12 Brewers wins meant 168,194 free burgers

Published Apr. 5, 2012 5:00 a.m. EDT

This is the fifth in FOXSportsWisconsin.com's five-part series on the 25th anniversary of the Milwaukee Brewers' 13-0 start to the 1987 season.

Sunday: 13-0 still special 25 years later
Monday: Juan Nieves' no-hitter makes it 9-0
Tuesday: The Easter Sunday Game
Wednesday: 13-1. Now what?
Today: Free George Webb hamburgers for everyone!

The parking lot at the corner of 76th and Good Hope was packed with Milwaukee Brewers fans on an unseasonably warm Easter Sunday in 1987. They were there, signs in hand, to celebrate an improbable come-from-behind victory that day. They were there to celebrate an improbable hamburger giveaway, too.

"It was just crazy Brewers fever as much as you can imagine," Ryan Stamm said. "The parking lot was full and everyone was going nuts."

Stamm was a 10-year-old boy at the time, enthralled and entranced by the 12-game winning streak that had worked a city into a lather. He'd ventured to the parking lot outside George Webb Restaurant because his father, restaurant owner Dave Stamm, had something important to say at a press conference. Yes, the rumors were true: George Webb would be handing out free hamburgers to salute the Brewers' miraculous accomplishment.

So officially began one of the great food giveaway promotions in sports history, remembered fondly by Wisconsinites to this day.

"Us giving away free hamburgers was the cost," said Ryan Stamm, now the vice president of George Webb Restaurants. "But the publicity we had, you can't match it. The owner of our company at the time was on ‘Good Morning America.' It was a national, international event."

Speculation had circulated for more than 40 years as to what would happen if one of Milwaukee's baseball teams ever fulfilled a bold prediction offered by George Webb. During the 1940s, when the old American Association Brewers played in town, Webb predicted the team would win 17 consecutive games at some point during the regular season, though he never said what would happen if the team actually reached the magic number.

He continued the prediction as a publicity stunt when the Milwaukee Braves moved to town in 1953, lowering the win total to 12 straight games. By the time the Milwaukee Brewers became the city's baseball team in 1970, fans were still waiting for a 12-game winning streak.

Then, the magical start to 1987 materialized, culminating with Rob Deer's game-tying three-run home run in the ninth inning on April 19, Easter Sunday. Three batters later, Dale Sveum launched a walk-off two-run homer for a 6-4 victory — the Brewers' 12th straight win.

"That was the coolest thing about it," Deer said. "They always said something to the effect that if we went 12-0, everybody in town would get a free burger at George Webb. As comical as it was, who ever thought that would happen? Then it was just like George Webb — that was the talk of the town.

"I said to myself, people are going to go into George Webb and get a burger, and I'll know that I'll have a small part to do in it."

George Webb Restaurants distributed coupons for one free 100 percent pure beef hamburger, good from 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, to Sunday, April 26, 1987 at midnight.

"We had security at every store," Stamm said. "The lines were unbelievable. Everybody was in a good mood. From what I'm told, it was a good few days."

When the four-day hamburger giveaway extravaganza ended, George Webb Restaurants had handed out an astounding 168,194 free burgers. According to the George Webb website, the restaurant ordered more than 25,000 pounds of ground beef and 173,000 hamburger buns, used 573 gallons of ketchup and 286 gallons of brown mustard. It also topped burgers with 2,868 pounds of onions and 367,180 slices of pickles.

An average of 300 customers per hour entered at each location, which is why 25 police departments were notified in advance of the giveaway. Each George Webb location was stationed with two to four security guards.

"I didn't grow up in the Milwaukee area," then-Brewers closer Dan Plesac said. "I didn't know how big the George Webb chain was. I was pretty much a burger kid at McDonald's. Two weeks into the season, I knew who the hell George Webb was."

Tom Trebelhorn, who managed the Brewers in 1987, said he still has commemorative posters from the team's hot start, though he never collected on the free hamburgers.

"It was kind of a Midwest Americana neat deal," Trebelhorn said. "It wasn't real flashy. It was just a really well done nice piece of Midwest lore and history."

The lore of the 12-game winning streak prediction continues every season at George Webb Restaurants. The Brewers haven't won 12 straight since 1987, but they've crept close over the years.

Even today, Stamm said a stir is created across Milwaukee when the Brewers close in on the magic number.

"Two or three years ago, the Brewers got to nine wins," Stamm said. "I was watching the game at a bar, and obviously no one knew who I was. The place was crowded. The Brewers were playing in Chicago. Ben Sheets was pitching. The whole bar starts chanting for burgers. If they win, they're two games away from 12 and they want their free burgers.

"When the streak starts hitting seven, eight games, we definitely start getting people excited about the team and the prediction coming true."

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