Milwaukee County Stadium

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Baseball Parks of Milwaukee/Milwaukee County Stadium
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Milwaukee County Stadium

Milwaukee County Stadium (mainly known simply as County Stadium locally) was a multi-purpose stadium in Wisconsin, located in the city of Milwaukee. Opened in 1953, it was primarily a baseball park for the major league Milwaukee Braves and Brewers. It was also used for football games, ice skating, religious services, concerts, and other large events. Its final season was in 2000, when it was replaced by the adjacent Miller Park.

Construction

Milwaukee County Stadium was originally built as a home for the Milwaukee Brewers of the minor league American Association, replacing the outdated and deteriorating Borchert Field. Both locations would be influenced by the future Milwaukee County freeway system, as Borchert Field's footprint would be cleared to make way for Interstate 43, with County Stadium located southwest of the interchange with the Stadium Freeway and Interstate 94.

The city of Milwaukee also hoped to use the new facility to attract a Major League Baseball franchise (the city had been considered a potential relocation target for years), and in this respect their efforts were immediately successful. In fact, the minor league Brewers would never get a chance to play at the new stadium.

Major League Baseball

Milwaukee Braves (1953–1965)

Even before it was completed, the new "Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium" drew the interest of major league clubs. The St. Louis Browns, who had played in Milwaukee in 1901, applied for permission to relocate back to the city they had left half a century before. The Boston Braves, the parent club of the Brewers, blocked the proposed move. The Braves had long been struggling at the gate in Boston, and rumors of them relocating had been floating for some time. The move to keep Milwaukee available as a new home indicated to many observers that the Braves would move to Milwaukee themselves.

Three weeks before the beginning of the 1953 season, and right before the new stadium was ready to open, the Braves made it official, applying for permission to relocate. The other National League owners agreed, with the team becoming the Milwaukee Braves. The Braves' first regular season home game was on April 14 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Bill Bruton hit a 10th inning home run to win the game (3-2) in dramatic style. In their first season in Milwaukee, the Braves set the National League attendance record of 1.8 million.

On July 12, 1955, County Stadium hosted the 22nd All-Star Game. The National League won, 6–5, on a 12th-inning home run by Stan Musial. The Braves hosted back-to-back World Series in 1957 and 1958, both against the New York Yankees. The Braves defeated the Yankees in seven games in 1957, but the Yankees returned the favor the next year.

The stadium continued to be the National League's top draw until 1959 when the Dodgers, who had moved to Los Angeles two years before, overtook the Braves (both in the stands and on the field). In the early 1960s attendance fell, along with the Braves' standings, amid an unstable ownership situation. The Milwaukee Braves used the stadium through the 1965 season when new owners, seeking a larger television market, moved the team to Atlanta.

Chicago White Sox (1968–1969)

In an effort to return Major League Baseball to Milwaukee after the departure of the Braves, local businessman and minority Braves owner Bud Selig brought other teams to play at County Stadium, beginning with a 1967 exhibition game between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The exhibition game attracted more than 51,000 spectators, so Selig's group contracted with Sox owner Arthur Allyn to host nine Chicago White Sox home games at County Stadium in 1968.

Selig's experiment was highly successful – those nine games drew 264,297 fans. In Chicago that season, the Sox drew 539,478 fans to their remaining 72 home dates. In just a handful of games, the Milwaukee crowds accounted for nearly one-third of the total attendance at White Sox games. In light of this success, Selig and Allyn agreed that County Stadium would host Sox home games again the next season.

Despite the attendance success of the White Sox games, Selig was unable to attract an expansion team in the 1969 expansion. However, one of the teams founded in that expansion would later work in Selig's favor.

Milwaukee Brewers (1970–2000)

Not discouraged by the setback, Selig instead bought the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy court. The Pilots had been a 1969 expansion team. The Seattle franchise had serious stadium and financial issues. In the spring of 1970, Milwaukee had baseball again, and County Stadium had a new tenant.

The new Milwaukee Brewers, named for the American Association club for which County Stadium was originally built over 20 years earlier, called it home from 1970 to 2000. The sale occurred during spring training for 1970, and happened so fast that Selig could not get new uniforms made. Instead, they ripped the Pilots insignia off the pre-existing uniforms, and the Brewers adopted the Pilots' blue, white, and yellow instead of the red and navy blue that Selig originally wanted.

On July 15, 1975, County Stadium hosted its second All-Star Game. As in 1955, the National League beat the American League, this time 6–3. With an attendance of 51,480, it was the largest crowd at the stadium at that time. The Brewers were represented by George Scott and Hank Aaron, who had recently returned to Milwaukee in a trade with the Braves.

Aaron spent the last two years of his career in Milwaukee and hit his final home run at County Stadium, giving him a career total of 755, establishing at the time the career home run record he first took from Babe Ruth in 1974. Aaron's final home run took place in the 7th inning with a solo shot off California Angels right-hander Dick Drago on July 20, 1976, a game that the Brewers would win 6–2.

Replacement and demolition

By the 1990s, County Stadium was considered outdated, lacking the amenities (most notably luxury boxes) that generated additional revenue for teams. On July 11, 1992, Selig announced plans for a publicly financed replacement to be built adjacent to County Stadium, opening in time for the 1994 season. In the meantime, a demonstration luxury box was built in the stadium in order to demonstrate the viability of one to local politicians and the city's larger corporations. In addition, the stadium was the only one in MLB that lacked some sort of color videoboard (it used a monochrome 1980s Omega scoreboard).

The final major league game at County Stadium was on September 28, 2000; Warren Spahn threw out the first pitch to Del Crandall, and also in attendance were Willie Davis, Hank Aaron, and Robin Yount. The Brewers were defeated by the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 in that game. The stadium was demolished on February 21, 2001. Although most of the stadium site is now covered with parking for Miller Park, the site of the old infield was converted into a Little League park, and is now called Helfaer Field. On a picnic concourse next to the playing field of Helfaer Field, there is an outline of where home plate was at County Stadium and also a bronze marker in the nearby parking lot marking where Hank Aaron's 755th and final career home run landed.

Despite the stadium no longer existing, an abstract design of County Stadium is retained within Milwaukee's city flag (along with a former Braves logo which has changed to represent Native American origins), whose replacement has been debated for the last two decades.

Football

Green Bay Packers (1953–1994)

The National Football League's Green Bay Packers played two to four home games per year at Milwaukee County Stadium from 1953 to 1994. The Packers compiled a 76–47–3 (.615) regular season record at County Stadium over 42 seasons. It hosted at least one pre-season game annually during this time as well (except 1983), including the Upper Midwest Shrine Game. Financial considerations prompted the Packers to move some of their games to Milwaukee starting with the 1933 season, with one game played at Borchert Field. By 1995, multiple renovations to Lambeau Field made it more lucrative for the Packers to play their full home slate in Green Bay again for the first time since 1932. Former Milwaukee ticket holders were offered tickets at Lambeau to one pre-season game and games 2 and 5 of the regular season schedule, in what is referred to as the "Gold package."

County Stadium was partly responsible for Lambeau Field's existence, as it was not only intended to lure an MLB team to Milwaukee, but also to lure the Packers to Milwaukee full-time. As originally constructed, County Stadium was double the size of the Packers' then-home, City Stadium, leading the NFL to give the Packers an ultimatum—build a bigger stadium or move to Milwaukee. Green Bay responded with a referendum that resulted in a new City Stadium, which opened in September 1957.

Following the unsuccessful effort to lure the Packers to Milwaukee full-time, in 1965 city officials tried to lure an American Football League expansion team to play at County Stadium, but Packers head coach Vince Lombardi invoked the team's exclusive lease as well as sign an extension to keep some home games in Milwaukee until 1976. Nonetheless, city officials still pursued an AFL franchise, possibly to play at Marquette Stadium, but the AFL–NFL merger effectively quashed any chances of Milwaukee landing its own team.

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