(Up on the perch; Image: diamondsandrouge.wordpress.com)
The Milwaukee Brewers are throwing a ‘Birthday Weekend at Bernie’s’ this weekend in honor of the 40th anniversary of Bernie Brewer, the team’s second official mascot after Owgust, the Barrel Man. Not everyone knows the origin story of Bernie Brewer, however. In fact, Bernie was inspired by a real person, a devoted fan named Milt Mason. Mason, at age 69, saw that the Brewers were having great difficulty drawing fans to County Stadium during their inaugural season of 1970. Major League Baseball was back in Brew City, but it would take some convincing to get people back out to the ballpark and embrace a new franchise and the American League after the NL Braves left about five years earlier. Mason decided to take a stand to rally crowds for the Brewers.
Mason, clad in German ethnic attire (something resembling lederhosen, high socks, suspenders and a hat), scaled the scoreboard at County Stadium and would not come down until the team drew a crowd of at least 40,000. He lived in a trailer up there starting in late June, 1970, becoming a cult hero. Mason apparently had permission from the Brewers to pull off this stunt, reportedly enjoying a comfortable living up on the scoreboard, including access to a stove and other amenities. Yet it took 40 days for baseball fans in Milwaukee to respond to his plea, on Bat Day, August 16. That day, a crowd of 44,000+ filed into County Stadium and Milt Mason slid down a rope from his overlook, reportedly injuring his hands in the process. The fledgling Brewers knew they had a spark on their hands, and honored Mason by creating the character of Bernie Brewer. Mason, sadly, died only three years later in 1973, but not before he was recognized as the original Bernie Brewer and solidified a new baseball tale for the city of Milwaukee.
Bernie Brewer, from the 70s into the 80s, was a man in ethnic attire costumed to resemble Milt Mason. Bonnie Brewer, a companion, also appeared for many years. Yet it wasn’t until the second coming of Bernie Brewer that he became a full-body-costumed character for the Brewers. Bernie was ‘retired’ in 1984 when the Brewers put up a sound tower, removing Bernie’s chalet and the mug into which he would dive upon the event of a Brewers homerun or victory. In 1993, due to fan demand, Bernie returned, sans Bonnie, and he was now the mustachioed man with which we are familiar. Bernie Brewer in his current form is a bit more attractive than some previous incarnations, though. Especially the eyes.
These days, of course, Bernie Brewer appears on all kinds of merchandise and is a fixture at games at Miller Park and even occasionally on the road. The cartoonish Bernie of today with the robust 10-pound mustache is great, especially for the kids, but it’s also neat to look back on the history of Bernie, his beer-diving days (which absolutely SHOULD RETURN), and the inspiration for this character. Milt Mason, a man who put this franchise on the map in Milwaukee, whether directly or indirectly, is a name Brewers fans should know, and pass it on to those who may not be aware of the influential true story behind Bernie Brewer.
(Bonnie Brewer; Image: puttingoutthevibe.wordpress.com)