Former Braves owner Bill Bartholomay, best known for moving the franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta, died on Wednesday night, according to the team. He was 91 years old.
An Illinois-based insurance broker, Bartholomay was the head of an ownership group that purchased the Braves in 1962. Although the Braves had drawn more than a million fans each season from 1953 (their first in Milwaukee) to 1961, attendance waned over the subsequent seasons despite solid on-the-field results. The Braves’ relationship with the local government deteriorated as well, with officials sensing that Bartholomay and company were intent on relocating to the Atlanta market.
Here’s an excerpt from SABR’s excellent retelling of the story:
Team president John McHale threatened to sue Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors chairman Eugene Grobschmidt for slander in 1964, and after the plans to move to Atlanta had been confirmed, Milwaukee city officials attempted to retain the franchise by filing lawsuits alleging antitrust violations, disregard of stadium lease agreements, and refusal to negotiate with prospective local buyers of the franchise. When the Braves ownership countersued, the county board rejected a cash settlement of $500,000 that would have allowed the franchise to move immediately to the Peach State.
Unsurprisingly, given that backdrop, the Braves drew fewer than 600,000 fans in 1965. The franchise then relocated to Atlanta in time for the 1966 season. Bartholomay would remain in charge until attendance slipped alongside the team’s play in the ’70s. That’s when Bartholomay’s group sold the franchise to Ted Turner for $11 million (nearly twice their original purchase price, of $6.2 million), ushering in a new era for the franchise that culminated with the Braves winning 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2015.
Bartholomay remained involved with the Braves after the sale, and he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2002. He was chairman of the Braves’ board of directors until 2003, at which point he transitioned to a chairman emeritus role.