Sunday, August 29, 2010


This diminutive Brewer,
inch for inch, pound for pound,
proved to be a "Mighty Mite" for Milwaukee

Dennis John Gearin

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

Dennis John Gearin, a man after my own heart and well ... height, was born in Providence, Rhode Island on October 15, 1897. The son of an Irish grocery store owner, he had a baseball career that spanned 15 years and had a long tenure in Milwaukee. He was arguably one of the shortest pitchers ever to play the game, at 5'4" tall and weighing in at 148 lbs (later years weighing about 160 lbs).

Gearin seemed to have collected more nicknames than any other player in the history of baseball. Most of them were due to his size and many were not very complimentary.

Denny Gearin got an early start, playing baseball for the Pawtucket Rovers (Pawtucket, RI) in the Colonial league in 1915. In the 27 games played, he pitched 203.2 innings. Unfortunately, the 17 year old pitcher lost 16 of them, while posting zero victories. A rough start for the youngster. His hitting wasn't much better, he tallied only 12 hits in his 69 times at the plate for a .174 batting average. He exhibited some power, hitting 4 doubles and a home run.

He returned to baseball with the Providence Grays of the Eastern League in 1918. In the 5 games he pitched, Gearin won 3 and lost 1 in 37.1 innings pitched. In 184 times at bat, he had 43 hits, for a .234 batting average.

His next year with Providence was more impressive. In the 14 games Gearin appeared in, he won 11 and lost 2 during the 109 innings pitched.

That year, the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) would also give Denny a look where he went 12-7 in the 19 games he appeared in. He pitched 175 innings with an era of 3.46 for Oakland. His combined ERA for 1919 was a pretty stunning 1.88.

Dennis Gearin - 1920 Milwaukee Brewers
(Chicago Daily News)

"Little Nemo" joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 1920. Otto Borchert purchased his contract for $750 from the Oakland Oaks and brought him to Milwaukee because of his versatility. He could play the outfield and was a good hitter. Top that off of course, with his pitching ability, the left hander had a good fastball and curve ball.

Gearin became an instant hit with the team. Early on opposing teams learned the hard way how good of a hitter he was. Joe McCarthy, manager of the Louisville Colonels walked a batter to face Gearin thinking he was an easy out and was greeted with a base hit by the "midget." He should have known better as Gearin had done the same thing twice before the past week to Jack Hendricks of Indianapolis. He gave the American Association quick notice: Beware, the little Irishman is not an easy out!

Playing in 88 games as an outfielder this first year with Milwaukee, he hit for a .276 batting average while tallying a 7-9 pitching record in 21 games for the 78-88 Brews. His Earned Run Average that year was 3.80.

1920 Milwaukee Brewers-Dennis Gearin -#7

In 1921, "Nemo" Gearin, once again played in the outfield more games than he pitched. His batting average for the "Fighting Eganites" improved to .307 and his pitching record was a solid 14 wins vs. 11 losses for the 81-86 Milwaukee team. Denny Gearin, as a pitcher, had a good fastball and his "slants" kept the opposing hitters off balance.

1921 Milwaukee Brewers-Dennis Gearin-Front row
2nd from left. To his left, Manager Jack Egan.

"Kewpie" was a power house at the plate for the 1922 Milwaukee Brewers, hitting a healthy .350. He pitched in with 11 victories that season as the Brewers finished the season in 5th place at 85-83.

Dennis Gearin - 1922 Milwaukee Brewers
(Author's Collection)

1923 was a memorable year for "Dinty", pitching an impressive 12 victories vs. only 5 defeats for a 3.76 ERA. Early in the season he led the league in victories and had won six in a row. At the plate his batting average was a solid .338 by mid July.

Milwaukee Brewer President Otto Borchert said of Gearin:

"I think our team has one of the greatest players in the league in Kewpie Gearin. He is as good a pitcher as we have in the Association; he can play the outfield and hit the ball for .300 mark or better."
He was definitely being noticed outside of Milwaukee as "Jawn" McGraw, manager of the New York Giants took a chance on the "Dainty" southpaw and purchased him from the Brewers in early August.

Gearin was summoned to Milwaukee by Borchert from Indianapolis where Harry Clark's Brewers were playing.
"Gearin wanted a chance to go to the big leagues. I saw an opportunity for him to get part of the world series money this year and when he agreed to the proposition, I informed John McGraw." said Borchert.
Terms of the deal was $25,000 cash and players to be named later. They would be disclosed after McGraw had a closer look at Gearin during spring training next year, when he would evaluate all of his rookies.

"John" Gearin New York Giants
1923 Original Press Photo
(Author's Collection)

John McGraw broke from his usual preference for big pitchers by acquiring the 5'4", 150 pound Gearin in August of 1923, but felt his record showed he had the needed stamina to make it in the big show.

While with the National League Champion New York Giants, Gearin saw limited action. He got two hits in his 7 times at bat for a .286 batting average. As a pitcher he went 1-1 in the 24 innings pitched with a 3.38 ERA.

His did get a chance to appear in the World Series of 1923 as a pinch runner in the first game, won by the Giants. The New York Giants eventually lost the series to Babe Ruth's Yankees in 6 games.

He did well enough during the 1923 season to get his second look for 1924 with the Giants. McGraw needed a good left hander and thought that Gearin may fill the bill for his team.

Unfortunately for Gearin, his time in the big leagues didn't last. The Giants used him sparingly, 29 innings where he won 1 and lost 2 with a 2.48 ERA. Control seemed to be a problem as he had 16 walks, 30 hits in those innings and gave up 3 home runs.

He played briefly with the Boston Braves before returning to Milwaukee in May of 1924.

His major league totals:
2 wins and 4 losses with an combined era of 2.89.
At bat Gearin hit for a .313 average with 5 hits in 16 at bats with one RBI.
Back with Milwaukee for 1924, "Dinny" went 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA in 53 innings for the 4th place, 83-83 Milwaukee Brewers.

Dennis Gearin - Original Clipping And Autograph
(Author's Collection)

While Otto Borchert's Milwaukee Brewers tanked in 1925, finishing with a 74-94 season (only Columbus doing worse at 61-106), it proved to be a great year for the Irish lefthander. Gearin posted a 20 victory season vs. just 13 defeats.

In 1926, the much improved Milwaukee Brewers finished the year in 3rd place with a 93-71 record. While the "Mighty Mite's" play was off from his 1925 pace, it was another memorable season for the "Gill of the Shamrock," thanks to his performance on Saturday August 21, 1926.

Newspaper Headlines for 1926 No Hitter

Denny Gearin pitched himself a gem of a ball game with a no hitter against the Columbus Senators for his first place Milwaukee Brewers (80-45 at the time).

Going the distance at Milwaukee's Athletic Field, Gearin joined a pretty exclusive club when he bested the "Buckeye State" team 10-0. It was his first start since July 24th, having only pitched some innings in relief in between but he was in control the entire game.

Only 3 reached first base during his no hit victory over the "Bucks," 2 of them on free passes and one by an error. There were very few hard hit balls, only 4 of them making it to the outfield as lazy fly balls easily caught by the Brewer defense. Gearin's control was masterful with a "two foot break" on his curveball. His fastball "smoked up the alley."

He retired the first 14 batters and he set down 10 Senators by strike outs. He retired them in order in 7 of the 9 innings. His every move was cheered on by the crowd. His "dipping shoots" and "breezing fastball" kept the opposition helpless as well as hitless. It was the first Milwaukee no hit game since Joe Hovlik did it 13 years earlier in 1913.

The last no hit game for the American Association was June 18, 1921 by Bob Clark of Columbus against Indianapolis. (Clark was a teammate of Gearin with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1922)

1922 Dennis Gearin and Bob Clark
(Author's Collection)

When he curved a 3rd strike to get the final out in the 9th inning, striking out the side, the crowd gave him probably the finest ovation received by a single player in the history of Milwaukee baseball at the time.

Milwaukee had a solid offensive attack that day with Gearin being responsible for 3 of the runs. Denny proving once again, that he was more than just a good pitcher.

Dennis Gearin - Milwaukee Brewers
(Author's Collection)

In 1927 and 1928, the Brewers could do no better than 3rd place but were competitive, finishing with a 99-69 record in 1927 and 90-78 in 1928. Gearin pitched in with 8 victories in 27 and followed with 7 in 28.

The Milwaukee Brewers fell out of contention for 1929-1930, finishing far below .500 and in 7th place both years. Gearin tallied a combined total of 14 victories over those two seasons.

His last year with Milwaukee was 1931 where he had a 7-7 season.

Dennis Gearin -Signed Team Baseball
(Author's Collection)

His pitching totals while with Milwaukee from 1920-1931 were 115 wins vs. 112 losses. When playing the outfield and batting on a regular basis, Gearin was nearly always a .300 hitter.

As expected, his average dipped when pitching, but he still had an impressive overall batting average of .285 for 13 seasons in double A ball.

Denny "Kewpie-Little Nemo-et al." Gearin

Here is a "short" list of his many AKA's:
(seemed to be HIS favorite)
Dainty Dinty
Gill of The Shamrock
Hermit and Leading Citizen
Left handed redhead
Little Forkhander
Little Nemo
Little Irishman
Midget Southpaw
Mighty Mite
Sawed Off Red Head
Smallest pitcher in captivity
Wee Dinny
Wee Sprig of The Shamrock

Barnstorming - Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
(Courtesy AA Sports)

Denny Gearin's only appearance against the mighty New York Yankees was in the 1923 World Series as a pinch runner for the National League champion New York Giants.

Many wonder, myself included, how he would have fared, pitching against the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Well, he sort of got a second chance at Babe Ruth when the barnstorming Bustin Babes and Larrupin Lous came to Borchert field on October 28, 1928. As part of Lou Gehrig's team, Denny faced the Bambino in front of 8,000 cheering baseball fans.

Gearin and Ruth went head to head for the first time in the 6th inning. Denny had him swinging and missing twice at his curve balls. Then the grinning Irishman got him to ground out on a slow roller to 2nd. In the 9th, Ruth still had trouble connecting with Gearin's "hooks." After a "skyscraping foul," Ruth, forever the crowd pleaser, took one over the right field fence, bouncing it on a 7th Street roof top, the ball ending up in a backyard near 6th street.

The Bams beat the Gehrigs 5-4 with that blast.

Dennis Gearin -Original Clippings, Signature
(Author's Collection)

While height may have been a factor in his limited time up in the big leagues, his competitiveness and heart were always big enough for Milwaukee. Size didn't stop Denny Gearin from being one of the Milwaukee Brewer giants for 11 years and a definite fan favorite during those roaring 20s. This Kewpie was definitely a prize that was appreciated by the Athletic Park faithful.

Denny passed away in his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, March 13, 1959.

Milwaukee fans will always look up to you Denny.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hip Hip, Hooray!

The Brews always had great fans at Borchert Field, but none better than this group of young ladies captured by a Journal photographer at the 1939 home opener:

Truest supporters of the Milwaukee baseball team are these young ladies, who cheered themselves hoarse at the season's opener here Wednesday. They formed a club, the Milwaukee Brewers' Boosters, last October, made the natty outfits you see and ordered their opening day tickets last January so as to be near the Brewer dugout. Left to right are Geraldine Schneider, Janet Constantine, Mildred Wroblewski, Ethel Barber, Mercedes Oelstrom and Henrietta Constantine. (Journal Staff Photo)
The sweaters are great, but I'd kill for one of those hand-painted megaphones.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Big News From Ebbets Field

Big news for all fans of classic baseball - Ebbets Field Flannels, the Seattle-based throwback manufacturer, is expanding their already-impressive product line. In the past, while they have been happy to make any flannel jersey as a custom order, their cap and jacket offerings have been limited to a few select clubs.

No more - now, they will special-manufacture any cap. Lots of good possibilities in the Brews' history for fans of Milwaukee baseball to order.

Ebbets Field will also make any jacket they've ever offered in the past, and even some they haven't. Which means you can have another chance to pick up the Brews' beautiful 1951 jacket.

You can place custom orders on Ebbets Field's website.

In possibly related news, EFF is also seeking investors. Oh, to have a little chunk of liquid cash. I've been a fan of theirs since I first saw a tiny ad in the back pages of the New Yorker.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Brew City's Own Black Sox

Throughout their history, the Brews had a long relationship with their big league colleagues in the Windy City. As the closest Major League city to Milwaukee, the Chicago Clubs had the first opportunity to see the Brewers' talent, even during the periods when no formal arrangement existed between the clubs.

This was true even in the years leading up to the "Black Sox scandal." As anyone who has seen or read Eight Men Out knows, the scandal dates to the 1919 World Series, when eight White Sox players were banned from baseball for their involvement in conspiring with gamblers to throw the Series.

Of the eight regular position players on the White Sox roster during that Series, nearly half had spent time in Borchert Field's home dugout.

Oscar "Happy" Felsch, one of the players banned, was Chicago's starting center fielder. A local Milwaukee boy, Felsch was a member of the 1913 and 1914 pennant-winning Brewer squads. He was the only one of the Eight who ever wore a Brewer uniform.

Catcher Ray Schalk played for the Brews in 1911 and the first half of 1912, before being sold to the White Sox in late July for $10,000. He would return to Milwaukee for a brief managerial stint in 1940, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

Outfielder Nemo Leibold had a more circuitous route from Milwaukee to Chicago. He was a Brewer in 1911 and 1912 before moving to the Cleveland Indians, who traded him to the Sox during the 1915 season.

The Brewers also contributed a pair of pitchers to the club:

Dickie Kerr, the "hero of the 1919 World Series", who was not in on the fix and who lashed out at his game-throwing teammates, pitched for the Brewers in 1917 and 1918 before going to the Sox.

Frank Shellenback had a brief stay in Milwaukee in 1917 before heading to the Minneapolis Millers and then Chicago.

In addition to the men who stopped in Milwaukee on their way to the South Side, there were two pitchers on that infamous club who make the journey in reverse, becoming Brewers after the 1919 season.

Dave Danforth was a left-hander who spent all of 1926 and part of 1927 in Milwaukee.

Charlie Robertson, who went on to throw a perfect game for the Sox in 1922, was a Brewer in 1926, 1929 and 1930.

The stain of the 1919 World Series lingers today, its Milwaukee connection almost forgotten. But in charting the history of Milwaukee baseball, we have to take the good with the bad.