Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Moose Trail

The Milwaukee Journal comes through again, with this photo series from April 3, 1949 showing new Brewer catcher Al "Moose" Lakeman, recently acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies:

Al Lakeman, Brewer Catcher, Might be Aiming for That Left Field Fence Here

The big new Brewer backstop takes a cut at the ball. Al Lakeman, veteran catcher obtained from the Philadelphia Nationals, lays out a long ball in a camp workout at Austin, Tex. Although without a particularly impressive average in the majors, Lakeman does hit a long ball, and at Borchert Field—well, you know about those fences. Lakeman, because of his experience, will probably do most of Milwaukee's catching this season.
Lakeman was obtained by Milwaukee after stints with the Phillies and the Reds. Brewers president D'Arcy "Jake" Flowers had this to say about him:

"Lakeman strengthens what has been our weakest department. He is a smart catcher, has a strong and accurate arm, and should help our pitchers. He won't hit for a big average but he will hit in the clutch."
That left field fence might have been tempting, but Moose wasn't in much of a hurry to test it out. Unhappy with the financial offer, Lakeman started off his Brewer tenure with a holdout. He finally signed his contract and reported to the Brewers' Austin camp, where he posed for the Journal's cameras, on March 14th. Just over one month later, on April 15, the Boston Braves, then the Brewers' parent organization, bought him from the Brewers and brought Lakeman up to the big leagues.

Lakeman spent much of the 1949 season moving back and forth between Milwaukee and Boston. He was sent down in June to help spell Brews' catcher Paul Burris, who was in danger of being overworked. While with the Brewers, on July 4, 1949, Lakeman showed some of the offensive spark Flowers expected, slugging two home runs and spurring the Brews to a 9-3 victory over the Kansas City Blues.

On June 7th, in a game against the Minneapolis Millers, Lakeman was involved in the Brews' first triple-play at Borchert Field since 1936. In the top of the fourth inning, Milwaukee pitcher Ray Martin walked Johnny Kropf and Jim Wilheim of Minneapolis. The next Miller batter, Dave Williams, attempted to sacrifice over the runners. The runners took off when Williams made contact, but he was only able to muster a weak popup. With the baserunners scrambling to get back, Lakeman caught the ball and fired a shot to Johnny Logan at second base, picking off Kropf. Logan then relayed to Bob Montag at first to complete the triple-play.

Lakeman held out again at the start of the following spring training. He eventually signed and spent the entire 1950 season with the Brews, hitting .237 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI. Perhaps Flowers thought that wasn't enough to justify the annual contract drama: Lakeman was traded to the Sacramento Solons in October of 1950 and his Brewer career came to an end.

Lakeman's time with Sacramento was short and turbulent. He "jumped the club", as papers of the time put it, in August of 1951 and headed back to his home in South Carolina. The Solons responded by selling him to the International League's Baltimore Orioles in the off-season, and Lakeman kicked around the minors for the next few years before he moved into coaching. He never got much of a chance to test out the Orchard's left field fence.

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