Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Land of the Giants

I happened on this broadside a while back:

That looks like the Orchard grandstands, but I'm not aware of a "Milwaukee Giants" baseball team.

Everybody knows about the Cream City's short-lived entry in the Negro National League, the 1923 Milwaukee Bears. The Bears and Giants might actually have been one and the same, "Giants" being so common for Negro ballclubs that it served almost as a generic term to signify black baseball.

Whether or not they also went by the name "Giants", the Bears' single season is but the beginning of Milwaukee's black baseball story.

Borchert Field hosted many Negro League games during its history, including its first night game in 1930. In the 1930s, the Chicago American Giants regularly played home games in Milwaukee, which were so successful that the first two games of the Negro American League's championship series between the Giants and Kansas City Monarchs were brought to Borchert.

The following season saw the Negro American League play an all-star game at Borchert. A northern team, comprised of players from the Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs and Indianapolis ABC took on the southern team, made up of the cream of the Memphis Red Sox, Atlanta Black Crackers, Birmingham Black Barons and Jacksonville Red Caps.

Although Milwaukee didn't field its own club in the Negro American League, the Chicago American Giants continued to use Borchert Field as a home away from home well into the 1940s:

In 1945, an independent Negro team was formed in the Cream City. Named the Milwaukee Tigers, they had designs on joining the Negro American League.

The Tigers appear to have folded sometime in 1947, perhaps even before the end of the summer.

While looking for more information, I found this brief article on a visit to Borchert from the Harlem Globe Trotters' baseball team:

The Milwaukee Brown Brewers?

Looks like they were largely a traveling team - by September, they were playing just their fourth game at the Orchard.

There's so much to uncover here. My search to learn a little about these Milwaukee Giants has only revealed how little I know.

I was unaware that Milwaukee had such a rich Negro League history, and I can't wait to learn more. That's the beautiful thing about this; you never know where the rabbit hole will take you.

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