By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Aug 29, 2003 at 5:31 AM

{image1} It is, perhaps, the ultimate tease in Milwaukee.

For more than 50 years, the George Webb Restaurant chain has boldly promised a payoff to its patrons if the local professional baseball team could sustain an unblemished string of success for 12 consecutive games.

History has proven it to be a greater feat than most could imagine. Nonetheless, each time the club gets within striking distance; people's mouths begin to water.

The Milwaukee Brewers are better than half way to equaling or bettering its record for consecutive victories and Webb's, as it did 16 years ago, is preparing to give away free hamburgers, if the team reaches 12 straight wins following Saturday's game against the Cubs in Chicago. In all fairness, though, Webb's executives remain tight-lipped as to the corporation's exact plan of attack.

"Certainly, we're not going to let the cat of the bag at this time," Dave Stamm, president of George Webb Corporation said Wednesday. "But, I can say that there would be a payoff if the Brewers reach 12 straight wins. We'll make an announcement at a press conference and I'm sure it would be several days after that when we'd have a distribution.

"For us, the excitement really started Tuesday night (when the Brewers won their eighth straight game). Now, a number of media outlets are starting to talk about it."

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 rather than self-promoting.

When the American League Brewers were born out of bankruptcy court in 1970, Webb capitalized once more on its winning formula. Each year, Webb's cried wolf. Each year, patrons, like wolves, salivated at the notion of a free burger.

In the 1970s, the Brewers 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 over 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.

But 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 their nearest George Webb's.

Three days after the record performance, Webb's distributed free hamburgers throughout its 42 restaurant-chain in Southeastern Wisconsin. In an eight hour period, Webb's served more than 168,194 free hamburgers to celebratory fans, which stood in long lines on a rainy day in April.

"In 1987, we planned to distribute about 112,000 hamburgers," Stamm said. "Obviously, we exceeded that figure, but we were prepared as I'm sure we will be this time around."

So, Webb's and the Brewers are at another crossroad. The team is poised to climb out of the National League Central Division cellar with a triumphant run this week. And Webb's is ready to cook its buns off next week.

"Our strategy has been in place for a long time," Stamm added. "Our position has always been to stoke the fires once the Brewers got to eight straight wins.

"It's a win-win situation for all of Milwaukee. Anytime you get some good PR like this, it's great for everyone. The baseball team is remarkably getting better as the season wears on. I kind of hold Ned Yost and the Brewers in a higher regard than in the beginning of the year."

So will many other baseball fans, if the Brewers can string their luck to 12 on Saturday.

{image2} George Webb's Facts & Figures
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

Brewers Best Winning Streaks

  1. 13 - April 6-20, 1987
  2. 10 - April 30-May 9, 1988
  3. 10 - July 11-22, 1979
  4. 10 - June 9-19, 1978
  5. 10 - June 8-18, 1973
  6. 9 - July 25-August 1, 1997
  7. 9 - August 19-27, 2003

Myth or Truth
Why Two Clocks at Webb's Restaurants?

There are a number of theories about why George Webb Restaurant's have two clocks on the walls.

The best one is told by Jim Webb, the son of the founder:

The original restaurant was founded in 1948 at the corner of Ogden and Van Buren streets. George Webb customers would wait for a streetcar right outside the eatery, and would have an interested in knowing what time it was, so as to not miss the trolley. George Webb had several clocks on the wall for that very reason. The clocks showed different times, representing places across the world.

As the story goes, the streetcar rattled so much when it rolled past the restaurant that most of the clocks eventually fell of the wall. You guessed it, two remained. George never replaced the fallen clocks, but decided to put two clocks in each new restaurant he opened.

Myth or truth? Next time you're at Webb's, make a point to ask. We're sure the servers have had to answer that one more than once ... an hour.