The Milwaukee Brewers are four wins away from their first trip to the World Series since 1982. But they’re only one win away from securing free hamburgers for all of Wisconsin for the first time since 1987.
Local restaurant chain George Webb has promised patrons a free hamburger if the Brewers win 12 games in a row. Headed into Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, the team’s winning streak stands at 11, dating to a Sept. 23 win against Pittsburgh. Milwaukee has yet to lose in the postseason, including Game 163 against Chicago, played to decide the winner of the NL Central.
But the chain’s free burger promotion dates back to the 1940s and the minor league Milwaukee Brewers. Chain founder George Webb predicted that ballclub would win 12 straight games and hinted he’d reward customers if it did.
By 1953, the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee, and Webb predicted another winning streak, this time 13 games. The team’s longest winning streak lasted only eight games. Webb made a 13-game prediction the next season, and the season after that. Soon it became a Milwaukee tradition to see how many consecutive wins would earn Wisconsinites a reward.
“He was kind of a quirky marketer,” George Webb Vice President Ryan Stamm said in a phone interview. “He would put it on napkins. He would paint it on the side of his buildings. I don’t really know where his mind-set was and how he came up with this. I think it was kind of his marketing mind.
“George Webb predicted the Braves would win 13 in a row in 1954. He never said what he was going to do or that he’d give away hamburgers. He just loved the team and wanted it for the team. Customers knew he had that prediction but never really knew if it came true what was going to happen.”
Webb died in 1957 while visiting the Braves during spring training in Bradenton, Fla., and the team moved to Atlanta in 1966. Bud Selig, the future MLB commissioner, purchased the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and relocated the franchise to Milwaukee the next year.
Webb’s restaurants, owned and operated by his son Jim Webb, restarted the baseball prediction, with a formal promise: A 12-game winning streak would mean a hamburger giveaway. But the Brewers had only five winning seasons in the next 15 years. By then, Webb sold the restaurant chain to Stamm’s father, David, a longtime franchisee.
Two years later, in 1987, Milwaukee won the first 13 games of the season, though 12 satisfied the giveaway requirement. George Webb restaurants handed out close to 170,000 hamburgers to celebrate. Ryan Stamm was 10 years old.
“I just remember the lines of people waiting,” he said. “Some locations, police were there guiding traffic. The mood was amazing. There were some lines 45 minutes to an hour long to get a hamburger, and they waited. It meant more to people than just getting a free burger.”
If the Brewers beat the Los Angeles Dodgers at Miller Park on Friday, Stamm will call up the restaurants' vendors and order an extra 200,000 hamburger buns and between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of beef, he said.
The chain will plan for a giveaway day sometime next week, probably in time for either Game 4 or Game 5 on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“People say ‘It must be stressful,’ and it is, but it’s also fun,” Stamm said. “Our employees want to be there. They want to work that day. Streaks will happen throughout the years of eight, nine, 10 games. We get excited when that happens. This one is a little different, because it’s 11 games in a row and we’re headed to the championship series.”
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