Saturday, June 5, 2010

Famous House of David Plays Night Ball at Borchert Field

by Dennis Pajot

In late May 1931 local promoter Eddie Stumpf announced his Milwaukee Red Sox of the Wisconsin State League would play the famous House of David team in a night game at Borchert Field on June 5. The major attraction of the game would be the appearance for the David nine of the great Grover Cleveland Alexander, who had never appeared in Milwaukee. Pete had played his last major league game in 1930, but since playing with the House of David starting that spring, Alexander had not been defeated in a single start.

The Israelite House of David colony had been established in 1903 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, as a religious commune. Of the various requirements, two were a ban on shaving and haircuts. The House of David began playing baseball in 1913 and starting touring in 1920. Since beginning their 1931 tour the team had won 44 of its 51 games, with some major league clubs among the opposition.

The team had purchased the lighting plant from the Kansas City Monarchs of the National Colored League, and transported it from town to town in six huge trucks, to play novelty night baseball. Earlier in the season a crowd of 15,000 attended at Forbes Field to see what baseball at night looked like. Ernie Mehl, of the Kansas City Star, said he saw the Davids play at huge Muehlebach Field in Kansas City recently and it was possible to follow play at night just as easily as it was during the daytime sun.

Eddie Stumpf hoped to borrow one of the American Association Brewers' pitchers for the game, in particular Claude "Bubber" Jonnard, "whose high hard one is especially effective at night." Stumpf ended up using local boy Ralph Blatz. Big Ralph had pitched two no-hitters in the Major AA class of the Milwaukee Amateur Baseball Association in 1929 and had a brief stint with the Brewers in 1930.

The House of David team arrived the morning of the game and were guests of the Brewers' management at the afternoon Milwaukee/St. Paul game at Borchert Field. The David boys were also guests at the home of Harry Laufer for lunch. Harry’s mother made up a big feed for her son's bewhiskered teammates.

Milwaukee Journal June 6, 1931

Art "Whataman" Shires was recruited as "whataumpire" on the bases for the game. Striding onto the field with a burglar’s cap, a dude's cane and a pair of smoked glasses, the crowd did not recognize the Brewer hitting wonder at first.

Milwaukee Sentinel June 6, 1931

On Friday night, June 5, eight thousand curious persons walked through the turnstiles of Borchert Field to see the event. The next morning's Milwaukee Sentinel led its story with "Doll up grandpa in a pair of little Oswald's rompers and turn him loose in the south 40, and you’ll get some notion of the astounding goings-on at Borchert field Friday night...". The paper went on to say that before the game the House of David team "may have looked like the 12 apostles at a picnic, but when play started they looked like a ball club."

Milwaukee's own Harry Laufer, sporting one of the David's most foremost beards, hurled "a game of ball that looked sweet to the experts." Before the game Harry was presented a huge floral piece by some north side businessmen.

Wisconsin News June 2, 1931

Grover Cleveland Alexander—sans beard, being the only player not required to grow one—did not start as originally announced, but worked the last two innings. Old Aleck was without “the German goiter” he had carried in front of him the last few years, as he explained he had remarried and was laying off Milwaukee’s famous product.

Between the fourth and fifth innings the House of David athletes put on their famous pepper game, "of which there is no whicher." The lightning pepper game was so interesting it made the movies, according to the Wisconsin News.

Wisconsin News June 6, 1931

Years later Eddie Stumpf related a story of the game regarding Art Shires and Walter Christensen. Stumpf recalled each of these men was guaranteed $25 for the game. After the game both Cuckoo and Whataman called on Stumpf and asked "What was the deal we had with you, Eddie?” Stumpf replied “You know what it was–25 bucks apiece." "Yeah, but you drew 8,000. We didn’t figure on 8,000," Christensen told the promoter. "Neither did I," answered Stumpf. "You'd have wanted your $25 if nobody turned up. That what you get now, $25."

Another game with the House of David team was set up for Friday, July 3 at Borchert, the profits to provide funds to send the national championship band and the drill team of the American Legion from the Electric Post to the national convention in Detroit. The band and drill team were to give an exhibition before the game. It was at first reported arrangements were to be made to broadcast the Schmeling-Stribling fight taking place that night in Cleveland through an amplifier hookup, but later announced round by round reports of the heavy-weight titled match would be given. Unfortunately as neither the Milwaukee Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal nor Wisconsin News were published on Saturday, July 4 or Sunday July 5, the game apparently never was reported on in the papers.


Milwaukee Journal April 26, 1930; May 27, 31, June 6, 7, 1931; January 3, 1955
Milwaukee Sentinel June 1, 5, 6, 17, 27, July 2, 3, 1931
Wisconsin News June 2, 3, 6, 1931
Wikipedia—House of David Baseball Team entry; accessed April 9, 2010

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