Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Casey at the Bat"

Sport shirts packed away, "Leatherneck" Bill was occupied in the Pacific. Charlie Grimm was hearing the siren call from the "Walls of Ivy." Veeck would be fuming, Stengel was assuming ... the management of the Brews...

"Casey at the Bat"
The 1944 Milwaukee Brewers

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


With the dawning of 1944, the United States of America entered its 3rd year of World War II. By this time, no one seemed to be spared getting their call up from Uncle Sam, including fathers with children. This author's father was no exception.
Milwaukee's International Harvester Plant 1944
(Author's Collection)

Tenpenny J.R.

Milwaukee Brewers owner, Bill Veeck had enlisted in the Marine Corps in November 1943.

"The draft never bothered me," explained Veeck to the Milwaukee Journal's R.G. Lynch. "I knew they were going to get around to me, but I was going to wait until they did. Then they began to draft fathers. That made things different. Sure, I've got 3 children, but I can go and know Ellen (Mrs. Veeck) and the kids will be alright. I mean I am in a better position to go than a lot of other men who have kids. I couldn't sit back and let the draft get those fellows first, so I volunteered. It was the only way I could feel right about it."

The Milwaukee Brewers President was in excellent health at the age of 30, and reported for duty to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, San Diego, California in early December. After 7 strenuous weeks, Veeck finished boot camp on Jan 29th. Soon afterwards, Private First Class William Veeck Jr. was deployed with other Marines to the Pacific, reportedly serving in Bougainville and Guadalcanal.

With Veeck gone, the club was in the very capable hands of Manager Charlie Grimm and General Manager Rudie Schaffer, who was made acting President. Don Stewart of the Chicago Cubs was to join the Brewers in an advisory capacity in January. A longtime friend of Bill Veeck, he came with a lot of baseball experience under his belt. Unfortunately, he left 3 weeks later to take the top job with the Cubs affiliate in Los Angeles. Charlie Grimm was named team vice president soon afterwards.

After winning the American Association pennant in 1943, the Brewers were flush with money and were able to look for players to replace departing ones during the winter months. Milwaukee needed a catcher to replace the departing Hank Helf. 1st base was a concern because Heinz "Dutch" Becker was expected to play with the Cubs in 1944. They were also in need of a 2nd baseman to replace Don Johnson. Dick Culler was seen as an excellent shortstop for the upcoming year to replace Tony York. Bill Nagel was slated to take over the hot corner from departed Grey Clarke.

Their outfield was pretty well set, with Hal Peck expected to return to his hard hitting, fleet footed self in right field. Hershel Martin was expected to continue his superb hitting and fly catching in centerfield. Bill Norman and Frank Secory were both vying for the 3rd spot in the pasture.

Grimm felt his pitching was better than what they had in 1943. Expectations were high for pitchers Charlie Sproull, Owen Scheetz and Charlie Gassoway, who had been a bit unpredictable from the left hand side the previous year. He was expected to mature into a quality pitcher.


Charlie Grimm as "Casey at the Bat" 1944 Photo
(Author's Collection)

Charlie Grimm waxed poetic on March 9, 1944 when he portrayed Thayer's beloved character, "Casey at the Bat" for the Milwaukee Athletic Club crowd. It would later prove to be prophetic early on during the season.

With spring training slated to open March 20, the Milwaukee Brewers would be returning to Waukesha's Frame Field. Exhibition games were planned against local industrial teams. While the team jested about the weather and discussed dog sleds and snowball fights last year, 1944 would be no joking matter. The reality of playing baseball in Wisconsin's winter would be painfully apparent this year.

Back to "Mudville" - near Waukesha's Frame Field
The Moor Mud Baths
(Author's Collection)

Charlie Grimm didn't have to go to the Moor Mud baths to be neck deep in the muck, as field conditions at Frame field were muddy enough for him. The weather would not cooperate with the Milwaukee Brewers in Waukesha. Attempting any training at Frame Field was darn near impossible. The Brewers were forced to hold indoor sessions at a riding Academy in nearby Hartland until the grounds dried out.

While practicing indoors was fine for the pitchers and catchers. Grimm needed a playing field for game like conditions for his infielders. The Brewers were ever hopeful that conditions would improve. They made adjustments, which included turning the field around and having the batting cage in deep center field so the hitters, at least, could get in some practice. The infield though, was "still a morass."

Charlie was very much concerned about conditioning his team.

"Unless we get some outdoor practice pretty soon, I am afraid to think what might happen to us when we open our exhibition season schedule against the University of Wisconsin Madison April 1st." said Grimm. "So far we have not had much of a chance to hold fielding practice. The diamond at Frame Field may not be ready for a few more days but at least we were able to work out on the grassy sidelines."

Conditions at Frame Field were so bad that The Brewers were even exploring practicing at Borchert Field!

Players braved the cold weather in Waukesha, running and playing pepper but the home plate resembled a "hog wallow" making it impossible to practice. Then came the snow. Charlie Grimm had had it. He was "Fed Up" with trying to train in Wisconsin. "Enough is enough," he said and suggested the Cubs training center at French Lick, Indiana. "We just can't get in the right kind of shape with these conditions and there is no competition for the team to put on edge."

The club, according to their manager, just wasn't ready to play with the season opener looming 2 weeks away, on April 19th.

In spite of their spring training woes, American Association sportswriters picked the Brewers to finish 1st place for 1944. They garnered 8 first place votes, with Columbus (4) and Indianapolis (3) also receiving 1st place votes. A vote of confidence came from the Milwaukee Sentinel's Red Thisted for "Jolly Cholly" Grimm to get the most out of his players as he did last year.

The Columbus Red Birds skipper, Nick Cullop, didn't agree. He felt the Brewers were weaker this year and felt his team was positioned to be a strong contender.

Ready or not, with only 16 innings of exhibition ball behind them, the Milwaukee Brewers were set to open their 1944 campaign. They would have to "play our way into shape."

In spite of the spring training disaster, the Milwaukee Brewers were considered a strong team for 1944. The outfield was anchored solidly in centerfield with Hershel Martin, considered one of the best outfielders in the league. Dick Culler at shortstop with Tommy Nelson at second gave strength to the infield in the middle and would rival last year's combo of Tony York and Don Johnson.

The Brewers sported some of the best pitching in the league with Gassaway and Acosta coming from the portside and had ample throwers from the right side as well. Sproull, Scheetz, Farmer, Caldwell, Bob Bowman and Dick Hearn. The catching was in good hands with Jim Pruett and rookie Ken Raddant backing him up.

Add to this strong nucleus the likes of Hal Peck, Frank Secory, Heinz Becker (back from Chicago), Bill Nagel, Bill Norman and Ed Scheiwe, the Brewers were ready to have at the league on opening day.

1944 Milwaukee Brewer Program
(Author's Collection)

1944 Brewer Roster-American Association Almanac
(Courtesy Rex Hamann)
Note* Scheiwe is correct spelling.

With the war effort in Milwaukee considered important again this year, the Brewers continued with plans to do their part with furnishing much needed recreation for the workers in defense plants. Baseball games at Borchert Field were vital to moral and the well being of the workers and families. Production at the facilities improved due to these games according to local plant managers. Morning games for factory workers would again be included for 1944. Defense plant discounts will also be renewed for this year with special ticket prices offered for the local defense and factory workers. A.O. Smith, Froemming Bros. Inc., the Miller Brewing Company, Siemann Body plant of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, Harnischfeger Corporation and the Cleaver Brooks Company were some of the participants. Ladies nights would, of course, be scheduled as usual too.

Entertainment was on the agenda for home games at Borchert like last year.
Hersh Martin and his "Brewer Wildcats" were scheduled to play June 12th. Martin at the piano was now in charge of the troupe while Bill Veeck was away with the marines. Joining him this year would be Ed Scheiwe on mouth organ, catcher Jim Pruett at the drums, and Dick Culler playing a mean base fiddle. Bob Bowman scraped out rhythm on his washboard. "Hot jive folks can jitterbug to." Also singing at the "Orchard" will be the "Cuban Frank Sinatra" Julio Acosta.


In spite of the poor conditions during spring training and the resulting worries about the players being ready, Charlie Grimm's Brewers were strong out of the gate grabbing immediate hold of first place. Opening day brought in 13,569 eager fans.

But there were rumblings in nearby Chicago where Jimmie Wilson quit as the Cubs manager on May 1st. Rumors surfaced immediately that Milwaukee's manager Charlie Grimm was being considered for the job. He told the Milwaukee Sentinel's Red Thisted that he was not contacted and would remain in Milwaukee to look out for his and Bill Veeck's interests, but added an "unless..."

Charlie stated he would have to get a "marvelous" offer to consider going back to Chicago. That had the fans up in arms. Charlie Grimm was a much loved icon in Milwaukee and was credited along with Bill Veeck with rebuilding the national pastime in Milwaukee. Charlie was their manager, their comedian, their friend and like Bill Veeck, someone fans felt would help make Milwaukee a major league city.

But the court of public opinion didn't have much of a chance to voice its case, as it was announced officially that Casey Stengel would take over as manager of the team and that Charlie Grimm was Chicago bound with Casey taking over the reigns in Milwaukee Sunday May 7th.

Charlie in Chicago - 1944 original press photo
(Author's Collection)

One would assume that Brewer owner and president Bill Veeck was part of the negotiations and approved of these changes, but that wasn't the case. He was at war and thus, out of circulation. It happened so fast it caught Leatherneck Bill completely by surprise. To say he was "Agog" or in a "Dither" about the changes, would be putting it mildly.
"I'm coming out of a mess hall on Bougainville this night and I hear a sports flash on the camp radio. It says Charlie Grimm, manager of my Milwaukee Brewers, has been signed to replace Jimmie Wilson of the Chicago Cubs. Then the announcer says Casey Stengel is taking over as manager of the Brewers. That's all I hear, but it is enough ... I'm stunned. Six weeks later I get the straight dope by mail, but by that time I'm snapping in for some new kind of neurosis. After I hear the news I don't know what to think. I'm on guard duty the same night and all night long all kinds of thoughts are rushing through my head. What are they DOING to me? Is my pal Grimm mad? Why doesn't somebody tell me these things?"
(Veeck in interview with Marine Corps Combat
Correspondent S/Sgt Gordon D. Marsten 1944)


Casey at the Dugout-signed photo
(Author's Collection)

Stengel had managed at the major league level with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1934-1936 and also with the Boston Braves (Bees) from 1938-1943. He had been a skilled right fielder, playing in the major leagues from 1912 to 1925. Charles Dillon Stengel had a lifetime batting average of .284 over 14 seasons. He also had a reputation of being a bit of a clown, but was all business when it came to playing and managing.

"To follow a man like Grimm in Milwaukee is probably the toughest job I ever tackled." he stated in the club offices, "But I am going to pitch with everything I have and I think we will all get along splendidly."

They did get along splendidly. His Milwaukee Brewers didn't miss a beat with Casey in charge and continued their winning ways.

On May 12 they buried the Indianapolis Indians 16-3 for their 9th straight victory in a 19 hit game. Hal Peck hit 2 home runs, a double, a single, and drove in 5 runs. Tommy Nelson contributed a 3 run homer in the eighth inning and had two great defensive plays, snagging a hard line drive in the 2nd and snaring another ball, made a spectacular glove hand flip to Culler to get the force out in the 4th inning.

Hal Peck Original Photo
(Author's Collection)

Hershel Martin was the hero in their 11th consecutive victory against Louisville.
Milwaukee's star outfielder tallied 4 hits and drove in 7 runs in a 13-3 drubbing of the Colonels to complete the series sweep. Martin was looking forward to returning to Milwaukee for some "home cooking."

Hershel Martin Sportrait
(Author's Collection)

The Brewers would lose Martin in June to the New York Yankees in a trade for Ed Levy, announced Vice President Mickey Heath. He assured the team that this deal wouldn't hurt the team. The Brewers also added pitcher Don Hendrickson and catcher Roy Easterwood. Ken Raddant did a decent job at catcher, backing up Jim Pruett but was not quite ready for AA ball.

The Brewers continued their dominance of the league in July, having won 12 of 20 road games leading up to the 4th of July. Slumps didn't last long for Stengel's Brewers and winning double headers were becoming common place for the team. Taking two from Kansas city 25-7 and 5-1, and two from Saint Paul, 5-1 and 7-6. More would follow throughout the season.

George Binks was the hot topic of major league owners and his former boss, Charlie Grimm was fielding questions about Bingo and his .415 batting average.

"Ever since joining the Cubs in early May I have been getting long distance phone calls from major league owners and scouts about George Binks."

Pinch hitting for his pitcher, "Bing Bang" Binks belted a 3 run home run to secure the victory against the Millers for pitcher Charlie Sproull.

Charlie Sproull - Original Autographed Photo
(Author's Collection)
Milwaukee's pitching was well balanced with Earl Caldwell having one of his best years in baseball. Offensively Milwaukee was hitting a collective .316 and had plenty of power at the plate with Becker, Binks, Levy, Nagel, Peck, and Secory. Bill Nagel, who came to the Brewers as partial payment for Grey Clarke via the White Sox, was just off the chart with 102 RBI's.(And it was only July!)

As the month came to a close, Milwaukee was 11 games ahead of Louisville with a record of 74-30.

August found the Brewers dealing Ed Scheiwe and some cash to Kansas City for infielder Arky Biggs. Needing some utility help, Biggs was expected to more than adequately fill the bill. Biggs was hitting .364 with the Blues prior to his joining the Brews. The race tightened up a bit in August with Toledo trailing the Brewers by 7 1/2 games. Talk of the playoffs circulated among the players, even if a bit prematurely.

September 1st had the Milwaukee Brewers solidly in first place with a 92-46 record. The Brewers clinched the American Association Championship September 6th with a 6-0 shutout victory by Julio Acosta over the Saint Paul Saints. This was the second time in two years that the Cuban Showboat clinched the game for Milwaukee. He clinched it in 1943 by beating Indianapolis.

Julio Acosta - Original Autographed Photo
(Author's Collection)
"Was I OK tonight?" Acosta asked as he dressed ... "You pitched your best game of the season tonight," said outfielder Bill Norman to the Cuban side wheeler.

The Brewers occupied and held 1st place all season long and General Manager Rudie Schaffer lamented: "This would have been a perfect day, if only Bill (Veeck) was here to see the club he built before joining the marines win the pennant."

1944 Team Photo
(Author's Collection)

(This 1944 set of Milwaukee Brewer baseball card series was again done by Milwaukee's Grand Photo Studio. These (3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches) cards are similar to the previous year's offering but did not have the Grand Studio name on the cards. They had printed autographs and were sold at the Borchert Field concession stands and by mail, for 25 cents a set.

Considered scarce, they demand a premium price when found in complete near mint sets. Here is a rare view of the complete 26 card set.)

Julio Acosta / Heinz Becker
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

A surprise birthday present for Jolly Cholly in 1943, Julio Acosta jumped out of a cake at Borchert Field. In 1944, Julio won 13 while losing 10 with a 3.89 ERA. He was considered one of the best lefties in the American Association for the year.

First baseman Heinz Becker, after a short spring with the Chicago Cubs, rejoined the Brewers. He improved his batting average to .346 in 146 games in 1944.

George Binks / Bob Bowman
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

George Binks was a clutch utility player in the field and at home plate for Milwaukee. He batted .374 over 100 games playing both the outfield and filling in at 1st base in 1944.

Bob Bowman went 1-0 in limited play in 1944.

Earl Caldwell / Dick Culler
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Earl 'Teach" Caldwell had one of his best years in baseball as he led the American Association with a 19 win vs. 5 loss season in 1944. His ERA was a cool 2.97.

Shortstop Dick Culler was superb at shortstop and was part of the best double play combination in 1944, Culler to Nelson to Becker. He hit a solid .308 for the season. Quick on the base paths, he used the great Ty Cobb's fall away slide, throwing his body away from the base and reaching to tag the base with his hand. An all around clutch player for the Brews.

Roy Easterwood / Jack Farmer
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Catcher Roy Easterwood, a needed backup catcher late in the season, played in 37 games in 1944 with a BA of .283.

Jack Farmer pitched in with an 8 and 6 record and a 2.96 ERA.

Charlie Gassaway / Dick Hearn
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Lefty Charlie Gassaway pitched in with a smokin' 18 wins vs. only 8 losses. His ERA was a classy 2.75 and he did well as both starter and a reliever.

Dickie Hearn tallied a 6-7 record in 103 innings pitched.

Don Hendrickson / Ed Levy
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Don Hendrickson went 12 and 7 with an excellent 2.57 ERA in 1944.

Ed Levy replaced Hershel Martin in the outfield with a .286 BA in 46 games.

Hershel Martin / Bill Nagel
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

In 58 games, Hershel Martin hit .358. before joining the New York Yankees at mid season.

Slugger Bill Nagel playing 3rd base hit .308, the Brewer RBI leader. Bill wanted to play outfield but, Charlie Grimm in need of infielders suggested he try 3rd base. "I will do the best I can Charlie but I would rather play outfield." Well, his play at 3rd proved to be a great asset to the Brewers with his strong throwing arm. He rarely made a bad throw. He also provided "booming base hits." Manager Casey Stengel was a big backer of his as Nagel played very well on opposing ball fields. Opposing players respected his prowess "at the dish with ducks on the pond."

Tommy Nelson / Bill Norman
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

At 2nd base in 1944, Tommy Nelson played 146 games for the year hitting for a .303 average. An awesome infielder, he was a key part of the Milwaukee Brewer defense.

Bill Norman was much improved over last year hitting .296.

Hal Peck / Jimmy Pruett
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Outfielder Hal Peck hit a smokin' .345 for the year. An expert bunter, some insisted he was even faster since shooting his foot in an accident at his home in 1942, which was expected to slow him down. "When I was in the hospital for more than a month in 1942. I thought my baseball days were definitely finished." said Peck. "...I got a pep talk from Bill Veeck. It sort of cheered me up and I made up my mind I was going to be a big leaguer, toes or not. " Casey Stengel called him his " million dollar baby."

Jimmy Pruett hit .312 along with his catching duties. He was considered "fearless" in his blocking of the plate. His many female fans were no doubt upset with is marriage during the 1944 season.

Ken Raddant / Owen Scheets
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Young Ken Raddant filled in as catcher for 27 games early in the season and batted .241.

Pitcher Owen Scheetz went 11-7 for the year.

Eddie Scheiwe / Frank Secory
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Erwin "Eddie" Scheiwe played briefly at shortstop compiling a BA of .243.

Frank Secory's play was solid in the outfield in 88 games and contributed with a BA of .290 and a fielding average of .946.

Red Smith / Floyd Speer
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Red Smith continued on as a valuable coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, which was especially important with the absence of Bill Veeck.

Floyd Speer pitched 108 innings for a 7 - 2 record.

Charlie Sproull / Casey Stengel
1944 Grand Studio Cards
(Author's Collection)

Charlie Sproull wowed the crowd with his 2.50 ERA and posted a record of 16 - 7.

The not so "Old Perfesser" Casey Stengel took over the helm from the departing Charlie Grimm. He provided a smooth transition and led the team to victory in 1944. He proved his mettle as a manager in Milwaukee and would go on to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of baseball's greatest field generals with the New York Yankees.

1944 American Association Champions

Thanks to Bill Veeck's and Charlie Grimm's building of the franchise, the Milwaukee Brewers had a strong base to work with in the winter of 1943-1944 that was considered at a pre-war standard. In Veeck's absence, Grimm, Rudie Schaffer and others put together the needed pieces for a great team. With Grimm's early departure and his hiring of Casey Stengel, the team was left in competent hands. Brewer announcer Michael "Mickey" Heath stepped out of the background to become Vice President after Grimm moved on to Chicago. A Milwaukee Brewer baseball player himself and good judge of talent, he made important decisions during the season to shore up the team and help keep them on track and winning. Heath and Veeck had discussed players on a regular basis in the past and Veeck always respected Mickey's opinion with player personnel, so his choice was a natural.

The 1944 Milwaukee Brewers had the power of several big bats to drive them towards the pennant. Becker, Biggs, Binks, Culler, Levy, Nagel, Peck, and Secory all contributed. Pitching was a strength the team relied on in the stretch. Acosta, Caldwell, Gassaway, Farmer, Hendrickson, Scheetz and Sproull. Both Gassaway and Hendrickson spent time starting and relieving.

Any slumps did not last long and no one really came close to the Brewers who clinched the season in early September for their 2nd consecutive American Association crown.

Casey Stengel - Original Autographed Photo
(Author's Collection)

Casey Stengel's Brewers finished with Milwaukee's best record in the history of the franchise at 102 - 51. Although they were picked to win it all, including the Little World Series, the 3rd place Louisville team had something to say about that. Louisville had bested the Brewers in 10 of the 22 games played between them. They had tough pitching that had given the Brewers trouble during the regular season. The Brewers after leading the series 2 games to 1, fell victim to "cheap infield hits" by the Colonels and breakdowns in pitching did them in, according to Casey.

Unfortunately, like Charlie Grimm before him, his 1944 Brewer team went down in the first round of the playoffs, 4 games to 2.

...Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer ©

1944 Signed Team Baseball
(Author's Collection)

Pfc. William Veeck Jr. returned to Borchert Field in December 1944, a year after leaving Milwaukee to join the Marine Corps. Behind him was the war in the Pacific; ahead of him would be the struggle to regain his health and rejoining his beloved Milwaukee Brewers for the 1945 season.

December 1944 -Back at Borchert

1 comment:

  1. I am trying to find out how to aquire a photograph of Roy Easterwood who played for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1944 and then the Chicago Cubs the same year.