Friday, May 17, 2019

On This Day, the Sentinel Kinda Covers the League

Seventy-five years ago today, on this day in 1944, the Milwaukee Chicks were still in spring training in Peru, Illinois, preparing for the upcoming All-American Girls Professional Ball League season.

You may have noticed that all the coverage we've shown so far comes courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal, the city's evening paper. What about the morning Milwaukee Sentinel?

Well, the Sentinel did cover the league, just not quite as much. Here's what they ran seventy-five years ago on this day, while the Journal was printing photos of Milwaukee manager Max Carey teaching the woman how to steal bases:

See it there?

Let's get in just a little tighter.

Baby steps, I suppose, but emblematic of the uphill battle the league fought to be taken seriously.

Now, the Sentinel's coverage would improve, to be sure. But they started out with a long way to go.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

On This Day - Max Shows Annabelle How to Steal

Seventy-five years ago today, on this day in 1944, the Milwaukee Chicks started coming together.

The women of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League, as it was then known, were in their Spring Training in Peru, Illinois. The women were being instructed by, among others, freshly-minted Milwaukee skipper Max Carey.

Milwaukee's manager, Max Carey, coaches girls Monday at the Peru (Ill.) training camp of the All-American Girls' Professional Ball league. Max, who was one of the greatest base stealers baseball has had, shows Annabelle Lee of North Hollywood, Calif., how to slide under the ball. Lorraine Borg, Minneapolis, is tagging the California girl out. Former big leaguers, who will manage teams, are training 120 girls, 90 of whom will be retained.
Shame that the microfiche scan of this photo isn't better, but even in this state it's fascinating.

And boy, the caption writer wasn't kidding about Max's base stealing. He had a twenty-year big league career, most of it with the Pirates. After sixteen and a half seasons in Pittsburgh, where he had become the star and team captain, Carey had an argument with a minority owner and was waived by the club. Brooklyn quickly scooped him up and Carey finished out his career with three and a half seasons in a Robins uniform.

Over those two decades, he led the National League in stolen bases an astonishing ten times (1913, 1915–1918, 1920, and 1922–1925). He was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame, where his biography begins with the paragraph:
Many Hall of Famers made it to the big leagues with their bats or their arms. Max Carey did it with his legs.
The two women he's instructing would indeed be signed by the league, although neither would accompany him to Milwaukee. Lorraine Borg would stay in her native Minneapolis, joining the expansion Millerettes club. She only played in the AAGPBL the one season.

The other player had a much longer career. Annabelle "Lefty" Lee was also assigned to the Millerettes, pitching a perfect game on July 29th. When the Minneapolis club was moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana the following season she was one of a handful of players to go with it. She would go on to a seven-year career in the league, pitching not only for the Millerettes and Fort Wayne Daisies but also the Peoria Redwings and the Chicks after they moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

On July 7, 1945, two years before she put on a Chicks uniform, she visited Grand Rapids as a member of the Daisies. Lee pitched a complete game no-hitter and Was immortalized in a poem by K.C. Clapp, published in the Grand Rapids Herald three days later on July 10. Titled “Annabelle Lee Again Arouses Poet’s Muse”, it was a play on Edgar Allen Poe's 1849 poem "Annabel Lee":
It wasn’t so many hours ago
July 7, specifically,
That a maiden there pitched whom you may know
By the name of Annabelle Lee,
And she hurled so well that not a Chick hit,
Going down to her, one, two, three.

She was not wild, this talented child,
Who twirled so effectively.
And no free passes were handed out
By this stingy Annabelle Lee
But the base hits rang for the Fort Wayne gang
For a 6-0 victory.

And this is the reason as 3,000 know
Who witnessed her wizardry
That not a Chick could hit a lick
Off the slants of Annabelle Lee,
So they sharply dropped from second spot
To a humble berth in 3.
But Fort Wayne cheers its peach-clad dears
Because of Annabelle Lee.

The moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the curves of Annabelle Lee.
And the South Field lights will gleam many nights
Before such a sight I may see—
No hits by Ziegler or Tetzlaff or Eisen,
No hits by the bustling “B.”
No hits by Maguire or Petras or “Twi,”
Why? Because of Annabelle Lee.
Nothing in there about her base stealing, but that's a heck of a review for her pitching.

Lee is today also remembered for her nephew, Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee. He gave her a lot of credit for his fourteen-year major league career, saying "She was the best athlete in the family. She taught me how to pitch." One of her uniforms, from her Peoria days, is in the collection of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

As for Carey's squad, we would have to wait to see which players were assigned to Milwaukee.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

On This Day - the Chicks Start Spring Training

Today, we continue our "On This Day" review of the Milwaukee Chicks' championship year. It was exactly seventy-five years ago, on this day in 1944, that the women of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League, as it was then known, started their Spring Training in Peru, Illinois.

To us, a small town one hundred miles west-southwest of Chicago may seem a strange place to hold Spring Training. But this was the 1940s, and there was a war on. Wartime travel restrictions constrained all levels of baseball to some degree; the Brewers themselves were forced to relocate their Spring Training camp from Ocala, Florida to Waukesha, just twenty miles from Borchert Field itself.

The AAGPBL held one combined training camp for all six teams: the four originals returning for a second season, and two newcomers representing Milwaukee and Minneapolis. This was how the Milwaukee Journal covered the start of camp:

Girl Players Start Training

Assemble at Peru, Ill.

Journal Special Correspondence

Peru, Ill.—Max Carey, manager of the Milwaukee team in the All-American Girls' Ball League, and the circuit's five other pilots arrived at Peru, Ill., Sunday to direct the league's 10 day spring training grind which started Monday. Heading the league delegation were Ken Sells, president, and Jim Hamilton, vice-president and chief scout.

About 120 American and Canadian girls have signed contracts. At the close of the training period, 90 will be retained and divided into six teams to represent Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Racine, Kenosha, South Bend, and Rockford. The pennant race is scheduled to open May 27, with Milwaukee at home to South Bend at Borchert field.

Four of the six teams have carryover nicknames from the 1943 race. They are the Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, South Bend Blue Sox and Rockford Peaches. The Milwaukee and Minneapolis teams have no nicknames as yet.
Ninety players divided by six teams yields a tidy fifteen players per squad. Time would tell which of those one hundred and twenty women would be sent to Milwaukee.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Grey Clarke, 1943 Batting Champion

On Sunday, September 19, 1943, the Brewers played the final two games of the 1943 season. The Brews had already clinched the American Association pennant, but that doesn't mean there was nothing left to play for.

Between games of the double-header, team president Bill Veeck stepped up to the microphone (and onto the Borchert Field turf) for a special presentation. Third baseman Grey Clarke had clinched the league's batting title, and Sport Shirt Bill never passed up a chance to celebrate.

The batting championship trophy was presented to Grey Clarke (left), Brewer third baseman, between Sunday's games at Borchert Field by Bill Veeck, president of the Milwaukee baseball club. Clarke finished the season with a .346 average, 13 points ahead of his nearest rival. Attached to the trophy was an envelope containing a $100 war bond. Clarke's victory made him the third Brewer to win the batting title in the American association in consecutive years. Last year it went to Eddie Stanky and the year before to Lou Novikoff.
—Journal staff
In 534 at-bats, Clarke hit 185 hits, with 29 doubles, nine triples, and 10 home runs. With all that, he tallied 97 RBI. Veeck had sold Clarke's contract to the Chicago White Sox in September, although they agreed to let him stay in Milwaukee through the end of the American Association playoffs. The Brewers took almost as much advantage of the extra weeks with Clarke's bat as Clarke himself did.

I love this photo of Veeck, so obviously in his element. Mic in hand, trademark shirt sleeves rolled up, towering over his diminutive third-sacker. Of course, the Brews gave him many reasons to smile.

Clarke, as the caption notes, was the third Brewer in a row to win the batting crown, but he wouldn't be the last. First baseman George "Bingo" Binks would take home the batting title in 1944; Veeck sure had an eye for sluggers.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Chicks Anniversary Night Flyer

Hot off the presses - the Brewers just sent me this promotional flyer for the upcoming Milwaukee Chicks night!

Download your own PDF copy here.

This gives us our first good look at the 75th Anniversary logo the Brewers design team created, based on the team's uniform patch (which was itself based upon the Milwaukee city seal).

Amazing work, there.

We also get our first look at the cap they're giving away as part of the theme night package.

I'm proud to say that I had a small hand in designing this cap, at least in researching the historical cap it's based on. And I can't wait to pick mine up at Miller Park.

So come on, if you haven't bought your tickets yet, what are you waiting for?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Mayor Zeidler Shows a Little 'Zing' of his Own, 1949

Last month, on Opening Day 2019, we looked at the Milwaukee Sentinel's coverage of the 1949 home opener. Today, on the actual 70th Anniversary of the game, I'd like to take a closer look at one photo from that coverage via an extant wire copy.

Mayor Zeidler, displaying the form of a veteran baseballer, gets ready to fire the first ball of the season just before the start of the Milwaukee-Toledo game at Borchert Field yesterday afternoon. An overflow crowd of 13,666 fans saw the Brewers pound the bases for a 9 to 1 victory. Page of pictures and game details in the Sports Section.
—Sentinel photo
As part of the Opening Day festivities, the Brewers had a pair of local politicians throwing the first pitch. Not mentioned in the caption is Wisconsin Governor Oscar Rennebohm, who set up behind the plate to receive it.

That's pretty good form from Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler. Interesting not only that he's throwing off the mound instead of from the stands, but also that he appears to have taken a full wind-up. Hizzoner certainly gives the appearance of a man who really didn't want to bounce it to the catcher, but that's exactly what he did, one-hopping it to the Gov.

The men were in good spirits after the game, quoted as saying "We made a mistake in our preliminary warmup. We practiced at 30 feet for a 60 foot pitch." The Brewers 9-1 win that day may have taken some of the sting out of the ribbing. Brewer hurlers had been every bit as dominant as the scoreline indicated, leading Sentinel columnist Lloyd Larson to quip that Ziedler looked "more like a Toledo pitcher" on the mound than the city's mayor.

And in any case, the Mayor's impressive form made the front page of the next morning's paper, with the story of his one-hop home safely buried in the sports pages.

Wearing a baseball cap with a suit is one thing, but the mayor didn't even unbutton his coat! That's very old-school. No wonder he bounced the throw home.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Going to the Wall, 1951

We now have another unique view of Borchert Field, thanks to author Matthew J. Prigge, who posted this amazing photo to Twitter:

Stunning. Let's take a closer look at it.

So much goodness here, starting with the wall itself. Center field wall, not Murray.

It's a remarkably clear shot of the advertising that covered the back wall of the Orchard. There's some perennial companies in there, with Miller, Gimbels, and Roundy's all represented. If you look closely along the right-hand edge of the photo, there's an ad for Philco televisions, which had been associated with the Brews since the first televised game three years earlier.

There's also Ruby Chevrolet, whose radio commercials were annoying listeners thirty-some odd years later with the jingle "Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby Chevrolet! (come in today!)". He's right next to Clark's Gas, which had been advertising on the covers of Brewer scorecards since at least 1942.

Then we have the people themselves.

I love the little cloud of dirt kicked up by his pitching motion. On the mound is right-handed hurler Murray Wall. Wall had come to the attention of Brewers president Jake Flowers two years earlier, when Wall was playing at the University of Texas and the Brews had their training camp in Austin. By this point, the Brewers were a fully-owned affiliate of the Boston Braves, and no doubt Flowers reported his discovery up the chain. When Wall was ready to graduate in 1950, several big-league clubs were ready to sign him, including the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, but the Braves offered him something that no other would match: a chance to start in the Show.

The plan was for Wall to join the Braves and see a few innings there before being sent to Milwaukee to develop his skills. And so he did; he pitched four innings of relief in a July 4th blowout loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves were already down 9-0 when Wall came in to the game at the top of the fifth inning. The rookie promptly gave up another five runs (four of them earned) over the next four innings, walking two, surrendering six hits, and committing an error trying to field a ball hit back to the mound. That might seem a terrible start, but numbers don't tell the story. He was reported to have shown great poise in his first appearance on a major league mound. And considering the hole the regular Braves pitchers gave him to dig out of, the Bostonians were fairly generous in their assessments. Henry McKenna of the Boston Herald wrote:
"Caution is urged in judging a rookie pitcher on his first showing but 24-year-old Murray Wall, just in from the University of Texas, impressed just about everybody in his four-inning debut in the majors today. With no minor league experience behind him and unfamiliar with the batters or even the park, the rangy right-hander did an excellent job."
Wall spent the next few weeks pitching batting practice and working with the Braves' coaching staff before being assigned to Milwaukee on July 19. He saw action in 13 games with the Brewers, finishing 2-5 with a respectable 3.91 ERA. He pitched the next two seasons at Borchert Field, earning records of 15-5 and 16-10 and ERAs of 4.30 and 4.08, respectively.

Murray Wall (front row, second from left)
with the Brewers in 1952

Wall made his way back to the big league club in 1953, just in time to see the Braves relocate to Milwaukee. He spent the next month on the County Stadium bench, unable to get into a game, before being sent to the relocated Brewers, still the Braves' top affiliate but now playing in Toledo as the Glass Sox. He fought his way back to the majors in 1957, that time with the Boston Red Sox.

There's one other thing I'd like to point out in this photo. Let's go back to that second close-up.

That unidentified man crouching on the left side of the frame is a news photographer. Until the 1950s, in the days before telephoto lenses, these shutterbugs would crouch just off the diamond, waiting for a play to unfold for their cameras. So many of the great field-level photos we've seen were taken by men such as this one, crouching and waiting and ready to snap.

Beautiful photo, on so many levels. I couldn't help myself, I had to ask Matthew if he had anything else in his archives. His answer gives us a reason to hope.

So many treasures surface this way, in shoeboxes or random collections, just waiting to be found and shared. Can't wait to see the next one.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Hanging Out After a Game", 1944

The AAGPBL posted this amazing photo on Twitter today:
Let's take a better look at that photo.

Beautiful. A great look at the wall between the grandstand and the foul area, not to mention the light standards and ads down the third base line.

Helen Filarski was a young infielder from the east side of Detroit. When she first heard about the league in 1943 from friends who played in her local semi-pro league, she was just eighteen and her parents forbade her to try out. One of those friends was Milwaukee pitcher Connie Wisniewski. Filarski eventually joined the league in 1945 at a tryout in Chicago (a tryout where Wisniewski was pitching to the young recruits) and was assigned to the Rockford Peaches.

Here we have Filarski presumably visiting her friend in Milwaukee. I don't know if she tried to join the league in 1944 (her own account isn't clear on the timeline); perhaps this photo was taken during a tryout session, or just a visit to see a friend.

Wisniewski is wearing her uniform, with its Milwaukee city seal at the center. A bat lies at her feet.

You can also see that the grandstand's lower boxes are filled with wooden folding chairs. The seats in the back, under the roof, are more traditional stadium seating.

Over Wisniewski's shoulder, we get a good look at the outfield wall ads.

You can also see the thick light standards installed just nine years earlier, in the foul territory between the grandstand and the diamond.

Our next closeup provides a look at the roof, flagpole, and the centerfield lights in the distance. And is that a net over the left field fence to catch those short home runs?

Simply magnificent. I can't wait to see what else the AAGPBL has in its archives.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Neighborhood Ballpark

This aerial photo of Borchert Field gives us our best sense yet of how the ballpark was integrated into its neighborhood.

There were taverns on the corners, but look at all those houses surrounding it. Block after residential block in every direction. With those short fences to either side, you can bet front windows were broken on 7th and 8th Streets.

I don't know when this photo was taken, except that it was before permanent lights were installed in 1935.

I'm also intrigued by the dirt foul area between the baselines and the grandstand. That's another element that was changed at some point during the ballpark's life.

By the late 1930s there was grass planted there, the vast space filled with bullpens, pitching mounds and catching areas where pitchers would warm up.

Even after the full pitching lanes had been added, there was still plenty of dirt on the warning track between the bullpens and the first row of seats. A huge space where pop flies could go to die. When all that was dirt, I wonder how much was kicked up by an August wind off the lake.

Comparing this photo with a recent Google Maps satellite image, you can see that many of the nearby houses are still standing, even though the site of the ballpark itself was scooped out to make room for the sunken Interstate 43.

Another reminder of how our Brewers were integrated into the community.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Ya Gotta Hand It to Them...

This is the cover art for this year's scorecards at Busch Stadium.

We have a couple of obnoxious Cardinal fans, a-whooping and a-hollering and flat out not caring if they bump into (or spill concessions on) the people around them. Odd thing to be proud of, but you do you, St. Louis.

The art itself is stunning, a luscious retro style. And right there in the front row is our very own Bernie Brewer, literally crying in his beer.

I had no idea Bernie was bald! No wonder he always wears a baseball cap.

And heck, I only wish Bernie still wore lederhosen. Never liked the baseball uniform he's been sporting since Miller Park opened. Ironic that the Cardinals created a better version of Bernie Brewer than the Brewers have used for decades.