By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 15, 2009 at 8:18 AM
Bill Povletich is likely familiar to readers for his film about Hank Aaron's first pro season in Wisconsin, "Henry Aaron's Summer Up North," which we wrote about a few years back.

Since then the Mequon native and UW-Oshkosh alum has peppered his resume with, among other things, Braves projects. He was an executive producer of TV's "Milwaukee Braves: The Golden Legacy" and he was the man behind the PBS documentary "A Braves New World," which premieres on MPTV on Sunday, March 15.

He's also written a book on the Packers and made films about Pol Pot and Rwanda.

His latest work is the book "Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak" ($24.95 in paperback) for Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's an eye-catchingly illustrated walk through the years the Braves spent in Milwaukee -- with a focus on the civic and financial effects of the team's arrival and departure.

We asked Povletich about it. Can you tell me a bit about how you came to the write the book?

BP: Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, I was familiar with the headline-grabbing exploits of Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn, but knew very little about the drama and nuances of the team's legacy in Milwaukee. The Braves era in Milwaukee was a part of my conscience much like Lombardi's Green Bay Packers -- "If you think the Brewers and Packers are good today, you should've seen them when," I was constantly reminded. After completing my first book, "Green Bay Packers: Legends in Green and Gold," which told the team's story through their third Super Bowl victory, I focused on the Braves. So when the Wisconsin Historical Society Press asked me to chronicle such an influential chapter in Wisconsin history, I jumped at the opportunity.

OMC: This is just the latest in a string of Braves projects. Can you tell us a bit about the others and how this one enriches the group of projects?

BP: My growing resume of Milwaukee Braves projects seems to have been somewhat of a pleasantly, inevitable destiny. Ironically enough, the initial seeds for "Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak" were indirectly planted way back at the 2005 Wisconsin Film Festival.

Kathy Borkowski, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press' Editorial Director, was in attendance during the screening of my documentary film "Henry Aaron's Summer Up North." That documentary chronicled the living legend's struggles, setbacks and successes in one important, if not trying, summer of minor league baseball in the northwoods community of Eau Claire back in 1952.

So, when the opportunity to write an article for the Wisconsin Magazine of History presented itself, Kathy remembered me and the "When the Braves of Bushville Ruled Baseball: Celebrating Andy Pafko and the 1957 Milwaukee Braves" article appeared in their Summer 2007 issue.

Since we both agreed there was a larger story to be told beyond the article, we immediately began collaborating on "Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak." During my early days of extensive research with members of the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association, I along with my "Henry Aaron's Summer Up North" producing partner Josh Adams, had the opportunity to produce a Fox Sports special on the 50th anniversary of the Braves World Series championship entitled "Milwaukee Braves: The Golden Legacy."

Since I was in the throes of writing the book at the time, it was a real thrill to talk with all of those legendary ballplayers in attendance, many of whom I was writing about on a daily basis, including Henry Aaron, Red Schoendienst and Del Crandall. Thanks to their unbridled cordialness, it was easy to understand why the bond between Milwaukee and the Braves was so special.

Another Milwaukee Braves project presented itself thanks to Kathy Borkowski and Michael Stevens at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. They were always looking for the right opportunity to collaborate with Milwaukee Public Television and knowing I had extensive experience producing award-winning documentaries for The History Channel, Discovery and Court TV, they felt translating the Braves story from page to screen might be the perfect fit.

Ironically enough, Raul Galvan at Milwaukee Public Television was a fan of "Henry Aaron's Summer Up North" as well. So, the opportunity quickly presented itself to produce a documentary that coincided with the book.

"A Braves New World" focuses on how the franchise's relocation from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 served as the catalyst for baseball to re-examine itself as a big business -- resulting in a flurry of franchises relocating west, multi-league expansion and teams cooperating with cities to build civically funded stadiums and tax subsidies. The documentary includes on-camera interviews with former Braves players Del Crandall, Ernie Johnson, Phil Niekro, Felix Mantilla and Joe Torre, team executive Bill Bartholomay, as well as Milwaukee Brewers Executive Vice President Bob Quinn, who is the grandson of Milwaukee Braves general manager John Quinn.

OMC: Did those projects help in the creation of the book?

BP: By immersing myself into the world of the Milwaukee Braves for approximately three years, I was able to incorporate various aspects of the team's overall story into each individual project. The Wisconsin Magazine of History article really helped introduce me to the larger scope of the Braves transcending legacy throughout professional sports. Since the article focused primarily on the team's early years in Milwaukee, culminating with their 1957 world championship over the New York Yankees, a lot of the research from that project was helpful in my "Milwaukee Braves: The Golden Legacy" special.

Since the manuscript for "Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak" was submitted before production on the Milwaukee Public Television documentary began, the hundreds of books, magazine articles and newspaper clippings I had already researched for the book became quite helpful.

OMC: Was there a hole in the research or the book market that made a new history of the team important? Or is the book more of a reminder about what a great history the Braves have here in town?

BP: The Milwaukee Braves successes and failures on the field have been well chronicled, especially in Bob Buege's 1998 book, "The Milwaukee Braves: A Baseball Eulogy." However, the financial and civic ramifications behind the story of what truly brought the Braves to Milwaukee and subsequently forced them to leave was never truly chronicled in book form.

As much as the book is a reminder of all the good times and sad times between a city and its baseball team, it celebrates the transcending legacy which goes well beyond the heroics of Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Lou Burdette, Del Crandall, Joe Adcock and numerous others that donned a tomahawk-clad jersey. Their story deserves to be told to future generations.

OMC: While researching the book did you learn anything especially interesting about the team or the city; something that changed your notions?

BP: As I researched the Milwaukee Braves story beyond the box scores and game highlights, I became fascinated with the financial ramifications of the team's relocation from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 and subsequent departure for Atlanta in 1965. Their immediate success in the Upper Midwest revolutionized baseball.

The Dodgers and Giants relocating to California was a direct result of the Braves moving to Milwaukee. And what brought the Braves to Milwaukee also led them to Atlanta -- the lure of greater financial gain. These widely unknown origins on why today's cities are being held hostage for new, publicly funded stadiums under the threat of relocation deserved to be told in a book. Those origins became so fascinating on their own, they became the main focus of the Milwaukee Public Television documentary.

OMC: Although Milwaukee loves the Brewers, who have been here longer than the Braves ever were, does the city have a certain kind of relationship with the Braves?

BP: In the wake of World War II, Milwaukee was looking for an identity beyond being a blue-collar beer and industrial factory town. The arrival of the Braves to Milwaukee in 1953 was a cultural phenomenon. One fan equated it to the greatest thing to happen to Milwaukee since beer. A sportswriter considered Milwaukee County Stadium to be an insane asylum with bases. So, when you supported the Braves, you not only supported the baseball team, but Milwaukee's legitimacy as a "Big League" city in every sense of the term compared with the larger metropolises of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Plus, Wisconsin fans love supporting a winning franchise and for all 13 years the Braves were in Milwaukee, they did not have a losing season.

OMC: Are you working on any more Braves projects?

BP: None specifically at the moment, but the Braves story is close to my heart. So I'm sure I'll dive into another one soon.

OMC: What's next for you?

BP: Thanks to great organizations like the Wisconsin Historical Society Press and Milwaukee Public Television, these Milwaukee Braves projects have the opportunity to be told to a large audience interested in real stories about real people. Because they appreciate the integrity of telling truthful, compelling stories, I look forward to working with them in the future. Thankfully, Wisconsin has an unlimited collection of great people, historical events and destinations that deserve to be told, so the sky is the limit.


Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.