Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Vintage Brew: "An Inside Pitch" - Mickey Heath

Minor Wilson "Mickey" Heath was the first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1937 through 1940 (their player/manager for 1939-40), became the voice of the Brewers on local radio stations, and was a willful participant in the promotional antics of Bill Veeck in 1943… but lest we forget, he was also a family man…

"An Inside Pitch" – Mickey Heath
by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2020 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

Author's Note: while has written several stories on Mickey Heath, this one is special because it comes from his family. Nothing pleases us more than to hear from the people associated directly with Milwaukee’s baseball past and I want to personally thank grandson, Robert W. Bigelow for sharing this with us.

Memories of a Baseball Brat
By Dona Heath Bigelow McCauley

*Adapted from a speech about growing up the daughter of a baseball player.

Publicity shot of Dona Heath, Mickey Heath and Stan Heath in Milwaukee

My dad was Mickey Heath, a first baseman born in Toledo, Ohio in 1903. When he was 9 years old, his father died, leaving his mother alone with 8 children. When he was 12, he went fishing with his brothers, rolled into a campfire and was burned severely over half of his body. The doctors told him that he would never walk without crutches as the muscles of his right leg were so badly scarred that his foot couldn’t reach the ground. This man, my dad, went on to play professional baseball.

Dad came from a close-knit family who supported him through an arduous recovery. Though he would wear the scars for the rest of his life, he did recover. It wasn’t long before he was able to play sandlot ball and soon moved on to a local Toledo team called the Daisy Velvet Ice Cream Co.

Daisy Velvet Ice Cream Co. team- Mickey Heath leaning in back-still with physical issues from fire

A scout for the Detroit tigers saw him in a game where he hit a home run, a triple and two doubles. For the sum of $175, the scout signed my dad for the month remaining in the 1923 season. I’m sure he would have signed the contract for $1.00. He felt that baseball was what he was born to do.

Ottumwa Cardinals- (Mississippi Valley League) Mickey still wearing a local Toledo uniform

Dad’s professional baseball career began in Ottumwa and through Birmingham (Barons-Southern Association) and then Toronto.

Mickey Heath (Toronto Maple Leafs -International League)

While playing in Toronto, he married my mother, Mona. She was a Canadian who loved the game of baseball. According to family lore, she never missed a game. They met on a blind date. Dad was tall, red-headed and had a smile that lit up the room. Many of the wives of players stayed at home while their guys played ball. Mom didn’t. Wherever Dad went, Mom went. It wasn’t long before my brother, Stan, was born in Toledo, Ohio. A year later I joined up in Long Beach, CA while Dad was having great success for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.

Mickey Heath - Cincinnati Reds 1931-1932

In 1931, Dad was sent to Cincinnati, the “big leagues”! He did well enough in spring training and in the first few games of the regular season to win the starting spot at first base. In an away game at Pittsburgh very early in the season, the opposing team’s shortstop hit a slow roller to second base, it was picked up and thrown to Dad at first who caught it, but his arm had gone between the runner’s legs and it was broken just above the wrist. The doctors put on a cast and that was the end of his season with Cincinnati. The club paid for us to drive back to Toledo to stay with Dad’s mother.

In one of my earliest memories, bolstered by family recollection, the family piled in the car, Dad with a cast up to his shoulder, and Mom a nervous wreck, driving too fast because she really didn’t know how to drive. We were pulled over by a cop and Stan and I started crying. The policeman took one look at the scene and walked away. This is a family story and the only real memory I have, being a toddler, is seeing Dad in the car with the cast on his arm and me crying up a storm. So it must be true.

The doctors suggested we go back to Long Beach for the warm climate which we did. Bad luck struck again. Dad pulled the electric cord out of a dried-up Christmas tree and it sparked and set the tree on fire. He started carrying it outside through a laundry room, but it was filled with gas from a blown-out pilot light and the whole tree exploded. I have a distinct memory of Stan and I hosing the burning tree in the front yard and later bringing neighborhood kids in to “show off” my father covered with bandages. Dad went into the next season in very poor health.

The Cincinnati club kept him as long as they could but after a tough start, they traded him to Rochester, who traded him to the Columbus Red Birds during the following season. We were in Columbus all of 1934 and then Indianapolis all of 1935. We started 1936 in Indianapolis, but Dad was traded to Montreal during the season. We moved, a lot.

Columbus Red Birds - American Association

Unlike Navy or Army brats who move maybe every two or three years, baseball brats move every six months and more often if traded. We would move to one city for spring training and another for the season. The ball club would only pay transportation for Dad, not the family, so he would collect the train fare and use it for gas to drive the whole family. The car would be loaded down with us and everything we owned.

Dad would wake us up at 4:30 a.m., pack us all into the car, and off we’d go, stopping only to eat and look for a motel when it was dark. A motel in those days was a group of small cabins outside of town, just like the cabin stayed in by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in the movie “It Happened One Night”. Depending on our next ball club, the road trip would take from 4 to 5 days. Mom would sleep the whole way as she hadn’t learned to drive, and Stan and I would take turns teasing each other. We played games and tried not to be like kids stuck in a car for hours. No iPads, no TV to watch, no cell phones. We played “In My Trunk” , “License Plate Poker” and a favorite of mine “Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral “ Our only distraction was when we stopped at gas stations as there was always something out of the ordinary on display, like an anteater or a two-headed snake. On one occasion, I saw the sign advertising the snake a few miles out of town, I couldn’t wait to see it. It had two heads all right, but it was in a jar. I thought it was a dirty trick to play on a kid, but it enticed people to stop and buy their gas, which was the whole idea.

During our grade school years, Stan and I averaged three schools a year. I loved the nomadic life. As we arrived at the new schools at odd times of the year, we received special treatment and caused a stir. The Eastern schools were usually more advanced, so we’d repeat classes, making it easier to get good grades. We’d be moved up a grade when we went West and were also given mini-celebrity status by the kids. We’d shine in geography since we’d lived in or passed through most of the states. Of course, it didn’t hurt having a ball player for a father.

During the season, we lived mostly in hotels. My mother managed to carry a few things to make each hotel room a bit homey. The rooms usually included a small kitchen, but she didn’t like to cook so our meals were simple.

My brother Stan frequently had the job of ballboy, so he was on the field with the players. I was pretty jealous so at all the ballparks I’d pester Dad to let me have a tour of the clubhouse locker room when the players had all left. He always said no as it was off limits to a girl. I did manage to see it, though… the hard way. We were at one of the ballparks and the seats in the family section had folding chairs. During one game, I tilted my chair back and was daydreaming, looking up at the clouds, when suddenly I saw a ball three feet away coming straight for my head. Too late to duck, the foul ball landed on my cheek bone and knocked me out cold. I woke up to see the ball club trainer hovering over me. I sat up, looked around and started laughing. Yep! I had made it into the… locker room.

My most vivid memories begin when we settled in with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training – Biloxi Mississippi, 1937

Mickey Fielding at First Base

1937 team photo - Mickey in 2nd row, behind Ken Keltner

When we first moved there, we lived at the Ambassador Hotel.

Years later, we rented a house in Shorewood, a suburb just outside of Milwaukee. We lived there through our high school years; it was the longest time we had ever stayed in one place. Dad played ball for the Brewers for 4 years.

I became a hotel brat both home and away. I would sneak into the hotel’s parties sometime joining the staff serving, and sometime mingling with the guests until someone figured out that I didn’t belong. I helped in the hotel drug store and one day I stole a pack of gum. I had the nickel, but I guess I just wanted to see if I could pull it off.... I didn’t. Mom took me back to the store, I paid the nickel, and believe me I never wanted to be that sorry about anything again. I did figure out how to find kids. I would do this by going to the nearest church in whatever town we were in. It didn’t matter the denomination, because all of them had Sunday school. I’d find the right room and join in the fun crafts and listen.

On the road, I think Mom would get bored or lonely. Sometimes, she and I would get in the car and drive to the busiest part of town and park. We’d sit for hours just watching the people walk by. We’d be doing what she called “people watching.” I don’t remember talking, so I don’t know what she got out of it unless it was to just be out of the hotel for a few hours.

The craziest thing I ever did was while we were living at the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee. I climbed the tall neon sign on top of the hotel roof spelling out the name of the hotel. I had given myself the challenge to climb it and I did …, but that sign was really tall, old, and the ladder to the top was rusted metal. The point was to look at the city from the top, but when I got there, I was too scared to look.

Dona Heath on the balcony of the Ambassador Hotel, Milwaukee

Early on, one of the local newspapers wanted a shot of Dad, Stan and me. Stan looks like a budding ball player, Dad a proud father, and me a funny looking kid with burnt hair. Mom heard it was going to be a publicity shoot and she thought I’d look better with curly hair, So she bundled me off to the beauty parlor, where they put rollers in my hair and put me under a dome-like contraption that had clamps on the ends of wires, like a giant jelly fish. They attached the clamps onto the rollers and turned on the heat. I don’t remember it, but Mom said I cried the whole time. I couldn’t hold my head up; it was all so heavy. She held my head up with her hand under my chin. That I remember. When the rollers came off… burnt hair. Mom was horrified, but I didn’t care. When the photographers showed up, I was happy to be with my Dad on the field.

One year, Dad hit 30 home runs and for each home run he was given a case of Wheaties, the “breakfast of champions”. A case of those little individual packets. We had Wheaties for breakfast, Wheaties for lunch and Wheaties for dinner. Sometimes a steak. Ballplayers are extremely superstitious and one of Dad’s was - If he had a good day on the field, we had the same dinner every night…. Great if it was steak, but not so great if it was Wheaties. We lived with the usual superstitions, no black cat crossing your path, no hat on the bed, no walking under ladders, spill salt…throw it over your left shoulder. Added to those, we had superstitions like a day without Dad getting a hit, no talking when he came home, and we’d have to wear the same clothes every day until he got a hit. Saved Mom from a lot of laundry.

As manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, setting the lineup in 1939

Dad would go on to become manager of the team. Once, while Dad was managing the Milwaukee team, Stan came up with the idea of making money by cleaning up the trash at the ballpark, Borchert Field. The idea was that Stan would get his buddies together and after a night game, about 10 pm, they would gather up all the empty beer bottles, paper plates with half eaten hot dogs, peanut shells and candy wrappers. Real trash and plenty of it. Stan and his buddies started out ok but by about midnight they found it wasn’t fun, and no matter what Stan was going to pay them, they all left. Stan came home and woke up Dad, who woke up Mom, and the three of them went out to Borchert Field and worked until the job was done. I was just coming down for breakfast when they got home. Stan headed for bed, but Dad steered him right out the door again. It was time for school. Stan never asked for the job again, and he learned that if you accepted a job, you finished it.

Dad would play catch with Stan every chance he could, hoping he would become a ball player but in Stan’s Sophomore year of High School he played football, as quarterback, and it was plain for everyone to see that he was going to be one of the great passers. I hated watching the games, as I’d have to see my brother being tackled, with the other team’s fans chanting “kill the quarterback”. After high school he had a stint in the Navy, came home and went to the University of Nevada in Reno, where he became the Wolf Pack’s first ever All-American. One year, he led the nation in passing. Stan would become an inaugural member of the University of Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame and one of the quarterbacks on Nevada’s Team of the Century. In other words, he was a star. The Green Bay Packers hired him, but his success did not continue. Stan did poorly, lasting only one year. He moved on to play ball in the Canadian League.

After his stint as manager, Dad was hired to broadcast the games on the radio.

Broadcasting on WISN Radio

At the mic - WEMP Radio

He would broadcast the home games from a small booth on top of the ballpark's roof. Sometimes I’d sneak past the guards and go up and watch the game with him. It was special, as I had a bird’s eye view of the game and listened to Dad describing it at the same time.

No TV for the out of town games, so he came up with the idea to make it fun for the fans by setting up a glass booth in the basement of a local movie theater where the fans could come and watch him broadcast He would get the bare facts of the game on a ticker tape and would then invent the action. He made the game come alive, and the fans loved him for it.

Glass booth in basement of movie theater, broadcasting game off ticker tape for WEMP

He became so popular they named a bread after him: “Heath’s”. I spent many a night doing my homework in the studio listening and watching Dad.

In Milwaukee, our lives changed when Bill Veeck bought the Brewers. That’s when the fun began. Veeck hired Dad to coach and do promotional work while keeping up his broadcasting.

Mickey and Red Smith packing up Manager Charlie Grimm for Spring Training April 4, 1943 (Author’s Collection)

Veeck was a showman and his sole focus was to fill the seats at the ballpark. I loved going to the games, since I never knew what he and Dad would cook up to entertain the fans. Veeck declared every day a special occasion where baskets of food, live chickens, live piglets, and cakes of ice were given out to the fans by calling out a seat number. The lucky ones would carry the "prize" back to their seats. Even the live ones. The fans ate it up and filled the stands.

1943 “Band Practice” before a game
(Author’s collection)

They formed a “band” with Charlie Grimm (manager) on banjo, Herschel Martin (outfielder) on an upright piano, and pitcher Hank Oana on ukulele. Veeck would play a sliding whistle, Rudy Schaffer (club secretary) on a single string base wash tub, and a real set of drums for Dad. They would set the band up at home plate before the games and people would come just to see them having fun. Veeck gave Dad a “Mickey Heath Night” because he knew that the fans loved Dad and it would fill the stands. It did. That night Veeck presented Dad with a trophy that was taller than me and we used it as a doorstop.

Dad would broadcast the Brewers’ games until 1950, when his baseball career ended. He was, what I called, a minor celebrity. We’d walk down a Milwaukee street and people would yell “Hi Mickey!” They would come up to him, shake his hand and tell him how much they loved his broadcast of the games. Until he died, he would receive envelopes in the mail every week with an index card and a self-addressed envelope… asking for his autograph. He signed them all.

After retiring Dad played golf with a 5 handicap and was a bit of a hustler at 8-ball pool. Like father, like daughter, but I don’t hustle, not yet. We moved to California, and Dad wrote a book titled “Baseball Before Money”. His highest salary was $6,000. Now the salaries are in the multi-millions. I never heard him say he would have preferred to do anything else, though. He loved the game and I loved living it with him. I guess if you asked me now, I’d have to say that my childhood was anything but normal.

He taught me to play by the rules, play fair, and always, always play to win.

As Dad would say, “Thanks for listening.”


Editor's Note: I am so thrilled to present this family history to you; this is exactly the kind of tale was founded to tell. Thank you so much, Dona and Robert, for sharing your memories with us! We will do our best to tell Mickey's stories and keep his legacy alive.

And thank you again to our amazing collaborator Paul Tenpenny, for recording this story and making it available for all baseball fans to enjoy.

For more on Mickey Heath, please check out SABR’s bio on Mickey, written by Robert W. Bigelow JD, PHD.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Coming soon....

We've been on an unfortunate hiatus for a while, but will resume our regular programming this week. Contributor Paul Tenpenny will bring you a very personal story about a Milwaukee baseball legend. No peeking....

Sunday, August 18, 2019

On This Day - A Spouse Comes to Visit

On this day seventy-five years ago, the Milwaukee Journal published a "ballplayer and spouse" photo of the kind very familiar to baseball fans.

But this was no ordinary ballplayer, this was the starting right fielder for the Milwaukee Chicks baseball club. And her spouse was on leave from the Army and in Milwaukee for a visit.

This photo is amazing. Not only is it a perfectly distilled image of its era, but it's framed to be very respectful towards Chicks outfielder Pat Keagle; she sits higher in the frame, not diminished or minimized. It's remarkable how unremarkable it is to our eyes.

Wives of ballplayers usually sit in the stand, but in the case shown above the situation was reversed Thursday night at Borchert field. Staff Sergt. Richard Keagle of the army air forces came from Luke field, Phoenix, Ariz., to visit his wife, Merle, and attended the game between the Milwaukee Schnitts and Rockford. His wife, who plays right field for the Schnitts, got two hits and scored two runs to help win, 9-6. The Keagles were married a year ago.
—Journal Staff
Known to her friends by her middle name, Keagle was a rookie in 1944. She had traveled from her home in Arizona to attend tryouts for the All-American Girls' Professional Ball League, and was assigned to Milwaukee. She made an immediate impact on her new team, becoming one of the best hitters on a very good squad. That year, she led the Chicks in five offensive categories: batting average (.264), home runs (7), hits (107), runs scored (72), and RBI (47).

Keagle sat out the 1945 season following the birth of her son. She had a rocky next few years, returning to the now-Grand Rapids Chicks in 1946, forced to stay in Arizona due to heath concerns in 1947, and playing again in 1948, before hanging up her spikes. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1951 and died at the too-young age of 37.

By her teammates' accounts, Pat Keagle was as friendly in the clubhouse as she was fierce at the plate. Good to see the Journal giving her the respectful treatment she deserved.

Monday, August 12, 2019

On This Day - Red Cross "Thank You" Party

On this day seventy-five years ago, the Milwaukee Chicks baseball club hosted a special event at old Borchert Field. The Cream City's entry in the All-American Girls' Professional Ball League was doing its part for the war effort (and itself) by bringing Red Cross workers, volunteers, and donors out to the ballpark.

To add to the festivities, the Chicks also brought back their successful partnership with the Milwaukee Symphony orchestra, a combination "double-header" featuring a classical music concert and baseball game.

Red Cross Pins, c. 1944
The league decided that it would hold a massive "Thank You Party" for the Red Cross. Workers and blood donors alike would receive free admission to Borchert Field just by showing the metal pins that so identified them.

The pins were an integral part of the Red Cross's ad campaign, broadcasting support for the organization and its lifesaving mission.

The Milwaukee Sentinel did its part to hype the event:

RED CROSS HOMER—Three Milwaukee Chicks get a batting lesson from Dick Culler, prize minor league shortstop of the year, as they prepare for their big Red Cross "thank you" night Saturday at Borchert field. All Red Cross members, blood donors and contributors will be admitted free to the game which pits the league leading Chicks against the second-place South Bend Blue Sox. Watching the lesson is Mary Beth Korfmann of the Milwaukee Red Cross motor corps. The Chicks, left to right: Infielder Gladys (Terry) Davis, PItcher Jo Kabick and First Baseman Dolores Klosowski.
This is particularly fascinating to me; it's a rare example of a Brewer and Chick player appearing together. Shortstop Dick Culler was a fresh face in the Brewer lineup for 1944. He was purchased from the Chicago White Sox, having appeared in 53 games for the South Siders during 1943. Culler was widely praised for his glove work, but unfortunately for him the Sox had another shortstop; Luke Appling, who won the 1943 American League batting title on his way to the Hall of Fame. Culler was given a chance to start in Milwaukee and impressed both at shortstop and at the plate, so much so that the Boston Braves paid Milwaukee handsomely for him after just one season at Borchert Field. To see one of the Brewers' marquee players giving a "batting lesson" to the Chicks is an interesting combination of Milwaukee baseball.

Preparations for the event made the Milwaukee Journal's late-edition front page on Thursday, August 12th:

Not only did they get good placement, it's also a pretty good photo of two of our players.

No, the Milwaukee Girls' Professional ball team isn't trying to sign up Miss Margaret Sharp, executive director of the county Red Cross chapter. These baseball girls are conferring with her about the Red Cross "thank you" party to be given at Borchert field Saturday night. The Milwaukee team will play the South Bend (Ind.) girls' team after a concert. Attendance is free to Red Cross members, workers and blood donors. Sylvia Wronski (left), 2867 N. Hubbard st., pitches. Josephine Figio (center), Milltown, N.J., is an infielder.
—Journal staff
This event was a confluence of the civic-mindedness and social conscience that the league wanted to promote. It was sports at its best, bringing the community together for both entertainment and social good.

As the big day approached, the promotion continued. Milwaukee-based department store chain Boston Store did its part to spread the word; check out the details in this two-page ad from the Milwaukee Journal:

I see gray was the hot color of the season; "sophisticated and young", "lend(ing) itself to soft, slim silhouettes". How convenient for the Chicks, whose tunics were a very fashionable shade of dove gray.

There, in the upper-right corner, we see our ballclub.

Red Cross "Thank You" Party
  • FREE admission to concert and ball game between Milwaukee's own Girls' Ball Team and South Bend team for all Red Cross workers, contributors and blood donors.
  • PLACE ... Borchert Field.
  • TIME ... Saturday, August 12th, at 8 P.M.
  • YOUR admission is your service pin, contributor's card or blood donor's button.
On the day itself, the Journal captured this photo of two Red Cross volunteers coming through the Orchard's turnstiles.

The County Red Cross had a "thank you" party at Borchert field Saturday night. Red Cross workers, members and blood donors were admitted free to the concert and Milwaukee Girls' Professional ball team game. The guardian of the regular pass gate, Henry Tolle, who usually insists on more elaborate credentials, let in Grey Ladies Doris Ehlenfeldt (left), 1439 S. 88th st., and Alice Wirth, 1730 W. Kilbourn av., when they showed their Red Cross buttons.
—Journal staff
Again with the gray. "Grey Ladies" were volunteers who worked in Red Cross hospitals in non-medical roles. The Red Cross used color-coded uniforms, and the branch officially known as the "Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation Corps" became identified by their gray dresses. Hence the nickname.

This is an unusual glimpse at the everyday Borchert Field experience, the turnstile at the pass gate. It seems appropriate that the guardian of the gate would have a name like Henry Tolle. Tolle is a fascinating character; born in Germany, he was a longtime wrestling promoter who leveraged his side job working at Borchert Field into renting the park for his events. He was reported to have once hauled a truckload of dirt from under the Borchert field bleachers to another venue for a mud wrestling match!

Mr. Tolle's uniform is also interesting. Formal jacket with military braid at the cuff, and a peaked cap that reads in part "MILWAUKEE". I'd love to get a better look at that.

Between the concert and the Red Cross, the evening was a smashing success. The Borchert Field grandstand was filled with 4,409 fans, a good crowd even by Brewers standards. And those forty-four hundred baseball bugs saw the home team march to victory.

Schnitts Win; Back in Lead

Blank South Bend

The Milwaukee Schnitts regained the undisputed lead in the All-American girls ball league here Saturday night as Connie Wisniewski hurled them to a 3 to 0 shut-out victory over the South Bend Blue Sox. The game was played to a Red Cross "thank you night" crowd of of 4,409 fans.

Wisniewski was never in trouble, allowing only four scattered hits, and issuing only one base on balls.

Bonnie Baker, South Bend catcher, received the biggest applause of the season as she raced over to the stands after a foul fly and fell over the wall, into the stands, landing in the laps of several spectators.

Sounds like a scene worthy of A League of Their Own.

The Chicks were proving that they could draw decent crowds on occasion; a thousand on the Sentinel paperboys' league day, over four thousand for the Red Cross party. It's a shame that the league couldn't give them enough time to build their sustainable fanbase around these events.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

On This Day - "Red Cross Homer"

On this day seventy-five years ago, the Milwaukee Sentinel published a fascinating photo, a rare look at the Milwaukee Chicks and Milwaukee Brewers baseball clubs sharing the Borchert Field diamond.

Although the two clubs shared a ballpark, they were hardly partners. The All-American league would have been happy to borrow some of the Brewers' credibility in the marketplace (in fact, an early name for the Chicks was "Brewerettes", much as the fledgling NFL borrowed established baseball names to get itself taken more seriously). The Brewers, for their part, seemed fine with renting their ballpark to the upstart women's league but didn't collaborate any further. Given that, this photo is almost shocking.

RED CROSS HOMER—Three Milwaukee Chicks get a batting lesson from Dick Culler, prize minor league shortstop of the year, as they prepare for their big Red Cross "thank you" night Saturday at Borchert field. All Red Cross members, blood donors and contributors will be admitted free to the game which pits the league leading Chicks against the second-place South Bend Blue Sox. Watching the lesson is Mary Beth Korfmann of the Milwaukee Red Cross motor corps. The Chicks, left to right: Infielder Gladys (Terry) Davis, PItcher Jo Kabick and First Baseman Dolores Klosowski.
This photo was taken in the lead-up to a major event for the Chicks, where they welcomed a few thousand Red Cross employees, volunteers, and donors to Borchert Field.

Shortstop Dick Culler, seen here twisting himself in knots with a mighty swing, was a fresh face in the Brewer lineup for 1944. He was purchased from the Chicago White Sox, having appeared in 53 games for the South Siders during 1943. Culler was widely praised for his glove work, but unfortunately for him the Sox had another shortstop; Luke Appling, who won the 1943 American League batting title on his way to the Hall of Fame. Culler was given a chance to start in Milwaukee, leading off the Brewers' batting order. He impressed at the plate and on the field, so much so that the Boston Braves paid Milwaukee handsomely for him after just one season at Borchert Field. To see one of the Brewers' marquee players giving a "batting lesson" to the Chicks is an interesting combination of Milwaukee baseball.

In retrospect, it's a shame that the Brewers and Chicks couldn't collaborate. At the worst, the Brewers would have gotten some additional rental income. At best, they could have helped women's baseball gain a foothold in a major American city, which might have changed history.

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Peek Into History?

The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear posted this very intriguing photo on Instagram:

Positively giddy with anticipation.

Looking at the 1936 schedule, April 12th was the American Association's opening day. The Brewers were on the road in Louisville, Kentucky to play the Colonels. The AA was experimenting with opening the season on a Sunday, which was a success in Kentucky at least as 10,550 baseball bugs turned out to see the Colonels whallop the Brewers, 6-1.

Schuster's was a Milwaukee department store chain. Did some Milwaukee fan travel to Kentucky with a camera?

I'm told that the Chudnow Museum has three small rolls of film, maybe fifteen minutes in total. The film has yet to be digitized, but we may see it at an upcoming event. The prospect of watching part of a Brewer game is mouth-watering, even a loss.

More details as I get them, but for now we can enjoy knowing that our Brews will come alive soon!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Baseball, Maestro, Please", 1944

Seventy-five years ago, in the summer of 1944, the Milwaukee Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League were involved in a most unusual promotion. The ballclub paired with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in a series of "double-headers", classical music concerts with baseball games.

The brainchild of league founder Philip K. Wrigley, ably abetted by Chicks general manager Eddie Stumpf, these concerts were created in the hope of drawing attention to the league. And in that respect, at least, they were phenomenally successful.

The promotion was noticed by none other than Time magazine, in its issue dated July 31, 1944.

The Sport section begins on page 40 of the magazine; this is the first article in that section.

The transcript gives us a peek into the league, at least this one person's impression:


Baseball, Maestro, Please

"Music and baseball don't mix ordinarily but women and music mix."

Thus promoter Eddie Stumpf, after one of the strangest double-headers in baseball history. At Milwaukee's Borchert Field, General Manager Stumpf's Milwaukee Chicks had met their Minneapolis rivals in the All-American Girls Professional Ball League after a one-hour prelude of classical music (Grieg's Heart Wounds, Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante Défunte, etc.) by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Hot dog and pop sales came to a hushed pause during the concert. Shushed by indignantly reverent ushers, the fidgety fans sat in silence, stretched their voices in relief after the sacred ceremony of music. Philip Knight Wrigley, backer of the League and chief matchmaker in its marriage to music, was solemnly enthusiastic. He has long been eager to try any scheme, however undignified, which might promote his Midwestern softball carnival.

Model Upbringing. When Wrigley thought up the Girls League last year, he was dead set on having it feminine as well as female. Screening out tomboy candidates, he hired Beautician Helena Rubenstein to give the survivors chic. But she never quite succeeded.

Neither did the League. Only four teams played last year: the Rockford (Ill.) Peaches, South Bend Blue Sox, Racine (Wis.) Belles, Kenosha (Wis.) Comets. In a 108-game schedule, they drew some 200,000 fans and a $125,000 gate, but wound up $75,000 in the hole.

This year conditioning was supervised by a former Powers model, Ruth Tiffany, who runs a Chicago charm studio. Assisted by the League's public-relations director, Gertrude Hendricks, who once taught the construction of form-fit corsets, she cajoled some 120 candidates through a fortnight of spring training on 1) conversation techniques, 2) etiquette, 3) posture, 4) dress, 5) make-up and hair-do for the outdoor girl, 6) how to attract the right kind of man as against the wolf. Before hitting the road, the players pledged themselves not to smoke in public or appear in bars, arranged to stop in private homes instead of hotels.

Bouncing Box Office. The first results were sensational. With Milwaukee and Minneapolis added to the roster, box-office takes for the opening games were 300 to 900% higher than last year. But by the time the diamond darlings reached the halfway mark last week, season attendance was slumping close to last year's average.

It seemed unlikely to be boosted any higher by Wrigley's idea of mixing bats and batons. Only 659 people attended last week' double-header, first of a series of four. Sporting and musical experts agreed that some ball fans might be converted into music lovers, but that the reverse possibilities were dubious.
This presumably went to press before the league gave up on the Minneapolis market, or our unnamed critic would have mentioned it.

Well, I guess all publicity is good publicity. Even even it did come with a dose of sexist Time snark.

Friday, July 26, 2019

On This Day - "About the Girls"

On this day seventy-five years ago, on July 26, 1944, the Milwaukee Journal's sports editor R. G. Lynch devoted his column "Maybe I'm Wrong" to printing letters from his readers.

What's notable for us is that two of the five letters in Lynch's mailbag were about our Milwaukee Chicks baseball club. struggling to bring the All-American Girls' Professional Ball League to Milwaukee.

Maybe I'm Wrong
[Sports Editor]

About the Girls

FROM "A New Fan," E. Lake View av,: I attended the girls' game at Borchert field last Wednesday and heard the Milwaukee symphony orchestra. My attitude was a critical one but I came away a fan. The girls were attractive in their neat uniforms and they played a clever game of baseball. Dr. Julius Ehrlich and his orchestra played very well indeed. I do hope, and I believe many others will hope with me, that Dr. Ehrlich will include some of the semiclassics with his symphonic music in programs to come, for we all like to hear familiar and loved music beautifully played.

The fact that we attended the concert - game combination again Thursday should be sufficient evidence that we loved it. We had not seen a professional baseball game for several years but the entire family turned out for this.
Excellent feedback, and exactly the response that league founder Philip K. Wrigley was hoping for when he paired his league with Milwaukee's classical music scene. For this one anonymous Whitefish Bay family, at least, Wrigley's novel experiment was a roaring success.

The second letter Lynch printed was also positive, but more along the lines of offering constructive criticism.
Lower Prices

FROM A. G. Heinmiller, 342 N. Water st.: Maybe symphony concerts will help to bring up the attendance at the girls' baseball games, but I think a reasonable price might be a bigger encouragement for the fans to come out. I'm a pretty loyal fan, myself, but I haven't been able to make myself pay 95c to see a game that lasts about 1 hour 15 minutes, in which they make all the way from 5 to 15 errors, when I can see the Brewers for the same price. I think a 50c price plus tax would show as much net revenue and bring out a crowd. Or why not try a two for one plan a few times?
This isn't a new suggestion, but it's a very sensible one. It seems short-sighted to price the brand-new Chicks at the same prices the Brewers could command, considering that the Brews had a forty-year head start and were playing at a level right below the Major Leagues.

We know the Chicks had several free-or-reduced-price specials for paperboy baseball leagues and for Red Cross blood donors. And that is a great start to get people through the turnstiles, but we hear a constant refrain that the ticket prices were making it hard to bring them back again.

I'm also fascinated by A. G. Heinmiller's description of the games themselves. We knew that AAGPBL games, at least in Milwaukee, were fast-paced affairs, with lots of baserunning and lots of errors. But seventy-five minutes? That's astounding.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

On This Day - "Want to Laugh at a Millionaire?"

In the summer of 1944, the Milwaukee Chicks baseball club was struggling to survive in Milwaukee. The All-American Girls' Professional Ball League team was doing well on the diamond but struggling at the box office. The last thing they could afford was a feud with one of the most powerful newspaper columnists in Milwaukee. But that's just what they got.

The first shot was fired by R. G. Lynch, who was not only a columnist but the sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal. At the end of his column "Maybe I'm Wrong", on Sunday, July 16, 1944, Lynch took square aim at Wrigley, his symphony "double-headers", and even the AAGPBL itself.

Maybe I'm Wrong
[Sports Editor]

Want to Laugh at a Millionaire? Go Ahead!

Recipe for girls' baseball popularity: Separate the bull fiddle of one symphony orchestra. Beat the musicians until stiff and bull fiddle until splintered. Fold in one girls' ball club. Pour into ball park well greased with newspaper advertising and bake three July nights and one afternoon.

You don't like the recipe? You think symphony music and glorified soft ball will not mix any better than pickles and cream? Well, the recipe was concocted by a millionaire businessman, Phil Wrigley. He is the prime backer of the All-American Girls' Professional Ball league which moved into Milwaukee and Minneapolis this year after a fairly successful start in four smaller cities last season. The league is simply dripping red ink in the two big towns. Wrigley recently decided to so something about it. He reasoned that Brewer fans got enough baseball watching the Brewers so the girls would have to interest others. A lot of persons with no interest at all in girls' baseball would have to be enticed out to the field to see the new game. What would be the bait to get them out?

"Hire the Milwaukee symphony orchestra," ordered Wrigley.

The men he pays to carry out his ideas tried to substitute a name dance band, but it was no go. Wrigley wanted symphony and, besides, Kay Kyster, Horace Heidt and the rest of the maestros of dance orchestras were unavailable.

So the Milwaukee symphony orchestra will play a one hour concert Wednesday night at Borchert field, starting at 7:30, and after that the girls will play ball. The same combination will be offered Thursday and Friday nights. Next Sunday afternoon, a musical sandwich will be on the bill of fare, with the orchestra playing between games of a double header.

Mr. Wrigley's minions hope that the music lovers who attend the concerts will not get up and walk out when the girl ballplayers take the field. Mr. Wrigley's minions, confidentially, think he is nuts, but they would not be quoted for anything—not because P. K. would fire them (he is not that way at all), but because they gave thought before that some of the millionaire gum man's ideas were screwy and have seen those nutty ideas pay off.
"Maybe I'm Wrong", indeed.

It's a bit rich that the Lynch should turn up his nose at the league being "well greased with newspaper advertising", considering how much his employer was charging the league to run its ads before every single home game. As they did with the established Brewers. Heck, there's an ad for a Brewer game literally next to his column.

   Philip K. Wrigley
   (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
We should not be surprised that Philip K. Wrigley quickly learned that he was being mocked by one of the two major daily newspapers in his newest and largest AAGPBL city. Nor should we surprised that he didn't like it. What may be surprising is his reaction; he dictated, in the words of the Journal, "a letter of four and one-half pages, single space". He sent his rant to the Journal before reconsidering and quickly forwarding a second communiqué, one that took his first letter off the record.

Lynch agreed not to publish the full original letter, but he did extensively mine it for his next column. The following Sunday, Lynch led with an in-depth review of, and response to, Wrigley's missive.

Maybe I'm Wrong
[Sports Editor]

Mr. Wrigley Makes a Point, but Too Subtly

PHIL WRIGLEY, the chewing gum and baseball man, read the comment in this column last Sunday about girls' baseball and the symphony orchestra and decided this reporter, in common with a good many others, did not understand his thinking, so he sat down and dictates a letter of four and one-half pages, single space. We enjoyed that letter and wish that our readers could enjoy it too. Unfortunately, we sent along another note as an afterthought to say that the letter was not intended for publication. However, we got permission to quote from it, so that the readers may understand why we—and probably they—did not follow Wrigley's thinking with regard to the girls' league or the symphony orchestra. It is about the most subtle thinking we have come across in a long time. The idea behind the girls' league is shrewd and the thought behind the symphony orchestra is rare, indeed!

"From the broad point of view," Wrigley wrote, "I think it can be said that softball is a substitute for baseball and as such has been frowned upon by professional baseball, but, as I have seen it, it is a substitute by necessity and not by choice. Nine times out of 10 it is played because it takes less space, less skill and less equipment than baseball, but it has one great advantage and that is it makes millions of people familiar with the fundamentals of and skill necessary for professional baseball. I do not think that anyone can argue that our national pastime is not more enjoyable and better entertainment when you at least have some idea of what it is all about."

A Girls' Sport

With soft ball becoming a substitute for baseball, this seemed to Wrigley a liability which could be turned into an asset by proper handline, "which meant recognition of the fact that because of its limitation it was not in competition with baseball but, on the contrary, through its wider possibilities, it could act as a stepping stone, or feeder, to baseball, both from the players' standpoint and that of the spectator."

Wrigley decided that the best way to mark a sharp distinction between baseball and soft ball was to label soft ball a girls' sport.

"The standards of baseball," he wrote, "are set by men, and it seems logical, therefore, to set the standards of soft ball by girls. This fact alone can prevent competition between the two sports and, at the same time, offer the so-called weaker sex... an opportunity to take part in our national pastime without being considered a freak."

The girls' league is in its second season and Wrigley, who created it, has not seen a league game. He explains:

"I am primarily a professional baseball man and for that reason I have not gone to any of the league games because I knew that I would immediately start drawing comparisons between girls' ball and baseball. This has been proven by the two exhibition games I have seen, because I immediately drew a comparison and was disappointed and, as a sports editor, I imagine you are having the same trouble. We all seem to need a basis from which to start and it seems to be human nature to follow the beaten path and make comparisons, rather than to start from scratch."

It was to avoid comparison and competition that the league started last year in cities where there was no organized baseball, he said, and went on:

"This year the league stuck its neck out by going into two cities that had professional baseball teams and by using the baseball parks—first, because they were the only places available, and, secondly, on what may be a mistaken theory of economics. Anyone who would either rent of build a hotel or office building, or a home for that matter, to be used 77 days out of the year, should have his head examined, but for a baseball club it is considered absolutely sound....

No Comparison

"The results this year have shown that it was a mistake to go into the Milwaukee and Minneapolis ball parks.... If you tried to play professional football on an ice hockey rink, you would immediately draw a comparison between ice hockey and football and naturally to the detriment of football, because both the press and the public would look at it through the eyes of and compare it with hockey....

"When you compare girls' ball with baseball, you are at the same disadvantage. Girls' ball is not in competition with, nor should it be compared with baseball any more than it is in competition with or should be compared with a symphony orchestra. That is the point we want to make, although probably nobody will get it, but at least we should get a new audience who will judge girls' ball on its own merit and not in comparison with baseball."

Apparently, Wrigley is going to stick to this problem as grimly as he stuck to his Chicago Cubs until he put them on the right road by signing Charley Grimm as manager, for it was announced Saturday that the symphony orchestra concerts would resume when the Schnitts begin their next home stand August 11 and continue the rest of the season, except when the orchestra has conflicting engagements.
It's not particularly surprising that Lynch continued to sneer at Wrigley and his league. But Wrigley's letter is stunning, and I'm not at all surprised that he (or his lawyers, or his battery of public relations professionals) tried to hold the Journal back from publishing his "letter of four and one-half pages, single space".

What's particularly stunning to me is Wrigley's admission that he hadn't watched a single league game in the year-and-a-half the AAGPBL had been in existence. And the two exhibition games he did watch made him think the product was inferior to men's baseball.

Wrigley's letter forces us to challenge our impressions and assumptions about him. Maybe Garry Marshall's portrayal of "Walter Harvey" in A League of Their Own was more on the mark than I realized: a disinterested and absentee owner more worried about filling potentially-vacant ballpark dates than in advancing the sport, or blazing a new trail, or the cause of equality, or... virtually anything.

In the film, Harvey founds the league as a backstop because he's afraid the war will rob him of his male workforce. No more men to play baseball? No worries, bring the women in. And then, when his fears prove unfounded, the candy magnate is content to toss them aside.

We're winning the war. Our situation changed. Roosevelt himself said, "Men's baseball won't be shut down." So we won't need the girls next year.

I love these girls. I don't need them, but I love them. Look at that. Come on. Let's go. Oh, look at me. I'm full of peanuts! I've got peanuts all over myself.
This is what it's gonna be like in the factories too, I suppose, isn't it? "The men are back, Rosie. Turn in your rivets." We told them it was their patriotic duty to get out of the kitchen and go to work. And now when the men come back, we'll send them back to the kitchen.
What should we do, send the boys returning from war back to the kitchen? Come on.
Do you know how dedicated these girls are? What they go through?

They play with sprained ankles, broken fingers. They ride a bus sometimes all night to play a double-header the next morning.
I'll make it up to them.
What? With Harvey Bars?
I'm getting tired of listening to you, Ira.
That does sound like the Wrigley who wrote to the Milwaukee Journal.

   Ken Sells
   (AAGPBL Players Association)
In the film, the league only survives because Ira Lowenstein, played by David Strathairn, takes it over from his boss. This, too, had its roots in reality. The Lowenstein character was based on Ken Sells, who was the assistant general manager of the Cubs when Wrigley tapped him to run the AAGPBL. Sells served as the first President of the league, running the day-to-day for the disinterested Wrigley. Sells began the transition from a single-entity league to the franchise model common to baseball, where individual operators would buy and run their own teams. That was the point when the league stopped being dependent upon the whims of a chewing-gum magnate and began to run like a real league.

So maybe we give Wrigley a little too much credit. Father of the league, to be sure, but a distant and removed one. It's worth noting that others were responsible for getting Wrigley's brainchild onto the diamond, and keeping it there. Others, presumably, who actually watched the games.