Sunday, October 31, 2010

"1937"

Before "Jolting" a certain New York Yankee back to reality on July 17, 1941... the hometown fans already knew that Kenny Keltner was destined for stardom...


"1937"
From Bay View, to Borchert Field & Beyond ...
Ken Keltner

by Paul Tenpenny
(Tencentz@aol.com)
Copyright 2010 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author


Kenneth Frederick Keltner was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 31, 1916. He spent most of his young life with beautiful Lake Michigan as his backyard, in the quiet neighborhood of Bay View.

Lake Michigan at South Shore Park

Young Kenny Keltner attended grade school in his neighborhood at nearby Trowbridge Elementary School and later, Boys Technical High School.

In the days before television and other modern day distractions, baseball was a very popular activity occupying a young boy's time, all across America.

Bay View's Trowbridge School

Ken Keltner was no exception, in fact, he learned early on that he was pretty darned good at it. Soon, playing ball was all he wanted to do, as a result, he gave up on high school to pursue his love of baseball.

1932 Gerber Morticians-Ken Keltner Front Row 3rd from left
(Sand Lot Baseball - George Reimann)

Ken Keltner began his sand lot baseball career in 1932 while playing shortstop for the Gerber Morticians in the Midget League (under 18 years of age). 1933 found the young right hander playing with the Hebein Drugs team. In 1934 his Justright team won the Major A championship, thanks in part to his .413 batting average. In 1935 Keltner advanced to Major AA ball with the Sanders Clothiers, hitting .402 for them. An energized Kenny Keltner could not get enough of baseball and found some spare time to enjoy playing softball on the side.

Like another Milwaukean, Chet Laabs, who played sand lot ball 3 years prior to Keltner, his hitting ability caught the eye of the ever present Milwaukee Brewers scouts. The American Association Brewers were always prospecting for hidden treasures at the neighborhood diamonds in those days.

In 1935, Keltner was brought to Borchert field by umpire, Hal O'Brien (Schiefelbein) to meet his friend, Milwaukee Brewers manager Al Sothoron. After watching Kenny play, "Old Fidge" was sold on the youngster. It didn't take too long for Sothoron to convince the youngster to give up softball and to concentrate on his hardball skills, with Milwaukee of course.

A rare glimpse into this world of scouting can be viewed in correspondence dated August 15th, 1935. Milwaukee Brewers President Harry (Heine) Bendinger wrote a letter to the Detroit Tigers' Frank Navin, which included this very interesting post script comment on their latest discovery, Ken Keltner.
"These alleged baseball experts of ours here in Milwaukee are running around like wild for the past week. Reason: They say they have another local sand lot boy that is a find. Al says he hits them as hard as Laabs."
1935 Milwaukee Brewers Correspondence
(Author's Collection)

The 6 foot Keltner was signed to a contract by the Milwaukee Brewers and was assigned to play for the Fieldale Towlers of Virginia in 1936, a class D team in the Bi-State League. Fieldale was managed by Joseph Guyon and Richard (Red) Smith. The 19 year old from Bay View, Wisconsin did not disappoint his handlers. He had a spectacular year with the Towlers.

He gathered 175 hits in his 486 at bats while playing in 118 games for the Fieldale team. Keltner's average was .360 with 118 runs batted in. His power as a hitter was evident as he stroked 37 doubles, 17 triples and 32 round trippers for a slugging percentage of .683. He played 3rd base and shortstop and compiled a .943 fielding average. The Milwaukee Brewers wanted a closer look at him for 1937.

Spring Training Begins

Ken Keltner set out for spring training in 1937 to begin workouts in Fieldale. After two weeks there, he was expected to report with the other infielders and outfielders to the Milwaukee Brewers spring training camp in Biloxi Mississippi by March 21st.

Keltner and Brewers Teammates Amid the Wysteria
Spring Training in Biloxi (Author's Collection)

An eager Ken Keltner surprised everyone by showing up a week early. Brewers Manager Al Sothoron had intended to try out the youngster at 1st base, but after talking with Red Smith, Sothoron soon changed his mind and would use him elsewhere. Besides being a capable 3rd baseman at Fieldale, Smith advised Sothoron:
"Keltner is destined to develop into a greater hitter than Laabs."
Smith was in camp to assist Sothoron during spring training. He managed Fieldale for the Brewers last year and would be managing Hopkinsville of the Kitty League for 1937. Hopkinsville picked up the remnants of the Fieldale team after dissolution of the Bi-State League according to the Sporting News. Smith had an extensive baseball career and was considered a "keen judge of young players."

In opening drills, the "Bay View Larruper" was tried out in center field. A bright sun seemed to challenge Keltner that day, but he did well enough for Sothoron to continue the experiment in the outfield. Milwaukee's outfield was questionable this spring for the Brewers, with an injured Jack Kloza hoping to make a comeback. Sothoron planned on giving the 20 year old a lot of attention and wanted to try him out in several positions while he was in camp. When working out at 3rd base, he moved and fielded the grounders like he had been there all his life.

Spring Training - Keltner Leaps
(Author's Collection)

It didn't take long for him to be noticed. The "promising youngster" was showing "class" at bat and in the field and talk was that he would be challenging holdout veteran Lin Storti for his position at 3rd base.

In his first game of the spring season, Keltner had a good day. At bat he went 1 for 4 with 2 put outs in a 4-3 victory over the 1936 National League title holders, the New York Giants. He had one error due on a bad hop.

Spring Training - Keltner Digs One Out
(Author's Collection)

Keltner was a very hot prospect and several teams expressed interest in him. Milwaukee considered the offers, but the Brewers needed more than the cash offered, they needed players. They knew Ken Keltner would be worth a lot more if they waited. His being a home grown boy was also a big plus and they expected him to boost attendance at Borchert Field.

Manager Sothoron was also practical. He felt that as good as Keltner was, he wasn't going to rush him. If he needed more seasoning, he was ready to send him to the New Orleans Pelicans for the 1937 season. As it turned out, Pelican manager Larry Gilbert was satisfied with his team and he didn't need him.

The Bay View boy would be returning home with the Milwaukee Brewers ball club. Opening day was set for April 16, against the Saint Paul Saints. With outfielder Jack Kloza's rehab not working out and the loss of outfield prospect Tom Henrich to the Yankees (by virtue of Baseball Commissioner Landis' decision), Ken Keltner would greet his Milwaukee fans as their starting left fielder.

Spring Training - Keltner Fires to First
(Author's Collection)

The Season Begins

Even though the Milwaukee Brewers were the reigning American Association champions, most doubted that they would finish in the 1st division. Milwaukee had lost too many of their key players from the 1936 team.

The Brewers' hitting was weakened by the loss of both Chet Laabs and slugger Rudy York, both of them graduating to the major leagues. "Big and Little Dynamite" had produced most of the Brewers power last year. The Brews suffered heavy losses to their pitching staff too. Gone were Luke Hamlin, Joe Heving and Clyde Hatter, who won a combined 54 games for the AA champions last year. Only Forest "Tot" Pressnell (19-9) remained from last year's starters. The catching corps seemed to be in good hands with veteran Bill Brenzel and Hank Helf who had replaced George Detore.

1937 Milwaukee Brewers Schedule
(Author's Collection)

8,700 Borchert Field fans greeted Ken Keltner and the Milwaukee Brewers on April 16th.

1937 Milwaukee Brewers Scorecards
(Author's Collection)

It proved to be a good opening game for both the Brewers and for Keltner, as the left fielder went 2 for 5 with 2 put outs in a 10-5 blow out of the "Apostles."

1937 Milwaukee Brewers Scorecard-vs Saint Paul
Milwaukee lineup April 1937
(Author's Collection)

Milwaukee would go on a early season tear, and leave the rest of the league behind. Ken Keltner would be a big factor for Milwaukee's breakout success in 1937.

Keltner Watches One Soar
(Author's Collection)

Keltner's continued his hard hitting, with 3 base hits on Monday April 19th giving him 6 for 14 at bats in the first 4 games of the young season. He hit a triple to start off the scoring against the Minneapolis Millers, driving in teammate Frenchy Uhalt. The Brewers went on to win 8-7 against the early season favorites.

On May 7th, Gullic and Keltner, the "Home Run Twins" helped Tot Pressnell win against the Indianapolis Indians 5-4. Ted Gullic hit one out of the park and Keltner did him one better by blasting 2 home runs over the left field wall.

Sunday May 9, Milwaukee played a double header against Toledo, winning both ends for their 7th straight league win and the 11th straight home victory (The streak was at 19 games in a row counting last years playoffs). Keltner hit a triple, double and two singles, just the home run shy of the cycle in game one. The Brewers were 15-4 and solidly on top of the American Association.

On May 12th the Brews defeated the Red Birds 6-5 for their 9th in a row, their 13th consecutive at Borchert Field.

The streak finally ran aground at 12 games, with Milwaukee losing the 2nd game of a double header to Indianapolis May 17th.

The Milwaukee Brewers' fans were ecstatic. After the first month of the 1937 campaign, visions of 1936 were dancing in their heads. Hometown hero Ken Keltner was batting at a lofty .360 average. In spite of the preseason doomsayers, the 1937 Brewers seemed to be unstoppable. As of May 21 the first place Milwaukee Brewers had a record of 22-6.

Hello? Was that a noise I heard? Something scraping, a ping, no a rattle, maybe a squeak, a disturbing vibration. Did you hear it?

Yes, Milwaukee, the wheels were about to fall off the Brewers victory train and Ken Keltner was about to stumble along with them.

Just as fast as they rose, the Milwaukee Brewers went into a sickening nose dive, a losing streak of 11 straight games. By June 10th, the Milwaukee Brewers had fallen out of first place, a position they had held on to since August 4th, 1936.
But the precipitous drop didn't stop there.

While Ken Keltner saw his batting average fall below the .300 level, the losses kept coming for the Brewers. By the time June 21st rolled around, the Brews were down to 4th place with a record of 29-28.

Where would it end?

The Milwaukee Journal's June 26th Box score pleaded:
"SAND THE RAILS!"
While the Nation was focused on the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart, lost somewhere in the Pacific, Milwaukee fans were concerned with their Brewers, who were now lost in the American Association's 2nd division.

Milwaukee crashed into 6th place by the 4th of July, and Keltner's batting average went thump, as it fell below .270!

Falling out of the first division was extremely traumatic for the fans after their Championship year in 1936. The great start this year convinced them that 1937 was going to be more of the same. The upset fans began criticizing the team, knowing that if something wasn't done soon...the season would be over. Management agreed. Having tried many adjustments during the slump, resulting in little success, it was time for a change.

In a major shake up, Friday July 9th, the Brewers gave up on Jim Shilling and Eddie Hope at 2nd base and returned Lin Storti to the keystone sack, where he played part of last season. Ken Keltner was moved to 3rd base. Ted Gullic took over in left field.

Teammates: Eddie Hope, Ted Gullic , Ken Keltner
(Author's Collection)

The "Sanded Rails" seemed to be working for the Milwaukee Brewers, slowing their descent. The Brews swept Minneapolis Millers in a double header victory at Borchert Field Sunday the July 11th. 8-7 in game one and a 12-2 trouncing in game 2. 3rd baseman Keltner was held 0-4 in game one but came back to hit 3-4 in the second with 3 RBIs.

The Brewers repeated their double header magic against the St. Louis Blues July 18th. Winning a marathon 15 inning game 9-8 on Lin Storti's double. Keltner batting 8 times in game one with a homer and 2 singles.

The 43-44 Brewers had moved up into 5th place.

The Milwaukee Sentinel's Red Thisted opined that the season was pretty much lost for the Brewers with 4th place being the highest they could achieve. He advised the Brewers to start looking toward rebuilding their squad for the 1938 season. The Brewers had some cash to spend and needed to bolster the "weak spots." Both Keltner and Pressnell were mentioned as being of interest to the major leagues, but he didn't feel they would garner the Brewers much in cash or players.

After the Saint Paul Saints hammered the Brewers 14-4 in the opener of a 5 game series July 23rd, Milwaukee's double header mastery helped them bounce back again, as the Brews double teamed the "Apostles" 11-7 in the opener and nipping them in the night cap, 6-5. Keltner enjoyed a 6-8 evening in the twin bill.

By August, Milwaukee was turning it around with a maturing Ken Keltner returning to his early season form at the plate. Another double duty victory was had at the expense of the Indianapolis Indians Sunday August 1st at Borchert Field. Ken Keltner belting out 6 hits in 11 at bats, moving his batting average from .306 to .314. Game one was a 19-5 crusher, followed by a 9-1 trouncing. The Brewers were back in the first division again.

Kenny Keltner's play was getting noticed around the league.

By April 5th, the young 3rd sacker's batting average was at a .526 pace for his last 14 games. He had raised his 1937 average by 40 points to .315 during his 15 game hitting streak. Sam Levy of the Milwaukee Journal touted the "moxey" of young Ken Keltner. In spite of the swarm of major league scouts who were on him constantly, all the attention failed to upset him. Instead of freezing up from the scrutiny he was getting from the "Ivory Hunters," he gave them more "food for thought," by playing a spectacular game on Saturday August 7th.

He joined 3 of his Milwaukee teammates to set an American Association record. He led off with the first of what would be 4 home runs in a row. Then teammates Ted Gullic, Hank Helf and Al Milnar followed him with round trippers. Not finished by any means, Keltner took another one out of the park in the eighth inning, defeating the Toledo Mud Hens, 10-8. Milwaukee was now solidly in 4th position with a 57-50 record.

1937 Radio Appreciation Night Team Photo
(Author's Collection)

Everyone expected the news.

On Saturday August 28, it was officially announced by Milwaukee Brewers president Harry Bendinger and Secretary Lou Nahin, that 3rd baseman Ken Keltner was sold to the Cleveland Indians for 6 players and an unannounced amount of cash. The deal between the two teams solidified the close relationship between the two teams for another year.

There were other teams who wanted him. The New York Yankees had told Milwaukee to "write their own price tag." The bottom line for Milwaukee was that cash was not what they needed. The New York Yankees were unable to offer as much as the Indians did with needed players.

Fans would be sad to see him go but all would agree that Ken Keltner had earned his trip to the major leagues. After a fine first season with Fieldale, he proved his mettle and importance to the Milwaukee Brewers team by playing wherever he was needed. Not only was he able to fill the bill in left field and replace his Milwaukee sand lot predecessor Chet Laabs, he took over at 3rd base when he was needed to take on that role for his team.

In spite of his early season slump, due in part to a sinus problem, Keltner did not lose heart. After falling off from his meteoric start, he raised his mid season batting average of .278 back into the .300s in short order. He showed great ability to hit against both right and left handed pitching, a necessary skill if one was to last in the bigs.

Not even "Ken Keltner night" activities on September 8th at Borchert Field deterred the Bay View native from business as usual. The Milwaukee Brews took another double H from the Millers that Wednesday night as the Bay View Brewers star collected 2 home runs, a Chrysler and a golf bag for his "Night" of work.

Extra Innings - The Playoffs

The Milwaukee Brewers finished the season with an 80-73 record, a solid 4th place finish, and by virtue of that finish, they made it to the post season playoffs.

Their first opponent would be the tough Toledo Mud Hens opening Tuesday September 14th, in Ohio. The Hens (89-65) were the runner ups in 1937 and throughout the season they handled the Milwaukee 9 pretty easily. Toledo won 14 of the 22 matchups.

The Mud Hens were heavy favorites to defeat the Brews. The Milwaukee Journal's R.G. Lynch, while aware of Milwaukee's strengths and weaknesses, was cautiously optimistic:
"The Brewers ... may prove unexpectedly tough in the playoff series."
This proved to be prophetic.

Ken Keltner Personal Model Bat
(Author's Collection)

Behind Tot Pressnell's "Dizzy Liz" (knuckleball), and a timely home run in the 7th inning by Bernard Bartholomew "Frenchy" Uhalt, the Brewers took game one 5-4.

Toledo evened up the series, one apiece, with a 6-5 squeaker in 10 innings in game two. Milwaukee took a one run lead into the bottom of the inning, but Toledo's Babe Herman ended it with a 2 run shot off of pitcher George Blaeholder. Ken Keltner, who was held hitless in game one, stroked a Texas League double in the first frame and scored on a Lin Storti single. In the top of the 10th, Keltner reached on an error. He later scored on Mickey Heath's second triple of the game. But the tide turned quickly in the bottom half. Keltner's low throw allowed a runner on base and up stepped the "Babe" to end it in victory for the Mud Hens.

Game 3 was all Brewers, as manager Al Sothoron's surprise start of rookie pitcher Allan Johnson worked like a charm. Milwaukee defeated the Mud Hens 11-4. Ken Keltner contributed with a 2 for 5 day with two RBI's. Next stop, Borchert field.

In Game 4, Bill Zuber and Ralph Winegarner combined to pitch a 6 hitter as Milwaukee defeated Toledo 15-6, taking a commanding lead in the playoff series 3 game to 1. Keltner chipped in with 3 put outs on a single and an RBI.

Game 5 was a slugfest with Toledo coming out on top 11-10. The two teams combined for 35 hits in the 11 inning game. The Brewers sealed the Mudhens' fate in Game six with a 12-3 blowout. Jeff Heath and Ken Keltner were major contributors in the clincher with 3 hits apiece.

In round one of the playoffs against Toledo, Keltner performed well. His combined statistics showed that he hit safely 8 times out of 28 at bats for a .286 batting average. He had 2 doubles, 1 home run and drove in 7 runs. In the field he had one error and 8 put outs for a fielding average of .947.

The Brewers next opponent would be the American Association champions, the Columbus Red Birds (90-64) who defeated the Minneapolis Millers in the other semi-final.

Monday September 20th was a rest day for Milwaukee. Like in the previous round, the Brewers would be on the road to open the series in Ohio.

Game 1 went to the Red Birds by a score of 7-3. The Brewers bats were virtually silent with only 3 hits for the loss. A double by Jeff Heath, followed by home runs by Lin Storti and Ted Gullic put the otherwise anemic Brews on the board. Only one batter got on base the last 6 innings off of Columbus pitcher Mort Cooper.

Game 2 wasn't much better for the Brewers as they got shut down again in a 5 hitter 3-2.

With their backs against the wall and trying to salvage a win in Columbus, Game 3 was all Milwaukee pitcher Ralph Winegarner. The Brewers right hander had a no hitter going into the final inning. He finished the game with a 2 hit 3-0 shutout.
Ralph even broke the deadlocked game open in the 8th inning by launching a lead off home run himself. They scored two more insurance runs in the inning. One of them was a line drive home run by Ken Keltner, a 375 foot line drive over the left field bleachers. Keltner who was hitless in the series, went 2-4 for the day.

The series mercifully moved to Milwaukee Saturday, September 24th, but lack of hitting again was the curse for the Borchert Brewers who lost the game 2-0. The Red Birds pitcher, Max Macon scattered the 6 Milwaukee hits in the shut out. The Brewers were facing elimination as they were down 3 games to 1 in the series.

Expecting an easy kill in Game 5, the Columbus team heckled the Brewers before the contest with "We've got our railroad tickets for Newark," boasts, a reference to the upcoming Little World Series which would go to the victor.

As always, It is NOT a good thing for a team to publicly belittle an opponent. Milwaukee was no exception, as the angry Brewers won the game.

Mickey Heath knocked the wind out of the Columbus sails with an 8th inning blast over the right field fence. The "dissed" Brewers plucked the Birds, 6-5, tightening the race, 2 games to 3.

The better team won according to Brewers skipper Al Sothoron, and the Columbus "flock" flew off victoriously after beating the Brewers 10-4 in game 6. The triumphant and "cocky" Red Birds went on to lose the Little World Series to Newark, 4 games to 3.

Rare Tin 1937 Team Photo
(Author's Collection)

The Milwaukee Brewers seemed to have run out of steam in their series with the Columbus Red Birds. As a team, their hitting failed to materialize. A paltry .213 batting average clearly showed the reason for failure. The Red Birds by comparison hit .283.

By contrast, the Brewers team hit for a .319 average against the Toledo Mud Hens.

While the Brewers could not repeat their success of 1936, they showed guts and a fighting spirit. They could have panicked and lost it all when the wheels were threatening to fall off after a great start. The team showed its character by hanging in there and finishing well.

Young Ken Keltner exemplified this hanging tough. After an explosive start, he had to deal with a slump, partially caused by a sinus problem and probably just part of his maturing into a ball player. He did not quit. He was poised and unflappable and he would soon show his ability and "Moxie" at the major league level in 1938.

Ken Keltner finished 1937 with a batting average of .310, with 170 hits in 549 at bats in the 142 games he played. He had 26 doubles, 5 triples and 27 home runs and 96 RBI's.

He did lead the American Association with 92 strike outs in 1937. Not too bad for the 20 year old when one compares him to 2002 All Star Jose Hernandez of the "major league" Milwaukee Brewers.

Jose benched himself rather than risking embarrassment, as he was near setting an all time record for whiffs that year. In spite of his "benching" Jose still had 188 fans in 525 at bats for his 152 games played for the Major League Milwaukee Brewers.

Ken Keltner Signed Baseball
(Author's Collection)

Ken Keltner spent 13* years in the major leagues from 1937-1950. All but 1950 was spent with the Cleveland Indians. (*He had a single at bat with Cleveland in 1937)

From the beginning, any worries that the 21 year old Keltner would not be ready for prime time in the majors was quickly put to rest. The rookie put together a stellar first season as one of the best of the league's new faces in the game. He hit .276 with 26 homers and 113 runs batted in for his first year with the team.

Rookie Keltner 1938 Press Photo
(Author's Collection)

Ken Keltner became one of the best 3rd basemen in baseball. He was an exceptional fielder as well as being a dangerous hitter. Many still argue that the 7-time All Star belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame. He was an important part of the Cleveland Indians team throughout the 1940s. His contributions were crucial in Cleveland's drive to the World Series in 1948.

Ken Keltner Signed Exhibit Card
(Author's Collection)

In his 13 seasons in the majors, Ken Keltner had a batting average of .276. He had 1570 base hits, 308 doubles, 69 triples, 163 home runs and 853 runs batted in. Defensively he had a career fielding average of .947.

Ken Keltner At the Plate
(Author's Collection)

The Cleveland Indians released Ken Keltner on April 18, 1950 and he was signed as a free agent by the Boston Red Sox. Keltner's play was limited to just 13 games while with the Sox. Boston released him June 6th the same year.

He wrapped up his baseball career with the Pacific Coast League's Sacramento Solons in 1951.

Ken Keltner Boston Red Sox
(Author's Collection)

"July 17, 1941"

Much has been written about the day "The Streak" ended and Ken Keltner's role in ending it. Instead of adding my version to the many already out there, I think it is sufficient to let those who were there speak about it. Suffice it to say, the streak ended with the New York Yankees outfielder failing to get a hit in his 4 times at bat that day. Two of the outs were handled by the Cleveland Indians' 3rd baseman, Ken Keltner.

Goudey R 303 Premiums & Signed Joe DiMaggio Photo
(Author's Collection)

Hall of Famer and Cleveland Indians 2nd baseman, Lou Boudreau also accounted for one of DiMaggio's outs that day:

"In the first inning, DiMaggio pulled a low inside curve down the line at 3rd that Keltner backhanded and, with his strong arm, nipped Joe at first by half a step.

"Then in the seventh, when the Yankees went ahead 2-1, DiMaggio did it again and so did Keltner. Joe hit another shot down the line. Keltner backhanded the ball behind the bag, just as he did in the first inning, and again his throw to first was on the mark and in time.

"He was a real professional, one of the best third basemen, I've ever seen and, in my opinion, one who also belongs in the Hall of Fame."
One of baseball's finest pitchers, Hall of Famer "Rapid" Robert Feller has high praise for his teammate:
"Keltner was simply the best in the American League. He could go to his right better than anyone and had a great great arm.

"Ken Keltner ... stopped Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak at 56 consecutive games with two of the greatest stops anyone ever saw. But Kenny did a lot more in 13 years as one of the best players in the American League, and one of the best teammates a guy could ask for."
John Sturm played first base for the 1941 New York Yankees:
"I knew Keltner when he was with Milwaukee.
He had a terrific arm and he was a helluva good fielder.
He was a great big league ball player, that Keltner."
Joe DiMaggio - New York Yankees:
"One of the best in the business at protecting the foul line is Ken Keltner.

He can backhand a ball hit down the line as skillfully as any third baseman I have ever seen.

In fact, I have a particular reason to remember Ken because when my hitting streak of fifty-six straight games was broken in a night game in Cleveland in 1941, he made two stops on balls I hit over the bag which I thought were sure two-baggers when they left the bat."
In his book Streak, Michael Seidel relates to us Keltner's point of view.

When asking Keltner about why he positioned himself the way he did against DiMaggio, Seidel explains:
"...he figured that to get an extra step's worth of time because of the damp field; he also wanted to hold any hit that got past him to a single. He wasn't thinking about DiMaggio's streak but about the Indians attempt ... to challenge the Yankees ... in the pennant race.
After the game, Keltner was not happy about losing and snapped at the reporters "that DiMaggio hit 'em and he caught 'em."

When asked about which ball was the toughest to handle, Keltner told Seidel:
"They were pretty much in the same place, the throws were more difficult than the stops, and the throws were identical. I had to put something on them, and the plays at first were both very close."
Ken Keltner Pennant
American Nut & Chocolate Company
(Author's Collection)

On the 50 anniversary of the hitting streak, a bronze statue was unveiled at National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Ken Keltner was brought in from a convalescent home in Wisconsin for the ceremony.
Spotting Keltner, DiMaggio asked:
"What the hell is he doing here?"
Keltner, with cane in hand, approached Joe and shook hands.
"You know, Kenny, you were lucky it rained that morning, you never would have stopped those balls."
Keltner had to be smiling as he hobbled away...

Ken Keltner Signed Photo
(Author's Collection)

In a SABR Chapter meeting on March 6, 2002, Ken Keltner's eldest son Randy was asked if his dad was tired of hearing about the DiMaggio streak? Randy said:
"He loved it!"
On December 12, 1991, Milwaukee's 7 time All Star Kenneth Frederick Keltner passed away.

Humboldt Park, Facing South Pine Ave.
(Near Keltner's Residence in Bay View)

In 1999 the baseball diamond in Humboldt Park where Keltner had played as a youth, was renamed Ken Keltner Field, according to author James Nitz in his Society for American Baseball Research biography on Ken Keltner.

Like Jim Nitz, I am very proud to be a member of the Ken Keltner Badger Chapter of SABR that bears his name.

Ken Keltner Field
Humboldt Park - Milwaukee Wisconsin

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Swing, Batter!

From the July 16, 1944 Milwaukee Journal comes this snazzy photo series:

Here is the swing which has put Bill Nagel, Brewer third baseman, ahead of all other American association batsmen in home runs and runs batted in. Not including Sunday night's game, he had hit 19 homers and batted in 100 runs.
Nagel was brought to the Brewers from the Chicago White Sox farm system after the 1943 season, in one of Bill Veeck's last deals before entering the Marine Corps.

There were high expectations for Nagel when he arrived in Milwaukee. He had spent the 1943 season with the Albany (New York) Senators, where he led the Eastern League in both hits and home runs. Nagel's bat seemed perfectly tailored to American Association parks, and he delivered, ending the 1944 season with 23 home runs and a .308 batting average.

In August of 1944, before his first year in Milwaukee was complete, Nagel was sold back to the White Sox for an undisclosed sum (reportedly $10,000). Buying low and selling high was a hallmark of Veeck's era, but in this case he negotiated an even better deal; the White Sox agreed to let the Brewers hold on to Nagel through the end of the 1944 season, as he was an important component of their march to the American Association pennant.

The following spring, with the AA pennant raised high above Borchert Field, Nagel reported to White Sox training camp in Terre Haute, Indiana. He made the big league roster, but his stay on the South Side was short and not particularly sweet; after hitting only .209 with three home runs, he was released outright at the end of the 1945 season.

His old spot in the hot corner now occupied, the Brewers offered Nagel a shot at the first base job for 1946. Perhaps Nagel had aquired a taste for the bright lights of the Bigs, or perhaps he wasn't excited about playing first, but he entered Spring Training as a holdout before finally being coming to terms with new owner Oscar Salenger. Nagel's contract for 1946 included a clause guaranteeing him a hefty bonus if he hit 30 home runs.

Bill Nagel never got a chance to exercise that clause; his second stint with the Brewers very brief, and he was quietly optioned to the Oklahoma City Indians in the second week of May. He played five more years across the minors, playing parts of those seasons with nine different clubs.

Nagel's early promise was short-lived, but for one glorious summer, the Milwaukee Journal cameras caught Bill Nagel swinging for the fences at old Borchert Field.

Friday, October 15, 2010

True Blue

This photo was published in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday, February 1, 1942:

Mickey Heath Tries On the New Brewer Uniform

The new baseball uniforms for the Brewers arrived last week and Mickey Heath (left), back with the club as coach, tried on the home suit. He and Rudy Schaffer, club secretary, are holding up a shirt of the road uniform. Home uniforms are of white jersey and the road suits are dark blue. At present the most important date on the Brewers' calendar is the one shown in the picture—Apr. 16, opening day.
This marked a sea change for the Brewers, the first time their working-man nickname was featured on the jerseys.

There's more to notice in the photo. I'm particularly fond of the socks - three red rings on navy. And in the background, over Mickey's shoulder, you can see a framed photo of the 1926 Brewer club, famous for its 21-game winning streak.

Then there's the jacket lying at Mickey's feet. A solid-color satin dugout jacket, with thin white stripes at the collar and cuffs, and this gorgeous patch on the chest:

To my knowledge, this jacket (and a wool late-season version with tan leather sleeves) was the first and only appearance of Owgust, the beer barrel man, on the club's gear.

But an all-navy blue road uniform? I had never heard of the Brews wearing such a thing. Stunning.

The uniforms appear to have inspired some taunting from opponents. The Milwaukee Journal reported that Minneapolis Millers coach Roy Kolp found some small joy while watching the Brewers steamroller his club in both halves of a double-header 8-3 and 10-3:

The Brewers continued to wear the blues regardless of the ribbing, as seen in this Toledo Blade clipping from September 14, 1942, as the Mud Hens were on their way to knocking the second-place Brewers out of the American Association playoffs. The Brewers in the field are easily distinguishable by their navy union suits, even in this blurry photo:

The blue experiment was short-lived, however. By 1943, the Brewers had returned to wearing traditional gray flannels on the road, as seen in this photo from Nicollet Park in Minneapolis:

And, of course, we have our own exemplar of a 1943 road jersey from Paul Tenpenny's collection:

I can't help but wonder, though. The complete absence of blue on those 1943 gray road uniforms has long puzzled me. Blue defined the Brews for their entire existence, except for this one blip. Red lettering with white outlines, just like Heath's 1942 blue roads.

Is it possible that a cost-conscious ballclub simply removed the wordmarks, trim and numbers from the blue uniforms and sewed them on the new road grays? It would explain the lack of one of the Brewers' signature colors.

Although Veeck's road uniform experiment was short-lived in Milwaukee, Sport Shirt Bill would return to the all-navy road uniform in 1976, introducing one as part of his 1976-81 retro-style White Sox uniforms, most famous for the short-lived Bermuda shorts option. Once again, Milwaukee was the incubator for many of the gags which Veeck would take to the majors.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Opening Day at the Orchard, 1931

As the 1931 season approached, it was clear to the Brewers that they had something special on their hands. Everywhere you looked, baseball was in the air:

Milwaukee was full to bursting with baseball fever, and the Brews were looking forward to a record turnout at Borchert Field for April 29th's Opening Day game against the Toledo Mud Hens.

The BrewerRooters didn't disappoint - 13,113 fans jammed themselves into every square inch of the old ballpark, the largest Opening Day crowd in Milwaukee baseball history. Unfortunately, they would all go home unhappy as the Mud Hens hammered the Brews.

The Brewers had been so confident that they had constructed temporary bleachers along the left field fence to accomodate the expected crowds:

Part of 13,000 Crowd at Opener
This picture, taken by a Journal staff photographer, shows part of the crowd of 13,000 that watched the Brewers and Toldeo Mud Hens open the season at Borchert Field Wednesday afternoon. It is that part of the crowd in the temporary bleachers in left field. The picture was taken after the two teams had goose stepped to the flagpole where, just before the start, the flag was raised.
That must have made a very short porch to left, considering that the left field fence was only 267 feet from home plate without the added bleachers. That appears to be about a dozen rows of additional seating - figure about three feet deep for each row and suddenly the left field fence is only 230 feet away. Tempting target.

Although the Brewers didn't win the game, the tremendous Opening Day crowd did win the 1931 Hickey Cup for Milwaukee. Named for Thomas Jefferson Hickey, one of the founders of the American Association and at the time still its reigning president, the Hickey Cup was awarded annually by the American Association to the club with the largest Opening Day attendance.

The victory earned the Brews a mention in The New York Times:

The Cup itself sat in the Brewer office until Bill Veeck dragged it out in June of 1942, incensed that his opening day crowd of 15,599 was deemed lower than the 12,242 Indianapolis drew to their first game (the American Association calculated attendance on a per capita basis, Milwaukee's 2.6% to Indy's 2.9%). Veeck bought the Brewers a massive trophy and, in a pregame ceremony at Borchert Field, offered the relatively tiny 1931 Cup to the wartime tin drive.



This was of course only one of Veeck's legendary "gags," and the 1931 Hickey Cup was spared the recycling bin. It survives today in the collection of Paul Tenpenny, a testiment to Milwaukeeans' love for their Brewers.