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.