Saturday, April 19, 2014

Today in 1944 - "Sunshine, Big Crowd and a Victory for the Brewers"

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 19, 1944, the Milwaukee Journal rushed this photo on to the front page of its late-afternoon edition.

Baseball fans inspired by balmy weather and the opening game of the Milwaukee Brewers, filled the grandstands at Borchert field Wednesday to see the game against the St. Paul Saints. It was a complete sellout.   —Journal Staff
The following day, the paper carried a somewhat more complete look at the Opening Day festivities.

R.G. Lynch, the Sports Editor of the Milwaukee Journal, contributed this review of the day's proceedings:
Sunshine, Peanuts and Beer—Baseball Is On

Opening day! All streets lead to the ball park.... Curbs lined with cars for blocks around.... Buses dumping overflow loads.... "Keep moving, please!" ... "Use any entrance." ... "Gee, what a crowd! Do you think we'll get a seat?" ... "Get a cushion—nice S-O-O-FT cushion—the seats are hard" ... "Luggy number score cards, get a score card can't tell the players without nummers." ... And no numbers listed for the St. Paul players after you part with 10¢.

"Peanuts! Peanuts!" ... What's a ball game without peanuts? You buy a sack and the first taste tells you these must be last year's peanuts.... "Let's see your ticket stubs - third box to the right."

A half hour before the game and already the crowd is standing around the top of the grandstand.... "Nothing left but bleacher seats." ... Fans pour across the field to the bleachers. Kids climb the fence to beat more dignified grownups to the few remaining bleacher seats. A few fans mill around the outfield. The crowd there grows. Policemen herd the flock over into the far corners and groundskeepers appear to string ropes.

Uniforms and flags and a band an endless speeches that nobody wants to hear. Some day will they learn to run these pregame ceremonies off with speed. Baseball is what this huge crowd has come to see.... At last! Mayor Bohn walks out to pitch the first ball. Catcher Pruett puts a cap on his head and somebody hands him a glove. Cameras click. The canny old mayor stops two-thirds of the way to the pitcher's mound and looks at home plate. Far enough for his right arm, he decides. The Brewers break from the bench and fan out to their positions. The mayor takes his stance. Cameras click. He throws! Good enough—he knew his strength, the ball makes it to Capt. Robert Rankin's mitt.

"The first batter for St. Paul," boom the loud-speakers, "is Riskosky!"

Up steps Riskosky. "Play ball!" yells the umpire.

The baseball season is on!
It was, indeed. Let's take a closer look at the photos in that series.

Milwaukee baseball fans turned out 13,694 strong for the Brewers' first game Wednesday afternoon. Long lines of buyers stood at the ticket windows right up to game time. Mayor Bohn threw the first pitch to Capt. Robert Rankin of the Marines.
That same photo of the fans lining up to buy tickets for Opening Day was also published in the club's score cards later that season, giving us today a much better look than the low-res scan of the grainy Xerox copy of the newspaper page.

Mayor John Bohn, throwing out the first pitch, had plenty to celebrate on that day. Just a few weeks earlier, on April 4th, Milwaukee voters elected him to his first full term as Mayor. Formerly the President of the Common Council, Bohn had been serving as acting mayor for two years, ever since Mayor Carl F. Ziedler had joined the Navy. It was the culmination of a long career in Milwaukee politics that had begun in 1898 with a four-year stint on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. Bohn was elected to the Common Council in 1926 and served there until taking over the reins at City Hall in April 1942. Mayor Ziedler's ship went missing off the coast of South Africa on October 11, 1942, and when Ziedler's term was up Bohn ran for his own term. He was 76 when elected, and served out his full term before retiring from politics.

The "Capt. Robert Rankin" waiting to receive Hizzoner's ceremonial first pitch was the head of Marine Corps recruiting for Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Speaking at the annual Elks' Club baseball dinner the night before, Captain Rankin had won over the crowd of 500-plus baseball fans with the line "I'm quite a talent scout in my own right; I signed (Brewer owner) Bill Veeck for the marines."

Then, of course, there were the fans. The Journal highlighted four of them in attendance at that first game:

Coast Guard (member) Spiegel is home at 2469 W. Lisbon on leave. Mrs. Zarder, 65, of 2412 N. 27th st is the Brewers' No. 1 fan. She says she has not missed a home game since 1926 and has always had the same seat, just at the right of the main entrance. The Baumes, who live at 2322 N. 29th st., had a warm spot in the sun.
Not to be outdone, the Milwaukee Sentinel featured a look at a pivotal play in the fourth inning, as the Brewers extended the lead they held since the bottom of the first, a lead they never relinquished.

We've taken an in-depth look at this photo before, but I'm still amazed at the numbers of fans standing on the warning along the outfield wall. Must have been very interesting if a batter managed to get one all the way to the wall, four hundred feet from home plate.

Those fans crowded in the outfield saw a heck of a game. The Brewers scored early and often, defeating St. Paul 5-2.

A great start to the 1944 campaign, as the Brewers set out to win their first back-to-back pennants since 1913/14.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Today in 1944 - the Opening Day Lineup is Set

Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series of day-by-day looks at the Brewers' 1944 season. For more detail, please check out Paul Tenpenny's fantastic overview of the season.

Seventy years ago today, the day before Opening Day Brewer manager Charley Grimm announced his starting nine. The Milwaukee Journal had the men line up for the camera, in batting order, at their Spring Training camp in Waukesha:
Here Are the Brewer Regulars Who Will Start Play Wednesday Afternoon in the Order They Will Bat
Let's take a closer look at that lineup:

They are wearing their old uniforms with the block "M" on the chest, not the script "Brewers" introduced for the 1942 season. Those uniforms were still part of the rotation in '42 and '43, but I don't think they ever saw the field in 1944 once Spring Training closed.

Leading off for the Brews, we have shortstop Dick Culler. Grimm liked to put his shortstops at the top of the order, and Culler was no exception. He had come to the Brews after spending 1943 with the White Sox. He had appeared in 53 games for the South Siders, hitting .216.

Up second, Milwaukee favorite Hal Peck. Peck had been a Brewer since 1942. In late 1943, team president Bill Veeck had signed a deal to send him to the White Sox before Peck lost two toes in a hunting accident. The Brooklyn Dodgers were still willing to take a flyer on the hard-slugging outfielder. He stayed briefly in Brooklyn before being claimed on waivers by the Chicago Cubs. Peck sat out most of the 1943 season recuperating from his accident, and in August the Cubs traded him... back to the Brewers.

Frank Secory was in his third season in a Brewer uniform. He had been on the Brewers' radar since 1940, when he was in the Detroit Tigers' farm system, but couldn't land him for another two years.

Our cleanup hitter, Herschel Martin, was a switch-hitter who also came to the Brews during the 1942 campaign. Veeck had bought him from the Tulsa Oilers when Hal Peck was injured, but Martin quickly earned his own spot on the team.

Bill Nagel was the only one of these starters in his rookie season with the Brewers; his contract had been purchaed from the White Sox after the 1943 season, in one of Bill Veeck's last deals before entering the Marine Corps. Nagel had spent the 1943 season with the Albany (New York) Senators, where he led the Eastern League in both hits and home runs. Nagel's bat seemed perfectly tailored to American Association parks, and there were high expectations when he arrived in Milwaukee.

First baseman George "Bingo" Binks had been wearing a Brewer uniform since the '41 season. He was discovered with the Green Bay Bluejays by their manager Red Smith, who had long ties to the Brewers organization. Smith's recommendation paid off when Binks knocked a home run in his first game as a Brewer. Bingo was also known for his lucky glove; the webbing had worn out and been replaced by a mess of bailing wire and tape by Bluejays clubhouse attendant. The resulting Frankenstein's Monster of a mitt became his calling card.

Tommy Nelson, was another player brought to Milwaukee by Bill Veeck. He was purchased from the Macon Peaches in the South Atlantic League. He had only played in 66 games in 1943, his rookie season at Borchert Field, but was ready to assume the full-time Role at second base.

The last of Grimm's position players is the catcher, Jim Pruett. He was a hot prospect in 1943, who returned his 1944 contract to the Brewers' offices with a note reading "I'll be your No. 1 catcher this year." True to his word, he spent 114 games behind the plate for the Brewers in '44.

In addition to his batting order, Grimm also announced his starting pitcher.

Opening game pitcher for the Brewers Wednesday afternoon at Borchert field will be the veteran Earl Caldwell. He was chosen definitely Tuesday by Manager Charley Grimm after Hi Vandenberg, who had first call on the job, reported his wrenched knee was too sore for him to pitch. Vandenberg was sold Tuesday to the Cubs.
Earl Caldwell was indeed a veteran, beginning his 18th year in baseball. He was another of Veeck's recent acquisitions (Sport Shirt Bill was certainly putting his own stamp on the club), in his sophomore season at the Orchard. He had a 10-11 record in '43, and was in better shape as the 1944 season approached.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: your 1944 Milwaukee Brewers, ready for Opening Day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Today in 1914 - Game Two!

Like out streaking 2014 National League Brewers, the Brewers of 1914 were off to a red-hot start. They followed up their Opening Day 4-0 win over the St. Paul with another shutout victory, this time a 3-0 blanking of the Saints.

Pitcher Joe Hovlik took the mound for Milwaukee, while former Washington Senators hurler Dixie Walker got the got the start for the visitors. Walker would later have a son who inherited the nickname and who, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, asked in 1947 to be traded rather than play with Jackie Robinson.

This game was closer than the final score suggests; as you can tell from the box score, one half-inning made all the difference for the Brews. The Saints hit Hovlik's pitches hard right from the first, they couldn't manage to convert a singe hit until the top of the fourth, as center fielder Charlie Hemphill beat out an infield hit. St. Paul's elation was short-lived, as on the next pitch Milwaukee catcher John Hughes caught Hemphill trying to steal second with a bullet throw to shortstop William Joseph "Jap" Barbeau. Another four scoreless frames followed.

It wasn't until the bottom of the eighth that either team managed to get on the board. With one out, right fielder Johnny Beall lined a clean infield single, moving to second on an error. Center fielder Happy Felch brought him home with a double. Felch himself scored on a triple from second baseman Phil Lewis, who came home on Hughes' sacrifice fly. That was enough for the Brewers to cruise to victory.

The short streak would end the following afternoon, as the Saints managed a measure of revenge by beating the Brewers 4-1; but as any Milwaukee fan can tell you, a winning streak is a lot of fun while it lasts.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in 1914 - Opening Day!

One hundred years ago today, Milwaukee turned out in force to watch their Brewers open the 1914 season at Athletic Park. And what a game - the hometown boys defeated the visiting St. Paul Saints 4-0.

The Milwaukee Sentinel gave its readers this first look at the game:

The next morning, they followed up with photos from the game:

Top row—Left to Right—Centerfield Bleachers—A Fair Rooter. Bottom row—Jap Barbeau Watching a Foul; John Beall Sprinting Home After His Home Run; Happy Felch Lining Out Triple.
The champions look very sporty in their new white caps and striped socks.

The Milwaukee Journal took a slightly different tack, contrasting a photo of the players with one of "the youngest fan" at the ballpark.

The Brewers started their title defense in fine form. 1914 was looking like a good year for Milwaukee and her Brews.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Today in 1914 - "How the Brewers Will Appear When They Take Field Tuesday"

One hundred years ago today, writers from the Milwaukee Sentinel took a look at the American Association field and liked what they saw.


As for our Brewers, the Sentinel's Manning Vaughan said if "Jap" Barbeau and Happy Felsch could deliver, the club "may win the pennant again":
(N)aturally everyone is anxiously waiting to see whether the 1914 model of the Clark machine will stack up as formidable as the pennant-winning Blitzen of a year ago. On paper the club looks just as strong, if not stronger, than the club which represented the Cream City last season. It has pitching, batting and fielding strength, and a volcanic fighting leader, a leader who never knows when he is beaten, and who has the happy faculty of instituting that fighting spirit in the men he commands. It is a club with a mighty PUNCH—a real wallop. It may not repeat its pennant parade of '13, accidents and injuries always figure in the final reckoning, but the club that beats 'em to it will know it has been through the mill. I am not predicting that another bit of muslin will come here next fall, but unless mishaps throw the machinery of the Clark speedster into disorder, the Brewers will finish one, two, three.
Bold words, Mr. Vaughan. We will see if the Brewers can live up to them.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Back in 1944 - "Until a Better Man Comes Along"

Today, we bring you a brief tale from the Brewers' Waukesha spring training camp in 1944.

Until a better man comes along, Jack Pavelecic, Chicago semipro, will handle the first base chores for the Brewers. Jack has shown promise of developing into a fancy fielder at the Brewers' Waukesha spring training camp.
What an exciting opportunity but man, that's gotta be a humbling caption.

Unfortunately for the Chicago semi-pro, the Brewers had a prospect who had come up from their Green Bay Bluejays farm club named George "Bingo" Binks, who despite wielding an unusual glove in the field was able to win the job outright.

I wish we could identify the players in the background wearing the Owgust-patch jackets. They're standing behind the movable batting cage with what appears to be the Fox River in the background.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Today in 1914 - Counting Down

One hundred years ago today, Milwaukee baseball "bugs" were counting down the days until Opening Day.

Check out the graphic in the upper-left corner of the "Final City Edition" of the Milwaukee Sentinel:

Subtle. Obviously the readers knew what was coming on Tuesday, April 14th.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Today in 1944 - the Brewers Take On the Badgers

With the start of the 1944 season just ten days away, the Brewers welcomed the University of Wisconsin's varsity baseball team to Frame Field in Waukesha for an exhibition game.

Everybody knows it's a homer as the ball soars from Jim Pruett's bat toward the Fox river at Waukesha Saturday. The Brewer catcher pounded two balls into the river for round trips as Milwaukee opened its spring exhibition schedule with a 14-4 victory over the University of Wisconsin. The picture shows him hitting the second homer in the seventh innings. Wisconsin's catcher, Al Gassman, and Umpire Hack watch the ball as intently as Pruett as it rides high and far.
Based on the description, it appears that the ballfield might still be in the same place as it was seventy years ago when our Brews used it for Spring Training. Frame Park is on the east bank of the Fox River, but the diamond orientation faces the batter more or less due north, meaning it's still possible to follow Jim Pruett's lead and put a home run in the water.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Today in 1914 - Athletic Park "All Dressed Up"

As Milwaukee fans were counting down the days on their calendar to April 14th's Opening Day, the ballpark's keepers were busy making preparations of their own.

Milwaukee Journal columnist William Wallace Rowland, writing under his pen name "Brownie", gave the "bugs" this preview of changes to come at the ballpark:



The Brewers are going to have a big league opening when they meet St. Paul at Athletic park next Tuesday.

That is, there is going to be music, but so far no speech-making has appeared on the program. According to the present plans, there will be a parade of the band down town and following the plans of last season, the games will be called at 3 o'clock on week days and 2:30 on Sundays.

There have been several new improvements made in the park, which it is expected will meet with the approval of the fans. The ticket offices at Eighth-st have been moved in closer to the stands, which will make it possible for lines to be formed without going onto the street. New seats have been added to the grandstand and bleachers.

However, the most noticeable improvement which had been made in the park will probably be the new entrance and exit which has been put in on the Seventh-st end of the grandstand.

Another improvement this season will be in the matter of rain checks, which will be attached to each grandstand ticket.

The management announces that their policy of last season in regard to ladies will be the same his season. During week days the fair fans will be admitted to the grandstand for a quarter, while on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the charge will be the same as for the men.
A lot to look forward to, as the Brewers began their quest for a second straight American Association pennant.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Today in 1944 - "A Brewer Tradition"

This photo comes from the Milwaukee Journal seventy years ago today, April 7, 1944.

A Brewer tradition is to have a shortstop as the team's lead-off batter. Dick Culler (above), who succeeded Tony York at the position, has been selected as the No. 1 hitter in the Brewer line-up. His predecessors were Eddie Stanky in 1942 and York last year. In 1942 Culler had a hand in beating the Brewers out of the pennant when his bay decided several important games in the final week of play. He was with St. Paul.
New Brewer shortstop Dick Culler spent 1943 with the Chicago White Sox, but when he was unable to unseat their starter Luke Appling. He was classified 1-A by his draft board early in 1944, and there was some concern that he would be unable to report to the Brewers' spring training camp in Waukesha. When camp started, however, Culler reported to manager Charley Grimm. Just days later, he was photographed taking batting practice at Frame Field.

I love the nylon jacket Culler's wearing. Shame his swing is obscuring the Owgust patch.