Sunday, February 28, 2010


You could say that Charles Arthur Shires was never lacking in self-esteem. When your traveling trunk is emblazoned with the sobriquet 'Art "THE GREAT" Shires', it is a good bet that you exude confidence. Art brought his traveling side show to Brew Town and the American Association in 1931.

Charles Arthur Shires

by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2010 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

Art "The Great "Shires - Traveling Trunk

In 1966 while working a summertime job, Bob Buege, author of "The Milwaukee Braves, A Baseball Eulogy," was told this story from an older coworker (60 ish) Leonard Szydlowski. He was a good story teller and a big baseball fan.

One summer night, Leonard told Bob about Art Shires, who used to play for the Milwaukee Brewers and how Art got his nickname...
Art Shires was playing one night...
When he came up to bat, he let the first pitch go.
The umpire yelled "ball one!"
Getting back into the box,
the 2nd pitch came,
"ball two."
The next pitch was outside and the umpired yelled
"3 balls!"
A lady seated along the foul line stood up and cried out,

"What a man!"
Art (Whataman) Shires Autograph
(Author's Collection)

Charles Arthur Shires was born August 13, 1907 in Italy, Texas. He broke onto the baseball scene in 1926 at the age of 18, playing for the Waco Cubs of the Texas League (A) from 1926-1928. He was an imposing figure at 6' 1" and 195 lbs.

Art hit very well while there, his batting average was .301 over the 3 years in Waco. This young ball player also was a superb fielder, averaging in the .990's. He joined the Chicago White Sox late in the 1928 season and had quite a stunning major league debut.

Art Shires Chicago White Sox Postcard
(Author's Collection)

When Art came to bat in his first big league game, he hit a triple and 3 singles off of pitching great Red Ruffing.
"So this is the great American League I heard so much about."

He was quoted as saying to Ted Lyons:
"You can start calling me "the Great", I'll hit .400."

He didn't quite make it there, but he did hit .341 that first season and was subsequently named the White Sox team captain for 1929.

Art (The Great) Shires Autograph
(Author's Collection)

Baseball always has had players with large egos, but Shires quickly took this confidence above and beyond anything ever seen before.

George Vass of Baseball Digest relates this gem about those early days:
"When he went home to Waxahachie, Texas he hired a band, took a whole coach of the interurban line that ran to Waxahachie and had signs proclaiming, The Great Shires plastered on the cars. When the train pulled in, Shires led the band in a parade down Main Street welcoming himself home, according to Paul Richards, a witness." (former Atlanta GM)

He wore a "green ensemble, spats, muffler, handkerchief in his suit breast pocket and a topcoat...and it was 85 degrees in the shade!"

When asked why he called himself great, he responded quoting Shakespeare:

"Some are born great, some choose greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Well, I was born great!"
1931 W517 Strip Card #43
(Author's Collection)

Cocky and Brash, this roaring 20's rock star, boasted a wardrobe of over 50 suits, 100 hats, 40 pairs of spats, a half a dozen tuxes, and enough casual clothes for every occasion. He most certainly would have been on the cover of GQ magazine had it been published back then.

But lacking maturity and possessing that swelled ego, this youngster had problems balancing the bluster with all of his talent.

Hard drinking and insolence led to arguments and fistfights, 2 of which involved his manager Lena Blackburne (a former Milwaukee Brewers in 1912 and 1913).

White Sox Manager Lena Blackburne - Autograph
(Author's Collection)

Always the clown, one day during batting practice, he insisted on wearing a red felt cap, refusing to take it off, much to the ire of his manager. He also became quite vocal about what was wrong with his team, which caused much dissension.

His team captaincy didn't last long. Neither did his tenure in Chicago.

When not suspended and actually playing baseball, he did quite well for the White Sox.
1928 - Batting Average .340 for the season with a fielding avg. of .990

1929 - Batting Average .312 for the season with a fielding avg. of .991

1930 - Batting Average .291 for the season with a fielding avg. of .979
The White Sox shipped him to Washington on June 16, 1930 for pitcher Garland Braxton and catcher Bennie Tate.

He played very well for the Washington Senators, hitting .369 for the remainder of the season and posting a fielding avg. of .989. Unfortunately his troubles followed him there and he soon wore out his welcome, with accusations that he was slacking off.

Into The Squared Circle

Buoyed by his assumed pugilistic ability during the Blackburne bouts, the Great One decided to step into the ring and try out a boxing career.

His first bout was December 10, 1929 when he took on "Dangerous" Dan Daly of Cleveland at the White City arena in Chicago. Shires pranced around in his raspberry and deep purple robe emblazoned with "Art The Great Shires" in large letters on the back, his handler's clothing declared the same message.

In spite of this pre-fight flourish, the actual fight itself was considered comical as neither fighter showed much finesse, slugging it out toe to toe in the center of the ring. It was over in less than 30 seconds; Shires scoring a knock out victory over Daly.

A fight was proposed between Shires and his cross town baseball rival, Chicago Cubs star Hack Wilson (The Dempsey of the Dugouts). Wilson was willing, but Cubs officials nixed it and it never went past the talking stage.

Concerned about fight fixing accusations, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis stepped in and declared that baseball and boxing didn't mix, adding that Shires needed to decide what he wanted to do for a career.

Landis used the opportunity to declare that any player who participated in "professional boxing will be regarded by his office as having permanently retired from baseball."

Shires chose baseball. His boxing career now over, his record ended up at 5 wins and 2 defeats.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis (seated)
Original Photo (Author's Collection)

In what was called the most important and popular transaction ever made by the Milwaukee Brewers to date, Art Shires, "the now retired heavyweight champion of baseball",was purchased by the Milwaukee Brewers from Clark Griffith's Washington Senators for $10,000 in late November 1930.

Married to Wisconsin co-ed Elizabeth Greenabaum
(Author's Collection)

Considered the most picturesque figure in baseball at the time, (and the best dressed) with his garrulous nature and feisty demeanor, the Home Brews were looking forward to teaming him up with their other resident clown, Walter "Cuckoo" Christensen.

Shires was expected to pack in the crowds with those who loved him and yes, those ready to give him what for. Love him or hate him, Louis Nahin, vice president of the Milwaukee Brewers, expected him to be a great draw for the fans.

Shires was no stranger to Borchert field, as he played on the American League all star team when they put on an exhibition game there during the 1929 season. His running self laudatory comments with the fans endeared him with many but also had others wanting a piece of him. Both extremes guaranteed a spinning turnstile at the Orchard which was just what the ownership wanted.

By the time the Milwaukee Brewers arrived at spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the press couldn't get enough of the him. His arriving a bit late didn't seem to matter to them or the fans, it only heightened the anticipation. As expected, the two comedians of the Brewer baseball team got a lot of face time in front of the cameras. (Christensen and Shires) In his first preseason game against the Millers, Shires rapped out a double to the cheers of the crowd. Back in Milwaukee, the newspapers were full of pictures and stories of their new found phenom.

1931 Milwaukee Brewer Art Shires with Autograph
(Author's Collection)

When the season opened, What-a-man! What-a-man! was the headline as he showed early on that he could hit the ball. His timely hitting was driving in runs and more importantly, winning games. In what Shires called a "fair" day at the plate against Indianapolis, the "Great One" had just 3 hits. 2 singles and a double coupled with a pair of walks. In the first 8 games of the season, he had been responsible for 10 runs, 3 of them in extra innings. On opening day in Columbus, Art gave the opposing fans a sample of his ability by driving in 3 runs. Even the newspaper box score was titled Whataman.

To those detractors in Washington who claimed that he let himself go and wasn't playing hard enough, he showed none of that in Milwaukee. Injuring his ankle, he refused to quit. Charles Arthur Shires was showing everyone his "Big Bat as well as his Big Head."

Clearly in Milwaukee, Shires was making more noise with his play on the field, than with his mouth. He was all business once the game started.

Art "What a Cud" Shires
(Author's Collection)

"What a Cud" Shires, "the American Tobacco company's best customer" judging from his huge jaw filled chaw, was making quite the impression. In a high scoring slugfest at Borchert field on Thursday May 14th, Shires went 5 for 5 in a victory against Louisville.

Milwaukee and Shires were proving to be a good fit.

"Well Suited" for Milwaukee

Art acknowledged that he loved Milwaukee and its fans, but he was having trouble hitting in Borchert field. The background made it hard to pick up the ball coming to the plate. He said by the time he got comfortable with seeing and hitting the ball well, it was time to hit the road and play in another ball park.

Shires was maturing as a ball player and was considered "unanimously" by his fellow players to be their most consistent "clubber."

By May 30th, "Whatahitter" Shires took the lead in the American Association batting race, including leading the league in total bases. People were beginning to notice him outside of Milwaukee too. Opposing teams feared the man's ability as a competitor, not his mouth.

Talks of his return to the "bigs" began to hit the newspapers, sincere interest mixed with rumors of who wanted him. The New York sports writers said several teams were bidding for the great one. The Boston Braves, Philadelphia Athletics and Cincinnati Reds of the National League were mentioned in the stories. Speculation was that his value as a player had grown to $100,000.

Veteran Milwaukee baseball observers said that "Shires is one of the best players that ever appeared in that circuit. A born showman, a colorful lad, he plays the game like a champion and keeps the linotype machines humming. He is the best drawing card in the league and would be worth $100,000 for some of the big league teams which are drab."

Predictions were that he would surely be back in the big leagues next season. It appeared that both the Chicago White Sox and Washington Senators made a mistake by letting him go. Even the Chicago Cubs were rumored to have scouts watching the "Star Slugger" for Mr. Wrigley.

1931 Milwaukee Journal Cartoon

By the end of July, "Whatabatter" Shires was leading the league in runs batted in with 94.

The Chicago Cubs contingent that did show up in the Borchert audience was none other than the top brass of the team, President William Veeck, manager Rogers Hornsby, scout Jack Boyle and coach O'Leary.

But rumors of his going on to Chicago were "premature" according to Veeck.

Art concentrated on his play and seemed more concerned about his slumping average, which he blamed on his breaking of all his favorite bats. He assured everyone that was temporary, as he had just put in a late season order for more Louisville lumber and hoped to have more of his favorite war clubs in hand soon.

His so-called slump didn't last long.

Charles (Art) Shires Game Used Bat
The only known Specimen seen to date
(Author's Collection)

Unfazed by all the attention, "King Arthur" had his 105th RBI on August 11th, the box score declaring "Art IS Great," as his 9th inning 3 run homer won the game against Louisville.

While Milwaukee struggled to keep their heads above the .500 mark, Shires kept up his torrid pace, hitting .387 in late August and nearing the 200 hit mark.

Another rumor of Shires being picked up by World Series hopefuls, the Philadelphia Athletics came and went, being denied by the Brews President Louis Nahin.

There was no let up for Art, he was the team leader in both hitting and play on the field, in spite of the Brewers being stuck in the middle of the pack. In early September, in a 6-4 victory against the Kansas City Blues, Art excelled in all phases of the game. Going 2 for 4 with 3 RBI's that day, he also put in a stellar day at 1st base with 12 putouts and 3 spectacular plays. In the 3rd inning he dug out a bad throw to prevent an error by his player/manager boss, Frank O'Rourke who was fielding at 3rd. (O'Rourke took over the reigns from Manager Marty Berghammer on August 3rd )

A couple of innings later he went "a mile in the air (more or less) to flag a burning smash with a glove hand catch from Denver Grigsby's bat that brought loud huzzas from the customers." The next inning he followed it up with a diving tag on a bunt laid down by Kansas City pitcher Thomas.

Shires continued to play hard in spite of his team's mediocrity.

With 6 games left to play, Art was injured in a collision with a teammate while chasing a foul ball. Rather than risk damage to the leg, he was benched by Manager O'Rourke.

The 1931 Milwaukee Brewers couldn't get itself free of the .500 mark and finished the season with a disappointing record of 83-85 in 5th place. No one could keep up with the Saint Paul Saints who finished at the top of the American Association with a 104-63 record.

While the season was disappointing, Art Shires was anything but.

The Great Shires entertained as well as shined as a ball player. He was totally focused on doing his job and didn't let himself get side tracked in 1931.

He won the American Association batting crown with a.385 batting average with 623 at bats in 157 games.

He pounded out a whopping 240 hits, 45 of them doubles, 8 triples and 11 round trippers.

He drove in 131 RBI's, had a .536 slugging percentage with 334 total bases.

He fielded his position well with a .988 percentage.

Shires with the Boston Braves in 1932

Art returned to the big leagues in 1932 joining the Boston Braves.

It would be his last year in the majors as injuries took their toll on him. He continued on for a few years in the minors but would be out of baseball after the 1935 season.

Art, had the rare honor of having his story told in comic book form in this rare 1st issue of Sports Action comics.

1949 Sports Action Comics
(Author's Collection)

(1949 Animirth Comics Inc. aka Marvel/Atlas Comics)

Baseball's Most Colorful Character
Art (Whattaman) Shires

Art "The Great" Shires
The Chicago White Sox' Colorful Clown

The Art Shires comic book story has that wonderful child prodigy opening we are used to seeing when it comes to our baseball heroes. As with other stories from this time period, it has him hitting the baseball great distances which seemed like miles, through windows with the typical disbelieving adult recipients of said damage, later championing his cause.

This comic does however, pose a fairly accurate depiction of his rise to fame...and his fade from it.

Milwaukee was indeed fortunate to see the Great One at his apex.

Charles Arthur Shires lived up to the team's, the fan's, and more importantly, his own expectations as a player that year.

He became the 6th Brewer player to win the American Association batting championship in 1931, something Milwaukee did better than any other team in the American Association (in their 51 year history, Milwaukee had 13 batting champions).

People looking back on his life can point to a lot of negatives; there were many during his lifetime before and after Milwaukee. But, if you ask me the obvious question:
"How great thou Art?"

Wincing at the inference and ducking the blasphemy, I have to simply say:
"What A Brewer!"

1 comment:

  1. Wow- so much printed and photographic material from back in the day! I am a grand daughter of his, don't know much about him, so I just learned a lot!Do know he had a serious dark side
    though......Thank You so much for giving us this gift that we can pass down..
    Melora Cooper