Back when Milwaukee made goo-goo eyes at the Chicago White Sox
1968 was a tumultuous year. The deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia. Tet. The "police riot" at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
And, American League baseball being played at Milwaukee County Stadium for the first time, in the persons of the Chicago White Sox. It was part of Bud Selig's quest to bring the game back to the city that the Braves had bolted just three years before and it almost worked.
The messy divorce between the Braves and Milwaukee left a pall over the city. Some fans were hopelessly bitter and vowed never to watch the game again--imagine the strike of 1994 all over again. Others, though, wanted a team and Selig was at the tip of the spear.
The Sox, meanwhile, were having issues. They weren't good and fans were staying away in droves. They were in the hunt until the final days of the 1967 season, eventually losing out to Boston in the chase for the AL pennant. Selig coaxed Chicago owner Arthur Allyn to do an exhibition against the Twins that season that drew 51,000 to the former home of the Braves (if memory serves, they allowed the overflow crowd to stand on the roped-off warning track) and to play nine regular season games in Milwaukee in '68 and 11 in '69.
Those nine games accounted for a third of the Sox' total 1968 attendance: over 264,000 fans spun through County Stadium turnstiles which, by my math, means an average of over 29,000 a game. Chicago would draw 539,000+ to it's remaining 58 games.
Selig claims that he cut a handshake deal with Allyn early in '68 to buy the team and bring it to Milwaukee, only to see the American League squash the deal because it didn't want to lose its Windy City presence. It was the second one-two punch Selig's quest absorbed inside of a year, the first being MLB's decision to award franchises to Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City and Montreal (Selig would later say that he was certain Milwaukee had won a club, seeing the person's mouth form an "M" at the expansion announcement meeting, an "M" that would be followed by Montreal instead).
The 11 Sox games in Milwaukee in '69 drew slightly fewer fans, averaging over 18,000. Included was a set against the Pilots, the team Selig would later buy in bankruptcy after Seattle's initial American League campaign. The sale went through just days before the start of the 1970 season, with the name "Pilots" literally ripped from the old home uniforms and hastily replaced with "Brewers".
Maybe it's just as well the Sox stayed where they were. 1970 saw them slog through their worst season ever, going 56-106. They'd get a boost with the arrival of Richie Allen who'd be the American League MVP in 1972 as he went on a one-man crusade to disprove the conventional wisdom that he was a selfish hot dog. Chicago would live through another scare in 1975 when Seattle made eyes at the Pale Hose, a threat that triggered the return of Bill Veeck as owner. Fireworks, uniforms featuring short pants, Disco Demolition night and other hijinks would ensue.
Milwaukee would warm up to the former Pilots but they wouldn't be contenders until 1978. Games against the Sox at County Stadium became legendary for both the amount of beer sucked and the number of fists that would fly in the stands. Seems more than a few locals took a liking to Chicago during those two seasons the Sox came north and the team had a decent Milwaukee fan base--as is the case today, fans with a Sox jones could still listen to games on Chicago radio. There was also the school of thought that said Chicago fans too afraid to traipse through the sketchy neighborhoods around Comiskey felt safer coming here.
So now it's Cubs fans that Miller Park denizens have learned to despise, the rivalry's intensity seeming to have died down of late as the northsiders are no longer series NL Central contenders. Meanwhile at "The Cell" this weekend, the Brewers and White Sox played an entertaining series, free of most of the acrimony of years gone by.