Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Milwaukee's Original Athletic Park, Part III (1901 – 1903)

By Dennis Pajot

Editor's Note: This is the third of a three-part series detailing the early history surrounding Athletic Park at North 7th and West Chambers on Milwaukee's northside. The first two parts may be found here and here. Of course, later the second park at this location would be known as Borchert Field.

After the American League Milwaukee Brewers (who played at Milwaukee Park on Lloyd Street) were transferred to St. Louis in early December 1901, two minor league franchises were slated for Milwaukee—one in the new American Association (to be named the Brewers), another in the Western League (nicknamed the Creams). The Milwaukee Sentinel reported on December 1st the AA team, owned by Harry D. Quin and 4th Ward Alderman Charles S. Havenor [Milwaukee's 4th Ward at that time ran from the Milwaukee River west to 13th Street and the Menomonee River north to Kilbourn Avenue. Havenor was also owner of the downtown Davidson Hotel], would play at the "old Chambers Street grounds, where modern stands will be erected and all the comforts of home provided for the spectators."

It was also reported President James Whitfield of the Western League secured Milwaukee Park at 16th and Lloyd for the Creams. However, it was also being reported the American Association franchise was interested in the Lloyd Street location, having a preference for these grounds rather than building new stands at Athletic Park. Quin wanted to erect stands at Athletic Park, but Havenor had been in favor of securing the Lloyd Street Park (reportedly for a yearly lease of $2,400) to shut out the Western League franchise from the only available grounds in Milwaukee, and also save the expenses of erecting new stands at 8th and Chambers. It was reported Havenor had convinced Quin, but this turned out not to be the case.

The Christmas Day issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel reported President Thomas Hickey of the American Association had come to Milwaukee the day before to secure a lease on the park at 8th and Chambers for the Brewers, but an agreement was not yet reached. Harry Quin made a statement there would be a steel structure built at 8th and Chambers. For a few weeks it was uncertain which League would play at the Lloyd Street grounds, but finally on January 10, 1902, it was announced the Western League Creams had deposited the money and signed a five year lease on Lloyd Street Park.

Quin announced he would build a new park at 8th and Chambers, and Troop A Cavalry was to vacate by March 1 to enable the contractors to tear down the stables and prepare for the erection of the grandstand and bleachers. It was stated the fences were in good repair and would not have to be replaced, and there would be no grading to be done to prepare the field for play, only some steam rolling and sodding. In mid-February it was reported the stands would be built of timber instead of the steel originally intended. Quin stated after receiving bids from Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works he was notified by the Carpenter's Union that firm was on the unfair list and had been requested to withdraw the offer to it. Quin stated he would honor his agreement with the labor people and only employ union labor at the park. The Carpenter's District Council of Milwaukee reported it was "favorably inclined toward the team" due to Quin's use of union carpenters at the site. Quin also revealed there was an $8,000 difference in the bids between a steel and wood structure.

The architects of the new Athletic Park were James B. Angove and Trowbridge E. Pierce (address 466 Seventh; later address would have been 1436 North 7 Street), the same firm that had been in charge of the building of the park at 16th and Lloyd Streets seven years earlier. Harry Quin received a building permit on February 28. It was reported the grandstand would be 357 feet x 54 feet and seat about 4,100, with the center section having 1,200 "opera chairs." The front row had 25 boxes, seating 5 persons each. At the west end of the grand stand were ladies' toilet rooms, fitted up in the most improved style. The two bleacher sections were to be 34 x 140 feet and each would accommodate between 1,500 to 2,000 people. These bleachers were of only one deck and brought closer to the base lines, giving the spectators a better view of the players. Quin stated improvements would cost about $12,000 and he expected to spend about $15,000 by the time the park was ready. By mid March it was reported the bleachers were up and they received their first coat of paint April 1st. Work on the grandstand started March 18 and by April 15 it was reported all of the grandstand was under cover. By late April all the chairs would be in place. A wire netting was installed in front of the center section of the grandstand "so that women need have no fear of being hit by the ball."

One last minute change was the building of a clubhouse for the players in the northeast corner of the grounds, instead of the dressing rooms originally planned for under the grandstand. The change was made to improve the ventilation in the dressing rooms. In late May a scoreboard was erected in center field to give the results of other American Association games. In June a new scoreboard was installed, which was "quite an improvement over the little two by four they had in the first place." Still, the Daily News thought "were it bigger no harm would result". The new board had some flaws, as shortly after it was put in place it was reported when the wind started all the numbers were blown off the board. The Athletic Park management also decided it would post the batteries of the teams playing each day on the side wall at the entrance to the grandstand, and also on the high board inside the stand where the fans accessed the bleachers.

Milwaukee Sentinel May 4, 1902

Hiram G. "Buck" Ebright was in charge of laying out and setting up the diamond at the new Athletic Park. Ebright was a former manager in the Western Association, an former umpire in the Western and American Leagues, and for 1902 in the American Association, and reported to be an "old college chum" of Brewer catcher 'Kid' Speer. Now working as a clerk at the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, he was also reported to be an expert in setting up baseball diamonds, After laying out the field at Athletic Park a surveyor found Ebright was only a quarter of an inch out of the way on 324 feet. The diamond at Athletic Park was sloped from the pitcher's box toward first and third base, where catch basins would take in the water during heavy rains—Ebright believing catch basins worked better than an under system of drainage. Grading on the diamond started in early April, with sodding starting mid-month.

Home plate was only 75 feet from the grandstand, about 20 feet closer than the Lloyd Street Grounds. Quin explained this was because "the people want to be close to the players and that's just what we are going to try and give them." It was possible to put the grandstand closer because of a change in the rules that called for a catcher to stay behind the batter at all times. Unlike the Lloyd Street grandstand, the grandstand at Athletic Park was not elevated so the first row of seats was only about a foot or so off the ground. The Milwaukee Sentinel reported the new stands to be a model of convenience and pleased the spectators on opening day. The Evening Wisconsin wrote "the whole park presents a pretty appearance," and made Milwaukee Park on Lloyd Street "look about like three dimes."

Athletic Park was not as big as Lloyd Street Park, the Journal quipping "the entire new Athletic Park could be put into the Lloyd Street Grounds and there would be room left over." Dimensions at Athletic Park were later reported to be: Left field-266 feet; center field-395; right field-266 feet. Despite the smaller dimensions the Evening Wisconsin though the situation was "most favorable" to the American Association's "handsome new park." In addition to its having about 2,000 more seats, the streetcar facilities were better, the park being only 14 minutes from the center of the city. Streetcar service to the park improved more when in April the Eighth Street extension of the line of the railway company was completed to Burleigh Street. The Sporting Life would say the stands were the best in the American Association, but the diamond was the roughest. The Milwaukee Daily News was of the opinion that "the park, taken as a whole, can easily be included among the best ball grounds in the country."

However, not everyone was overly impressed with the new Athletic Park. "Brownie" of the Milwaukee Journal reported of the seating in the grandstand: "Opera chairs at Athletic Park. Rot! House of Correction chairs nailed on a board. That's what they are." When the management objected, "Brownie" wrote: "Since that time I have learned different and in justice to all parties I will say that I was mistaken. The House of Correction makes only good chairs. The park chairs are simple common, everyday sold wood kitchen chairs painted red."

The Milwaukee Daily News said the opera chairs at the park were "O.K." "Brownie" also reported some fans thought the grandstand entrance at Athletic Park "puts them in mind of a gang plank on an immigrant ship or a horse chute in a livery stable."

Charles S. Havenor Milwaukee Journal February 2, 1905

Although Harry Quin was obviously the spokesman for the 1902 Athletic park ownership, he was not sole owner. As stated above Charles Havenor—the club's treasurer—had an interest in the park. In February it was reported Charles Clark, a Montana millionaire, owned half interest in Athletic Park, having bought out R.W. Maguire's half interest as a business proposition, "but was not associated in any way with the Milwaukee club." Quin told the Evening Wisconsin Clark gave him carte blanche in making improvements at the park. However, later documents in a court battle between Quin and Havenor showed Clark did not contribute in any way to the erection of the grandstand and bleachers or preparing the field, which cost $9,234.

Later documents revealed the terms of the park and ball club. On April 16, 1902, the grounds at 8th and Chambers were secured for a period of ten years and according to the terms of the lease the buildings on the premises erected by the Milwaukee club would become the property of the owners of the premises upon the termination of the lease, which provided that at any time within a period of ten years the club would have the privilege of purchasing the premises for the sum of $35,000. For 1902 the baseball club paid 6 percent interest on a mortgage of $16,000 in lieu of the rent. Another report after the season simply stated the rent at Athletic Park was $800 a year, including taxes.

The Brewer American Association management decided to start weekday games at 3:45pm (as the American League Brewers did at Milwaukee Park in 1901), Saturday games at 3:30, and Sunday games at 3:15, as that seemed to be the times desired by most fans. A white flag with a large blue centerpiece would be flowing on top of the Pabst Building tower (at today's East Wisconsin Avenue and North Water Street) when the Brewers played at Athletic Park. This method was not foolproof, however, as in July the Evening Wisconsin reported the flag had been flying over the Pabst Building for a week, despite the Brewers being out of town. It was later said there was trouble with the flag wrapping around the pole and not being visible. As was done many times in Milwaukee baseball history, the Brewers offered a Ladies' Day at the park; this year the women of Milwaukee would be admitted to the park for 25 cents—including grandstand seating—on Tuesdays and Fridays. However, problems arouse on this issue. In early July it was announced ladies would be admitted free to Athletic Park everyday except Sunday. However when the women arrived the next week, they were told it was not a free day, causing the Journal to print this was "a nice way to fool the girls". Later Harry Quin explained what happened. He stated he was out of town at this time, and learned the Western League Creams were outdrawing his Brewers. He informed the press and his partner, Charles Havenor, that every day, except Saturday and Sunday, ladies would be admitted free to the grounds. When Quin arrived at Athletic Park one afternoon he found from 15 to 50 women near the entrance. When he asked why they were not inside he was told Mr. Havenor had not honored the notice. Quin stated a compromise was reached between the two owners, after Quin offered to pay for all the women who had come to the park. After this dispute between owners, the Brewers went back to Tuesday and Friday free days for the ladies.

The new Athletic Park opened, with the Brewers winning 3 to 2, on May 11, 1902. On this cold day, with a northeast wind "chilling the spectators to the marrow and benumbing the fingers of the players," the attendance was 7,000; 6,272 paid. (This is the Evening Wisconsin attendance report. The Sentinel reported 5,000, while the Journal estimated about 6,500.) It was reported the overflow crowd was eight rows deep in the field. G. Pfefferkorn of 21st Street won a contest run by the Evening Wisconsin. The person guessing closest to the actual paid attendance won two season passes to the Brewers home games. Mr. Pfefferkorn's guess was 6,265. (To the west the Creams drew from 300 to 700 spectators the same afternoon to their game at Lloyd Street Park, having drawn about 700 or 1,500 for their opener a week earlier—depending on which paper one takes the attendance from). The Brewers attendance fell off as the year went on, as the team did not do well in the American Association race, finishing in 6th place with a 65 and 75 record. When Indianapolis beat the Brewers 4 to 3 on Friday, August 1, placing the Hoosiers in a tie with Louisville for first place in the American Association, 650 attended the game. Among these spectators was the Milwaukee Western League manager Hugh Duffy, with nearly every member of his team, as guests of the Brewers. The Creams had an unexpected off day as the Kansas City team had not arrived in Milwaukee in time to play the scheduled game, their train being delayed. The Milwaukee Daily News commented "from all appearances they enjoyed the contest." Another promotion during this same Indianapolis series was at the Saturday game, when the Milwaukee Sentinel hosted all the city's newspaper carriers and "newies" at Athletic Park. One entire bleacher section was reserved and about 800 newsboys, carrying a mammoth banner and hundreds of rustlers and kites, took advantage of the offer of a free game. The Evening Wisconsin estimated the 1902 Brewer home attendance at about 55,000. According to court testimony the club lost $4,876.25.

Immediately after the season ended the Brewers played an exhibition game against the National League Chicago Colts at Athletic Park. On a cold Monday afternoon, between 300 and 500 spectators witnessed the Colts win 7 to 2, when the game was called in the 8th inning due to heavy fog.

In addition to the American Association Brewers, some amateur baseball was played at "Quin's Park" in 1902, including a game between teams of retailers from the city's south and west sides. The most interesting part of this game was the reporting of the score. The official umpire of the contest alleged the score was 10 to 9, "but he was not aware of the fact that all the men leaving third base scored." It was claimed the westsiders won 48 to 7, but a committee decided the correct score was 68 to 49, still in favor of the west side team. While the game was being played, delightful music was furnished by the Third Ward brass band. After the baseball season football was played on the field. In October the University of Wisconsin football team played Beloit College at Athletic Park. Expecting a very large crowd, 40 boxes were built along the sides of the gridiron and 3,000 reserved sets were put on sale, in addition to 3,500 general admission tickets. The boxes were filled with "Milwaukee society people." General Charles King witnessed the game from the back of his saddle horse on the sideline, and Troop A of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry watched the game from their tallyho, drawn by a couple of sturdy mules. The Milwaukee Sentinel reported "the bleachers were a mass of the prevailing color, cardinal, as was also the grandstand." The Milwaukee Journal had this to say about the crowd: "The bleachers were comfortably filled and the grandstand had its share while Milwaukee's noted beauties waxed cheerful in gay tally ho parties on the side lines. The crowd was smaller, however, than anticipated, notwithstanding the beauty of the day." The Beloit eleven "got honor out of defeat" by scoring a touchdown on the big time college team—the final score was 52 to 6. Also played at the Chambers Street park was the annual East Side High School versus South Side High School football game. The east side team, said to be the best to put on the orange and black for five or six years, beat the south side team 6 to 0 for the city championship in front of about 2,000 spectators, in "one of the prettiest games of football ever played on the local gridiron."

On January 31, 1903, Charles Havenor was elected president and became the primary spokesman of the Brewers baseball club and Athletic Park. For this 1903 season a few improvements were made at Athletic Park—enlarging the clubrooms underneath the grandstand and putting a new roof on the building. In addition, the seats were painted and cleaned and the grandstand was reported "to be in the best of condition." More room was also made for the press. The playing field needed to be improved "so that the players will not be afraid to take a chance on a bounding grounder". The pitcher's box was also lowered about five inches to conform to league rules. C.J. McGilley was appointed groundskeeper in March. (This name is that given in the Milwaukee Journal. The Evening Wisconsin gave his name as Dan McGillian. The Milwaukee Daily News named the groundskeeper a "Naily" McGinley—a Janesville native, who had been around baseball for twenty-five years in many positions, including player and umpire. The Milwaukee Sentinel also called him McGinley, saying he was from Chicago.) Under this groundskeeper's direction "a gang of men" worked to get the field in shape by opening day. McGilley was replaced by H.O. Messier a month later. In May Messier resigned and the position was taken by H. G. "Buck" Ebright.

Sporting News October 12, 1895

In late July Ebright left to take aposition as an umpire in the Southern League. The management of the Brewers of the American Association and Creams of the Western League agreed to work together in certain areas to help both clubs profit, starting with the avoidance of scheduling conflicting games at home. Also included was an attempt to get better service to their respective parks by the street railway company, and a plan of advertising on the streetcars. The streetcar service did not improve. The Milwaukee Daily News reported in May the service was worse than ever, and in June stated John I. Beggs, president of the company, "must be opposed to baseball." In April it was announced the Creams at Milwaukee Park would have a woman as its ticket seller, but Havenor said there would be no women sellers at Athletic Park. He would handle the "coin himself", or let his business manager, Joseph Holland, handle the overflow. The Brewer president changed his mind, as in May there was a young woman ticket seller at the park "and the fans were not kept waiting either." Another nod to the ladies, was the continuation of Ladies' Days on Tuesdays and Fridays at the park. Again, the Brewers flew a flag over the downtown Pabst Building on the days a game was to be played at Athletic Park. This year a new black flag with a white ball was used, as this would show less dirt than the colors of the previous year.

It was announced there would no fireworks or parade for opening day 1903, Joseph Holland believing these types of things were "out of date now." Ex-Alderman Havenor considered them bad luck. He did, however, introduce mascots. The Evening Wisconsin reported:
If the baseball fans fail to get their money's worth at Athletic Park this summer they may turn in and have a rabbit hunt instead of watching the ball game. Citizen Havenor has a nest of rabbits, or as the Germans in that part of the city call them, Belgian hares, and it is expected that by the time the first of August comes around there will be enough to go around. Citizen Havenor has threatened to annihilate any person who hurts any of the pets, as he considers them mascots, but should the Brewers get a losing streak the chances are that the Citizen will offer a special reward for the extermination of the hares. Business Manager Holland is chief game warden.
Perhaps with the help of the mascots, the Brewers won the opening day game, under new manager Joe Cantillon, 10 to 7 over St. Paul.

Attendance at Athletic Park on this Wednesday opening day was only 1,378 paid admission, due to bad weather. Four days later, "an ideal day for baseball", 6,823 attended the Sunday game against the Minneapolis Millers. But attendance remained low the first months of the season, again due to the weather conditions, even though the Brewers were in first place. As late as June 1 the Milwaukee Daily News commented Charlie Havenor intended to place stoves in the grandstand. On a Thursday in mid-May only 250 attended, and in early June a crowd of 293 looked even smaller to some reporters, as "the stands are so large that a few hundred people are lost in them." The June 2, 1903, Milwaukee Journal estimated the bad weather had caused the Brewers to lose $5,000 up to that time.

Milwaukee Journal July 1, 1903

The June 30 rain out at Athletic Park shows a grounds keeping practice of the time.

The fall of water early in the day made the field soggy, but groundkeeper Ebright poured gasoline around the bases in the afternoon and then set fire to it and had it not been for the second storm…the field would have been in fairly good shape.

Attendance at both Athletic Park and the Western League Park on Lloyd Street continued to be low even after the summer weather arrived. In late June both teams played in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, June 24, the Brewers played before 275 fans, while the Creams only drew 225 to a doubleheader. The next day 449 attended Athletic Park and 186 showed up at Milwaukee Park. The Friday crowds were 578 on Chambers Street and 275 on Lloyd Street. The weekend crowds were better, with 2,200 attending the Brewer game on Saturday and 800 the Creams game. On Sunday both teams played doubleheaders, with 4,700 in attendance at Athletic Park and 4,000 at Milwaukee Park. These attendance figures are from the Milwaukee Sentinel, but one has to keep in mind the unreliability of attendance numbers in those days. Take, for example, a July 14 doubleheader at Athletic Park. The box score in the Milwaukee Journal gave the attendance as 900. In the story of the game the attendance was given as 1,100. In the same edition of the newspaper the sports writer "Brownie" stated the attendance was 1,500. The Milwaukee Sentinel also gave two difference attendance totals of 1,000 and 1,200.

On June 26 the Milwaukee Journal printed an editorial headed FANS MUST DO THEIR DUTY IN SUPPORT OF GOOD BALL. In mid-July Charles Havenor blasted fans, saying when the Brewers were losing in 1902 the cry was "Give us winning ball, and we well support it." For the 1903 season he "spared no expense" to put a winning team on the field, and Milwaukee was still not supporting it. He ended by threatening "to accept some of the flattering offers made for several members of the team," if attendance did not improve. Attendance improved slightly, 6,000—the largest attendance to date for the 1903 season—attended a doubleheader that put the Brewers in first place the next weekend. But still "Brownie" said the only thing that keep the crowds up at either ball park were the Ladies' Days. Others were taking note of Milwaukee's poor attendance. Jack Tanner wrote in the Chicago Inter-Ocean: "Cantillon and Duffy are high-class managers, and Milwaukee—well, Milwaukee is daily turning out crowds of at least 300 people to see two of the best minor league ball teams in the country play the fastest kind of ball." At the time this was written, in mid-August, the Creams were in first place in the Western League, and the Brewers were in second place—playing .621 ball—in the American Association.

A few activities at the park seem odd and dangerous today. It was claimed Milwaukee was one of the few towns in the larger circuits where players were permitted to practice in front of the grandstand while a game was in progress. Incredibly players were also permitted to hit balls toward the grandstand during practice. It was reported during an early series one of the Minneapolis players hit several balls into the grandstand and one just missed hitting a women in the face. Less than two weeks later a pitcher was throwing toward the grandstand and a foul tip just grazed the temple of an elderly man in the stands. "Had it struck the man an inch lower it would have put him out for the count." The Evening Wisconsin called for the end of this practice hitting near the grandstand, and in mid-May manager Cantillon issued on order prohibiting any players from batting toward the unprotected part of the grandstand.

The Brewers finished the 1903 season in third place in the American Association.

A Brewers' League played at Athletic Park in 1903 on weekends when the American Association team was on the road. (See below in Milwaukee Park section for more detail on this league). In June the Brewers' League switched its schedule to play Sunday mornings at the Western League Park and the afternoon games at Waukesha Beach, a resort located on the south end of Pewaukee Lake. After Waukesha Park was remodeled in late June the league abolished Sunday morning games, but continued to play at all three parks. The cost of park rental can be found in a dispute Charles Havenor had with another amateur league at this time. The Commercial League at first planned to build two new parks as it felt the rents asked at both Athletic Park and Milwaukee Park were too high. However, the league decided in April to play all its games at Milwaukee Park, as Havenor would not match the rent offered at the Lloyd Street grounds—$10. Havenor stated he offered the Commercial League his park on Sunday mornings for $10 and $15 for Sunday afternoons. He could not offer them Saturday dates, as he had already rented the grounds to the Brewers' League. He thought his prices fair, as other cities charged $25 for Sunday afternoons.

After the 1903 baseball season football games took place on Chambers Street. Milwaukee's East Division and South Side high schools played home games at Athletic Park. On November 21 somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 spectators witnessed the South Side High School beat East Division, 33 to 8, for the city football championship at the park. Another team to play games at Athletic Park this season was the First Battery football club. In November this outfit's big game was with the 21st Regular Army Battery of Fort Sheridan, Milwaukee's eleven winning 28 to 0.

After 1903 Milwaukee had only one minor league baseball club, the American Association Brewers, who played until 1952 at Athletic Park—of course more commonly referred to as by its later name of Borchert Field—so the early history of this park can conveniently be stopped here.

No comments:

Post a Comment