The Milwaukee Origin of Chief Noc-A-Homa
Bernie Brewer will celebrate Milwaukee Brewers home runs in a four-game August 8th-11th series with the Atlanta Braves, formerly Milwaukee Braves, at Miller Park. A while ago, a caller asked who played the Braves’ Chief Noc-A-Homa mascot in Milwaukee.
We checked our sources, such as the Milwaukee Braves yearbooks, media guides, fan newsletters, newspaper clippings, internet and, of course, books about the fondly remembered team, but struck out the first time at the plate.
Just as batters adjust their stances and pitchers change speeds, librarians try different reference searches. What if the mascot wasn't originally called Chief Noc-A-Homa? Articles from The Milwaukee Journal emerged with the answer.
As rumors increasingly swirled that Bill Bartholomay's Rover Boys would move the Braves to Atlanta, 38,693 fans saw Marvin Moran sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," accompanied by organist Janis Malone at the April 22nd, 1964 home opener against the San Francisco Giants at County Stadium. Dick Emmons blew his bugle on top of the Braves dugout and fans roared "Charge!"
A new addition to fan entertainment was a live Indian mascot played by 16-year-old Marquette High School student Tim Rynders. His tepee was in the centerfield bleachers. He danced when the Braves scored and ignited smoke bombs when Joe Torre cranked two homers in an 8-6 loss. Rookie knuckleball reliever Phil Niekro made his home debut in what turned out to be a 300 (318) game winner Hall of Fame career.
Sitting in the dugout was the Braves other 300 (363) game winner Hall of Fame pitcher. Little did fans suspect that age would catch up with the ageless Warren Spahn after 23 victories and losing a memorable 16-inning 1-0 complete game shutout to Juan Marichal at the foggy San Francisco wind tunnel known as Candlestick Park at 42 in 1963. He struggled to win 6 games in 1964. Had Spahnie won his usual 20 games, the Braves (88-74) would have won the pennant rather than finishing 5 games behind Bob Gibson and the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
52 years later, Rynders shares some memories. When the Braves decided to add a mascot for home games, they approached the Wash-Te-Pejuta (Sioux for Good Medicine Dancers), an Indian lore club. The team asked members if they were interested in applying for the job. He raised his hand and the Braves hired him for $7 per game ($54 in 2016 dollars).
On game days, it took about 20 minutes to change into his costume and apply makeup in the groundskeepers locker room. Then he went to the dugout and talked with Braves players before the game started. Felipe Alou was one of his favorites, "very friendly." While some chewed tobacco, many players helped themselves to Bazooka bubble gum in a gallon jar.
When the starting lineup was announced and the Braves took the field, Rynders ran across the field to a tepee half-way up in the centerfield bleachers. It was equipped with a radio and binocular. He listened to Merle Harmon and Tom Collins broadcasting the game on WEMP-AM 1250 while watching the game.
When the Braves were on the field, he sometimes used the binocular to see if he could figure out catchers Joe Torre's and Ed Bailey's pitch signs. Did visiting teams suspect he stole signs when they were on the field? They never accused him since he focused on Braves runners on the base paths. When they crossed home plate, he celebrated with a dance. Whenever a Brave homered, he pressed a button to explode a smoke bomb before dancing.
After a game ended, he descended from the tepee and fans talked with him. He paid special attention to young children asking questions about his costume and performance or for an autograph. When they asked what was his name, Rynders replied Running Buck. The Braves didn't have a formal or informal name for the mascot until the Rover Boys broke Milwaukee's heart, relocated the franchise to Atlanta for the 1966 season and named the mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa. Then he returned to the groundskeepers locker room through a passage underneath the stands. It took about 30 minutes to remove his makeup before returning home on a motorcycle.
Shortly before the 1965 lame duck season started, the Braves eliminated some jobs as they prepared for the move to Atlanta. They laid off Emmons and Moran, but kept Rynders. After the Braves lost their last ever Milwaukee home game to the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-6, in 11 innings on September 22nd, 1965, Malone played "Auld Lang Syne" on the organ as fans reluctantly left.
Urban Shocker @ Central (Dan, Local History Librarian)
Photo credit: Tim Rynders, The Milwaukee Journal, Picture Page, April 23, 1964