ATLANTA — Former Braves owner Bill Bartholomay, who moved the franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966 to become Major League Baseball's first team in the South, has died. He was 91.
Bartholomay died Wednesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said daughter Jamie Bartholomay Niemie.
Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron wrote on his Twitter account that Bartholomay "was the greatest owner I ever had the pleasure to play for. He understood the game of baseball more than so many others. I've known him for a longtime and he's helped me in more ways than you can imagine. I will surely miss my friend."
Bartholomay attended spring training at the Braves' new facility in North Port, Florida, last month before the coronavirus pandemic caused MLB to suspend spring training and delay the start of the season. Thursday would have been opening day.
In the 1990s, Bartholomay provided key support to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who grew up in Milwaukee rooting for the Braves and later owned the Brewers.
Bartholomay headed the group that sold the Braves to Ted Turner in 1976 but retained a partial interest and remained as the team's chairman until November 2003, when he assumed an emeritus role.
"There is baseball in Atlanta today because of Bill Bartholomay," the Braves said in a Thursday release. "He was part of our organization for the last 57 years and never missed an opening day or significant event. He was a dear, thoughtful friend whose presence will be missed, but his legacy will surely stand the test of time for the Atlanta Braves and all of baseball."
Bartholomay was a Chicago area-based insurance executive, and he helped sell many insurance policies for player contracts to big league clubs. He led the group that owned the Milwaukee Braves before making the controversial decision to move the team to Atlanta, following through in spite of death threats.
He remained with the team when Turner took control and when Time Warner acquired the franchise in 1996 as the company merged with Turner Broadcasting System.
Bartholomay was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2002.
The team said Bartholomay deserved credit for "helping shape Atlanta as a major city in the South when he relocated the Braves from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. His warmth and grace were felt equally by presidents, MLB commissioners, business titans, Braves players and fans."
After Selig became chairman of baseball's executive council in 1992, Bartholomay headed the commissioner search committee that recommended Arnold Weber, then the Northwestern University president, and Harvey Schiller, then with the U.S. Olympic Committee. But owners suspended the search, and Selig wound up remaining in power until 2015. Bartholomay also headed MLB's ownership committee.
"Besides being one of the most important figures in the game of baseball for more than five decades, Bill Bartholomay was truly a wonderful person and one of my closest friends in the world," Selig said. "His wise counsel and calming views were critical throughout my years as baseball commissioner. My wife, Sue, and I will miss him terribly and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."
Said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: "For more than half a century, Bill Bartholomay contributed significantly to the governance of baseball. More importantly, he played a role in fostering the game's spirit of social responsibility, philanthropy and inclusion. He was a dear friend to many of us in the game, and he will be greatly missed."