Monday, July 16, 2018

Vintage Brew: “First Light: Revisited”

This article was originally published in 2008 after the death of Bob Koehler, co-author of "The American Association Milwaukee Brewers" with Rex Hamann. I wanted to share this tribute with readers about one of the pioneers of Borchert Field research.

"First Light: Revisited"
by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2018 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

This past April (2008), a fixture at local Milwaukee, regional and national sports collectible shows, Bob Koehler passed away. He had many friends in the hobby, all of whom have been sharing their fond memories of Bob along with tributes to him written in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sports Collectors Digest and the American Association Almanac.

I would like to add my voice to that group who are sharing their experiences. I first met Bob in the 1980's, he was a source for Milwaukee Braves and Milwaukee Brewer collectibles that I wanted, and I found him always to be a friendly and knowledgeable dealer, ever ready to help you find something and to share information.

When my interest shifted to the Borchert Brewers about 5 years ago, there was nobody in Milwaukee who knew more than him. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, existed in book form until recently. Anybody attempting research in this area of Milwaukee history was pretty much in the dark when approaching this subject. Bob provided the "first light" for me in a dark area of research. True research goes where no one else has gone before. Bob's work compiling team rosters with Rex Hamann and his photos are some of the various sign posts I have used extensively to try to guide my way researching Milwaukee. Even now as I hit the microfilm machines and spend the long hours needed to do the job right at the Milwaukee Public Library and elsewhere, his footprints are all around me. Bob and local SABR members photocopied newspaper clippings and put them into book form to make it easier for interested parties to read about Milwaukee baseball in the 1940's.

*Currently, I am working on researching a bat from a Milwaukee Brewer from 1917. Nothing is available from Baseball Reference online about his Brewer stats from the American Association. Thanks to Bob and Rex, I have them. More on the American Association Almanac later.

Thanks Bob, I will not forget your help and encouragement.

In closing, many times people ask why? What is it about collecting that causes you to devote so much time and resources on something from so long ago? I know Bob was asked why he gave up teaching to pursue his passion for baseball history. A risky change of life for sure, but it worked out well for him and he got to do what he loved. My answer to that question is a resounding NO. Neither Bob nor I live in the past, but we refuse to forget the past. Our past still has value for us today. Baseball history is not "life" but it is representative of the quality of our lives. If not baseball, something else gives us joy, direction and focus for tomorrow. Something in our past always drives us to the future. Our connection with those times, a fondness or nostalgia for the experiences of our youth always has a bearing on where we take our life.

I have great memories of baseball, going with my dad to see Hank Aaron, Ed Mathews and Spahnie at Milwaukee County Stadium. I only wish I still had my favorite T Shirt. I have been looking for one like it for 40 plus years now.

Clutching his McDonalds bag, this 10-year-old Paul proudly wears his Milwaukee Braves T Shirt while his sister Mary enjoys her coke with their mom digging into her lunch. (my sister will never forgive me for sharing it). Cute curlers sis. (Author's photo-Summer of 1963)

The last time I had talked with Bob Koehler was in 2007 at the Milwaukee Public Library where he and Bill Topitzes were giving a short presentation on the American Association Brewers. While telling the group of us about the Brewers, Players and Borchert field, he shared with us family photos which included a shot of him in his "Brewers" T Shirt.

Bob Koehler at Borchert Field, Summer of 1952

What blew me away was that Bob still had his T Shirt pictured in that photo. WoW!!! The only one I have ever seen. It made an immediate connection with me as I know how much my Braves T Shirt meant to me, since mine was lost to the rag bag so long ago. My last words to Bob that day were: "if you ever get rid of it etc" (which I doubted he ever would) at least to make sure it and the photo ended up in a local museum where others could appreciate it. It surly belongs there and I believe this "T" and its memory was an important part of why Bob loved baseball and it guided his life's work. It was the "Torch" that lit the path of his life. I am happy to say that Thanks to Pam Koehler, I now can share this rare piece with readers. And Bob, I promise, this will always be accessible to those who would like to see it.

The Torch (held in trust by the author)

On a final note, I neglected to share a nod to the wonderful book that Rex Hamann and Bob wrote in 2004, THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION BREWERS. It is an absolute gem for getting you started and has been a Godsend for me and "targeting" articles. My first copy is falling apart. The book is still available and you can find it at Barnes and Noble and online.

Please continue to support the research pioneers of the American Association Milwaukee Brewers. Rex Hamann and his American Association Almanac is the best reference on the American Association and Rex covers all the bases, all the team histories. Subscribe to his newsletter too.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Uni Watch: "Bucs and Crew Throw It Back For Negro League Tribute"

This morning Uni Watch published an article I wrote on the Brewers' most recent Negro League throwbacks. I'll re-print it here as my review of the annual Turn Back the Clock event, but please be sure to check it out on the Uni Watch site.
Bucs and Crew Throw It Back For Negro League Tribute

Brewers & Pirates Negro League Tribute
By Chance Michaels

Last night, the PIttsburgh Pirates held an African-American Heritage Night at PNC Park, including a "Turn Back the Clock" game with the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. As a longtime student of Milwaukee baseball history, I had a keen interest in this game.

You may recall that I first wrote about the Milwaukee Brewers' Negro League throwbacks for Uni Watch back in 2013. The Brew Crew had been honoring their city's one-year Negro National League club, the 1923 Milwaukee Bears, for a while at that point without really knowing what the Bears had actually worn.

To recap: the Brewers' first Negro League throwback was in 2001, against the Tigers in Detroit. The Brewers wore one-off gray uniforms with blue pinstripes and sleeves and the full name "MILWAUKEE BEARS" in blue letters across the chest.

In 2006, they decided to hold their own annual Negro League tribute games, and that's where the Bears got a little fuzzy-wuzzy. Blame the poor contemporaneous coverage of the league in the mainstream (read: white) press, blame the short life of the ballclub, but it quickly became apparent that the Brewers weren't actually quite sure what a Bears throwback should look like. They started with new white uniforms with black pinstripes and caps to match. After a couple seasons, the black-and-whites were replaced with a new throwback, solid white uniforms with royal blue sleeves and piping, and great-looking caps with a cool diamond logo. Three totally different designs supposedly representing the same one-year club.

In 2013, when I last wrote about them, the Brewers had settled (back) on the pinstriped white-and-blacks, and they've worn them ever since. And they've looked pretty good in them. Most of the time. It's a good look, although some details changed over time; sometimes they wore custom black helmets, sometimes their standard navy blue with the decals removed. Along the line, the squatchee went from its original black in 2006 to a more modern-style white, but that seems more like a New Era goof than anything. And finally, earlier this year, we got our first public look at the 1923 photo that convinced the Brewers that they were on the right track back in 2006 after all.

But with all that variation over the years, what we haven't seen is a road version. Well, once. They had a one-off road version in gray with a black cap in Kansas City on June 26, 2006. But not again. Not until last night.

We had our first clue earlier this week, when Lids introduced a new retail Brewers cap, the same as the pinstriped white but in gray. That leak told us that the Brewers were planning something new. A quick look at their opponents' promotional schedules, and it all fell into place.

And so, last night, we had the return of the roads. These new gray throwbacks are pretty sharp. Although these new throwbacks don't have the MLB Batterman logo on the back of the cap or jersey, they do have Majestic and New Era logo creep on the side. Of course, given all the history it wouldn't feel right without just a hint of speculation or guesswork, and the Brewers obliged us. The throwback cap, black in its original appearance, was now gray. And shame about the gray squatchee. Which is historically accurate? We may never know, until the next rare photo surfaces. I don't want to ignore the home team, though; they looked great. I'm a sucker for contrasting pocket flaps.

The Pirates have a long and glorious history of Negro League throwbacks. Of course, it also helps that Pittsburgh also had a long and glorious history of Negro League baseball.

The Pirates have thrown back to the Homestead Grays at least eleven times since 1997, and worn Crawfords unis almost as often.

When they wear Crawfords uniforms, it's more likely to be a pinstriped uniform, but these particular uniforms resemble those worn by the Pirates on June 28, 2014 against the Mets.

And while the Brewers wore their black helmets with white "M"s from previous years, the Pirates opted to sport their customary black-and-gold lids. Shame.

Congrats to the Pirates for organizing this great-looking game. Shame about the final score, but I'm willing to overlook that for the rare privilege of seeing these beautiful road grays in action.
Uni Watch Deputy Editor Phil Hecken also posted some video of the uniforms in action.

Thanks again to Phil and to Paul Lukas for including me. It's always a pleasure.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Confirmed - Negro League Throwbacks This Friday!

After spotting a road version of the Brewers' "Milwaukee bears" throwback caps on Lids, I speculated whether they would be wearing them against the Pirates this Friday. My pal Phil Hecken provides confirmation that they're doing just that, from the Pirates' own website. Here's the schedule of events for the evening, it's the penultimate bullet point in the second list.
Friday, July 13, 2018 -- Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers (7:05 p.m.)
  • Free Shirt Friday: Tonight, the Pirates popular Free Shirt Fridays continue as the first 20,000 fans, with paid admission, will receive a Pirates tee, presented by AAA Auto Insurance.
  • Dollar Dog Night: As a special thank you to the fans, the Pirates announced the Dollar Dog fan value promotion, presented by Sugardale, on select Friday nights at PNC Park. During one of the eight "Dollar Dog" nights throughout the season, fans can visit any North Shore concession stand throughout the ballpark and purchase regular hot dogs for just one dollar each.
  • Miller Lite Happy Hour: Tonight, and now every Friday Night home game, the Pirates will host a special Happy Hour, presented by Miller Lite, at the Crow's Nest bar from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Visit the Crow's Nest Bar for half-priced cans of Miller Lite, Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and Blue Moon.
  • Wine Night: Tonight, is a Wine Tasting Night at PNC Park. For just $70 fans receive a ticket in a luxury suite, an invite to a pregame wine tasting in Club 3000, and more. For complete information and to order tickets visit
African American Heritage Events:
  • African-American Heritage Sports Panel: In celebration of African-American heritage in sports, the Pirates are hosting a special panel presentation from 3 to 4 p.m. in the PNC Park Press Conference Room for 200 youth from Penn State Center's C.I.T.Y., Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Urban BASEball Classic to engage with internal talent from every level of the Pirates organization. Following the event, all participants are invited to watch batting practice and stay to cheer on the Pirates during the night's game.
  • Josh Gibson Scholarship: Tonight the 2018 Josh Gibson Foundation Scholarship recipients will be announced during a pregame on-field ceremony.
  • Kevin Young First Pitch: In celebration of Negro League Baseball's past, present, and future legacy, Pirates alumni and current Special Assistant to the General Manager Kevin Young will throw an honorary first pitch.
  • Negro League Memorabilia Display: The Pirates have teamed up with Carnegie Museum of Art's Teenie Harris Archives to offer fans a Negro League Baseball Memorabilia Exhibit displaying the 1940 Negro League Baseball Championship trophy won by the Homestead Grays, Josh Gibson's 1946 Negro League Baseball contract, and various Teenie Harris film and photo action shots of Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. The exhibit will be displayed under the Left Field Bleachers and is open to all fans during the Friday and Saturday games.
  • Game-Used Bases: Tonight, two sets (6) of Heritage Night game-used bases will be available at the Hunt Auction Kiosk (located behind section 125) or by emailing Pirates Authentics at
  • Negro League Celebration: As part of the African American Heritage Celebration, the Pirates and Brewers will honor Negro League baseball by wearing the uniforms of Negro League teams from their respective cities, with the Pirates wearing Pittsburgh Crawfords uniforms and the Brewers wearing the Milwaukee Bears uniforms. The jerseys from tonight's game will be authenticated and available for auction at a later date on
  • Season Ticket Holders Catch: After tonight's game, Pirates Season Ticket Holders will have the opportunity to play catch with friends or family in the pristine PNC Park outfield. Tonight's play catch on the field is exclusively for Season Ticket Holders who preregistered for the event.
That's going to be great. To my knowledge, this will be the first time the Brewers have worn gray pinstriped Bears throwbacks since 2006, in Kansas City. and that time was with a black cap:

Here's the leaked cap for the upcoming game.

Then again, there has often been some confusion over what the Bears' uniforms looked like, exactly. The Brew Crew has worn three separate and distinct versions of this Turn Back the Clock uniform, all representing the same single-season 1923 team. I wonder what they came across to change the road cap from black to pinstriped gray, or if they just thought it looked better.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Otto Borchert at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Today, we finish our review of the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History", with a look at old Otto Borchert himself.

It's a small display, but nice to see that he at least got some recognition.

The text reads:
Otto Borchert (1874-1927) was the son of brewery owner Frederick Borchert and got his introduction to baseball selling peanuts at the Wright Street ballpark. He worked several jobs in Milwaukee as a young man, but made his fortune as a traveling salesman, first for the Wisconsin Telephone Co., then Julius Andrae & Sons (electronic equipment and bicycles). In 1919 he bought 2/7 of he Milwaukee Brewers and Athletic Park, eventually taking full control. He proved to be a shrewd baseball businessman frequently selling his players to big league teams for huge profits. He enjoyed the game, too, often sunning himself in the stands and interacting with the fans as they jeered him. On April 27, 1927 Borchert was speaking in front of 600 people at an Elks Club banquet in honor of the upcoming Brewers season when he collapsed. The 52-year old died that night, leaving the team and ballpark to his wife Idabel. She nominally ran the team until she sold it to Henry Killilea who allowed her to retain the ballpark and collect rent on it.
A relic of Idabel's ballpark is in the collection of the Historical Society.

In the center, a wonderful portrait of old Otto beaming broadly.

On the left, a photo of Otto with his first baseman Bunny Brief in January of 1925.

When this photo was taken, Borchert had just traded for the veteran first baseman from the Kansas City Blues. Brief had fifteen years of pro ball under his belt but wasn't done yet; Bunny led the league that year in home runs (37) and slugging (.652), and spent the next four years at Borchert Field.

Finally, a clipping from the Milwaukee Sentinel, April 28, 1927, announcing his death.


Brewer Magnate Slumps Before Microphone When Gripped by Stroke; Elks Sing Ritual at Death.

Death called three strikes last night on Otto Borchert.

The picturesque owner and president of the Milwaukee ball club died on his feet, talking to 700 baseball fans who were attending a banquet in honor of him and his team.

Borchert's last inning in the game of life ended in the banquet hall at the Elks' club, of which he was a life member, and whose donation financed the memorial altar in the new clubhouse, a tribute to brother Elks who are dead.

A microphone stood before Mr. Borchert, on the speakers' table carrying his words out into space to an unseen radio audience.

At his home, 590 Hi-Mount boulevard, his wife, Mrs. Ruby Borchert, listened at the receiving set.
Awfully poetic, that newspaper column. You can read more about his story here.

And with that, we conclude our review of the exhibit. Special thanks again to the Milwaukee County Historical Society for putting so much of the city's sporting history in one place. Can't wait to see what's next.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Negro League Road Throwbacks This Weekend?

Found something interesting on the website: a gray version of the Brewers' Milwaukee Bears Negro League throwbacks.

Shame about the gray button, though. That still seems to be New Era's nod to modern fashion, not a reflection of the original.

This would seem to indicate that the Brewers will be wearing Negro League throwbacks on the road this season, which they haven't done since 2006. This could be interesting.

Looking at the schedule, it appears that the Pittsburgh Pirates may be doing a Turn Back the Clock event when the Brewers are in town this weekend. They're giving away a Pittsburgh Crawfords Negro League tshirt as part of their "Heritage Celebration".

Could this be a full Turn Back the Clock game?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Borchert Field's Big-Name Visitors at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

The Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History" continues to yield real gems.

Tucked in between the gallery of Borchert Field photos and a clice of bleacher seating from the ballpark's closing we have two additional displays detailing famous visitors to the ballpark.

The first display is a pair of photos showcasing the single biggest name in baseball, then and still today.

Yep, that's Babe Ruth tossing the ball around in the Orchard's foul territory in 1928. The Babe came though with Lou Gehrig on their famous post-season barnstorming exhibition tours, with the "Bustin' Babes" facing off against the "Larrupin' Lous".
Borchert Field played host to a number of sports and events in addition to minor league baseball. The Milwaukee Chicks played at the park for their one season. The Green Bay Packers appeared there ten times over 13 years. From 1922 to 1926 the NFL Milwaukee Badgers called Athletic Park home. Other semipro football teams like the Milwaukee Eagles and Ische Radios also played there, as did colleges like Marquette University and Wisconsin. Other events of interest included boxing matches, rodeos, circuses, and even the National Balloon Race in 1922. The park also hosted some of the most well-known people of their era, mostly baseball players, but also other athletes, musicians, actors, and even politicians. A partial list includes:

John McGrawMax Schmeling
Rube WaddellDizzy and Daffy Dean
Jim ThorpeJosh Gibson
Ty CobbJames "Cool Papa" Bell
Connie MackOscar Charleston
Nick AltrockWilliam "Judy" Johnson
Jackie PriceJackie Mitchell
Oscar "Happy" FelschBabe Didrikson
Knute RockneJesse Owens
Pat O'BrienTed Williams
Jackie RobinsonRay Cannon
Tris SpeakerPhil Rizzuto
Red GrangeJoe DiMaggio
Johnny "Blood" McNallyHeinie and the Grenadiers
Paul RobesonPresident Harry Truman
Fritz PollardEddie Mathews
Babe RuthVerne Gagne
Lou GehrigMickey Mantle
Wow. That's impressive.

Some of those baseball stars came to Borchert Field as players on other American Association clubs, like Mickey Mantle and Phil Rizzuto with the Kansas City Blues, and Ted Williams with the Minneapolis Millers.

Others wore the uniform of the Milwaukee Badgers. Fritz Pollard, Paul Robeson, and Johnny "Blood" McNally.

Still others were Brewers themselves. Oscar "Happy" Felsch was a Milwaukee boy who played for his hometown club in 1914 on his way to the Chicago White Sox and eventual infamy. John Thomas Reid "Jackie" Price was a baseball clown hired by team president Bill Veeck as much for his between-inning entertainment as his skills as a shortstop. Eddie Mathews was a Boston Braves prospect who came to town shortly after the formerly-independent club became part of Boston's farm system in the late 1940s.

And as the caption notes, the famous visitors extended beyond the realm of sports. President Harry Truman's visit in 1948 was a high point for the old wooden ballpark.

Others came through on barnstorming tours. The most famous of those was led by Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Here's another look at the Babe at the Orchard in 1928, this time posing with two famous native Milwaukeeans.

The gentleman on the right, wearing a handsome Detroit Tigers sweater, is George McBride. He was a member of the 1901 Brewers club, founding members of the American League. When they moved to St. Louis after the season, McBride stayed in Milwaukee with the new American Association club. He would return to the majors a few years later and carved out a sixteen-year big-league career, most with the Washington Senators. When Clark Griffith stepped down as manager of the Senators to focus on the front office, he chose McBride to be his successor. McBride's run was short-lived; halfway through his first season he was struck in the face by a thrown ball during batting practice, and suffered dizziness and fainting spells for a long time afterwards, resigning his job at the end of only one season. He later came out of retirement to join Ty Cobb's coaching staff in Detroit.

To the Bambino's right, wearing the livery of the Philadelphia A's, is Al Simmons. He was born Aloysius Harry Szymanski on Milwaukee's South Side to a pair of Polish immigrants. Known as "the Duke of Mitchell Street", for the boulevard running through the heart of the city's Polish community, he is unquestionably the best baseball player Milwaukee has ever produced. In 1928, he had just finished his fifth season with Philadelphia, on his way to a twenty-year career that would eventually land him in the Hall of Fame.

The second display of famous visitors to Borchert Field is equally as impressive.

On August 28, 1935 the Pittburgh Crawford played the Chicago American Giants in a Negro National League game at Borchert Field. The Crawfords featured Josh Gibson, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Oscar Charleston, and William Julius "Judy" Johnson. The Giants had Willie Wells, Turkey Stearns, and Mule Suttles. These seven players were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when it began inducting Negro League stars.

Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, appeared at Borchert Field three times. It was common for barnstorming teams to have added attractions to encourage fans to come to their games. Jesse Owens often traveled with Negro League teams like the Toledo/Pittsburgh Crawfords. At the games he would race challengers, including horses, varying the head start or advantages and disadvantages based on his opponent. In his first two appearances at Borchert Field, Owens beat all challengers, but in his last appearance in 1946, he finally lost... to a horse.
I can't tell if that's more whimsical or degrading, racing all comers including livestock, but at least Owens had a way to make some money off his Olympic success.

And in any case, it's amazing to think of the truly staggering number of famous citizens of the 20th century who paid a visit to the old wooden ballpark during its long history.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Borchert Field at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

One of the fantastic displays in the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History" was devoted to our favorite wooden ballpark.

Simply amazing. That's the preserved section of Borchert Field bleachers off to the right.

The main display has a great series of photos of Borchert's Orchard.

It's worth looking at these much more closely. Click to enlarge, as always.

Much of Milwaukee's sports history can be learned by looking at the history of Athletic Park, later renamed Borchert Field in 1927. It was primarily a baseball field, but as the most significant stadium in the city for more than 60 years it hosted numerous events, athletic and otherwise.

We've seen that photo before; a wall-sized blowup is posted at the entrance to the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Athletic Park was originally built for the minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the Western Association at a cost of $40,000. It was located on a rectangular block bounded by North 7th and North 8th Streets and West Chambers and Burleigh Streets. Because of the layout the field had short foul lines and a deep center field, the dugouts were angled, and the stands were U-shaped meaning fans could not see the entire playing field. The park opened May 20, 1888 with a crowd of 6,000 to see the Brewers play. A semi-pro team, the Cream Citys, also used the park when the Brewers were not in town.
The location of Athletic Park meant that it was completely integrated with the neighborhood. While thousands would sit in the stands at the games, hundreds of others would watch from the porches, balconies and roofs of surrounding houses. There were "employment" opportunities for local children selling concessions in the stands and retrieving calls outside the park. There were two taverns near the ballpark that did great business and sold tickets, and there was a bar behind home plate in the stadium. For many the park was the center of both entertainment and commerce every summer.

I love this photo of the Orchard; it really emphasizes the neighborhood quality, surrounded by houses in all direction. Well, houses and a couple taverns.

That open space at the top of the photo is Clinton Rose Park, where Borchert Field's historical marker stands today.
In 1897 the Brewers moved to the newly built Milwaukee Baseball Park on Lloyd Street between 16th and 18th Streets, which was also known as Lloyd Street Grounds. After serving as a National Guard drill ground for five years, Athletic Park was refitted for baseball when the American Association Milwaukee Brewers formed in 1902.

Lloyd Street Grounds was another neighborhood ballpark; check out the houses just over that right field fence.

Now we get to the man himself, Otto Borchert.

I need to learn more about the "Childrens Fee Day".
In 1919 a group of investors purchased the Brewers and Athletic Field for $87,000, with Otto Borchert becoming the sole owner in 1925, Borchert died of a heart attack while speaking at the Brewers' annual preseason banquet in 1927. His widow, Idabel Borchert, inherited the team and ballpark and appointed herself president, though most baseball decisions were made by Borchert's friend Henry Killilea. In 1928 Kilillea bought the team from Idabel for $280,000, and renamed the park Borchert Field. He allowed Idabel to retain the title to the park with a generous rent agreement.
The ballpark remained in Idabel's hands until she sold it to the city in 1952 so the Brewers could break their lease and move into the then-new County Stadium.

Killilea died of a heart attack in 1927 and his daughter Florence took over as president. Unfortunately, she died in 1931 at age 29 and the team and park passed to new owners. By the 1940s the team and Borchert Field were languishing. Bill Veeck bought the team and park in 1941 and made significant improvements to both, but the park continued to need constant maintenance. By 1950 plans were in place to build a new stadium for the Brewers with public funds (to be named County Stadium) and Borchert Field's days were numbered. The final season was 1952 and the stadium was torn down in 1953.
So much death to strike the club in such a short time.

We end with a rare color photo of the Orchard:

I love the "MILWAUKEE BREWERS" lettering across the top of the park. Those go back at least as far as 1945, and at one point were joined by an image of Owgust, the beer-barrel-chested club mascot who cheers on the Brewers to this day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rare Brewer Pennant at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Today, we return to our review of the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History" with a look at a rare Brewer artifact I'd never seen before.

In the same display case as the Milwaukee Bears reproduction jersey and the Milwaukee Schnitts scrapbook and uniform patches, we find a pair of artifacts from the Brews themselves.

The 1951 Program is interesting enough, with its photo of Jolly Cholly Grimm on the cover, but the real treasure is the pennant.

It is offered here without explanation, but if I'm not mistaken that's a Red Ball Gum pennant.

We discussed the Red Ball Gum pennants about four years ago; they were a premium offered with sales of Red Ball spearmint chewing gum. Patrons would buy the gum for one penny a stick, and unwrap it in hopes of finding a lucky ticket inside. That ticket entitled them to a free felt pennant, which the proprietor would hand over in a small paper envelope. Those pennants were small in size—just 4¼ by 2½ inches—and featured the name of a college, celebrity, or baseball club.

The Red Ball Bum pennants didn't always conform to team colors; the Brewers' version featured swooping cream-colored text against a maroon background. In place of any official team logo (and in those simpler days before many teams even had official logos), a silhouetted batter making his jump out of the box.

But even if our gum-chewing customer didn't find a lucky ticket, he or she could still enjoy something other than the gum. Save the wrappers, they were told, because "for 25 RED BALL GUM wrappers (or reasonable facsimiles) and 15¢ you can get a large pennant—12 in. x 30 in."

The nature of large pennants has always been somewhat mysterious. I have seen large Red Ball Gum pennants for major league clubs like the Yankees, Dodgers and White Sox. But whether they made them for minor league clubs was an open question. Until, apparently, today.

This large pennant shares much in common with its smaller sibling. The same figure of a batter, although somewhat more detailed in its larger size. Similar color scheme. The swooping text is somewhat similar, making allowances for the expanded real estate of the full-size pennant, accommodating more elaborate letterforms. That same extra space allows for "MIL." on the larger version. Both pennants use the same "AMER. ASS'N." abbreviation for the league.

They do seem to be of a set. If so, it would date the big pennant at 1936-37, around the time the Brewers were winning their third American Association championship.

The full-size pennant is a valuable piece of Brews memorabilia from an earlier age, and age where merchandising as we know it simply didn't exist. It is in remarkable shape for its age. There are thumbtack holes along the edge, the point, and directly in the center, giving us a clue as to how it was once displayed.

You can see along the left edge that the original maroon tassels appear to be intact. They are folded underneath the pennant so it better fits in the display case.

The silkscreen ink is cracking in places but holds true to the felt, which doesn't appear to have faded much at all.

The point itself is still sharp, uncommon even for pennants of a more recent vintage.

Somebody loved this pennant. I can't help but wonder where it was tacked up. A kids' bedroom? Family rec room? A tavern?

It isn't tagged with a donor card, so I presume this pennant is part of the permanent collection of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. We are indebted to them for preserving it for future generations.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"The Patch, Part II"

A few years ago, contributor Paul Tenpenny chronicled the story of the Brewers' 1942 jacket patch, and how at least one single exemplar survived. Today, we have a sequel of sorts, with another priceless patch from Milwaukee's baseball history.

Or, rather, with two patches.

To begin at the beginning, it's no secret that I've been a bit obsessed by the Milwaukee Chicks/Schnitts for some time. Back in 2013, I pitched the Brewers on my idea for a Turn Back the Clock event honoring the AAGPBL team on its 70th Anniversary. Now, with the 75th Anniversary in sight, I'm doing it again.

The biggest problem with throwback uniforms, however, is that we don't have great reference material on what they actually wore back in 1944. We've been able to re-create their caps, but the uniforms themselves have been trickier to nail down. In every photo I've seen, the Milwaukee city seal-inspired patch was reduced to a black blob with white outlines.

So when I heard that the Milwaukee Historical Society had amassed an exhibit of Milwaukee's complete sporting history, I hoped that we'd get a better photo of the uniforms. We didn't, but we got something much, much better.

Two patches were presented in a display case with a Schnitts program and scrapbook, along with some Brewers and Milwaukee Bears artifacts. One had been roughly removed from a uniform, the other more carefully cut out.

The patches were loaned to the exhibition by the Northern Indiana Historical Society in South Bend, the primary repository of AAGPBL artifacts.

And now so many questions have been answered. The uniform patch was black and red, so it's easy to see how these details could so easily get lost in black and white photographs.

The design is executed in beautiful chainstitch.

Look at that detail. The care they put into making these.

At the heart of the design is the seal of the City of Milwaukee.

Compare the patch with the actual city seal, and you can see that they've done a pretty good job reproducing it in chainstitch.

The iconography is straightforward, if cluttered; we have a railroad engine on top, the old City Hall on the right, and a steamboat and clipper at the bottom. The building on the left is usually identified as "a house", but it's not clear if it was ever intended to represent a specific building. But at the center, the sun rises over the lake, a lighthouse, and its keeper.

The patch manages to capture the basic essense of the four outer lobes, although the lighthouse suffers somewhat in the telling. But on the whole, a pretty faithful representation of the civic seal.

And now that we finally know what the Schnitts wore on their uniform, we can make the case to our Brewers that they should honor these women with a Turn Back the Clock event in 2019, the 75th Anniversary of the Schnitts' first and only season, and the AAGPBL championship they brought home to the Cream City.