It’s happened only twice in franchise history. But now it's one game away from happening again. The Brewers, who have won 11 games in a row, have a chance to make it 12 straight on Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And then it's free burger time from George Webb.
Can you imagine the bedlam that will ensue?
It will be far, far bigger than when the Brewers won 13 games in a row to start the 1987 season – the first successful burger streak.
Personally, I remember that day pretty well. My family waited in line at the George Webb restaurant on Teutonia Avenue for what felt like forever, but we got our burgers.
Where did this relationship between burgers and baseball begin? Blame George Webb, the founding father of Milwaukee's longstanding 24-hour eatery for creating this Pavlovian reaction.
As a restaurateur dating to the 1930s, Webb had a passion for baseball and followed the old Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. Each year, he would predict the Brewers would win 17 consecutive games. Even though the minor league team couldn't live up to the lofty goal, Webb realized the value in this type of publicity.
When the National League Braves left Boston for Milwaukee in 1953, Webb was at it again. This time he put his prediction in print, taking out newspaper advertisements and creating billboards for his restaurants. He printed napkins that read: "George Webb's predicts the Braves will win 12 straight games."
It was pure genius in an age when marketing was better known as an act of grocery-shopping than self-promoting.
When the American League Brewers were born out of bankruptcy court in 1970, Webb capitalized once more on the winning formula. Each year, Webb's cried wolf. Each year, patrons, like wolves, salivated at the notion of a free burger.
In the 1970s, Milwaukee reached 10 straight wins on three separate occasions, only to fall short of the promise. Tempted again in 1987, the Brewers opened the season with nine straight wins when they began an historic and memorable homestand at County Stadium against the Texas Rangers.
A Friday night crowd of more than 41,000 were treated to an easy 10-2 win for victory number 10. Another 39,000-plus witnessed a 4-3 thriller in a Saturday matinee. That was 11. But on a sun-soaked Easter Sunday, the long anticipated giveaway was about to slip away when the Brewers trailed, 4-1, heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Then, in dramatic fashion, the Brewers rallied behind a three-run home run from Rob Deer and a two-run blast off the bat of Dale Sveum, sending the club to a 6-4 win and 24,019 fans in attendance and thousands others tuned to their radio to the nearest George Webb’s.
Three days after the record performance, Webb's distributed free hamburgers throughout its 42 restaurants in Southeastern Wisconsin. In an eight-hour period, Webb's served more than 168,194 free hamburgers to celebratory fans, who stood in long lines on a rainy day in April.
The Great Giveaway of 1987
- Ordered more than 25,000 pounds of ground beef and 173,000 hamburger buns
- Used 673 gallons of catsup and 286 gallons of brown mustard
- Topped the burgers with 2,868 pounds of onions and 367,180 slices of pickles
The Crew pulled off the stomach-filling feat only once since then – but they did it in the grandest, most dramatic way possible, taking an eight-game winning streak into the playoffs in 2018 and keeping it going through a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies as well as a Game 1 NCLS win over the Dodgers. They may not have clinched the pennant that postseason, but they did clinch a solid consolation prize: free burgers. A total of 90,000 burgers, to be exact, along with 100,000 free burger vouchers as well.
And now we're hungry for more.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.