Sunday, May 16, 2010

The First Night Game at Borchert - Kansas City Monarchs, 1930

by Dennis Pajot

On September 3, 1930, the Kansas City Monarchs played a game at Milwaukee's Borchert Field. The unusual story here is that it was a night game—five years before lights were installed at Borchert. [See Appendix at end of article.]

The "national colored champions" took on the Milwaukee All-Stars, a group which local promoter Eddie Stumpf (who managed the local Castor-in-Oils in the Wisconsin State League this season) got together from "the best available pitchers and sluggers performing outside the organized baseball fold." Tack Thayer was the leading hitter in the Wisconsin State League, reportedly hitting in the neighborhood of .475. Eddie Corey and Rube Lutzke were stars on the Racine club of that league. (Walter Lutzke had played 148 games in the infield for the 1920 Brewers, then two years in Kansas City, before a five-year stint with Cleveland of the American League, where he hit .249 mostly as the Indians third baseman. Rube had played 1928 and 1929 at Newark of the International League. Ed Corey had a cup of coffee with the 1918 Chicago White Stockings and played parts of minor league seasons with Louisville and Buffalo). Steve Cozington (who had played with the American Association Brewers in 1920 during his 11-season minor league career) had been “knocking the cover of the ball” for Manitowoc. Also in the fold for the All-Stars was Clary Hackbarth, who recently had signed with the Brewers, (but would appear as a pinch hitter only one time each in the next two seasons), Frankie Romans, the “little Waukegan pepper box” and leading catcher in the State League, plus George Metten, a former star in Kenosha. Stumpf had three pitchers lined up for the match. Two former American Association umpires, Jim Murray (behind the plate) and Bill Kuhn (bases) would umpire the game.

The Monarchs, who recently had played a night game in Kenosha, consisted of "a great crew of entertainers and all around players." "Bullet Joe" Rogan, Frank Duncan and Holly Harding were the big names. Second baseman Newt Allen was dubbed "the colored Nick Altrock" due to his funny tricks on the field.

The Kansas City Monarchs brought their own $30,000 portable light system—complete from the giant gas engine and generator to the last bit of wire—to light the field. It was claimed the system gave perfect light from both the spectator's and player's standpoint. Games under these lights in Philadelphia's Shibe Park and Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, were played "with satisfactory results." Thus Milwaukee was able to see its "first bootleg sunshine baseball game."

On that Wednesday afternoon of September 3 the Brewers beat St. Paul at Borchert Field 10 to 3.

The 8 o’clock Wednesday night game drew over 3,500 fans. The All-Stars won 7 to 6, thanks to a misjudged fly ball off the bat of Rube Lutzke with the bases full in the ninth inning. It was not known if Monarch centerfielder Livingston lost the ball in the stars or the lighting system was the problem. The Wisconsin News reported there was a dead spot in center field, where the shadows crossed and the glare from a light in the back of the catcher’s box bothered the center fielder.

Eddie Schaack, who had won 57 games with the Brewers from 1921 to 1924, started for the All-Stars and immediately gave up 4 runs in the first inning, plus another in the third inning, before "Buster" Braun took the mound. Alfred Braun, a 44-year old Sheboygan spitball pitcher, had also pitched for the Brewers way back in 1913 and 1914, winning 16 games while losing only 12. In his three inning stint Buster did not allow a run. Garland "Gob" Buckeye, "who wears the largest front porch in baseball," gave up one run in the seventh, and was credited with the win. Buckeye would lose two games, winning none, in 15 appearances for the Brewers in 1931.

At the plate and in the field the All-Stars "apparently suffer[ed] from that jumpy feeling which accompanies the first venture into the starlight variety of play, staggered around blindly in the opening inning." It did not help that pitcher Cliff Bell of the Monarchs "dished up a nasty bit of swifts and hooks on occasions." However after they realized they "could hit the apple without endangering their lives" the All-Stars scored one run in the second inning, and got back into the game with a 3-run sixth. After eight innings the score stood tie at 6 each, setting the stage for the 9th inning victory for the All-Stars.

Milwaukee Journal, September 4, 1930

Apparently the lighting system was not a huge hit in Milwaukee. As seen above, Monarch center fielder Livingston had a problem with the final fly ball of the game. According to the Milwaukee Sentinel there had been "plenty of loose fielding" during the game, "and not a few of the cash fares complained that the arc lights smarted their eyes." The Wisconsin News summed it up this way: "When it was all over, the cash customers rubbed their eyes and decided to string with the old fashioned sunlight style which has been in vogue since the catchers handled the pitchers' stuff on the bounce. The feeling that baseball and sunshine are synonymous simply persists, but it was quite some entertainment at that."

This September 3 game featuring the Kansas City Monarchs was not the first night game played at Borchert Field. According to the Milwaukee Sentinel of August 21, 1930, earlier in the season, the California Owls, "a misfit team that was bumped all over the state," came to Milwaukee and played a night game. However, "their equipment was such that the fans were far from satisfied with the result." So far my searching in local papers has not found any other information on this game.

Milwaukee Journal September 3, 4, 1930
Milwaukee Sentinel August 21, 30, 31, September 2, 3, 4, 1930
Wisconsin News September 2, 3, 4, 1930

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