On This Date in Sports August 16, 1970: On the Scoreboard

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 

The first-year Milwaukee Brewers were having trouble drawing fans, so one enterprising supporter named Milt Mason decided to climb the scoreboard to attract attention to the team. Mason decked out in lederhosen stayed on top of the scoreboard until the team dream more than 40,000. His stay lasted 40 days until bat day at County Stadium drew 44,387 against the Cleveland Indians. Mason climbed down the scoreboard as fans cheered, as the Brewers won 4-3.

The Milwaukee Brewers' poor attendance in their first season was partly due to the strange circumstances that led to their existence. Milwaukee had been the home of the Braves from 1953-1965. After the team left for Atlanta, the city tried to lure another team to play at County Stadium, which had tremendous fan support during the Braves hay day. After the Braves left, one of the team’s stockholders, Bud Selig, formed a group designed to bring a team back to Milwaukee. After failing to land one of four expansion teams in 1969, Selig attempted to buy the Chicago White Sox. Over a two-year period in 1968 and 1969, the White Sox played a handful of games in Milwaukee and drew better crowds than at Comiskey Park. However, American League owners vetoed Selig’s bid to move the White Sox, not losing its presence in the Windy City.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Pilots who entered the American League in 1969 found themselves in dire straits financially. The expansion team played in Sick’s Stadium, which was ill-suited for a major league team, and the team found itself in bankruptcy. If baseball in Seattle were going to work, it would need a new stadium, but it would take several years to build one, and Owner Dewey Soriano could not hold out that long. After being spurned on buying the White Sox, Bud Selig agreed to buy the Pilots and move them to Milwaukee. However, Selig found resistance as Washington’s Senators Warren Magnuson and Scoop Jackson pressured the American League to find local buyers.

When the team reported to spring training, it was unsure where they would play. Still known as the Seattle Pilots, the future of the franchise hung in the balance throughout March. Owners had approved a move to Milwaukee, but the City of Seattle had gotten an injunction to block the move. As the season approached, Dewey Soriano declared bankruptcy stating he did not have any money to pay the team. As the matter was fought in court, the team’s equipment truck was parked in Utah awaiting instructions where to go; Seattle or Milwaukee. General Manager Marvin Milkes testified if the team missed payroll, all players would become free agents leaving Seattle without a team anyway. This testimony allowed the Pilots to declare bankruptcy, which cleared the move just days before the season began.

Without any time to market and sell tickets in the off-season, the Milwaukee Brewers named after the previous team’s in the city dating back to the 19th Century and in the minor leagues faced a daunting task at filling the ballpark. The Brewers did get 36,107 fans for their season opener, a 12-0 loss to the California Angels on April 7th. The rest of the season struggled to get over 10,000 into County Stadium.

Hoping to rally Milwaukee behind the Brewers, a 69-year-old fan named Milt Mason decided to climb the scoreboard. With the support of Brewers ownership, Mason had a specially constructed trailer placed on top of the scoreboard at County Stadium. The trailer had all the comforts of home, including a television, phone exercise bike, and full kitchen. Mason became a cheerleader during games as he vowed to stay on the board until the Brewers drew more than 40,000. In total, he stayed in his perch for 40 days until a Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Indians when a bat day giveaway drew 44,387 fans. Milt Mason climbed down to the field 30 feet using a rope during the game, receiving a standing ovation. Milt Mason and the Brewers faithful had a thrilling game for the occasion as they rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the eighth inning on a two-out bases-clearing double by Danny Walton to tie the game. The Brew Crew would walk off a winner in the ninth inning when Gus Gil singled home Roberto Pena to win the game 4-3.

The Brewers would complete their first season with a record of 67-95, which put them in a fourth-place tie with the Kansas City Royals, who also began play in 1969. Their record was better than the White Sox, who finished dead last at 56-106. Three years after he rallied the support of the Brewers, Milt Mason died after a long illness. The Brewers decided to pay tribute to Mason by recreating his trailer and a character named Bernie Brewer, who would slide down into a beer stein after every home run. Originally just a fan with a mustache, Bernie Brewer retired briefly in 1984, only to be revived as a full costume caricature in 1993. At one time, Bernie Brewer even had a female companion named Bonnie Brewer, who would often tease opposing teams. The tradition of sliding into a Beer Stein remained in place until County Stadium’s final season in 2000. When Miller Park opened in 2001, it was decided to allow Bernie to slide onto a platform, fearing he encouraged underage drinking. However, many Milwaukee fans pine for the old stein.