Thursday, April 25, 2013

"George Webb Predicts..."

Last night, the Brewers fell to the Padres, ending their winning streak at 9 games. There has been much attention in the press about local hamburger chain George Webb and its promise of free burgers if the Brewers win twelve in a row.

This promise has been tested only once, in 1987, when "Team Streak" started the season 13-0 and George Webb gave out 168,194 free hamburgers.

Many Milwaukeeans know that the promise goes back to the Braves days, but it actually started, as so much of Milwaukee's baseball history, with our Brews.

George Webb opened his first hamburger parlor on the corner of Ogden and Van Buren Streets in Milwaukee in May of 1948.

The original George Webb restaurant on Ogden Street

A huge baseball fan and proud local booster, Webb almost instantly began predicting in his ads that the Brewers would win 17 games in a row, although without the promise of a 100% pure beef payoff. If seventeen games seems excessive, consider that only a couple decades earlier the Brewers had won 21 straight.

I don't have any photographic evidence of this (yet), but I know that Webb's confident prediction was posted in his restaurant.

By the time the the Braves came to town in 1953, Webb's restaurants, now franchised, continued his support of the local team. Webb did scale back the prediction, however, to eleven straight wins.

Webb eventually settled on 12 as the magic number. Although the Braves never reached it, they came close on many occassions. In 1953 they got to eight, and in 1954 they hit ten wins (three times!). In April of 1956, the Braves rattled off eleven wins in a row, and Webb made his first offer of free hamburgers. He agreed to give away 10,000 burgers if the Braves could make it all the way to an even dozen. Webb and his wife Evelyn returned home early from a vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas when the streak hit ten so they could be in Milwaukee for the event, which was sadly not to be.

Webb died in March, 1957, but his prediction (and promise) lived on. When the Braves moved south and a new Brewers club came to Milwaukee, the old claim of a dozen straight victories was revived.

Those new Brewers also came close several times—close enough in 1979 that the hamburger chain had signs printed up, with a blank space for the date—but never quite made it either.

Until April 19, 1987.

Finally, the prediction had come true, nearly forty years after George's first boast.

Amid all the celebration of the Brew Crew's 12-0 start to the season, George Webb's hamburger payout even made the front page of the Milwaukee Journal:

George Webb distributed coupons for the free burgers:

I used to know Milwaukeeans who had those in their scrapbooks years later.

Since then, the pickings have been pretty slim. Even during the dark days of the 1990s, George Webb kept the faith:

George Webb "still" predicts? Tells you something about their impressions of the Brewers at the time. Perhaps because of that, another Brewer-related promotion was added in the 1990s, one with a target that the Crew have been able to meet more regularly. When the Brewers score five or more runs in a game, George Webb offers six burgers for $5.

That happens with some regularity these days, thanks to the Brewers' sluggers.

Tonight, the Brewers start a series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Time to start another streak - this time, it's 12 for sure!

And when it finally happens again, and you're lining up outside George Webb for your free burger, remember: it all started, as so much of Milwaukee's baseball legacy does, with the Brews.

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