The blood order probably came from Walter Alston himself, but you couldn’t put it past Roy Campanella to put down that fist for a sign, which was as good as saying, “Shove it up this guy’s ass by knocking him on it.”

Labine he did one better. He challenged Adcock with a first-pitch fastball, then nearly had a heart attack as Adcock hacked and missed. Then, Labine said the hell with this. Labine drilled Adcock on the left side of the head. The pitch was so violently hard that the thud against the paper-thin batting helmet Adcock wore could be heard in the old press box.

Adcock was knocked cold. “He laid flat on his back with his legs spread. He looked dead. All he needed was police tape and a chalk outline,” I wrote, and that’s the most I think I can quote from this book without asking my publisher for permission.

Tempers flared. It was Milwaukee’s “Asshole Buddies” against Brooklyn’s boys. And this fighting didn’t end. It carried all the way through 1957. There was the memorable fight at Ebbets that year when Don Drysdale threw at Johnny Logan. Logan charged Drysdale not from the box – but from first base, charging him and swinging him around so that Eddie Mathews could get a clear punch at Drysdale. You got it – all hell broke loose.

History has forgotten how violently competitive baseball used to be, especially in the National League of the 1950s, when virtually every team had a Hall of Famer or two in the lineup – Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Musial, Campanella, Banks, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Mathews, Ashburn, Kiner. The Yankees always won the damn thing in the American League, so in the National League, in the days of eight teams and no divisions, no wild cards, no playoffs – the entire thing was win or go home. The average ballplayer made $15,000 a year and a good World Series winner’s share could be $9,000. There were no multiyear contracts and no free agency. Competitiveness and downright fisticuffs were not out of order for ballplayers trying to survive.

The battles between the young Sandy Koufax and the young Henry Aaron were awesome to re-create. I wrote, “You could scout for a million years and never find two kids who could do this.” (Again, a direct quote, don’t tell the publishers.) So, too, were the early career Drysdale versus Aaron meetings. Epic stuff.

One thing about me as a baseball writer – in recreating this world, my ballplayers speak as ballplayers do. They drink. They smoke. They curse. They use words I love but my lovely wife says I should not use on Jon’s blog. They squabble among themselves. But instead of a dysfunctional group of guys who really genuinely didn’t give a —- about each other – say the way the Oakland A’s of the 1970s were – I’m convinced that the Braves were really unified by their town, team and time.

All you have to do is look at the camaraderie and kinship between Aaron and Mathews, at a time when white players were not only learning to play with black players, but both parties were learning to play alongside each other. The Braves also had some young Latin ballplayers — such as lefty Juan Pizarro, the Aroldis Chapman of his day, but unlike our somersaulting pal “Howoldis,” he stayed on his feet – and proved that diversity and depth was the blueprint for the future.

The rest, dear Dodger Thoughts readers, is up to you. I’ve made my pitch but I promise you all that if you give the story a crack and throw down some of your hard-earned bones that I will definitely not let you down. Thanks to my old pal Jon for this blog space – and I wish you all many happy returns on a healthy Matt Kemp, whose talent can one day take him all the way to Cooperstown.  And just let it be known, I say that as a baseball person, and not as a baseball fan.

  • Anonymous

    Judging from the last few Giants to join the Dodgers via free agency–Eugenio Velez, Juan Uribe, Jason Schmidt–I’d say the Dodgers should NEVER EVER trade with their neighbors to the north.  Any player the Giants no longer want is not anybody the Dodgers should be interested in.  

    • foul tip

       Didn’t they have an offer on the table to Schmidt, which Ned just had to top?

      • Anonymous

        It was reported they had an offer very close to Ned’s for Uribe

    • Anonymous

       Gnats should always be swatted.

  • Anonymous

    With Kemp due back imminently and Ethier to follow, the front office might seriously shift its targets to a pitcher like Cole Hamels, who is a lot better than any of the mediocre hitting options available.  

    Also, with Dee Gordon out for the next 6 weeks, the Dodgers are going to get a long look at somebody else in the leadoff spot.  Whether that’s Ellis (you pick), Herrera, or somebody else, I predict the results to be good. 

    • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

      sorry. “In the Garden of the Beasts”

    • Anonymous

      Headly (3b Padres) or Lowery (ss Astros) maybe–the Dodgers apparently are interested in them  according to rumors at Pro Sports Daily.  

    • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

      in one way i agree with the Dee haters. Cruz/herrera will put up better offensive and defensive stats than Dee probably. But the dodgers are hurt by dee losing that 6 weeks of development. 

    • Anonymous

       The best word SaMo uses here is “mediocre”.  Regardless of who the Dodgers would be willing to part with, the available talent on the offense side of the game is mediocre.

  • Anonymous

    >>  I do what we call “narrative history,” which is to say, I take facts and turn them into a story you can’t put down.

    In a similar vein, I’d like to give a shout-out to DT friend Old Bear.  Last month, he recommended “The Killer Angels”, subsequently seconded by several others here (skybluestoday, Tycho, AaSsWw).  It’s a “narrative history” of the Battle of Gettysburg.  I read it based on that recommendation, and enjoyed it immensely.

    • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

      you should read the (sp) The Beasts Among Us or something like that. read it a couple months ago. human being are truly amazing and not necessarily in a good sense. about the US ambassador to germany in the run up to wwll

      • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

        sorry “In the Garden of the Beasts”

    • Anonymous

      Glad you dug it!

  • Anonymous

    Regarding the subject here, while the Brooklyn-Milwaukee rivalry may seem long ago, L.A. was constantly battling Atlanta when both were in the NL West.

    • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

      I remember listing to the braves dodgers on the transistor radio. that braves lineup seems so awesome. i vaguely remember one game where the braves hit like 8 home runs. i thought they were very scary and didn’t quite understand at the time why they didn’t win more. warren frickin spaun (sp). cmon.

    • Anonymous

      Just before the turnaround I proposed we trade Kal Daniels to them for a young lefty SP I liked. He didn’t light up a radar gun, and I had no advanced metrics to guide me. I just saw and felt he could be pretty good.

      • Anonymous

        BTW, that guy was Tom Glavine

      • Anonymous

        The Dodgers ended up with a 26-year old 5’10″ lefty who was at AA from the Cubs. He pitched 9 games for the Dodgers and then was not invited back.

        However, Kalvoski was just about done at the time. 

        • Anonymous

          It was after 1990 season, where Daniels OPS+’d 155, and Glavine’s ERA+ was 94. I believed Daniels would never have more trade value, but his fall was shocking. In 91 Tom won 20 games and that was that.

  • Anonymous

    Jed Lowrie has 14 HRs and an OPS of .810. That would make him the best hitter in the current Dodger lineup.  Haven’t seen his defense enough to know if he can pick it.  But he’s only 28.  If the Astros will take anything less than Kershaw Kemp or Ethier, I say do it. 

    • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

      ok you can have him for Dee Gordon, Eovaldi and Acastle. do we have a deal sir?

      • Anonymous

        deal.

        • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

          call the league office

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      I would love Lowrie, but don’t know if he;s really available, given his age and relative cheapness. Astros, who are rebuilding, would be smart to hold on to him. 

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    In the vein of “That being said …”: Here’s Ken Levine on Robin Williams:

    http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2012/07/did-robin-william-really-ad-lib-all.html

    “Not to take anything away from Robin and his enormous talent, but he is notorious for stealing other people’s material.

    • Anonymous

      Continuing this OT; I’ve always been turned off by Williams’ comedy. As a creep, however, he’s superb. Thinking of “One-hour Photo”,  ”Insomnia,” et al.

    • Anonymous

      I find him the funniest man in show business, bar none.  And he can ad lib with the best, so it’s not all a matter of stolen material.

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Great piece John and thanks Jon.  I knew very little of this history and almost nothing of that heated rivalry. Very revealing. 

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Btw, MLB Network just reported that Roy Halladay may be on track to make his first start off the DL in series in LA later this month.  Just our luck.   At least the Dodgers will have more of their real lineup back in place. 

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    In the NL West standings, the Padres are closer to the Diamondbacks than the Diamondbacks are to the Dodgers.

    • Anonymous

      Since the end of May, the Padres have gone 17-15, which is how they caught up to and passed the Rockies.  While the Dodgers have gone 15-18 during the same period.

  • foul tip

    What  does anyone think of Royals LH 1B Eric Hosmer, he of the 9 HR but no other particularly impressive numbers this year?  He has about the same AB as Butler.  So apparently a platoon, or one or the other DHs a lot.  Dunno.

    His MLB career OPS of .754 is better than this year’s 677.  But he’s only been in the bigs a year.  Did hit 19 HR last year and has done well recently.

    You’d think KC is set with Butler at 1B and might talk.  Would Hosmer be an upgrade?  If so, he might not cost a lot.

    Speaking of  seeming to be set at 1B and 3B, the Royals have Butler at 1B with 16 HR and .852 OPS and Moustakas at 3B with 14 and .817.  Never happen, but they both might look good in Dodger blue. 

    Those kinds of numbers compared to current virtual black holes would cause culture shock.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MW2R2Q72LP22HKPEXB2ZZPHSZM dud dew

    Caution: for whatever reason/s, Cole Hamels has not looked  like Cole Hamels
    for quite a while now….

    • Anonymous

       Nor has Kershaw looked convincingly like Kershaw.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • Anonymous

    Bums No More, by Brian M. Endsley, offers the tale of the 1959 World Champs and how they derailed the Braves who were dynasty-bound going for their third straight pennant.

    • Anonymous

      FYI, Bill James said that Fred Haney’s managing job in ’59 with the Braves was the worst in the history of baseball. The Dodgers — REBUILDING, from the Boys of Summer to the Koufax/Drysale dynasty — beat the Braves/Aaron/Matthew/Spahn team in its prime.