Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"For the Boss", 1944

We're going to step outside our "On This Day" exploration of the Milwaukee Chicks for today, to recount a moment of serendipity that struck me.

I had a wonderful conversation today with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League on Twitter. It was kicked off by this tweet:


Fantastic picture, no? I remembered seeing something like it, this photo from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, obviously taken at the same time, where Carey and Hunter are joined by Chicks second baseman Alma Ziegler (who is herself the actual subject of the second photo):

A black-and-white photograph of chaperone Dottie Collins (left), manager Max Carey (middle), and player Alma Ziegler (right). Ziegler is a Milwaukee Chicks uniform, while Carey and Collins are in street clothes. Carey is holding the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League championship trophy. On the trophy, the names "Max Carey" and "Milwaukee Chicks" are visible.
But still, something didn't seem right. I looked through my notes and realized that the Hall of Fame's caption wasn't quite accurate.

That isn't the 1944 AAGPBL championship trophy. It was made by (or on behalf of) the Chicks players, and presented to their manager in a pregame ceremony on "Max Carey Night" at Borchert Field. Here's how the Milwaukee Sentinel covered it:

FOR THE BOSS—The Chicks, who have great admiration for their boss, Max Carey, topped off the Carey night celebration last night at Borchert field by presenting the Milwaukee manager with a combination trophy and plaque. Left to right: Alma Ziegler, Merlo Keagle, Dorothy Maguire, Thelma Eisen and Carey. The Chicks also presented Carey with the second half flag by beating Kenosha, 5 to 4.
Sentinel photo.
Gorgeous. We'll talk more about "Max Carey Night" when we get to that part of our "On This Day in 1944" series this September. But in the meantime, we can take a closer look at the trophy itself.


It's topped with a female figure at bat. At the bottom, the words "MILWAUKEE CHICKS 1944". I can't make out the long vertical plaque, but that could be a list of the Chicks players.

The main plaque is of great interest.


I can only make out a few of the words, but the Sentinel's coverage gives us the full inscription. It reads
TO
MAX CAREY
above a picture of a chain, and this text:
UNBROKEN UNSULLIED
THIS CHAIN SHALL ALWAYS BE A SYMBOL OF
STRENGTH UNITY AND VICTORY
According to the paper, Carey would have his players form a circle before every game, holding hands in a chain as he would recite those words to them. The women obviously took his mantra to heart.

And there we go. Not the 1944 Championship trophy, but something more personal, and possibly even more special. I wonder where it resides today?

You never know what might inspire your research, or where you might find a wonderful story. Sometimes all it takes is the right tweet to send you on your way.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

On This Day - the Chicks Become the Chicks

On this day in 1944, something momentous happened to the Milwaukee Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League. That was the day the Chicks became the Chicks.

The question of what to call the team had been percolating for some time. The league itself just used "Milwaukee", in the style of the times. Nicknames were more casual in the first half of the twentieth centuries, more transient, and were often linked to moments in time. When Cleveland was managed by Napoleon Lajoie, they were known as the "Cleveland Naps." When four starting players got married in the off-season, the papers started referring to Brooklyn's National League club as the "Bridegrooms". The Brewers had been the Brewers for forty years, more or less, but hadn't put their nickname on uniforms until 1942. And since the AAGPBL didn't wear team names on their uniforms, only city and state, it would make sense that the nickname could arise organically.

The Milwaukee Journal settled on a nickname fairly early%mdash;the "Schnitts", after the Bavarian term for a half-glass of beer&Mdash;but the Sentinel took some time to find a name they liked. They started with "Brewerettes" and "Brewettes", used almost interchangeably, as seen in these clippings from June 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1944.




And then, on June 9th, something amazing happened. Buried on the sports page...


if you can find it...


was this off-handed reference, buried in the third paragraph of an article about the previous day's games.

Manager Max Carey of the Milwaukee Chicks announced he had signed Clara Cook, a pitcher from Elmira, N.Y. She formerly hurled for Kenosha.
And there you have it. The Sentinel had settled on a name.


Ostensibly, the name referred to a 1938 RKO Pictures film, well-known at the time and based upon a 1911 novel. "Mother Carey's Chickens" was a melodrama about a widow striving to provide for her four after her naval captain husband is killed in the Spanish-American war.

"Chicks" in the story referred to her whole brood, two boys and two girls. The term as slang for children in general is as old as Shakespeare. The etymology of "chick" as a term for a young woman specifically is unclear, but it was certainly in use by 1944. Not always with a positive connotation.


Someone at the Sentinel took note of manager Max Carey's name, and applied to the film title for a world-class pun. And that's the name that stuck. It would become the name the team would use, even if only casually. The newspaper ads would continue to use "Milwaukee" or "Our Milwaukee Team", but the name "Chicks" would become official soon. Perhaps "Schnitts" was too close to another rude term, and frankly the less said about either "Brewettes" or "Brewerettes" the better.

"Chicks" may seem dismissive to our modern ears, as both the book and RKO Radio Picture have faded into historical obscurity and we're left without context. But that's how the women referred to themselves, and it all started seventy-five years ago today.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Julio Acosta, 1944

We have a lot of Milwaukee Chicks coverage this year, in honor of their 75th Anniversary, but that doesn't mean we're forgetting the Brewers. This is Brewer hurler Julio Acosta, photographed in St. Paul, Minnesota.


This was taken at Lexington Park in St. Paul, when the Brewers were in town to play a four-game series against the Saints.

Acosta had been signed by Bill Veeck the previous season. Acosta had a particularly flamoyant Milwaukee debut, courtesy of Sport Shirt Bill's showmanship: he burst out of a 15-foot cardboard cake wheeled out to home plate and presented to Brewers manager Charlie Grimm as part of a birthday celebration for the Milwaukee skipper.

Couple details of the uniform that stand out to me.


Look at the curve on his brim! That cap looks well worn-in. It's a bit hard to read the red felt "M" against the blue wool in this print.

Acosta is wearing the Brewers' road gray flannels. This uniform is unique in Brewers history for a total lack of blue on either the jersey or pants, featuring instead red script and numbers outlined in white. Veeck's first stab at a road uniform was unveiled in 1942, solid blue head-to toe with red details trimmed in white. This unique look had led to a lot of ribbing from the other teams in the American Association, and for the next season the Brewers had lifted the red-and-white patches from their blue uniforms and sewn them on to a more traditional gray.

Underneath his jersey, Acosta is wearing an undershirt with white sleeves, a style that was popular at the time and now reads as iconic of its era. White sleeves were very much the standard in the early decades of the twentieth century, but by 1951 all major league clubs had adopted colored undershirt sleeves.

Posed with his arms raised in a wind-up motion, you see that the red soutache sleeve stripe doesn't go all the way around, leaving about an inch-long gap under his arm. You can also clearly see his underarm gussets, offering greater range of movement.

Curious how he's wearing his belt, with the buckle all the way to the side.


We see this from time to time on ballplayers, especi but I don't know if I've ever understood the reason behind it. Was it a comfort thing? Did he appreciate the rakish style? I honestly don't know.

Acosta didn't pitch in that series against the St. Paul Saints; the 25-year old hurler had lost a close one to the Minneapolis Millers on June 21st, as the Brewers began their road swing through Minnesota, and his spot in the rotation wouldn't come up again until the Brewers had headed home to Borchert Field. Acosta ended the 1944 season with a 13-10 record and 3.89 ERA.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

On This Day - D-Day!

Throughout this summer of 2019, we've been following the 1944 season of the Milwaukee Chicks as it happened, as they begin the All-American Girls Professional Ball League season. But seventy-five years ago today, the newspapers were full of other news, and baseball at all levels took a back seat to unfolding world history.

Shortly after sunrise, on June 6, 1944, while Milwaukeeans at home were asleep in their beds, Allied forces were landing on French beaches in the largest seaborne assault in history.


D-Day was enormously successful, if costly, and even at the time it was understood that the sacrifice of those troops was laying the foundations for the eventual Allied victory.

Thanks to those newspaper reports, and out of respect for global events, organized baseball at all levels canceled its slate of games that day. The All-American League was no exception.

Schnits Cancel D Day Contest

Two Infielders Signed

The Milwaukee Schnits game at Racine Tuesday night in the Girls' Pro Ball league was canceled because of the invasion. Four Schnits are injured. Pitcher Connie Wisniewski twisted her knee at South Bend Sunday and will be out a week. The others nursing injuries are Vivian Anderson, third base; Alma Ziegler, second base; and Thelma Eisen, left field.

Doris Tetzlaff, Watertown, Wis., joined the Schnits Monday and will replace Miss Anderson Tuesday night against the Belles at Racine. Miss Wisniewski will be out a week. The others will be ready Tuesday night.
The Chicks had an unexpected off-day. The timing was fortuitous, allowing them to nurse their injuries, but it seems unlikely that was much of a concern. No doubt the women found their thoughts turning to the beaches of Normandy, where their husbands, brothers, fathers and friends were laying down their lives in the service of freedom.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

On This Day - the Chicks Drop Two

Today, we continue our "On This Day" review of the Milwaukee Chicks' championship year. It was exactly seventy-five years ago, in 1944, when the women had just started the AAGPBL season.

They played their games at Borchert Field, when the Brewers were on the road. They opened the season on May 27, 1944, dropping the first game to the South Bend Blue Sox 5-4 in ten innings. Afterwards, Milwaukee centerfielder referred to a double-header scheduled the next day when she said "Wait until tomorrow, we're going to take both games."

This is how the Milwaukee Journal covered that double-header. In this case, the women got pretty good coverage, with a large photo on the first page of the sports section.


And what a photo it was!

The Schnits gang up for a putout in the ninth inning of Sunday's second game at Borchert field in the All-American Girls' Professional Ball League. Three Milwaukee players are shown participating in a rundown play which caught Charlotte Armstrong, South Bend pitcher, between second and third base. Left to right: Vivian Anderson, third base; Miss Armstrong; Alma Zeigler, second base; Emily Stevenson, catcher. South Bend won both games, 9-3 and 13-0.
That's absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, we have very few first-generation photos of this club, so most of the time we'll have to make do with these microfiche reproductions of newspaper prints. Even twice-filtered, this is an amazing visual composition. The dynamic motion is matched only by the expressions of joy on the players' faces.

Vivian Anderson is notable for being one of only two Milwaukeeans to play for their hometown club, and the only one on the roster at the this point in the season. Alma "Ziggy" Zeigler was a pitcher and infielder who we'll be talking about as the season goes on; she went on to have an eleven-year career with the Chicks, starting with the first year in Milwaukee. Catcher Emily Stevenson wasn't as fortunate; she played only one season in the league, making appearances in thirty-two of the team's 117 games. She had the lucky "13" uniform, in Otis Shepard's bold sans-serif numbers.

In addition to the amazing photo, the Journal gives us box scores for the two games.


In the first game, the Chicks took a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning. They hadn't gotten a hit, but had scrambled their way to that lead thanks to a combination of walks and South Bend errors. And then it all unraveled in the top of the fourth. Pitcher Josephine Kabich got herself in trouble loading the bases with Blue Sox before hurling a wild pitch that brought two of them home. An error charged to shortstop Betty "Whitey" Whiting let two more score, and with the bases loaded again a throwing error from centerfielder Thelma “Tiby” Eisen cleared them all. Eight runs in the fourth for the visitors, all of them unearned. The Chicks would plate another in their half of the inning before surrendering a ninth run in the top of the sixth to end the game 9-3.

The second game was even more embarrassing. The Milwaukeeans managed eleven hits but couldn't bring any of them home, while the South Bend Blue Sox brought 13 runs across the plate, including a home run from their shortstop Dorothy Schroeder. Schroeder was notable for being the only woman to play all twelve years of the All-American League's existence.

Not great results for the Milwaukee women. Three games, three losses. The Chicks' 1944 campaign was getting off to a rough start.

Monday, May 27, 2019

On This Day in 1944: Play Ball!

On this day in 1944, Milwaukee Chicks managerMax Carey opened the 1944 All-American Girls Professional Ball League season at Borchert Field.

Earlier today, we looked at the Milwaukee Sentinel's rather hit-or-miss preview of the season opener, at once taking them seriously and being outright dismissive. Fortunately, the paper's coverage of the game itself was much, much better.

South Bend Tips Local Girls, 5-4



BY STONEY McGLYNN

The Milwaukee team of the All-American ball league lost a heartbreaking 10 inning fray to the South Bend Blue Sox, pennant favorites, by 5 to 4, in the season's opener at Borchert field before around 700 fans.

In the early innings it was largely a pitching duel between Connie Wisniewski of Milwaukee and "Sonny" Berger, South Bend ace. Connie was the victim of nine errors, her own two wild throws attempting to pick runners off the bases costing runs on two occasions.

Anderson's infield single and advance to third on Schroeder's wide throw set the stage for the first run in the fifth, Wisniewski dropping a fly single back of second to bring in the tally. The Blue Sox got this back and one more in the sixth. Panos walked and Jochum singled. Attempting to pick Panos off second, Wisniewski tossed wildly and both runners advanced. A passed ball and Gocioch's fly netted the two runs.

With two away in the Milwaukee sixth. Elsen got hold of a fast one and drilled it over the head of Jochum in left field for a home run to even it at 2-all.

The Sox took the lead in the ninth, singles by Baker and Hageman starting the rally. Again Wisniewski threw wildly attempting to pick Baker off second, both runners advancing, Schroeder's hit and Grant's bobble in right field let both runners score.

Milwaukee tied it up in its half, Whiting singling, Schulze walking and Anderson bunting safety to jam the lanes. Wisniewski fouled out to Baker and Grant's single plated Whiting, but Schulze, hesitating after rounding third, was run down. Koslowski singled, but Jochin fielded it in time to hold Anderson at third. Meanwhile Grant ran to that base and was tagged out by Baker.

A walk to Stefani with one away, her advance to third on an infield out and Baker's hit drove home the winning button in the first of the tenth.
We get two field-level photos of the team in action.

A FLYING START

Shirley Schulze, comely centerfielder for the Milwaukee team of the All-American Girls' Baseball league, attempted to drag a bunt down the third base line in the second inning of Saturday's game against the Blue Sox from South Bend, Ind., but found catcher Mary Baker alert and was tossed out on a close play, despite the fact that she was away to a flying start. The Sox won, 5 to 1, in 10 innings to spoil the league opening for Milwaukee fans.
Sentinel photo.
The "comely" part isn't strictly necessary, but the caption of the next photo is more gently ribbing fans than the players.

BALD HEADED ROW

As usual, there was a bald headed row right down front when the Milwaukee Girls' baseball team opened its season. A Sentinel cameraman was on the spot to prove it with a picture.
"As usual"? I need to do more research on this. If the bald-headed men were fixtures at Brewers games, the 1940s equivalent of Front Row Amy, I'd like to learn more about them. And it would be a positive sign for the AAGPBL if they were reaching fans of the Brews.

The Sentinel filled out its coverage with this report on the festivities surrounding the game.

Gals Plus Color

Snappy Plays Feature Opener

BY MILLIE KEENE

Colorful pre-game ceremonies marked the opening of the All-American Girls Professional Ball league in Milwaukee yesterday afternoon at Borchert field in a contest between the Milwaukee team and the South Bend Blue Sox.

Opening the ceremonies, the girls from both teams ran out from their dugouts and with a double criss-cross at home plate and second, came to attention in the form of a "V" at home plate.

Represented at the ceremonies were the Milwaukee County Council of the American Legion, the Spars, Waves, Wacs, and women's marine corps.

*     *     *
Celebrities included Judge Ed Rusts of Kenosha, Capt. H. H. Hankin of the marines, Ken Sells, league president, and Mayor John L. Bohn, who officially welcomed the team to Milwaukee and tossed the first ball to Wave Lt. Russell, who smacked it back to the infielders.
*     *     *
A three-gun salute was fired by the Legion firing squad and the band played the national anthem as the flag was raised.
*     *     *
The girls really did some fancy playing as was attested by the 5-4 Blue Sox victory. It was either team's game all the way.
*     *     *
Many close decisions helped make the game a thriller. Pitcher Connie Wisniewski of Milwaukee, going after a sacrifice bunt, just touched the ball inside the foul line and it went as a hit. Twice runners were caught between the bags and run down. A delayed steal by Shirley Schulze of Milwaukee caused a round of applause and put her in scoring position.
*     *     *
The feature was Left Fielder Thelma (Pigtails) Eisen's home run into left field - the only homer of the game. 'Pigtails' won herself quite a following, not only because of the home run, but because of her distinctive pigtails which stood almost straight out as she tore around the bases to tie the game up in the sixth at 2 all.
*     *     *
Catcher "Mickey" Maguie and Shortstop Betty Whiting turned in excellent performances too, but were more than a little disheartened at dropping the close one.

"Wait until tomorrow," said Schulze, "we're going to take both games." "It's my turn to make a home run tomorrow," shouted Olga Grant, another Milwaukee outfielder.

This afternoon a double header is scheduled, starting at 1:30. Pitchers for Milwaukee will be Josephine Kabick and "Lefty" Thompson, while Charlotte Armstrong and Doris Barr will work for South Bend.
Lieutenant Russell smacked the ceremonial first pitch back to the infielders? I'd like to have seen that!

The "V" formation mentioned here would become associated with the AAGPBL, as seen in this photo from a different game:


Aven today, it is a symbol of the league. Surviving AAGPBL players posed in a Victory formation on the County Stadium infield during a league reunion in 2000:


Today the Players Association continues to make it an important part of their iconography.


Great stuff from the Sentinel.

Finally, it's interesting that the paper had by this time dropped the name "Brewerettes", but had not yet adopted "Chicks". That would come later.

As for Schulze's confident prediction that "we're going to take both games" in the next day's double header, we'll see how that went.

On This Day in 1944 - "Local Girls Debut Today"

On this day in 1944, the players had been assigned, the team assembled, and finally the Milwaukee Chicks opened their inaugural All-American Professional Ball League season at Borchert Field.

The Milwaukee papers, naturally, covered the team's first game. For better, and for worse.

We start with the city's morning paper, the Milwaukee Sentinel.


So there's good and bad here. The picture along the bottom is gorgeous, featuring two of the players in an open workout at the Orchard.

LIGHTNING FAST

Betty Whiting, left, and Alma Ziegler, the "keystone kids" as the Milwaukee club of the All-American Girls' Baseball league, start a fancy double play in a practice workout at Borchert field Friday afternoon as the final warmup for the league opener Saturday afternoon against the South Bend Blue Sox. This duo featured in several outstanding plays. On the end of the twin killing was Dolores Kiosowski, a left handed first baseman who, with the keystone kids, drew rounds of applause from the fans who gathered to see the first workout.
Sentinel photo
I wish we could see this in its original format.

The Sentinel also published its preview of the opening game.

Local Girls Debut Today

BY MILLIE KEENE

Mgr. Max Carey put his Milwaukee teams of the All-American Girls Professional Ball league through its initial workout yesterday afternoon in preparation for the opening game of the season this afternoon against the South Bend Blue Sox at Borchert field at 2:30.

Mayor John L. Bohn will toss the first ball. Wacs, Waves, Spars, women marines, legionnaires and players of both teams will be on parade. The flag raising and salute will be handled by an American Legion unit.

MANY CELEBRITIES

Guest celebrities will include Ken Sells, league president; Judge Ed Ruetz of Kenosha; Capt. H. H. Rankin of the marine corps; Spart Lt. j. g. Dorothy Davies; Wac Capt. Mary W. Stephenson and Lt. Sally Tucker of the women's marine corps. Dr. Royal L. Mashek, commander of the Milwaukee council of the American Legion, and Carl Zahn will be in charge of the pregame activities on the field.

Over 200 spectators were present yesterday to watch the first local workout. Dolores Klosowski at first base, Alma Ziegler at second base and Betty Whiting clicked beautifully in infield practice.

PITCHERS IMPRESSIVE

The two mound probabilities for the opener, Connie Wisniewski and Josephine Kabick, worked out in impressive fashion, but Carey was undecided as to his starter in the league opener.
Excellent. A very reasonable and respectful review of a baseball team.

So that's the good. But all that is undone by the cartoon at the top, by the Sentinel's staff cartoonist Lou Grant.


That is... just not good.


Fortunately, their coverage of the game itself was much, much better. But that's a subject for another post.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Today in 1944 - "Enjoy a Real Sports Thrill!"

On this day seventy-five years ago, Opening Day of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League's 1944 season was about to begin.

Spring Training was over, the rosters assigned and the players moved into their private homes in Milwaukee. Borchert Field was ready to host. And now all they needed was an audience.

To that end, the league placed two ads in the Milwaukee Journal. The first was in what they would have called the "Women's Section", sandwiched between an ad for Lux soap and an ad for a romance magazine.


Gorgeous. That's the unmistakable airbrush art of Otis Shepard, official design guru of the AAGPBL and the outright master of mid-century design.

Note the lack of team nicknames - no "Chicks" or "Schnits" or "Brewerettes" here, only "Milwaukee" and "South Bend". The team hadn't yet settled on a nickname they could use.

I also love the full schedule there.

A smaller version of the ad also appeared in the sports section.


We see more of Shepard's figure, at the expense of the season schedule. And here the women are referred to as "Our Milwaukee Team".

It's obvious that the league was trying to cast a wide net, appealing to sports fans and the women who may never turn to that section of the paper.

One day to go, and the All-American League was ready to "Play Ball!" in Milwaukee.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

On This Day - The Team Assembles

On this day in 1944, the Milwaukee Chicks arrived in the Cream City, fresh from a week-and-a-half Spring Training camp for all All-American Professional Ball League teams in Peru, Illinois.

The Milwaukee Journal was there to introduce the women to their new home town, running this large photo on page 8 of the afternoon paper on Wednesday, May 24, 1944.


We've seen this photo before - cut out of the paper and pressed into a scrapbook, it was on display at the Milwaukee County Historical Society last spring as part of the exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History".

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)
Fantastic.