Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"The First Rows of Summer", 1938

From the 1938 home opener, we get this amazing photo from the Milwaukee Journal of fans leaving the ballpark by... walking on the field?

The first rows of summer leaving the ball park. Fans were asked to respect the infield grass as they started for their streetcars on 8th st., but not all of them remembered. The grass looked more than fit to stand up under a few score grounders and a few thousand exits.
Unfortunately, the focal point is the foreground. But we can still get a great deal of information about Borchert Field from the entire photo.

I love the uniforms worn by the ushers, as they stand trying (in vain) to keep the fans off the infield.

White jackets with dark ties and trousers. Can't tell what color their peaked caps are - blue, perhaps? The white jackets certainly make them stand out in this photo, as they would have stood out at the ballpark.

The entire Borchert Field staff was given new uniforms for 1938 by team owner Henry "Heinie" Bendiger, who had purchased the Brewers from the Phil Ball estate in early 1934.

Speaking of uniforms, this gentleman at home field is wearing what appears to be a dark jacket with the name "BREWERS" in arched letters across the back.

I'd love to know more about this. Team jacket? Or maybe coveralls? Perhaps that's the groundskeeper, watching the fans trample his grass underfoot.

The photo also shows us the rudimentary safety precautions at the Orchard. Today, our ballparks have netting wrapped around the diamond from base to base, and behind home plate all the way up to the second level. In 1938, however, only a few feet of fencing stood between Bendiger's patrons and the field.

This appears to be a public address speaker, hung just below the roof:

Speaking of ballpark infrastructure, we can see once again how obtrusive the light poles must have been. They were added in 1935, almost fifty years after the ballpark opened, and for want of a better place were installed on the field directly in front of the stands.

And finally, we get another look at Borchert Field's distinctive angled dugouts.

The Brewers won that day, beating the Columbus Red Birds 9-2. Aside from being Opening Day, it was also manager Al Sothoron's birthday, and starting pitcher Whitlow Wyatt gave him one heck of a present; a wonderful four-hit complete game. Those two Columbus runs came in the eighth, when the Brewers were already up 6-0.

It must have been a heady experience for the Milwaukee faithful; the first win in the books, walking over the Borchert Field grass on the way to the exit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Beer and J. C. Penney, 1993

This photo recently surfaced on eBay:

Longtime readers will recognize it as being from a Turn Back the Clock event held at Milwaukee County Stadium on on July 6, 1993. This was the first TBTC event the Brewers had hosted, held only a couple years after the White Sox had pioneered the concept. For their first event, the Brewers eschewed any actual American Association uniforms for a gray creation intended to give off a 1920s vibe; they looked sharp but were of dubious historical value.

As you can see from our top photo, County Stadium herself was dressed up in vintage clothing.

This is a great addition to our historical record, and I'm going to add it to the original post.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Newcomer on the Mound, 1936

This picture was published in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday, March 8, 1936. The Brewers had just opened their Spring Training camp at Lake Wales, Florida, and this man was among those hoping to make the club.

A NEWCOMER to the Milwaukee pitching staff is Joe Heving, who's shown here all wound up and ready to let fly. The former big leaguer is expected to bolster the Brewer staff considerably. Other pitching regulars probably will be Garland Braxton, if he signs; Presnell, Hamlin and Clyde Hatter.
It's an unusual photo, taken from above as the pitcher begins his windup. The ground fills the frame, forming a rough backdrop that works very well with the intricate texture and deep folds of his flannel uniform. A closer look reveals some of the crude airbrushing of the day, exaggerating the lines around his eyes and giving him a somewhat-kabuki appearance up close.

There's only one problem; that's not Joe Heving.

The caption on the reverse of the photo crosses out Heving's name entirely. Along the top, a handwritten notation: "Luke Hamlin".

So who is it? Heving, Hamlin, or someone else entirely?

Joe Heving was, as the original caption indicated, "former big leaguer" who was new to the Brewers. At thirty-five years of age, had already pitched for fifteen seasons. Most recently he had spent 1933 and 1934 hurling for the White Sox at Comiskey Park. That second season was a rough one, and he was sent to the Louisville Colonels. Heving, perhaps not willing to accept the "former" part of that title, refused to accept his assignment and sat out the 1935 season rather than play for Louisville. Now, a year later, he had a lot on the line when he reported to the Brewers' spring training camp.

On the other hand, Luke Hamlin was well-known to the fans at Borchert Field. Like Heving, he was in his thirties (thirty-one year as the season started). He was also a former big leaguer, who had spent part of 1933 and all of 1934 in the Show. In Hamlin's case it was Detroit, where he earned an ERA of 5.38 in 1934, his only full season. Hamlin was about to start his second season with the Brewers, after going 8-14 in thirty appearances with the Brews in 1935.

Both men pitched well as the Brewers cruised to the 1936 American Association pennant. Heving went 19-12 with an ERA of 3.48, and Hamlin was just behind him with 19-14 and an 3.82 ERA. Similarly, both found used their time in Milwaukee to vault themselves back in the bigs in '36; when the next season opened, Hamlin was with Brooklyn and Heving was hurling in Cleveland.

So which one is shown in our photo? Google makes this one easy. Let's take a look at the two men in the years immediately following this one, when Heving had been traded to the Boston Red Sox and Hamlin was in Dodger blue.

Joe Heving in 1938
(Getty Images)
Luke Hamlin in 1937

Two clean-shaven men of approximate age; I guess it's possible to see where an editor might have misattributed the photo. But looking at the two men side by side, there's no question. Between the deep vertical lines on his cheeks and the thin lips, that's obviously Hamlin in our photo.

Whoever corrected the attribution was dead-on.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Happy Holidays from Borchert Field!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Thank you again for reading, and for bearing with us in this rather trying 2017. Now that the Journal Sentinel archive is back online, we're looking forward to a very productive New Year.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Archives are Back!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives on Google News, pulled from the Internet over a year ago, are back!

I haven't seen an announcement, but happened to click on an old saved Favorite and this popped up:

Christmas has come early this year!

The original plan announced by the Journal Sentinel last August was to put these archives behind a Newsbank paywall, but instead they have released them back to the public. The search function doesn't seem to be active, but even that can't diminish my mood. The loss of these archives has really stymied our research, and with their return there are so many articles I want to write.

Next year is going to be a big one. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go chortle in my joy.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Jack Hallett, 1935's Cup of Coffee

This fellow with the slighly uneasy grin is Jack Hallett. He was a right-handed fastball pitcher who was just twenty-one when this picture was taken.

Hallett grew up in Toledo, Ohio. He got his start in the city's amateur leagues. He got a tryout with the Toledo Mud Hens immediately after graduating high school, and then-manager (and future Brewers skipper) Casey Stengel told him "You will be a real pitcher, some day. But forget about becoming a professional pitcher for four or five years." Hallet refined his craft in the low minors before jumping to the Brews for the shortest of careers with the club - coming to Milwaukee partway through the 1935 season, he pitched one inning as a Brewer, giving up one hit, one run, and one walk.

Hallet got picked up by the Cleveland Indians organization, and bopped around the Cleveland and Chicago Cub farm systems before making his major league debut for the Chicago White Sox in 1940. He never had a long tenure on any big-league roster, but kept fighting his way back to the majors. He doggedly carved out a twelve-year career with twenty different clubs, including stints with the White Sox, Pirates, and New York Giants. Not bad for a guy who spent two of his prime years serving in the Navy in the Pacific theater.

As short as his Brewers career was, Hallett is pictured here wearing a similarly short-lived version of the Brewers' uniform, with a fancy "M" on the chest. This was introduced right before the 1935 home opener and lasted just one year.

This uniform represents a transitional stage in baseball uniform evolution; it still retains the cadet collar common in the early decades of the twentieth century, set off with thick soutache piping.

This version of the M, with its fancy geegaws, never caught on in Milwaukee. By 1936, it had been replaced with a block M.

I've wondered if the design might not have been too close to that worn by the Minneapolis Millers, an American Association rival. But whatever the reason, sometimes things just don't last in baseball, and a story doesn't have to be long to be good.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Talk: Borchert Field

For those lucky enough to be in Milwaukee, historial Bob Buege will be giving a talk about his book Borchert Field: Stories from Milwaukee’s Legendary Ballpark.

The talk will be held on Wednesday, November 15, from 6:00-7:00pm at Historic Milwaukee, Inc., 235 East Michigan Street (between Water and Broadway). Historic Milwaukee is a non-profit founded in 1974, "dedicated to increasing awareness of and commitment to Milwaukee's history, architecture, and the preservation of our built environment through education and advocacy".

You can check out the event's Facebook page here. It's always a privilege to hear Buege speak.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Milwaukee Magazine: "The Story Behind This 1953 Brewers Ticket"

Milwaukee Magazine has a great look at an artifact from a Brewers game that was never played.

A ticket to what would have been the first game ever played at Milwaukee County Stadium, had the Braves not moved west from Boston. (Private collection); Photo by Tyler Yomantas

NOVEMBER 1, 2017


County Stadium helped to make Milwaukee Big League in 1953, but it nearly opened with a minor league tenant.

The Brewers had been Milwaukee’s home team for over a half-century when the Boston Braves relocated to the city, bringing Major League Baseball to Wisconsin for the first time since 1901. Those Brewers were minor leaguers, members of the American Association, and played their home games at Borchert Field on the city’s north side.

By 1950, with a number of east coast Major League clubs struggling, Milwaukee – which always gave the Brewers ample support – was seen as a potential destination for a team in need of a new hometown. That fall, ground was broken on Milwaukee County Stadium, a publicly-financed modern ballpark that, it was hoped, would lure a Major League baseball team and (just maybe) the NFL’s Packers out of Green Bay.

In the meantime, the new stadium secured a tenant in the minor league Brewers. After a number of construction delays, an opening date of July 24, 1952 was announced. The Brewers would have the privilege of playing in the minor’s most luxurious park until a Major League tenant was secured. Unfortunately, more delays pushed the opener back to April, 1953 and it now seemed that a big league team could be secured for the ballpark’s debut.

While the city chased the St. Louis Browns, who were in dire need of a new hometown, the Brewers prepared for an opener at the new stadium. Printed materials from the end of the 1952 season boasted of the new park even though the stadium’s backers were aghast at the idea of the park opening as the home of the Brewers. Over the winter, the Boston Braves, who owned the Brewers, opposed a Browns move to Milwaukee on the grounds that Milwaukee was too valuable a territory to surrender without a comparable market to which his Brewers could move.

Of course, no city could offer a brand new stadium for a minor league team, and the Braves’ objections were mostly to delay any action until they could orchestrate their own shift to Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Brewers were forced to act as if they would actually open the season at County Stadium. Arrangements were made and tickets were printed but, just weeks before the season was set to open, the Braves move was approved and the Brewers were sent packing, relocated to Toledo to operate as the Mudhens.

This ticket, one of a few known of its kind, could have been exchanged for a ticket to the Braves opener at County Stadium (with an extra 75 cents to make up the difference in price) and would have allowed the bearer to see a great game in which the brand-new Milwaukee Braves topped the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 on a walk-off homer by Bill Bruton.

I'd love to learn more about how this exemplar came to be framed, with its typewritten caption:

Monday, October 9, 2017

"Come On, You Brewers!", 1932

This photo was published in the Milwaukee Sentinel in early 1932.

Left to right—Frank O'Rourke, Cuckoo Christensen, Tony Kubek, Biff Hoffman, Jack Knott, Bud Connolly, Alex Metzler, Jackie Tavener, Buck Stanton.(Sentinel Photo)
This looks like it's from the season opener against the Indianapolis Indians. That subhead is somewhat regrettable, but it's a marvelous action photo of our boys taking the field.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bendiger Buys Tickets to See His Own Club Play

Here's a heartwarming story from July 18, 1940; the owner of the Brewers buying tickets to see his own club play a game.

It's a fine state of affairs when the president of the baseball club has to buy a ticket to see his own club play, but Henry Bendiger of the Brewers does it with a smile as he buys two tickets from Staney and Robert of St. Charles' home. St. Charles' home has taken over the Brewers' game Monday night with Toledo as a benefit. —Journal Staff
St. Charles' home is still in existence today. It was founded in 1920 as a home for teenage boys who were under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court. I wonder how much they raised at that July game?