On That Midnight Train to Georgia

After 13 seasons, the Milwaukee Braves “struck the Wigwam” and headed south to Atlanta for the ’66 season. Lou Perini — who brought the Braves from Boston in ’53 — sold the club to the Chicago based LaSalle Corporation, led by William Bartholomay, in ‘62. Despite phenomenal attendance in the ‘50s and respectable turnstile counts in the ‘60s, the new owners saw no room for economic growth in the “Brew City.”

The new ownership foresaw television as a major revenue stream that would make the franchise profitable. Unfortunately, Milwaukee was doomed to be a small media market in perpetuity. The franchise could not penetrate the Chicago market to the south and the Twins had captured the airways to the west. Thus, the untapped Southeastern market was too alluring to pass up.

cloninger 10cloninger back10

As with the Twins, and the four expansion teams in ’61 and ’62, Topps didn’t create a hypothetical cap emblem for the new Georgia entry. Cards in the first four series consist, mostly, of head shots without caps or blanked out logos. Also, some players are pictured in profile or with upturned heads designed to obscure the Milwaukee “M.” Since the template for the ’66 cards featured only the team nickname, collectors had to turn over card #10 — in the numerical sequence — to see that Tony Cloninger was the first Atlanta Brave.

I found a few of the headshot cards to be interesting. Clay Carroll ignores Satchel Paige’s advice and “looks backward” in this sweaty pose, with his oily pompadour mussed up by a phantom cap. Mack Jones’ profile would have made a nice silhouette for his mother’s broach. Also, Mike de la Hoz sports an Indians vest jersey complete with a “fat-burner” undershirt. By the way, Mike was a speaker on the Cuban Baseball Panel at SABR 46 in Miami. He was kind enough to sign my “Mike de la Hoz” endorsed glove.

If you are one of the hardy few who have read my other “first card” posts, you know that Topps was determined not to show the logo of the teams’ previous cities. I assume they didn’t want to confuse the young collectors. However, Topps sent mixed signals when it came to the League Leaders cards in ’66. Tony Cloninger and Hank Aaron maintain the Milwaukee “M” on their caps, but the team name is shown as Atlanta.

ken johnson 466

It was probably May or June before a “Hotlanta” youth “ripped wax” to find a true Atlanta major leaguer. Ken Johnson (#466) show ups in the fifth series wearing the script “A” on his cap. Other players with spring training photos depicting the “A” include: manager Bobby Bragan, Gene Oliver, Chi Chi Olivo and the Braves Rookie Stars (immortals Herb Hippauf and Arnie Umbach).

aaron

Fortunately, Topps waited until the sixth series to issue the Henry Aaron card (#500). “Hammerin’ Hank” was spared the indignity of being airbrushed or depicted sans cap.

rookie stars

Another Atlanta player shows up on Topps Rookie Stars card in the final series. The Braves’ Pat Garrett (who should have been paired with Angels’ rookie Billy “The Kid” Kelso#) is teamed with the Angels’ Jackie Warner.

This coupling provides a perfect segue to my next installment, which looks at the first cards for the ’66 California Angels. Coincidentally, Topps introduced the “team color” accents (same color for a team in each league) in ’66. Lavender was the color used for both the “new’ teams.

Sources:

Lou PeriniSaul Wisnia, SABR’s Bio Project.

Trading Card Database

 

# I made up “The Kid” as a nickname for Bill Kelso.

 

Author: Tim Jenkins

Sports memorablilia collector with Seattle teams emphasis. HOF autographs, baseball cards and much more. Teacher for over 30 years. Attended games at 35 different MLB parks.

4 thoughts on “On That Midnight Train to Georgia”

  1. Very cool piece, just like the others in your series. Nice to be reminded that Hank didn’t have to airbrushed. That the Brewers have been successful belies the Braves’ owership’s claim that the Milwaukee market wasn’t up to snuff.

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  2. The “team color” concept (where all the players on a team had the same color card) was actually started in 1964, but some colors were used more often than others: the Yankees, Twins, Reds, Senators, Colt .45s, Angels and Indians all had black cards, while the Giants had the only orange cards and the A’s had the only purple cards. In 1965 they refined it down to 10 colors overall with two teams (one in each league) sharing each color. This was the policy they continued up through 1969.

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  3. Since you brought up Mike de la Hoz and the SABR convention in Miami, I like to tell the story of how I asked him to sign a brand new book about Cuban players – and I asked him in Spanish. Mike shot back, “What, don’t you speak English?” I protested, “Of course I speak English!” Then he signed the book.

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