Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne - the 1909 Brewers

As we turn the page to 2010, here's one final look at the 1909 Milwaukee Brewers. They had a pretty good run at the American Association pennant, even if they fell short in the closing weeks of the season.

Pictured here is the squad that took the field at Athletic Park. Love those sweaters.

Photo courtesy Milwaukee Public Library.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Have a Jolly Cholly Christmas

PhotoShop by Paul Tenpenny, from a 1951 color supplement photo of Charlie Grimm, then in his second stint managing the Brews. A great look at the Braves-like piping that the Brewers adopted when Boston took control of the club. The original photo is here:

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Loving Cup

On April 29th, 1931, BrewerRooters jammed themselves into every square inch of old Borchert Field to watch the Brews open the season against the Toledo Mud Hens. There were 13,113 of them at the ballpark that afternoon, the largest Opening Day crowd in Milwaukee baseball history.

Although the Brewers would lose the game, thanks to the tremendous hometown crowd they did win the 1931 Hickey Cup. Named for Thomas Jefferson Hickey, one of the founders of the American Association and at the time still its reigning president, the Hickey Cup was awarded annually by the American Association to the club with the largest Opening Day attendance.

The victory earned the Brews a mention in The New York Times:

The Cup itself sat in the Brewer offices until Bill Veeck dragged it out in June of 1942. Incensed that his Opening Day crowd of 15,599 was deemed lower than the 12,242 Indianapolis drew to their first game (the American Association calculated attendance on a per capita basis, Milwaukee's 2.6% to Indy's 2.9%). Veeck bought the Brewers a massive trophy and offered the 1931 Cup to the wartime tin drive in a pregame ceremony at Borchert Field.

This was of course only one of Veeck's legendary "gags," and the 1931 Hickey Cup was spared the recycling bin. It survives today in the collection of Paul Tenpenny, a testament to Milwaukeeans' love for their Brewers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Postcard from the Edge

In 1992, Milwaukee artist John T. McCarthy, Jr. published a series of vivid Art Deco-style postcards called "Greetings from Milwaukee", celebrating iconic images of Milwaukee's past.

The series spanned architecture (the Wisconsin Gas Company building), transportation (the "trackless trolley" buses and Wisconsin Air Lines), and sport (Marquette's "Golden Avalanche" football team). Included among them was our very own Borchert Field:

Ball Park (Field of Dreams)
©1990 John T. McCarthy, Jr.

Many of these images, including "Ball Park (Field of Dreams)", were also offered as posters.

The nameless pitcher pictured appears to be wearing a stylized version of the Brewers' classic early-1940s uniform, with the block "M" on his chest. The white cap logo would probably date it before 1942.

It's not only a fun interpretation of the Orchard, but one which also holds a special place in the team's history. This postcard may well have been the first piece of Brews merchandise produced after the Braves moved to Milwaukee. In 1992, it would have introduced a whole new generation of baseball fans to the notion that Milwaukee's rich baseball history goes a lot farther back than 1953.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Thursday April 16, 1942 was opening day for the hometown fans at Borchert Field. The preparations for a memorable day were in place and not even a little rain could stop him now. Look out American Association... here comes Bill Veeck!

by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2009 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

In 1936, the Milwaukee Brewers were at the top of their game. The American Association Champions finished the season with 90 wins and 64 losses, breezing through the playoffs. They defeated Buffalo 4 games to 1 for the Little World Series crown.

In 1937, led by local favorite Kenny Keltner (batting .310) and slugger Ted Gullic (.321), the crew finished the season with a respectable 83-70 record, good enough for a 4th place finish in the hotly-contested American Association's 1st division.

1938 found the Brewers finishing in similar fashion, this time in 3rd place with an 81-70 record. Whitlow Wyatt pitched in with a scorching 23-7 season and a 2.37 ERA.

The continuing attrition of its better players anchored the Milwaukee Brewers to the depths of the American Association for both 1939 and 1940. 1941 looked to be a repeat of the bad performances of the previous two years, and both Milwaukee and its owner Henry Bendinger were looking for change.

A bit further south, a young Bill Veeck Jr., whose father was baseball executive William L. Veeck, a past and very successful president of the Chicago Cubs, was looking beyond Chicago. Bill Jr. was anxious to try out his own ideas on how to run a ball club, instead of being confined within the vine-covered walls of Wrigley field that he had planted.

When Bendinger approached Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley about buying the team, Wrigley declined, so Bill saw his chance to strike out on his own, according to his friend, Charlie Grimm. With Grimm in tow and with the blessing of Phil Wrigley, the 27 year old Veeck put together some "creative" financing and arrived in Milwaukee on June 23, 1941 as the new owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Charlie Grimm listens intently to Bill Veeck Sr.
(Original Press Photo-Author's Collection)

Contrary to some opinions, Milwaukee always had a strong base of fan support. Veeck knew this and his main concern upon arrival was to spruce up the old park and improve the on-field product to bring those loyal fans back in force.

Bill wasn't above getting his hands dirty, or his pants wet!
(Photo courtesy Baseball Hall of Fame)

Taking out a loan, he set out to make Borchert Field a cleaner, more welcoming ballpark. Both he and Charlie burnt the midnight oil with the hired help scrubbing down the place. A new coat of paint spruced things up a bit and a new Ladies room was constructed for his female guests. People were beginning to see a change.

Shirtsleeve Bill greets his "guests"
(Photo courtesy Baseball Hall of Fame)

Bill continued a habit he had started in Chicago. He made it a regular practice to meet and speak with Milwaukee fans to find out what they liked or disliked, complaints or compliments. He sat with them during the games, he shook hands before and after games. He knew what they wanted and gave it to them and then some. He acknowledged that a lot of his best ideas came from the fans. He was still a "fan" himself.

His biggest job was improving the team. 1941 was a transition year for sure as Bill put in many hours trying to pry the team out of last place. Unfortunately, that is where they ended up by season's end.

He made many changes and was confidently looking forward to opening day in 1942.

So were the players. In his 10th year in the league, Ted Gullic was enthusiastic when speaking of the 1942 Milwaukee Brewers. "This club is so good." said Gullic, "I'll have a tough time holding a job, I mean that. We have loads of power. That boy Stanky is really a shortstop, the kind Brewer fans will rave about."

A lot of new faces were on the 1942 team. Manager Charlie Grimm's Milwaukee Brewers were more than ready for the season opener on April 16, 1942. Grimm was predicting a pennant if his pitching held up.

1942 Milwaukee Brewers Season Roster
(Courtesy Rex Hamann, American Association Almanac)

The 1942 Milwaukee Brewers Team Picture/Poster
(Author's Collection)

The 1942 Milwaukee Brewers Closeup #1
(Naktenis, Blaeholder, Lanfronconi & Vandenberg)
(Becker, Gullic Norman & Secory)

The 1942 Milwaukee Brewers Closeup #2
(Grimm, Page, George, Stanky & Clarke)
(Rogers, Lowry, Lawson & Peck)

Opening day arrived with tickets selling briskly and Borchert Field workers scrambling to finish the improvements on the ball park. It appeared that sales were within reach of the record crowd of 1927's opener of 15,282. Since then, the highest the Brewers could muster on opening day was the 13,113 attendance of 1931.

Amid the opening day hoopla, a record crowd was ready for a great season opener as this Milwaukee Journal photo taken at 2:45 pm Thursday April 16th attests. But in a matter of minutes, dark clouds opened up with a furious downpour which had the fans and players alike, scrambling for cover.

It ended as quickly as it started, with the sun shining a short time later, but the damage was done. The downpour flooded the playing field and the Milwaukee Brewers had to call the game.

Bill Veeck walked on to the field after the downpour marveling at the sunshine and empty stands that surrounded him. Rain happens and so do opportunities...

Every year, the American Association gives a trophy to the team who's opening day attendance is the largest. With 15,599, a new record for Borchert Field, Milwaukee seemed to have a shot at that trophy. But the rain had started another storm ... that of protest. Bill appealed to League President George Trautmann who seemed to agree that the cash customers were present and the game got underway, so it was an official opening day crowd. Others cried foul, that it was a rainout, so it shouldn't count. Trautman overuled that protest as a poll of 6 clubs showed a majority backed Milwaukee's game as counting. Unfortunately, the opening day trophy is awarded to the city having the greatest per capita attendance on the first day of the season. So, Indianapolis who had 12,242 or 2.9% of its population vs. Milwaukee's 15,599 or 2.6%, was awarded the trophy.

There was no doubt in Bill Veeck's mind nor in the hearts of the local fans, that Milwaukee deserved the trophy ... and darn it, if they were not going to give them one, Bill would take care of it himself.

The presentation of the trophy was no secret. American Association President George Trautman was invited to Borchert Field to be on hand when the ceremony would take place on Tuesday June 2, 1942 before that night's game.

How he was going to do it was a surprise to all in attendance. Bill Veeck was about to spring on Milwaukee what would become his trademark - the Stunt. As the ceremony began. an armored car drove up and uniformed guards brought out the near 4 foot tall trophy. For contrast, Veeck pulled out a smaller trophy from a nearby garbage can, that trophy being the league trophy given to Milwaukee by the American Association when they did win the attendance award with 13,113 in 1931. Puny by comparison to his trophy, he cajoled Trautman to donate that one to the Government for its tin drive. The league president was a captive audience sitting in his box seat, with nowhere to hide. Bill went on after him, having the time of his life, presenting Trautment with a red banded white cane and a seeing eye dog, while the song "Three Blind Mice" played over the public address system, suggesting the dog and cane should be standard equipment for all league umpires. He also gave George a bouquet of vegetables.

It was all in good fun and even though the crowd couldn't hear what Bill was saying into the mike, everyone seemed to understand and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The 1931 Attendance Trophy (Author's Collection)

Veeck in his Borchert Field Office -
1931 "13,113" Attendance Trophy on far left
Bill's "15,599" Trophy 2nd from right.
(Photo Author's Collection-courtesy Baseball Hall of Fame)

While the 1931 trophy obviously survived the "tin drive", as it shows up in this 1945 photo of Bill back in his Borchert Office, it is unclear what happened to the 15,599 trophy. Bill Veeck tells the tale of reusing a large trophy several times and just changing the brass plate for each occasion, which may very well have been Milwaukee's 15,599 trophy, so it may be lost to history.

The Brewers went on to much success in 1942, finishing in 2nd place and Bill Veeck was named minor league executive of the year. This was only the beginning of a brilliant baseball career and baseball would never, ever be the same.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Old Reliable, the Mountain, and the Brews

New York Yankees right fielder Tommy Henrich, nicknamed "Old Reliable" for his clutch hitting, passed away yesterday at the age of 96. Henrich, who played in pinstripes for eleven seasons in the 1930s and 1940s, is perhaps best known for winning Game One of the 1949 Fall Classic with the first walk-off home run in World Series history. A former teammate of Lou Gehrig, he was the oldest living Yankee at the time of his death. All of this is well-known, and was reported in his obituaries coast to coast. What you may not know is that he had a unique connection to the Milwaukee Brewers.

In October of 1936, Tommy Henrich was a 23 year-old outfielder for the New Orleans Pelicans, the Sourthern Association farm club of the Cleveland Indians. The Brewers, coming off their 1936 American Assiciation pennant-winning campaign, bought the contracts of Henrich and his teammate Ralph Winegarner, a right-handed hurler. Henrich was a particularly prized addition to the Brewer roster, and was expected to see plenty of time at Borchert Field in the 1937 season.

Henrich (left) with fellow Brewer outfielders Jack Kloza and Ted Gullic

Henrich, however, had other plans. He had been tearing up the minors, and expected to find himself heading to Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. He was frustrated by the prospect of another minor-league contract, especially after reading that several big league clubs had expressed an interest in him.

Henrich suspected that although the Indians didn't have a clear spot for him on their roster, they still valued him and had been trying to hide him from other clubs by moving him out of their directly-controlled farm system. In January, Henrich wrote to Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of organized baseball, asking for his intervention.
"I wrote the judge on Jan 19," explained Henrich. "I told him I started to play in organized baseball at Zanesville, Ohio, in 1934 and was farmed to the Penn State league. Then I played again for Zanesville in 1935 and was sold to New Orleans. I played for New Orleans last year and two weeks before the season ended I was told I had been sold to Milwaukee. I told the judge–wait, I'll read you a copy of my letter:

"'This all looks O.K. to me, as far as I understand baseball laws, except that half the time I hear that I belong to Milwaukee and half the time I hear that I belong to Cleveland. If I belong to Milwaukee, I'd like to know how they got me when major league clubs tried to make deals for me and couldn't. In other words, I've been sold twice to higher leagues at Cleveland's direction, yet I never even saw a Cleveland contract. It is all confusing to me. I'd like to know once and for all who I really belong to.'"
Henrich initially rebuffed the Brewers' offers, although they eventually settled on a contract. If he was still waiting for a response from Landis, he gave no public sign. By the time he reported for Spring Training in Biloxi, Mississippi, Henrich's future in Milwaukee was secure.

One week into Spring Training, Landis dropped a bombshell onto the Brewer camp, finally agreeing to hear Henrich's claim and settle his contract status once and for all. The Brewers were stunned, and the announcement made quite a splash in Milwaukee:

Henrich denied that he was trying to get out of his Brewer contract, insisting that he just wanted to know who really owned it.

The Indians had some cover in the nature of their affiliation with Milwaukee. Today, we're accustomed to very clear lines of player ownership. Major league clubs have exclusive agreements with a chain of minor league teams. The big leager organization owns player contracts and determines the promotion and demotion of players up and down the ladder.

During the Brewers' history, those exclusive deals were the exception and not the rule. Milwaukee had a series of informal arrangements with its major league affiliates, in which the Brews got financial assistance and the big club traditionally received a right of first refusal on Milwaukee's players. Milwaukee then operated its own extensive network of farm clubs, assigning some players to play at Borchert Field and some to play in the Brews' developmental system.

Under these circumstances, Henrich's confusion seems quite reasonable. Had the Indians given up his rights when he moved from the farm club to the independent Brewers? Or was he on a sort of temporary loan? In any case, his contracts were all with the minor league clubs and not with the American League team that seemed to be controlling his career. This was the legal gray area into which Henrich had been deposited.

Landis conducted a hearing with Henrich. During that four-hour meeting, Henrich accused Cy Slapnicka, the Indians' chief scout, and Cleveland general manager Billy Evans of hiding him in the minors.

A hearing was being held in New Orleans Thursday to determine if Tom Henrich, young outfielder sold by New Orleans to the Milwaukee Brewers last year, is rightfully owned by the Milwaukee club or by Cleveland, which originally held his contract. At the session were (front, left to right) Louis Nahin, Milwaukee business manager; Judge K. M. Landis, baseball's high commissioner; Henry Bendinger, Milwaukee owner, and Henrich. In back are Manager Larry Gilbert (left) of New Orleans and Alva Bradley, president of the Cleveland club. Landis took the case under advisement.
Landis deferred his ruling for two weeks to consider the case. While waiting for the verdict, Henrich insisted to the press that his frustration was with the situation itself, and not with the Brewers.
"I'd just as soon play for Milwaukee. From the correspondence I've had with the club I think I would get along fine up there. I hear it's a good baseball town."
Henrich never got the chance to find out. Landis ruled in Henrich's favor, voiding any claim Cleveland had on him and declaring him a free agent.

"I never thought I had a chance," Henrich said. "The old Judge was leaning over backwards to be impartial and he never gave me a word of encouragement or any hint that I had a good case. Facts, facts, facts, is what he wanted. Then, an hour later, he called me with his decision and that was the greatest thrill of my life to that point. I think part of it was that the Judge didn't like Slapnicka and he got a kick out of me writing to him and standing up for my rights."
Henrich returned to his home town of Massilon, Ohio, to await the bids. Although the New York Giants put in a good showing, the Yankees were the victors, and Henrich was bound for the Bronx. He started at their farm club in Newark, but quickly moved to the Bigs. He made his Yankee debut on May 11, 1937, less than a month after Landis released him from his Brewer contract.

Henrich had an outstanding career in pinstripes as an integral part of eight American League pennant-winning clubs and seven world champions before retiring in 1950 (he spent the 1943, 1944 and 1945 seasons wearing a different shade of blue, that of the Coast Guard).

In 1960, Henrich was in Milwaukee, and was asked about his brief stay with the Brewers. Henrich did have one regret about never playing for the Brews:

I'm sure those short fences looked pretty inviting to him.

Because Henrich never saw action for Milwaukee in a regular season game, his name is absent from the team's complete roster. His short time with the club, however, remains a fascinating chapter in Milwaukee Brewer history.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

1943 postscript: The Spoils of War

by Paul Tenpenny

Bill Veeck's hard work rebuilding the Milwaukee Brewers in 1941 and 1942 paid off with the Brews taking the 1943 American Association Crown with a 90-61 record under the skillful management of Charlie Grimm.

This is a rare view of Grimm's championship ring from that season.
(CJG - Charles John Grimm)

American Association Champions - Obverse
(Author's Collection)

Milwaukee 1943 AA - Side View
(Author's Collection)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When "Sport Shirt Bill" Went to War

On this Veterans Day, as we honor the sacrifices of all the men and women in uniform, I'd like to take a few minutes to remember one particular veteran's story.

In late November of 1943, with another season in the books and the pennant won, maverick Milwaukee Brewers owner Bill Veeck left his office at Borchert Field and enlisted in the US Marine Corps.

Veeck Joins the Marines, November 1943
(Milwaukee Sentinel)

This was Milwaukee Sentinel cartoonist Lou Grant's take on "Sport Shirt Bill"'s new outfit:

The Marines, well aware of Sport Shirt Bill's penchant for the theatrical, thought they were getting a publicity stunt and recruiting tool. They accepted him despite his having bad knees, expecting him to stay Stateside and play for the newsreel cameras.

Newly-minted Private Veeck had other ideas, however, and by all contemporary accounts pulled every string he could find to have himself transferred to a fighting unit, destined for the South Pacific and the front lines.

This wasn't the first time that Veeck's flair for promotion had been mistaken for self-promotion. While he didn't shun the attention he got at the Orchard, he never forgot why the fans came to the corner of 8th and Chambers in the first place. If promoting himself helped promote the team, more's the better. But while that might have been a side benefit for the "P.T. Barnum of Baseball," it was never the point.

Even while presiding over such spirited nonsense as fan giveaways, Veeck never took the field. During his birthday party for manager Charlie Grimm, Veeck hosted from the dugout, microphone in hand. He was taught to stay out of the players' arena by his father, who had been president of the Chicago Cubs from 1919 until his death in 1933, and so throughout his life Bill Veeck stayed out of the club's locker room, and only publicly appeared on a baseball field a handful of times.

As he went off to training in San Diego, Veeck left his ballclub in solid hands. Grimm and team secretary Rudie Schaffer (elevated to acting president) took over the operations. Jim Gallagher, general manager of the Chicago Cubs and an old friend of Veeck's from his days planting ivy at Wrigley Field, loaned Milwaukee his assistant Don Stewart, who had prior experience running Tulsa's entry in the Texas League.

Before leaving, Veeck wrote an open letter to the team's fans, which was reprinted in this early 1944 issue of Brewer News. In it, he says almost nothing about himself, choosing instead to assure the fans that good times would continue to be held at the Orchard. I quote it here in full to get a good measure of the man in his own voice:
Dear Fans,

It's going to be kind of funny not to be around that ball yard this season because I have enjoyed so much being with you. However, you know that wherever I may be stationed, I will be looking forward to getting back to Borchert Field. I am not worried at all about leaving because I know we will have a good ball club and one that is ably managed both on the field and in the office. I know that you are going to keep having a good time at the ball games, and I hope you'll feel free to drop in and see the gang at the office just as you did while I was here.

I'd like to tell all of you that I have appreciated tremendously the way you fans have treated us. We, in turn, have tried to reciprocate by havinf a good ball club, a clean ball park, and by trying to give courteous treatment to all.

In closing, there is just one thing I'd like to add, and that is to remind you that the gang is still going to be doing business at the same old stand, and I hope that all of you enjoy the coming summer at Borchert Field.

Thanking you again for your many courtesies, I am, very truly yours,

PVT. BILL VEECK, U.S. Marine Corps.
While he might have dedicated himself to being a fighting man, Sport Shirt Bill couldn't ever leave baseball behind. It would take more than the Marine Corps to get the baseball man out of Ole Will. He continued to wheel and deal from afar, and in April of 1944 Veeck, now a Private (First Class), negotiated the sale of a shortstop to the Seattle Rainers. It didn't hurt that Rainiers vice president Roscoe Torrance was himself a Captain in the Marine Corps, in a role much like the one the Corps originally envisioned for Veeck - Torrance was "an athletic and morale officer" whose duties included running a "leatherneck baseball league" on bases.

Call it a win-win-win: Seattle got a shortstop, the Brewers got some cash, and the Marines got their good press after all.

After all his efforts to see combat, Veeck's military career was by his own account "short and undistinguished." His right leg was crushed in the recoil of an anti-aircraft gun during the Bougainville campaign and of his twenty-two months in the service, he spent eighteen in military hospitals.

On the home front, Jolly Cholly Grimm was keeping the ballclub running smoothly. The Brewers were off to a great start in the American Association. What could possibly go wrong?

The bigs had been knocking on Grimm's door for some time - in November of 1941 the New York Times reported that he had turned down an offer to manage a major league club in order to remain with the Brewers - but this was the Cubs, his old team. The sentimental pull was too much, and after a brief period during which Milwaukee fans implored Grimm to stay, Cholly packed his bags for Chicago.

Veeck learned of Grimm's departure from a tattered copy of Time magazine in his hospital room on Guadalcanal. He reacted out of emotion, firing off an ill-conceived and admittedly "unfair, unkind and unforgiveable" letter to his old friend Jim Gallagher, accusing Gallagher of all manner of back-stabbing treachery in stealing his manager.

He was similarly restrained when he heard whom Grimm had hired to take his place in the dugout - a former ballplayer named Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel (right). In Veeck's defense, Stengel's managerial career to date had consisted of piloting the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves to a series of cellar finishes. Veeck dashed off another ill-conceived letter, this time to Rudie Schaffer, accusing Stengel of being "incompetent and a clown." Schaffer responded with a letter of his own, not-so-patiently explaining that Stengel had agreed to take the job only as a favor to Grimm, who refused to leave the Brewers until he had found a manager who could fit in with the team's "free and easy, clowning operation."

"Incompetent and a clown." While Veeck's second assesment of Stengel was undoubtedly true, he couldn't have been more wrong about the first part. Not only did the Brews not lose a step after Grimm left for Chicago, they continued to be the class of the American Association in 1944, finishing the season with an astounding 102-51 record. Today, Stengel's Brewers are remembered as one of the top 100 teams in minor league baseball history.

While tearing their way through the American Association, the Brewers kept their president close to their hearts. The cover of the 1944 All-Star Game program (which featured the Brewers squaring off against a team of All-Stars from the other Association clubs) features a beautiful Lou Grant cartoon depicting Private Veeck listening to his beloved Brews on the radio.

Similarly, when Veeck finally returned home in August of 1945 (just in time to see his beloved Brews with their third straight pennant), the club welcomed him in grand style:

The returning PFC was honored in a ceremony at Borchert Field. This time Veeck couldn't help but stand under the floodlights, sporting his newest trademark accessory:

His wound would never fully heal, and in 1946, after a series of infections, Bill Veeck's right leg was amputated nine inches below the knee. This would be the first of thirty separate amputations, as the leg would slowly deteriorate over the rest of his life. At first panicked by the thought of going through life as a "cripple," Veeck soon turned his most potent weapon - his sense of humor - to the challenge. Never one to avoid a gag at his own expense, Veeck worked his wooden leg into his showman's persona, especially after he carved an ashtray into it for his cigar.

Veeck was never known as the shy and retiring type, but aside from flaunting his wooden leg he was reticent to discuss his time in the Marines. In his 1962 autobiography Veeck as in Wreck ("The chaotic career of baseball's incorrigible maverick"), he discusses his service career this way:
I had left to join the Marines at the end of the third season (in Milwaukee), missed the next season and returned, on crutches, for the last six weeks of 1945.
That's it. One additional throwaway reference, made in the context of the series of operations on his leg. The "coconut tree" trade, which made such great newspaper copy at the time, didn't even warrant a mention.

Veeck as in Wreck runs 380 pages, 380 pages in which Veeck has nothing to say about why a young man with bad knees and three young children decided at the age of 29 to leave his home, his family and his ballclub to go fight in a war. As was so often the case, when given the opportunity to shine the spotlight upon his own personal accomplishments, Sport Shirt Bill elected to remain quietly in the dugout.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Mighty Milwaukee Mites"

Reprinted from the Record Makers of the American Association, 1953 edition:


Just toss over all fielding records to Milwaukee second sackers, please. And you might add other Brewer infielders to the list.

Billy Reed, dynamic little second baseman of the Brews in 1951, tied the fielding mark set by Brew Danny Murtaugh in 1947 of .988. Neither man was big, but both were mighty potent defensively.

Billy Reed at Borchert Field
While this was going on, Johnny Logan, Milwaukee shortstop, was beating another record - but good. Through all the length of the Association time, the shortstop mark (that toughest position) had stood at 22 consecutive errorless games.
Johnny Logan
Did Logan beat it? He DOUBLED IT! He went through a skein of 46 consecutive errorless contests in the shortfield. The previous mark-22, set by Frank Emmers of Minneapolis and-just to keep it in Sudsville, Wis. - Jimmy Cooney of Milwaukee. This record had stood for 24 years.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Off to the Races

In this day when multi-use stadiums have fallen out of favor, it can be difficult to picture a time when a baseball park would host just about any event.

This is Borchert Field, all tricked out with a banked cycling track, hosting a six day race in August of 1936. The Orchard's double-columned light standards are visible in the background.

The Brewers must have been on an extended road trip, to free up Borchert Field for six days (plus whatever time they needed to set up and strike the track) in the middle of the baseball season. And a pennant-winning one, at that.

So we can add cycling to the list of other sports hosted by Borchert Field, joining football, soccer and ice skating.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Mr. Baseball" & His 1943 Milwaukee Brewers

With the world at war, baseball was declared to be an important diversion for the folks back home by FDR. Milwaukee's "Mr. Baseball" did his part to "divert" them and the team was pretty entertaining too. Out of the primordial ooze of the Waukesha "Moors" came the 1943 Milwaukee Brewers...

by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2009 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

FDR Green Light Letter January 15, 1942
(Courtesy Baseball Hall of Fame)
"My dear Judge:-

Thank you for yours of January fourteenth. As you will, of course, realize the final decision about the baseball season must rest with you and the Baseball Club owners -- so what I am going to say is solely a personal and not an official point of view.

I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.

And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.

Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.

As to the players themselves, I know you agree with me that individual players who are of active military or naval age should go, without question , into the services. Even if the actual quality of the teams is lowered by the greater use of older players, this will not dampen the popularity of the sport. Of course, if any individual has some particular aptitude in trade or profession, he ought to serve the Government. That, however, is a matter which I know you can handle with complete justice.

Here is another way of looking at it -- if 300 teams use 5,000 or 6,000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens -- and that in my judgment is thoroughly worthwhile.

With every best wish,
Very sincerely yours,

1943 Milwaukee Brewers Scorecard
(Author's Collection)

In 1943, America entered its second year of World War II. While industry geared up for wartime production and baseball had gotten the "green light" from FDR, things would be very different from the pre-war days.

One major change for baseball came with spring training. The government Office of Defense Transportation called for less travel by baseball teams, the result was having them train closer to home. Milwaukee for the first time since 1918 announced that spring training for the team would open April 6th in Wisconsin at Waukesha's Frame Field. This was the home for Waukesha's entry in the Land O Lakes league.

While General Manager Rudy Schaffer quoted weather bureau records predicting temperatures in the 50's, jokes were plentiful about Waukesha's winter wonderland.

The team would have a varied conditioning program according to the Milwaukee Journal's R. G. Lynch, which would include snowball fights, playing in snowshoes and ice skating. Bill Veeck wanted them to play ice hockey but this was deemed too rough a sport for the team.

Bill Veeck and Schaffer were both against Charlie Grimm's idea of a Polar Bear club, fearing that cutting holes in the ice of the Fox river for midnight swims, may result in losing a player to the swift current. With the war on, players were hard enough to come by to risk losing one to nocturnal swimming. 2 sled dog teams driven by Eskimos would carry the team to and from the field. Doc Feron was at the Mayo Clinic to learn how to care for frostbite and chilblains.

All kidding aside, the weather was expected to be a bit raw, but the facilities were considered adequate and Charlie Grimm felt that the nearby Moor Mud baths would help get the team into condition.

Charlie Grimm and Mickey Heath enjoying the Moor Mud Baths of Waukesha, Wisconsin
(Author's Collection)

Envelope Opener, Moor Mud Baths
(Author's Collection)

Charlie Grimm was confident his Brewers would be in as good of shape as any other team. Plans were set for the arrival of the players, with practices starting at 10 am and finishing by 2:30 pm. Workouts would begin with warm up calisthenics led by Red Smith.

The players arrived in good physical condition due to the war work many were involved with. Bill Norman actually reported in at 10 lbs under his playing weight from last year and Grey Clarke was said to have lost the “Alderman’s Front” he had last year.

After coming so close in 1942, expectations were high for the upcoming season and opening day in Minneapolis. Milwaukee was sporting a sound infield and were leading the league in batting strength with the addition of Ted Norbert, Texas League Home run champ Merv Connors and returning Brewer home run champ Bill Norman.

With a little boost to their pitching staff, things would be looking strong for the start of 1943.

1943 Milwaukee Brewers Team Photo
(Author's Collection)

1943 Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Schedule
(Author's Collection)

1943 Home Opening Day Ticket
(Author's Collection)

While Charlie Grimm worked hard preparing his team on the frozen soil of Waukesha, Wisconsin, the Brewer's "Mr. Baseball," tilled the fertile pastures of his creative genius. He combined shrewd deals for players and promotional ideas to bring the fans into the stands, a skill which no one was better at than Veeck. People outside of the American Association were beginning to notice the Sporting News 1942 Executive Of The Year. No less than 3 major magazines ran articles on Bill Veeck in 1943:

Baseball's Number 1 Screwball: Bill Veeck of Milwaukee
Look Magazine

Boy Magnate
Saturday Evening Post

Squirrel Night at the Brewers, Billy Veeck is baseball's best showman.
Esquire Magazine

1943 "Mr. Baseball" Bill Veeck
(Author's Collection)

When FDR wrote his response to Judge Landis, he expressed confidence in the judge and the baseball owners that they would do what was best for baseball and the country.

Milwaukee had a strong industrial base and Bill Veeck, taking Roosevelt's words to heart, made sure that baseball would be accessible to those working hard in the war effort. As in 1942, special Defense Plant nights with group discounts were offered for several of the city's employers including:

A O Smith; Allen Bradley; Allis Chalmers; Ampco Metal; Briggs and Stratton; Chain Belt Co.; Cutler Hammer; Harnischfeger Corporation and Wisconsin Electric to name just a few.

Blood drives were also a regular fixture at the games, with fans donating a pint of blood being given game passes.

Morning Baseball's First Game Handbill
(Courtesy John Effenheim)

Listening to fans' concerns during off season meetings at factories, some night shift workers told Veeck that they weren't always able to attend games due to their work schedules. Bill told them he'd do something about it. True to his word, he scheduled several morning games and seasoned them with that "Screwy-but Funny," Bill Veeck sense of humor.

While vendors passed out the breakfast, the players and coaches hammed it up, adding to the merriment. Bill Veeck believed he could fill the stands if you gave them a game and a gag.

This morning game seems to have started a bit too early for Red Smith...

Veeck never announced his gags in advance, preferring to get the best results from his surprised fans. Unsuspecting victims would be given live pigeons, blocks of ice, live lobsters, ladders etc., anything to get a response. Milwaukeeans flocked to Borchert to take part in the fun.

Bill Veeck, Lefty Grimm and Rudy Schaffer
(Author's Collection)

The Brewers also provided some music to the home games with "Jolly Cholly" on his banjo, Veeck on the slide whistle and GM Rudy Schaffer on a one string tin can fiddle. They even coaxed outfielder Herschel Martin to join them on piano for a home series opener in June against Louisville.

Joe Berry, Bob Bowman, Earl Caldwell and Dutch Hoffman joined in and performed as a barber shop quartet.

Dick Rice's popular "Brewer band," a 5 piece Dixieland jive band finished the pregame music and the fans cheered their approval.

Veeck the Fan...
(Author's Collection)

Bill continued his habit of spending time with the fans to get their perspective because he was a fan himself.

Age didn't matter...he listened
(Author's Collection)

Age was no barrier to finding out what the fans loved, in fact Bill spent a lot of time with the youngsters and befriended many of them.

A young Bill Topitzes first met Sportshirt Bill in 1942, when he fell in love with baseball after his uncles took him to his first game at the age of 9. He started going by himself and Veeck soon took a liking to the lad. They became good friends. Young Bill started out as a ball watcher on 8th street.(chased down balls hit out of the park and returned them) Because of his relationship with Veeck, he moved inside and eventually worked his way up from ball boy to bat boy and then to clubhouse boy for the Brewers. Soon he was taking care of both clubhouses by himself. He also worked the scoreboard. Topitzes pitched in as one of the people in charge of the hoses underneath old wooden Borchert Field to put out the small fires started by cigarettes being dropped through the seats.

Fencing with the opposition...

Determined to press any advantage or minimize any disadvantage to win last year, Bill Veeck introduced opposing teams to a wire screen atop the right field fence at Borchert field to compensate for the Brewer's lack of left hander hitting.

By the time the Toledo Mudhens came to town for its first series of the year, June 13, 1943, they too were greeted by the same wire screen. But a controversy seemed to be building on its effectiveness.

The screen was designed to blunt the opposition's left handed hitters. While it stopped two home runs during the double header that day it had little effect on the outcome of the games as the Brewers split the twin bill with the Mudhens. In fact both fans and local baseball writers seemed to dislike the screen. Besides depriving the players the home runs which could help keep them on the job or justify a raise in pay, the fans tended to favor seeing the home runs, be they "homers" or round trippers hit by the visitors.

In early September the screen came down. The final tally was 11 to 7 in favor of the opposition. The Brewers actually lost more home runs than their foes.

When asked if he regretted putting up the screen, the fleet of mouth Veeck said he no longer needed it because he had a couple good left handed hitters now and a pair of southpaws. He went on to defend it as good psychology as his right handed pitchers had more confidence when facing left handed hitters. "So you see, it has been of real value, ask our pitchers."

A much different response may have come from Milwaukee Brewer outfielder Hershel Martin who lost 9 home runs to the screen.

Although it has been reported that Bill Veeck moved this screen several times during games to gain an advantage, during its life span, the only detected movement of the screen in 1943 was generated by the "spin" of Sport Shirt Bill.

Let them Eat Cake...

Never one to pass up a birthday surprise, Bill Veeck presented Charlie Grimm with one on his 45th birthday, August 28, 1943.

Prior to the start of the game against Indianapolis, Charlie was given various presents while the band played "Happy Birthday." But Bill had one more birthday present for the manager of the Brewers. A large cake was carried out from home plate by his Milwaukee players. Suddenly the heads of a bunch of dancing girls popped out of the cake while another round "Happy Birthday" was sung to the surprised manager. As the girls stepped out of the cake, Veeck told Charlie maybe he should take a closer look inside as there might be another surprise. Out popped recently acquired pitcher Julio Acosta in a Milwaukee Brewer uniform. Bill had just obtained him from the Piedmont league. He played for the Richmond club and was their strike out leader with a record of 17 wins 6 losses for the year. Just what Charlie needed, a left handed pitcher.

Happy Birthday Charlie Grimm
(Author's Collection)

The Season ...

Milwaukee won its first game behind a 5 hitter pitched by Joe Berry in the second game of the new season after losing the opener to Minneapolis. They struggled early in the season pretty much playing .500 ball in May and it wasn’t until later in June that they moved into 2nd place.

July found them in 1st place as Joe Berry continued to pitch masterfully on his way to a 11 game winning streak. Team hitting was very strong and they played well defensively. Most of the month they traded the 1st and 2nd place positions with Indianapolis.

They held this position at the top by a thin margin until a slump hit them in August.

The nose dive in August caused by the pitchers losing some of their steam had the fans nervous...but the Brewers did not give up or give in. Neither did Veeck nor Charlie Grimm, both kept the team battling. The Brewers came roaring back in September and clinched the pennant on September 17th.

1943 Milwaukee Brewers Roster
Courtesy Rex Hamann

*(The following Milwaukee Brewer baseball card series has had a somewhat obscure history, not much of anything has been written about them until now. These high gloss (3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches) cards have the name Grand Studio printed on the lower right hand edge.

The Grand Photo Studio was located on the south side of Milwaukee. Specializing in portraits, of which I have many old family photos that were done by them, they were the “Official Brewer Photographer” according to their advertisements. These beautiful glossy cards that sported printed autographs, were sold at the Borchert field concession stands.

Similar in layout to the 1942 Brewer poster, they remain quite scarce and demand a premium price when found in complete near mint sets. Here is a rare view of the complete 22 card set. )

Joe Berry / Bob Bowman
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

“Jittery” Joe Berry "as jittery as the rock of Gibraltar," finished 1943 with a 18-10 record with a 2.78 ERA. An untiring powerhouse in spite of his size, he actually pitched 5 games in 13 days at one point of the season.

The mighty Brewer "Atom" had a extraordinary season and advised teammate Wes Livingood on pitch selection.

Bob Bowman went 6-2 with a 3.04 ERA during the season.

Earl Caldwell / Grey Clarke
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Earl "Teach" Caldwell won 10 while losing 11 in 1943 with a 3.68 Earned Run Average.

3rd baseman Grey Clarke led the Brewers and the league with his .346 batting average, gathering 185 hits with 29 doubles. He added 10 home runs and tallied 97 RBI’s.

Merv Conners / Paul Erickson
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

1st baseman Merv Connors batted .246 in 32 games played.

Pitcher Paul Erickson, before being called up to the bigs, won 6 games and lost 4 with a 3.19 ERA.

Charlie Grimm / Hank Helf
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Manager Charlie Grimm did not insert himself as a player this year as he did in the past, but spent his time concentrating on managing the Milwaukee Brewers, winning his first American Association Pennant, their 1st since 1936.

Hank Helf had what was considered his best year in baseball, fielding spectacularly and pitching in with a .260 batting average.

Don Johnson / Wes Livengood
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

2nd baseman Don Johnson played his position well and hit for a .283 average for the season.

Wes Livingood was the perfect complement to Joe Berry winning 18 games while losing 10. His ERA was a low 3.04.

Hershel Martin/ Tommy Nelson
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Hersh Martin was clearly a fan favorite in 1943 and in spite of some ailments, batted .307 while playing right and center fields for the Brewers. He hit 13 round trippers and compiled 66 RBI’s. Not only a great hitter, pitchers credited him saving many a game by his skill in the outfield. Not a showboat fielder, he made the plays look easy.

Utility man Tommy Nelson hit .256 in the 66 games played and would have been a regular on any other team. He stepped in to play for Grey Clarke and saved a game for the Brewers.

Ted Norbert / Bill Norman
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Left fielder Ted Norbert hammered the ball for a .293 average in the 1943 season, playing in 146 games. He led the team and the American Association with 25 home runs and 117 RBI’s.

Spectacular plays in center field and power hitting were Bill Norman's contribution for 1943 finishing the season at .275 with 18 Home runs and 82 Runs batted in.

Henry Oana / Jimmy Pruett
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

The Hawaiian Prince, Hank Oana was a strong offensive threat for the Brewers while pitching. He won 3 game and lost 5 before joining the Detroit Tigers in the majors.

Jimmy Pruett put on a strong performance and complemented Hank Helf well at catcher. He hit .287 in the 52 games he played.

Bill Sahlin / Frank Secory
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Bill Sahlin had only a brief stay with the Brewers in 1943 pitching two innings with no decisions.

Destined to be a Major League umpire, Frank Secory was a steady and experienced back up in the outfield. He hit .219 in 50 games.

Red Smith / Charlie Sproull
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Big Red Smith was Charlie Grimm's able assistant as coach in 1943.

Pitcher Charlie Sproull exceeded expectations in 1943 pitching in with 5 victories in 92 innings.

Hugh Todd / Tony York
1943 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Considered a good prospect, Hugh Todd hit .250 and was a reserve outfielder for the Brewers, appearing in 57 games.

Shortstop Tony York had a great year in the field and hitting in the 150 games played. He finished with a .287 batting average.

1943 Bill Veeck Presents Trophy To Grey Clarke
(Author's Collection)

Grey Clarke finished atop the American Association as Batting Champ in 1943 with his .346 Average. He was the 9th Brewer to win the title since the league began play in 1902.

1943 Bill's Home Made Champions Banner
(Author's Collection)

The Milwaukee Brewers preseason concerns with pitching were allayed as soon as the season started. The addition of Jittery Joe Berry was an instant plus. This tiny but tough pitcher was virtually unstoppable in 1943 and was the anchor of its pitching staff. Always cool and dependable, he was ready to go to the mound as a starter or if need be, to relieve. Joe had a phenomenal 11 game winning streak during the season. Pitcher Wes Livengood also performed brilliantly going 18-10 for the season. Charlie Sproul performance more than exceeded the team's early expectations. Bill Fleming and Charlie Gassoway did a great job in relief.

The predicted strong offense was a force the opposition had to contend with. Hershel Martin and Grey Clarke battled early and often for the batting lead in the American Association. The return of Heinz "Der Schlager" Becker in June also contributed to the power hitting Brewer team which included sluggers Ted Norbert, Bill Norman and Tony York.

Defense played a major role for the Brewers, as Tony York and Don Johnson sparkled as a double play combo. Fielding was excellent at all positions. Bill Norman made the loss of Ted Gullic a lot easier to bear as he made many spectacular game saving catches.

Catchers Hank Helf and Jimmy Pruett handled the pitchers well and performed well defensively. They also added to the batting punch of the Milwaukee Team. Helf was rated as "the outstanding catcher in the AA" in August as he excelled at cutting down base runners and catching attempted steals. He had his best season as a player in 1943.

The Brewers, in spite of injuries, had good depth on the bench to help them when the injuries cropped up. Many of them would have been starters on another team. This was another example of Bill Veeck being an excellent baseball man first and a great promoter second.

Charlie Grimm received deserved credit for his ability of bringing out maximum cooperation from his players. His Brewer team was not made up of nine individuals but a coordinated team with each player putting out his best effort.

They became the team to beat. They finished on top of the American Association 5 1/2 games above the 2nd place Indianapolis Indians, winning 90 games while losing only 61.

Controversy over the playoffs again flooded the sports pages. Many writers as well as fans felt the American Association champion should represent their league in the Junior World Series, having bettered the teams in their division over the long baseball season. Some felt it hurt baseball to have these playoff games.
But, there was no stopping the scheduled playoffs and unfortunately for the Brewers, they were eliminated in the first round, losing to 3rd place Columbus, 3 games to 1.

Milwaukee in spite of losing in the post season had a banner year. The Milwaukee Brewer team and their fans had a lot to look forward to for 1944.

1943 Signed Team Baseball
(Author's Collection)
At the end of 1943, World War II was still front page news ... and changes were on the horizon ... in Milwaukee and elsewhere...

During the year Bill Veeck began corresponding with some 50 - 60 boys in the service, sharing with them what was going on with Milwaukee baseball. As news of his letters spread from camp to camp, the list of those writing him swelled.

Bill took very seriously keeping up the morale of those in the service.

He strived to bring a bit of home to those away from home.

Bill took a much larger step for the war effort in November of 1943, as he enlisted in the Marines.

Veeck Joins the Marines, November 1943
(Milwaukee Sentinel)