Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In the Beginning

I picked up this photo a couple years ago, not entirely sure what team it represented. But heck, I love a good mystery.

I originally thought it could have been an early American Association Brewer team, one of the Western League clubs, or even the short-lived (1902-1903) Milwaukee Creams. I was right the first time - thanks to Rex Hamann (of the excellent American Association Almanac), we now know it to be the 1902 AA squad.

(click for larger image)

Another copy of the same photo was auctioned off by Lelands a couple years ago, and they tentatively identified it as from 1902 as well:
Sepia-toned 6 ½ x 4 ½” photo shows team portrait of the Milwaukee ball club from the outlaw baseball league, the American Association, who were once a legit major league team from 1882 to 1891, but, starting in 1902, the year this photo more than likely radiates from, began operating independently outside of the Major Leagues. Standout left-handed pitchers Nick Altrock, who would go onto the Majors (primarily as a Chicago White Sox and Washington Senator) after his brief stint with Milwaukee, and Eddie Plank, baseball's winningest lefthander pre-Spahn, figure most prominently in photo.

Let's do a little side-by-side. Click the comparisons to see original photos.

Looking at the photo, the man seated in the second row, second from the left is clearly a young Nick Altrock (seen here 20 years later).

Rex identified "the taller man in the back row" as Claude Elliott.

Second row, second from the right is Beany Jacobson:

Altrock and Jacobson spent one season in Milwaukee - 1902 (Elliot played two seasons in the Cream City, 1902 and 1903). I'm not sure which player Lelands thinks is Eddie Plank. I guess that could be Plank seated on the ground on the right - he seems to have the chin for it, although his nose and face appear too broad. Maybe they were looking at the man standing to the right of Elliott, who has the narrow face and prominent chin, but again he doesn't fit.

Nope, not really seeing it.

But more damning is the question: did Eddie Plank even play for the Brewers? I'm having a hard time digging up his minor league history, but in 1902 he pitched 36 games for Philadelphia (AL) - what would he be doing in Milwaukee? The more likely answer is that Lelands mis-identified the player. Still, we have enough to date the photo. Three confirmed players with limited time playing for the club give us a pretty conclusive date of 1902.

And there you have it. The photo represents the inaugural season of the American Association Milwaukee Brewers. Knowing this, I'm even more thrilled to have it in my collection.

Thanks again to Rex Hamann and Paul Tenpenny for all their help.

Next mystery - did the 1902 Brewers buy those uniforms from the recently-moved 1901 American League club, who wore the same mark across their chests?

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