Friday, April 30, 2010


While some shamelessly point only to his 1945 "Merkle Moment" in the Philadelphia sun, George Binks shined in Milwaukee during the summer of 1944...

George Binks

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

George Alvin Binkowski was born July 11, 1914 in Chicago, Illinois.

He shortened his name to Binks when he began in baseball, adopting the moniker "Bingo."

It proved to be a name that was both easily remembered and popular with fans as well as the sports writers during a baseball career that spanned 15 years.

George started playing baseball during the depression while working in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Finding that he had natural ability for the game, he launched himself into a baseball career playing for the Monessen Indians in the Pennsylvania State Association in 1936 at the age of 21.

In 1937 he was playing for the Owensboro Oilers of the Kentucky Illinois and Tennessee League and the Springfield Indians of the Middle Atlantic League. 1938 found him playing on 3 more teams in 3 different leagues: The Tyler Trojans of the East Texas League, Springfield Indians again and the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Eastern League. He played the entire 1939 season with the Cedar Rapids Raiders of the Illinois Indiana Iowa League.

In 1940, our well traveled Bingo played with the Cedar Rapids Raiders and the Charleston Senators of the Middle Atlantic League. In 1941, he played with 3 teams in Wisconsin: The Madison Blues of the Illinois Indiana Iowa League, The Green Bay Blue Sox of the Wisconsin State League and catching my breath and throwing away my map, which is a mess by now ...

He finally arrived in Milwaukee, joining the American Association Brewers late in the year.

While in Green Bay, manager Red Smith tweaked George's batting stance and he became a much improved hitter. Once he spread it out a bit "he became one of the best hitters," according to Smith.

Red subsequently recommended him to Milwaukee's Charlie Grimm, then in his first year managing the Brewers.

(Red Smith would have a long association with The Milwaukee Brewers as a player-1930's, coach-1940's and General Manager in the 1950's.)

George Binks with the 1941 Milwaukee Brewers
(Author's Collection)

In his first at-bat, Binks swatted a home run. Way to go Bingo!

While 1941 was mostly miserable and forgettable for Milwaukee and Charlie Grimm, affectionately known as "Jolly Cholly," considered the late-season addition of Binks to be "the only good thing he remembered from that season."

George was a hit in the 5 games played as a Brewer that year. He tallied an impressive .444 batting average with 8 hits in 18 at bats with a double and a home run.

When the war broke out, Binks was classified 4-F, "not acceptable for military service," because he was deaf in one ear due to mastoid trouble in his childhood. Instead of sitting out the war and continuing his career, he sacrificed baseball to work as a machinist in a converted auto factory in South Bend, Indiana, producing war material for the war effort during 1942 and '43.

George Binks 1944 Grand Studio Card
(Author's Collection)

George returned to baseball and the Milwaukee Brewers in 1944, playing like he was gone for only 2 days, not for 2 years! He immediately became an integral part of the team. Having the ability to play both first base and the outfield and with his ever present batting prowess, he would have a crucial role with the Brews the entire season.

Grimm left the Brewers in the capable hands of Casey Stengel when Charlie yielded to the siren call to manage the Chicago Cubs. With his prized utility man hitting near .400, Casey bragged: "his greatest value has been as a pinch hitter." Binks had a superb batting average of .300 in that role. He was called a "lifesaver" as a hitter for the Brewers.

Box Score May 1944

In addition to being a quality player, George Binks was also quite the character. Even his glove got the attention of the press.

As early as 1941, George's first baseman's mitt was a topic of much conversation. Seemingly held together with tape and bailing wire, the team couldn't get him to give it up. It was a good luck charm given to him by a major league scout when he first began playing baseball in 1936. It was the cause of much laughter and some consternation with manager Charlie Grimm who considered it a "hunk of leather."

"I just can't part with it," said Binks in 1944, "There's a lot of memories in that piece of leather. It's not the fanciest glove, I know, but I prefer it to a new one." Binks turned down a new glove offered to him by manager Grimm. The web of the glove is made of bird cage wire put together by a Green Bay clubhouse boy when the leather wore out. "It's been a luck charm so I will go on using it," said Binks.

Well, he did use it until a storm tore the roof off of Borchert field on June 15th. In the ensuing excitement he lost the treasured keepsake.

George Binks 1944 Favorite Glove Photo and Autograph
(Author's Collection)

Besides jury-rigging gloves, George was considered the "handyman" on the Brewer club too. He was comfortable playing at the first sack as well as filling in when needed in the outfield during the absences of Frank Secory and Bill Norman. His hitting was not affected by changing positions.

In late August, while expounding to the Wrigley field press about the ability of their clutch utility man, George Binks, Milwaukee Brewer manager Stengel answered a question posed to him. "Can he play third?" Ignoring the obvious ignorance of the questioner who didn't know George was a southpaw, Casey, so confident in the fielding skills of Binks, responded in the affirmative. Normally the 3rd sack was reserved for right handers. But with Casey, anything was possible. While in Toledo a few years earlier, he shocked the fans by inserting outfielder John Cooney, a left hander, at 2nd base.

The phlegmatic Bingo was such a good hitter that he never seemed to bother with the identity of the opposing pitcher. Shortstop Arky Biggs, a former Brewer teammate in 1944, remembers an incident with Milwaukee where Binks had gotten a base hit and later scored. When he sat down next to Biggs he watched the pitcher wind up and asked him, "when did the left hander come into the game?" He had been pitching for two innings! Maybe this was why he was such a good hitter; he didn't care who was pitching, he just swung away at "his" pitches. Bingo was acknowledged as being an important factor in the Brewer pennant drive all year. Starting out filling in for Heinz Becker at first base, but playing mostly as their left fielder. George's pinch hitting was repeatedly noted as winning several games for the Brews. His hitting was phenomenal. As late as August, he was hitting at a "fat" .407 batting average.

George finished the season with a team leading, .374 batting average. In one hundred games, Bingo had 105 base hits in 281 at bats, 17 doubles, 2 triples and 11 round trippers. His fielding average was .956.

George Binks Game Used Bat
(Author's Collection)

His dream of playing major league ball became a reality that same year when the Brewers sold him to the Washington Senators (Nationals). On August 25th he joined the Senators after the season ended with Milwaukee in Chicago against the White Sox. He played in a total of 5 games with the Nats in 1944, scattering 3 singles in 12 at bats.

1945 would be a season to remember for Bingo in more ways than one.

George had a great year on the field and at bat. Playing in 145 games that year, Binks tallied 153 hits in 550 at bats for a .278 batting average. He was second in the league in doubles with 32 and fifth in RBIs with 81. He had a stellar .983 fielding average too. George even garnered votes for American League MVP for 1945 (placing 21st).

Manager Ossie Bluege considered Bingo a great outfielder and a great left handed hitter. "Binks has the greatest gloved hand I have ever seen on an outfielder, I have never seen him drop a ball that he got his glove on." He was a valuable player in the outfield, on first base and as a hitter he was a spark plug for the team. When regular first baseman, Joe Kuhel, went down with an injury, Binks filled in and went on a hitting tear that rocketed them into pennant contention almost single-handedly. The Senators winning 16 of their next 22 games.

But he was not without problems. Being deaf in one ear was at times a handicap for him and his teammates. More than once he had trouble in the outfield with being called off by his fellow outfielders, which made collisions a definite possibility if they weren't mindful of his handicap. He also was picked off base one time because he could not hear the warnings from the bench. He had a penchant for missing or ignoring signs from the bench on a regular basis, among other mental errors. But his bat was so valuable for Washington that manager Bluege could ill afford to bench him. His teammates mostly kidded him good-naturedly about his foibles.

"Boner Bingo" Original Press Photo
(Author's Collection)

His biggest mistake, the "Binks Boner," occurred while the Washington Senators were contending for the 1945 American League pennant and it looms as large as Bill Buckner's through the legs error in 1986 and "Bonehead" Fred Merkle's famous flub of 1908. The Nats were in a close race thanks in no small part to the hard hitting Binks. Washington was playing a double header with the Athletics in Philadelphia. The first game was tied and in extra innings. The bright sun played a roll that day as it had been "dancing in and out of the clouds" all day. Binks did not take a cue from his Philadelphia outfield counterpart who had his sunglasses brought out to him. When A's outfielder Ernie Kish hit a fly to center field, George lost the ball in the sun, it dropping in for a double instead of an easy out. The next man was walked intentionally to set up the double play possibility. Future hall of famer and Philadelphia 3rd baseman, George Kell, drove in the winning run with a single. The Senators did win the 2nd game of the twin bill, but never caught up to the Detroit Tigers.

Blame fell on Binks for his misplay, deservedly so, but owner Clark Griffith could well share the blame for his scheduling arrangements for the 1945 season. Trying to earn some extra money, he rented the ballpark to the Washington Redskins for the last week of September. The schedule was arranged to finish on the road and also forced them to play more double headers, where they couldn't use their best pitchers to their advantage.

They were forced to wait and hope that the Tigers would lose. They didn't. The Nationals finishing 1 1/2 games behind Detroit, who went on to defeat Charlie Grimm's Chicago Cubs in the World Series 4-3 that season.

George went on to play another season with the Washington Senators in 1946, moving on to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947 and later on to the St. Louis Browns for 1948, his final season in the majors. He played a couple more years in AAA ball before retiring after 1950.

George Binks was able to live out his dream of playing major league baseball. While the World was at war, he stepped up to a different plate, in spite of his handicap and not being able to fight. He served his country quietly by working in a critical industry, actually giving up the game he loved for two years.

Returning in 1944, he became one of those very special players who kept the sport alive, lifting morale at home and abroad while others gave up their time and some, their lives, for our country.

While some choose to remember him only for his blunder, losing the ball in the sun and that single game, remember, his team finished a full game and 1/2 back. So like the press photo said, you can't blame the entire season on his one misplay. They finished more than 1 game behind the Tigers. His hard hitting and fielding actually helped put them in contention in the first place. He was a valuable part of the Washington team, giving them that chance at the pennant.

George Binks 1944 Original Snapshot and Autograph
(Author's Collection)

He was a valuable part of the Brewer team in 1944 in Milwaukee. The fans loved watching the Borchert “Bingo Party“ put on by this scrappy utility player. He was their "handyman," playing when and where they needed him, truly a "lifesaver." Be it first base, outfield, pinch hitter, even 3rd base... if Casey would have needed him there. He was their "go to" guy in a pinch. His bat was always a critical addition to the lineup and, no doubt, a major player on the team that won Bill Veeck his 2nd American Association title in a row while he was away serving his country.

We tip our caps to you Bingo!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Congratulations, Dennis!

SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, has just announced that contributor Dennis Pajot is a winner of this year's Sporting News-SABR Baseball Research Award, which recognizes "outstanding baseball research published in the previous calendar year."

Dennis is being honored for his book The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball: The Cream City from Midwestern Outpost to the Major Leagues, 1859-1901.

Dennis, along with the other two winners, will be honored at SABR's upcoming national convention in Atlanta, August 5-8.

SABR, for those who may not be familiar, is the pre-eminent organization for baseball researchers. The Society's mission is to foster the study of baseball, to assist in developing and maintaining the history of the game, to facilitate the dissemination of baseball research and to stimulate interest in baseball.

This is a tremendous honor, given to a very worthy recipient. I am deeply honored to have Dennis as a contributor. His devotion to preserving Milwaukee's baseball history, from the momentous to the whimsical, is second to none. In particular, his dedication to Milwaukee's unsung heroes enriches all our understanding of just how special that history is.

The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball: The Cream City from Midwestern Outpost to the Major Leagues, 1859-1901 is available directly from the publisher, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, or on Amazon. I urge you all to check it out, and join me in wishing Dennis the heartiest of congratulations.

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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

People Who Made Borchert Field a Special Place, Part II

by Dennis Pajot

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles about the behind-the-scenes people at Borchert Field, the people essential to the team's operations but whose contributions have gone largely unsung. The first installment is here.

Of course Borchert Field is remembered for its short distances down the right and left field lines, the close proximity of the fans to the players, the characters who played ball there, and the equally quirky owners. But, let us not forget the people who made things work at the park. Those unsung heroes who need recognition, even today.

Henry Bremser, in 1942 was the oldest employee at Borchert Field, starting his 30th year with the Brewers. The 58-year old Bremser started as a ticket taker at the 7th Street gate in 1912, After two years he became a ticket seller, occupying the same booth for the next 27 years. Henry said he never saw the beginning of a game at Borchert Field, as he usually remained in the booth until the sixth inning. On double header days he did not get into the park until around the second inning of game two. But often he was too tired to catch the game, having been in the hot booth since 8:30 in the morning.

Henry said the biggest single day of sales he took in was $2,200 in 1924. He commented many times he ended the day with more money than he was supposed to have. When people returned to the booth for their change he could tell the honest faces. Only one time did Bremser come up short in hs money drawer. And that he blamed on the owner, Otto Borchert. Henry said Otto got into his booth and left the door ajar, and the wind blew some of his bills through the opening. He came up $9.00 short. When he told business manger Louis Nahin what had happened, Nahin gave Borchert strict orders to stay out of the booths. President Borchert listened and never came near the sellers again.

Henry Bremser's toughest customers? "The hardest customer to handle is the woman fan. She likes to step in ahead of men folks at the window. Just the same, the ladies are O.K. I don’t mind waiting on them, no matter how big the rush." (From The Milwaukee Journal, April 4, 1942)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Playing in the Snow at Athletic Park

by Dennis Pajot

Eighty-nine years ago today, on Friday, April 15, 1921, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Paul Saints appeared at Milwaukee’s Athletic Park at 8th and Chambers to play a game of baseball. Only 176 paying customers were in the park to watch the game. The majority of these were huddled in the east grandstand seats, to keep warm in the 20 degree weather, made worse by a frigid April wind. The Milwaukee Journal reported only 10 spectators were in the bleachers. To add to this, Milwaukee was in the beginning of one of the worst blizzards it could remember.

The next morning the Milwaukee Sentinel wondered if Brewer owner Otto Borchert was "planning to start a league among the Eskimos with Nome, Klondike, Frozen Dog and other Arctic points in the circuit." But, indeed, "an alleged game of baseball" took place. The paper thought that just the fact the game made it nine innings was "one for the book." The Sentinel's Manning Vaughan wrote the game was played "regardless of the health of high priced athletes and utter regardless of the poor down-trodden newspaper scribe."

It was reported that by the third inning the diamond was so thoroughly blanketed by snow that batted balls had to be dug out of the snow. All that was needed to make it a most festive occasion were "some sleigh bells and some mistletoes to have over Otto’s curly head." The paper's editors helped in this respect with a Christmas motif, when giving the score.

Milwaukee Sentinel—April 16, 1921

The game turned out to be a burlesque affair, with rain, hail and snow falling throughout the game. Running around in mud up to the player’s shoe tops, the Brewers won the game 7 to 4. Milwaukee’s "Unser Choe" Hauser went 4 for 4, and rookie pitcher Ray Lingrel relieved starter Nemo Gearin in the fourth inning, pitching scoreless ball and was credited with the win. About only 50 spectators were around at the end of the game.

The day after the game the Evening Sentinel was in a less jovial mood than the other Milwaukee newspapers:
There was absolutely no excuse for playing the game. There was about one hundred and fifty fans in the stands at game time, and they yelled "play ball" so loudly that it was finally decided to start. The job was then up to the umpires. They could have stopped it any time after the first ball was pitched, and they would not have been violating any rules.
The evening paper went on to say the St. Paul newspapermen said they had never seen a game played under such conditions, and the editor of the Milwaukee paper agreed. How bad were the playing conditions? According to a report years later every time a ball hit the oozy clay surrounding home plate it stuck tight and had to taken out of play. A St. Paul runner was thrown out at home when he became mired in the mud between third and home.

Milwaukee, indeed, was walloped with a snow storm that day and into the next. Nearly 15 inches of snow fell in 27 hours. 40 miles per hour winds caused drifts of ten feet. The newspapers reported the city was almost isolated from the rest of the world by the "most terrific blizzard in the history of the city." Within the city streetcars and trains were stalled, while streets were completely blocked by high drifts. Early reports placed damage in the millions of dollars.

A few years later an account of what happened was given in the Milwaukee Journal. Before the game umpires Bill Finneran and Buck Freeman called Otto Borchert to their dressing room and suggested he call the game off. Borchert’s reply was: "I'll call off games when I want to. Your job is to umpire. Now get out there and go to work." The game started at 3:05, five minutes late.

The Saints scored three runs off Gearin in the top of the first inning, and Borchert yelled down to the umpires from the press box: "Call off the game! I can’t see the ball!" Finneran yelled back: "You wanted to play a few minutes ago when we asked you to postpone the game. You told us that our job was to umpire. Well, that’s what we’re doing." In the 1939 obituary for Nick Allen, who caught for St. Paul that day, it was reported by the third inning the fielders could not follow the flight of the ball. Allen pleaded with the umpire to call off the game before someone got hurt. The umpire told him "Borchert insisted that we start the game despite the threatening weather. I'll go through with this no matter what happens to you guys."

The Brewers scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning—reportedly aided by the Saints' difficulty in finding the ball—to take a 6 to 4 lead and umpire Finneran asked the Brewer owner: "Do you want the game called off now?" Borchert roared back: "You'll finish this game if it’s the last thing you do." The Brewers scored one more run in the seventh to conclude the scoring. By the end of the game all the players except the pitchers were wearing their sweater coats.

As the snow continued, the next day's game—plus the entire next series with the Minneapolis Millers—would be cancelled. But the St. Paul players played another game the day after the "snowball game." All day they telephoned the Brewer office, asking "Will there be a ball game today?"


Milwaukee Journal April 15, 1921, May 3, 1935, October 18, 1939, April 4, 1971
Milwaukee Sentinel April 16, 17, 1921
Milwaukee Evening Sentinel April 16, 1921
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 7, 1998