Monday, June 18, 2018

The Chicks at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Today, we continue 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 the display devoted to the Milwaukee Chicks.


The Chicks were Milwaukee's entry in the All-American Girls Professional Ball League. Joining the league in 1944, its second season, the Milwaukee club went unheralded at the box office but was strong on the field, winning a championship in their first season, which would turn out to be their only season in Milwaukee.

When I heard about the "Back Yards to Big Leagues" exhibit, I knew the Chicks had to be included. And frankly, the thing I was most hoping for was a clear look at the Chicks' uniform patch. I knew it was based on the official civic seal of Milwaukee—all of the early AAGPBL logos were—but I couldn't tell more than that from the few photos in circulation.

In those photos, we can see a white outline tracing the city seal's distinctive four-lobed design, but beyond those broad strokes none of the details are distinghuishable. It's just a black blob. And fair enough; the city seal is complicated enough on its own. It's not at all clear how all that detail would translate to an embroidered patch. Perhaps the Historical Society's exhibit could finally shed some light on this historical curiosity.

The display was promising, just down from those for the Brewers and Braves, right across from the equally short-lived Milwaukee Bears.


The Chicks section only consisted of most of a small wall and half of a display case facing it. But still, it contains the most information on the Chicks I've ever seen in one place.


When it comes to telling the story of the Chicks, you need to start with the name itself. Early AAGPBL names were more unofficial than anything; uniforms had city names on their patches, not team names. When the league advertised games, it was billed "Milwaukee vs. Kenosha", not "The Chicks vs. the Comets". And when it came to the Milwaukee club, the original intention was to call them the "Brewettes", a kid-sister to the club with which they shared Borchert Field. But that didn't take, mercifully, and the Milwaukee Journal came up with its own name for the team.

WHO WERE THE MILWAUKEE SCHNITTS?

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) Milwaukee Chicks were dubbed the Schnitts ("short beers", i.e. Little Brewers) by the press while the owners decided the team name. The team came up with the nickname Chicks based on their manager, Max Carey, and a popular children's book, Mother Carey's Chickens.

The Chicks are known as "the most successful, least loved team in Milwaukee history." Despite playing in front of tiny crowds at Borchert Field, the team went 40-19 in the regular season, including an 11-game winning streak, and made the league championship. However, due to the Milwaukee Brewers being in the American Association playoffs, the Chicks had to play all seven of the championship series games in Kenosha. Nonetheless, they hung on to win the series. Alas, the Chicks left Milwaukee after the season due to "red ink and anonymity in the form of a near empty ballpark." The team moved to Grand Rapids where they remained until the AAGPBL ended in 1954, winning two more league championships.
Beside that caption, the exhibit's largest photo. This one features Chicks star Connie Wisniewski conferring with her catcher.

WHO WAS THE FIRST PITCHER IN PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL TO WIN ALL FOUR GAMES OF A LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES?

Connie Wisniewski, pitcher and outfielder, was a four-time AAGPBL All-Star. She won all four games for the Chicks in the 1944 League Championship series, the first pitcher, male or female, to do so in professional baseball leagues. She won four of the five games she pitched and gave up only two earned runs in 35 innings in the series.
Impressive.

Sadly, this particular picture isn't from Wisniewski's time in Milwaukee, but from sometime after the Chicks had moved to Grand Rapids. So we don't learn anything about the Schnitts' uniform patch.

To round out the wall display, the Historical Society has assembled a photo gallery.


In the upper-left corner, a scan of the Chicks' scorecard. With a gorgeous Otis Shepard cover.


Next to the scorecard, moving left to right, a team photo of our Milwaukee heroines.


Slight gaffe there in the caption: the Chicks were obviously 1944, not '43. Still, a gorgeous photo. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell us much about the uniform logo.

On the other side of the team photo, a scan of the scorecard's central page. This one is unscored, but shows the team lineups for a game against the South Bend Blue Sox, one of only two teams to play in the same city for the league's entire history (the other being the Rockford Peaches).


On the bottom row of photos, left to right, we start with a picture of hard-hitting Schnitts catcher Dorothy "Mickey" Maguire. As with Ms. Wisniewski, this photo comes from later in her career, when Maguire was playing for the Muskegon Lassies.


Photographs of Maguire's swing are iconic, and are credited as being an inspiration for Stanley Bleifeld's 2006 sculpture "Woman at Bat". Honoring all the women who played in the AAGPBL, the statue is located in Cooperstown, right next to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Next up in our display, a picture of Mother Carey and his pitching staff.


Very nice look at the hurlers, but it still doesn't tell us much about the Chicks' uniform patch. Same white outlines, same black blobs.

Finally, we come to the last picture in this little gallery. The lower-right corner is anchored with a glamorous studio photograph of the AAGPBL's first four signings from 1943, pictured wearing uniforms emblazoned with the league's original logo.


It speaks to the scarcity of Milwaukee Chicks images that even this exhibit, perhaps the most comprehensive ever devoted to the subject, has to supplement with a generic league photo.

Opposite the wall display, a display case rounded out the Chicks' portion of the exhibit.


The women share space with a Negro League Bears reproduction jersey, and some Brewers artifacts, leaving a little over one-third of the case devoted to the Chicks.


First, a thick scrapbook, open to a large cutting from the Milwaukee Journal.

The Schnits (sic) (Little Beers), who will play for Milwaukee in the Girls' All-American Professional Ball league, are shown here. Players who had been training at Peru, Ill. were divided among the league's six teams. Manager Max Carey talks to his girls in the picture. They are (left to right): Front row—Vivian Anderson, Emily Stevenson, Josephine Kabick, Olga Grant. Second row—Thelma Eisen, Viola Thompson, Judy Dusanko, Delores Klosowski. Third row—Dorothy Maguire, Shirley Shultze, Betty Whiting, Alma Ziegler. Top row—Lafern Price, Dorothy Hunter (chaperone), Connie Wizniewski. They will work out Friday afternoon at Borchert field (admission free) and will play their first game Saturday. (Journal Staff)
What I wouldn't give for a peek at the rest of that overstuffed scrapbook.

Next to the scrapbook, we have an original scorecard. The cover graphic is even more gorgeous than the scan on the wall.


But beneath the scorecard... oh, my. The Holy Grail.

Grails, plural. That's right: not just one, but two original Chicks uniform patches. I wanted a clear photograph, and boy did I get one.

These patches are wonderful. So much so that they deserve an article all their own. Which is exactly what we're going to do. Stay tuned.

But for now, it's just amazing to see these women get their due. If they were the "least loved team in Milwaukee history" during their time at Borchert Field, the least we can do it remember their contributions now. Kudos to the Milwaukee County Historical Society for making them an important part of this exhibit.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"To Mrs. Otto Borchert... on her Presentation of Deed", 1952

We continue our look at the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History", with a truly special artifact from Borchert Field.


At the bottom of the display, we have a copy of the Brewer News (Vol 2, No. 1, 1944), which we looked at a few years back. The front page features the visage of Brewer skipper Casey Stengel, then in his lone season in a Milwaukee uniform.

Above the newsletter is the real treasure; a cut-out section of bleacher seating, emblazoned with a brass plaque.


The dark green paint is thick and roughly applied, but on a side view the wood beneath shines through. This is a cross-section of the heart of the old wooden ballpark.

The plaque reads:

TO
Mrs. Otto Borchert

IN REMEMBRANCE
Of Her Presentation of Deed
For
Borchert Field
To
City Of Milwaukee
Aug. 26th 1952
Milwaukee Baseball Fans
The brass plaque refers to a celebration held as part of the closing ceremonies for the Orchard. The ballpark and the land it stood on had until a few months before been owned by Idabel Borchert, widow of prominent Milwaukee sportsman and former Brewer owner Otto Borchert. Otto had, with some partners he later bought out, purchased the Brewers in January of 1920: land, ballpark and all. When Otto died on the eve of the 1927 season, his widow sold the team but hung on to the real estate. Mrs. Borchert owned the park through the various changes of Brewer ownership, from Phil Ball of the St. Louis Browns to Bill Veeck to the Boston Braves and more in between. All the while, the namesake's widow remained landlady to the Brews, who had them signed to a lease through 1954.

But the coming of County Stadium meant the end of an era, and the team and city settled on an ingenious method of getting out of the last year left on their Borchert Field lease: the city bought the place from Mrs. Borchert. They paid her $123,000 for the land, and in a ceremony between halves of a double-header on August 26, 1952, the lease was publicly burned by Mrs. Borchert, Brewer general manager Red Smith and Milwaukee Mayor Frank P. Zeidler (himself no stranger to public performances in the Orchard):


And now we know Mrs. Borchert was presented with a piece of the old wooden ballpark, one part souvenir and one part appreciation trophy.


What an amazing artifact, and a precious piece of Milwaukee history.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Happy Women in Baseball Day

Today is National Women in Baseball Day, created by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association to recognize the contributions women have made to the sport. It is celebrated today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the AAGPBL's first game, played in 1943.

In celebration of that day, I posted the story of the Milwaukee Brewers' three female owners.




Three very important women, each of whom contributed to the story of our Milwaukee Brewers.

And, of course, we can't forget our own Milwaukee Schnitts, who started playing in the league's second year and who brought women's professional baseball to the Cream City.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Our Brews at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Now we've come to the real meat of the Milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History"; the display dedicated to our very own Milwaukee Brewers.

And there it was, on the second level of the museum, right next to the Braves who would displace them at County Stadium.


The display is headlined by a photo of the 1904 Brewers we've discussed before.


Magnificent photo.

The American Association Brewers (1902-1952 were founded after the major league Brewers became the St. Louis Browns following their inaugural 1901 season.
Under that, a posed picture of the 1913 Brews and their goat mascot Fatima, as well as another familiar face.

WHO WAS THE FIRST WOMAN BASEBALL EXECUTIVE IN MILWAUKEE AND HOW DID HER TEAMS DO?

Agnes Malloy Havenor was named the team president after her husband died in 1912. She ran things from an office in the Majestic Building, though she left the on-the-field decisions to manager Hugh Duffy. The two did not get along and Havenor hired third-baseman Harry Clark to be player-manager of the team. The 1913 and 1914 teams won American Association championships and post-season series to claim the minor league championship. In 1914 Havenor married Al Timme who assumed the presidency for the rest of her ownership.
Of course, we can't talk about the Brews without mentioning Al Simmons, the greatest player to come out of the Milwaukee sandlots. The local boy had started his career with his hometown club:

HOW DID THE "DUKE OF MITCHELL STREET END UP IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME?

Al Simmons (Aloysius Szymanski) was born in Milwaukee in 1902 and became known as the "Duke of Mitchell Street," the street that was the heart of Milwaukee's Polish Community. There is little argument that Al Simmons was Milwaukee's best baseball player. He played 20 seasons and is one of four Wisconsin natives in the Hall of Fame. Simmons' first Brewer game was on September 3, 1922, and he hit a home run, triple, and single. He split the 1923 season between Milwaukee and Shreveport before Connie Mack paid $35,000 for him to play for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League. Simmons had over 100 RBI each of his first 11 major league seasons. He batted .358 in his nine years with the Athletics before being sold to the White Sox in 1933. His lifetime average is .334. Simmons died in Milwaukee in 1956.
Below the Duke, a collage of photos relating to the 1936 pennant-winning Brewers.


I love this team photo, against the wooden fence. That's longtime trainer Harry E. "Doc" Buckner> at the far right of the picture.


Below the photo, a newspaper ad from the team headlined "71 Years of Good Sportsmanship", thanking Milwaukee fans "for their patronage and encouragement". The picture of the dapper young men in floppy caps is the Cream City baseball club, Milwaukee's first post-Civil War club and the first to declare itself major league. It's interesting that the Brewers were drawing a line between that early team and themselves.


Next to it, a commemorative supplement from the Wisconsin News that chronicled the Brewers' 1936 campaign. I have one of those in my collection, and can't believe that I haven't yet reprinted in on this site.

We then jump to the next championship era in the Brews' history: the 1940s.

HOW MANY NO-HITTERS DID BREWERS PITCHERS THROW DURING THEIR HALF-CENTURY IN THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION?

> Joe Hovlik, a native of Czechoslovakia, threw the first Brewers no-hitter on August 20, 1912.
> Dennis John Gearin, who was only 5'4" and 145 pounds (prompting several nicknames - Denny, Dainty Dinty, and Kewpie) threw a no-hitter at home on August 21, 1926.
> Louis Amerigo "Crip" Polli, born in Baverno, Italy and one of six Italian-born major leaguers, threw a 10-inning no hitter on the road against the St. Paul Saints on September 7, 1935.

> Bert Thiel threw the fourth no-hitter on August 16, 1951 in the customary seven inning second game of a double header with the Toledo Mud Hens.
And of course you knew Sport Shirt Bill would make an appearance.
Bill Veeck purchased the Brewers in 1941 and showed his knack for promotional gimmicks and showmanship. He hired Cubs star Charlie "Jolly Cholly" Grimm to manage the team and they won the American Association penannt in 1943. The Cubs hired Grimm to manage the Cubs in 1944, and he convinced Veeck to hire Casey Stengel - at that point a losing manager - to take over the Brewers. They won the pennant that year going wire-to-wire with a 102-51 record, resurrecting Stengel's career. After the Brewers won the pennant again in 1945, Veeck sold his interest in the team for a $275,000 profit.
That story isn't quite accurate; as Veeck himself would later say, Grimm hired Stengel without his knowledge and over his very strenuous later objections, but Veeck was deployed with the Marines at the time and unable to stop the deal.

Finally, we have two photos from that era. The first is an action shot of Grimm himself at bat, from a May 2, 1943 Milwaukee Journal photo spread of their Waukesha spring training camp, and the second is a team photo that was reproduced in the August 16, 1943 edition of Brewer News. You can barely see Veeck himself in the upper-right corner of the photo.


Hard to distill 51 years of baseball history into a single panel's display, but the curators did so admirably.

This section was a fitting tribute to our Brews, but as we'll see, it wasn't the only one in the exhibit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Milwaukee Badgers at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

We continue our look back at the Milwaukee County Historical Society's "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee's Sports and Recreation History" exhibit with Milwaukee's very own NFL team, the Milwaukee Badgers.


The Badgers were included in with the Marquette's now-defunct football program and the Packers' part-time home.
In 1922, two years after the National Football League was founded, two Chicago sporting promoters established the Milwaukee Badgers. The team played from 1922 to 1926 at Athletic Park (Borchert Field), but was not particularly popular. The team did have some notable players, however. Future actor and signer Paul Robeson, who played football at Rutgers and earned a law degree from Columbia, played with the Badgers in 1922. He joined Fritz Pollard, who as player-coach for the Akron Pros in 1919 was the first African American to coach white players in American professional sports. Pollard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Other well-known players for the Badgers include Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman and future Packers stars Red Dunn, LaVerne Dilweg, and Johnny "Blood" McNally. Despite talented players, the Badgers did not do well in Milwaukee. In the 1920s college football was far more popular, and even high school and semi-pro leagues did better than pro leagues. Milwaukee had an amateur football program called the Milwaukee Amateur Football Association that had 34 teams in 1922, and semi-pro games would often draw 9,000 fans compared to the 4,500 the Badgers drew.
In 1925 the Badgers were involved in a scandal in which they used high school players in an out-of-season game against the Chicago Cardinals. The Badgers had trouble fielding a full team and used the four Chicago-area players to fill out the roster. The team was fined $500, which hurt their already perilous financial situation. They played the 1926 season, but folded due to lack of money.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is this architect's rendering of the proposed Milwaukee Municipal Stadium:


It looks a bit like Cleveland Municipal Stadium, opened in 1931, only without the roofed second deck.


The Milwaukee version features a WPA Project number, so we know this rendering post-dates Cleveland's stadium, as the Works Progress Administration wasn't created until 1935.

If built, this stadium would have replaced Borchert Field as the home of the Brewers. Ah, what might have been....

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Milwaukee Bears at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

We begin our look at the artifacts from "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee's Sports and Recreation History" exhibit at the Milwaukee County Historical Society with the Milwaukee Bears. The Bears represented Milwaukee in the Negro National League club for just one year, 1923. They have since become well-known thanks to our National League Brewers, who have made "Negro League Tribute Night" an annual event since 2006. Even if there has historically been some confusion about just what the Bears' uniforms looked like.

Here's the exhibit's look at Milwaukee's Negro League history.


A little brief, but then again so is the history.

Here's a closer look at the display:


Excellent photos, though, especially the one of our hometown team.

That's a better look at the photo we first saw earlier this year. This the photo that settled once and for all what the Brewers' throwbacks should look like.


The exhibit also a replica jersey, made by Ebbets Field Flannels.


Ebbets Field is one of our favorites, but I'm a little confused by this one. Each of the Bears throwbacks have been double-knit polyester, not this classic flannel. Was it made as a potential prototype? I've asked Ebbets, we'll see what they say.

Next up - the Milwaukee Badgers. Our very own NFL team.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A look back at "Back Yards to Big Leagues"

Over the next couple weeks, we're going to take a look back at the recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History". It covered not only the big ones—Brewers, Packers, Bucks, Admirals—but also the many short-lived teams that peppered our city's history. Special thanks to longtime readers Mike Reschke and Cyndy Holtan for their photo assist.


The Milwaukee County Historical Society's building is stunning. Originally a bank, the marble-and-brass serve as a dignified compliment to the artifacts on display.


This kiosk welcomed visitors and let them know what to expect:

Sure you know the Bucks and Brewers, and maybe even the Braves. But, do you know the Bears, Badgers, Bavarians, and Bonecrushers? How about the Hawks, Does, Chiefs, and Chicks?

Milwaukee's sports and recreation history is exciting and extensive. There are dozens of teams and sports with a good story, all of which play a role in shaping Milwaukee social and sporting landscape. This exhibit looks at many of the people, teams, and sports that have been instrumental in shaping our sporting lives. It may not cover it all, but this exhibit will provide a new appreciation of the breadth of Milwaukee sports and recreation and how engaging in these activities, as a fan or participant, can influence the development of our community.
On the reverse, a quick shout-out to the many sponsors, including the city's current pro teams.


So, tune in tomorrow as we take a look at the exhibit itself.

First up... the Milwaukee Bears!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Happy Belated "National Zipper Day"!

So yesterday was apparently "National Zipper Day". Which is a thing, I guess. But fortunately, I had the perfect thing to wear:


It's a reproduction of this beauty as seen on Brewers shortstop Johnny Logan:


The piping down the front isn't quite right—it should run down the middle of the placket, not the outside seam—but I still love it. And it's got a zipper, so I guess it's also seasonally-appropriate.