(Note: As a sports fan and aspiring sports writer, I find it frustrating to read reviews of sports books by writers who do not seem to enjoy sports as much as myself. I have decided to review all of the sports books I read, which is usually one or two a month, to help out others who are also avid readers and want a different perspective in their reviews. I hope this helps.)
Half baseball book, half love letter to the city of Milwaukee.
That one sentence best describes John Kilma's Bushville Wins!.
The book is about the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and their unlikely World Series triumph over the juggernaut New York Yankees.
Kilma chronicles the journey from Boston to Milwaukee, and the way the Milwaukee fans fell in love with the Braves where "between 60,000 to 80,000 fans partied at the train station and on the parade route," and how the fans continued to pack the stadium day after day, with a little help from Fred Miller and The High Life.
He touches on the issues of building a winning team, finding the right manager, racial issues, which were very prevalent at the time, the signing of Henry Aaron, and of course the wild-drinking ways of the Braves players, especially Eddie Mathews and Bob Buhl.
While Mr. Kilma does an excellent job of bringing those teams and the individual games to life, he does perhaps an even better job of bringing out the love affair Milwaukee had with the Braves.
Kilma touches on the way Milwaukee welcomed the team to town the first time they pulled in from Boston, and how they supported the Braves with ticket sales and riotous support. Many national writers and baseball people were skeptical of baseball succeeding in a small city such as Milwaukee, but Kilma explains how it not only survived, but thrived in the small market.
There is a chapter or two dedicated to the 1956 Braves team, which came very close to winning a World Series, but this book is mostly about the 1957 season. Kilma focuses on how new coach, Fred Haney, came into Spring Training and changed the culture of the team, while still maintaining their hard-drinking, fan-friendly identity.
He tells of how they sustained a lead throughout most of the season, which carried right into seven games of the World Series. On the biggest stage, and with the first televised games from Milwaukee's County Stadium being shown, Kilma details how the city shut down for the Braves. The '57 Braves didn't just capture the imagination of Milwaukee fans, they were the darling of the baseball world.
Perhaps the biggest impact the Bushville Braves had, besides taking down Berra, Mantle and Stengel's Yankees, was beginning the Westward migration of baseball teams. Brewers owner Lou Perini was a trailblazer when he moved the Braves. Walter O'Malley would soon do the same, moving his Dodgers to Los Angeles, followed closely by the Giants.
While it is obvious that the team profiled in this book later became the Atlanta Braves, this book is more about the "Milwaukee" part than the "Braves" part.
Bushville Wins! is an entertaining read for baseball fans, but a must-read for Milwaukee fans. Whether you are old enough to remember the Milwaukee Braves, or are just a big Brewers fan, this book is a Milwaukee baseball story that was long overdue in being told.