As I was watching the Wisconsin Badgers pummel the Miami Hurricanes 35-3 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium in December, I got to thinking about all the great moments other Wisconsin sports teams had at the original Yankee Stadium.
The new Yankee Stadium replaced “The House That Ruth Built” in 2009. That original stadium was considered to be the cathedral of baseball while it existed from 1923 through 2008. The stadium also hosted other sporting events such as college football, as well as NFL football (the New York Giants played there from 1956-1973), plus their were also a number of great boxing matches at the venerable stadium.
In terms of great moments for a Wisconsin sports team, it all started in 1957, when the Milwaukee Braves played the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Game 1 was played at Yankee Stadium and the Braves did not get off to a great start, as Whitey Ford out-pitched Warren Spahn and the Yankees won 3-1 in front of 69,476 fans. But in Game 2, Lew Burdette got the Braves back to even in the series, as he pitched a beauty as Milwaukee won 4-2, as 65,202 fans attended.
But that performance by Burdette was just the beginning of even more excellence as the series continued.
The Braves then won two out of three games played at Milwaukee County Stadium to take a 3-2 lead in the series as it headed back to Yankee Stadium. One of those wins in Milwaukee was another great performance by Burdette in Game 5, as he shut out the Yanks 1-0 in a great pitching duel with Ford.
In Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, New York evened the series at 3-3, as the Yankees edged the Braves 3-2 in front of 61,408 fans.
That set up a winner-take-all situation in Game 7, as the Braves were putting out Burdette on the mound again versus Don Larsen. Milwaukee was led offensively by Bob Hazle, Del Crandall and Hank Aaron, who each had two hits, while Burdette was magnificent on the mound. Crandall hit the only homer of the game, as the Braves won 5-0.
Burdette had his third straight complete game win in the series and his second straight shutout. In all, No. 33 was 3-0 in the series, pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings, had an ERA of .067 and was named the MVP of the World Series.
On this offensive side, Aaron was fantastic in the series, as No. 44 hit .393, plus knocked out three homers and drove in seven runs. Third baseman Eddie Mathews added a homer (the game-winner in Game 4) and four RBIs.
As it has turned out, 1957 was the only year the city of Milwaukee has had a World Series champion. And that clinching victory happened at Yankee Stadium.
Then there was the 1962 NFL Championship Game played at Yankee Stadium between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. This would be the second straight year the two teams had played for the NFL title, as the Packers beat the G-Men at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) 37-0 in the 1961 NFL Championship Game, as Paul Hornung scored 19 of those points by himself.
The environment at Yankee Stadium was reminiscent of the conditions at the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better know as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was a bitterly cold day (13 degrees), plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour, which made things feel much colder.
Even with the blustery weather, right guard/kicker Jerry Kramer was awestruck as he walked into the storied stadium.
“It was really a highlight for me walking into Yankee Stadium,” Kramer said. “It was an emotional experience for me. All the great fights and the World Series games that had gone on there. You had the statues of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in center field.
“You also looked into the crowd and saw the sophisticated sports fans who were booing your ass. Then you look across the line of scrimmage and you see [Andy] Robustelli, [Jim] Katcavage, [Sam] Huff, [Dick] Lynch and that whole group, you definitely get pumped.”
Kramer wasn’t the only one pumped on the Green Bay sideline. Being at Yankee Stadium was also a homecoming for head coach Vince Lombardi, as he was a New York City native and was the offensive coordiantor for the Giants from 1954-1958.
“We knew how badly coach Lombardi wanted to win that ball game,” Kramer said. “And we knew the Giants had been embarrassed the year before in Green Bay. We knew the Giants were going to be loaded for bear that day. But we also knew coach Lombardi desperately wanted a victory, and so we wanted to win for him and much as ourselves.”
Kramer was excited for another reason. No. 64 had missed the 1961 NFL title game due to a broken ankle/leg suffered midway in the 1961 season. But Kramer went on to have his best season in the NFL in 1962.
Kramer was named first team All-Pro by AP, NEA and UPI, while No. 64 was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.
Not only was Kramer exceptional playing right guard for the Packers, but he also took over the placekicking duties of the Packers during the season after Hornung suffered a knee injury.
For the season, Kramer scored 65 points, which included being 9-for-11 in field goal attempts.
The NFL title game in the Bronx turned out to be extremely physical in arctic-like conditions. The Packers rushed for 148 yards in the game, with fullback Jimmy Taylor getting 85 of those yards, as well as the only touchdown scored by the Packers.
Taylor and middle linebacker Sam Huff of the Giants brawled all game long. Huff made it a personal mission to stop Taylor, and he hit the bruising fullback after the whistle a number of times in the game. Talking about that confrontation, Kramer said, “Huff probably would have gotten arrested for assaulting Taylor today.”
After the victory by the Packers, middle linebacker Ray Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.
Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. Besides blocking very well and recovering a fumble by Taylor, Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions, with the gusty wind hampering his efforts.
Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers. After the game, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.
Then there was the 1981 American League Division Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Yankees. The 1981 season was a strike year in baseball and the season was split into halves. The Yankees won the AL East in the first half of the season, while the Brew Crew won the AL East in the second half of the season. That set up this playoff series to find out who would go on to the AL Championship Series.
1981 was the first time the Brewers had ever played in the postseason. The season was set up by a big offseason trade that saw Milwaukee acquire relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich and catcher Ted Simmons from the St, Louis Cardinals.
Fingers was awesome all season long as he was 6-3 with 28 saves, plus had a phenomenal 1.04 ERA, which led the Brewers to the second-half AL East title. That performance garnered Fingers the AL MVP award, as well as the Cy Young honor in the AL.
In the series against the Yanks, the Brewers did not play very well in the first two games at County Stadium in Milwaukee, as they were beaten 5-3 in Game 1 and then 3-0 in Game 2. That meant all the Yankees needed was just one win at Yankee Stadium to move on to the ALCS.
But the Brewers battled back in Game 3. Randy Lerch went up against Tommy John and allowed just one run over six innings. Fingers came in to finish the game in the seventh inning, and although he allowed two runs, the Brewers won 5-3. Fingers got the victory, while Simmons (three RBIs) and Paul Molitor each had a homer.
In Game 4, Vuckovich allowed only one unearned run over five innings, as the bullpen took over after that, as Jamie Easterly, Jim Slaton, Bob McClure and Fingers finished it out, as the Brewers won 2-1. Vuckovich got the win, while Fingers got the save. Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper each had a RBI.
In Game 5, the Brewers started Moose Haas, who would be going up against Ron Guidry. The Brewers got off to a nice start, as they led 2-0. Gorman Thomas hit a homer and Robin Yount had three hits, but the Yankees stormed back and won 7-3.
Still, it was a great experience for the Brewers, as it set the stage for 1982, when Milwaukee advanced to the World Series under manager Harvey Kuenn, who took over for Buck Rodgers early in that season.
The Badgers had their way against the Canes at the new Yankee Stadium on this past December with running back Jonathan Taylor leading the way, as No. 23 rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown.
The game was attended by just 37,821 fans, but most were Wisconsin backers who enjoyed another great moment in the Big Apple. The bowl victory was the fifth straight for the Badgers and gave head coach Paul Chryst a perfect 4-0 record in bowl games.
The Badgers are now 16-14 in their bowl history.
The bottom line is that both old Yankee Stadium and new Yankee Stadium have given the state of Wisconsin some great sports memories. The memories may continue still, as the Brewers are now in the National League and it’s entirely possible that they might match up one day in the near future with the Yankees in the World Series.
That would be apropos. Especially if the Brewers clinched the series at Yankee Stadium.