Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball!

As the Brewers open the season in Cincinnati, we take a look back at two Opening Days as seen by the fans at Borchert Field.
Play Ball!
Sentinel photo
Born 50 years too soon might have been the thought running through Mayor Bohn's mind as he showed excellent form in pitching the first ball yesterday as the Brewers opened their home campaign.
And with that, the Brewers opened their 1946 season. Pretty good form out of the Mayor. John Bohn served as mayor of Milwaukee from 1942 through 1948. He had been president of the Common Council when Mayor Carl Zeidler resigned in 1942 to enlist in the Navy. Zeidler was lost at sea in November of 1942 and officially declared dead two years later. Bohn served as Acting Mayor until 1944, when he was elected to a full term. He did not run for re-election in 1948, and was succeeded by Frank Zeidler, Carl's brother. Frank also liked to get into the Opening Day spirit. In 1950, he welcomed boxer Jack Dempsey to Borchert Field to act as his catcher for the first pitch. Dempsey wore a catcher's mask with his suit; Zeidler wore a Brewers cap.

A full house-plus of 13,856 of the faithful had the Borchert Field seams bulging Tuesday as the Brewers opened their 1950 baseball season—and lost to the Minneapolis Millers, 8 to 5, in a game halted in the 7th inning by rain.
Sentinel photo
Pitcher Frank Zeidler (the mayor, that is) and Catcher Jack Dempsey of boxing fame quietly (?) plan the first pitch strategy. The mayor threw a fast breaking curve that was somewhat wide of the plate. And...
This Is What Zeidler Did to Dempsey

Associated Press photo
Pitcher Zeidler and his (shall we say) rather wide throw did something to Catcher Dempsey many good fighters couldn't do—they had him on the "canvas" (above).
Ah, Opening Day. When anything is possible, when every team starts undefeated, and a Socialist mayor can knock down a boxing champ in front of 14,000 cheering fans.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A "Disgraceful Scene" at Milwaukee’s Athletic Park

by Dennis Pajot

On Tuesday, May 6, 1913, the Minneapolis Millers started a four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Athletic Park. At the time the Millers were in 5th place in the American Association, with an 11 and 10 record. The Brewers were in 3rd place with an 11 and 9 record.

The Brewers took the first game of he series, 9 to 7. Both teams used a large amount of players, especially for that time, the Brewers 14 and the Millers 17. Miller manager Joe Cantillon (who had managed the Brewers from 1903-06) used five pitchers in the loss. Part of the reason the Brewers used so many players was that Umpire Murray ejected second baseman Phil Lewis in the fifth inning "when the Cornell grad complimented him on his eyesight." From the bench Joe Burg added to the debate and was also ejected. In the seventh frame catcher Doc Marshall was gone after pushing umpire Murray. Milwaukee fans got a taste of the fireworks to come two days later when Murray threw off his mask and protector and was ready to go around with Marshall. Players got between the two would-be combatants and peace was restored. However, it was reported in the Milwaukee Sentinel that after the game a couple of bugs—the 1913 term for fans—offered to fight Murray, "but lucky for them, the umpire refused."

On Wednesday the Brewers, now in second place, lost the second game of the series 8 to 7 in 10 innings. The game was uneventful in terms of pugilistic activity—no doubt because Milwaukee manager Harry Clark (right) had told his boys there would be no kicking at the umpires—but after the game there almost were fireworks. The other A.A. umpire in this series, Handiboe, had been a "more or less a peace loving chap" so far. But near the end of the game Phil Lewis made a remark that was not to the umpire's liking, and the ump "invited Phil to come under the stand and settle matters, in the good old American way." The Brewer second baseman accepted the offer and both went under the grandstand. In this case Harry Clark and umpire Murray acted as peacemakers and no fists saw action. Sports writer 'Brownie' of the Milwaukee Journal told the paper's readers:
"If these ball players and umpires don't quit challenging each other,one of these days there is going to be an honest to goodness fight."
Prior to the Thursday, May 8 game Phil Lewis was notified that he had been suspended for three games because of the incident the day prior. Even though no fight occurred, A.A. president Thomas M. Chivington took the action on umpire Handboe's written report. The game was a hitting and scoring affair not associated with the deadball era. Minneapolis scored a single run in the first inning and the Brewers came back with two runs in their half of the inning. Brewer starter Tom Dougherty become ill in the first inning and John Nicholson took the mound "without a thing but his suit, shoes and glove." Nicholson gave up seven runs in the second inning to put the game out of reach early. Problems between the Brewer players and the umpire crew continued. In the third inning shortstop Lean Blackburne was bounced from the game by Handiboe. After six innings the score stood 13 to 4 in the Millers' favor.

What exactly happened in the seventh inning was disputed, but the results were "probably the most disgraceful scene ever witnessed since the inception of the American association," according to the Evening Wisconsin. According to this evening paper Minneapolis shortstop Dave Altizer (right) walked and then stole second base. From this point the Evening Wisconsin gave its readers a description of the incident, round by round, as if reporting a boxing match:
ROUND 1 – Altizer starts from second to steal third. Clark blocks his way and Dare Devil Dave jumps into him feet first, spiking the Brewer manager quite badly. Clark immediately showed fight and pasted Dave with hard right and lefts to the face. Altizer kicked viciously, planting his sharp spikes on Harry's forehead, drawing the blood in streams. Clark continued to drive in blow after blow, raising two big blotches on Dave's face.
On this round the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that when coming into third base Altizer leaped high in the air and spiked Clark with one foot on his forehead and the other dug a gash in his chest. It was at this point that the Brewer leader, "enraged by the dastardly attempt to cripply [sic] him jumped onto the runner and rained blow after blow on him while he was on the ground." Exactly where Clark was spiked was not clear, the Sentinel saying the forehead and chest, the Milwaukee Journal reporting the forehead and mid-hips, the Evening Wisconsin in its game article saying the spikes cut into Clark's ankles.
ROUND 2 – Altizer manages to rise and the two square away for a regular scrap. Dave smashes hard right to jaw and Clark staggers. Clark comes back with two heavy wallops to the face and several fierce exchanges take place before some of the players reach the scene. Both men are seized, but Clark manages to break away and they are at it again. All the players, the two umpires and several policemen now reached the scene. Umpire Murray grabs hold of Altizer and bodily throws him to the ground, and several players hold him down, while others are getting Clark and keeping him away.
The Evening Wisconsin commented both players "appeared to be like mad bulls and refused to be pacified." The Sentinel wrote the two players exchanged wallops for almost three minutes. The umpires did their part, as did the Brewers management off the field, as we see from the newspaper's continuation round by round coverage of the scene.
ROUND 3 – Both Clark and Altizer are ordered from the game. Ferris taking Daves' place, and Cy Slapnicka succeeded Clark. The game is restarted after the fans are driven from the field.
What none of the above relates is that the umpire called Altizer safe at third, as Clark had dropped the ball in the spiking and fighting. According to reports Altizer would have been out by ten feet.
ROUND 4 – Secretary Louis Nahin sends in a riot call to the police station and a squad of blue coats is ordered to the park.
As the accounts of the incident went across the sporting pages of the country a few things were added that would appear did not really occur from reports in the Milwaukee newspapers. Almost all out of town newspapers talked of a near riot, which might not be too far off the mark. The Washington Post reported both Altizer and Clark "practically unconscious, were carried off the field, while policemen, with drawn revolvers, were standing off the crowd."

But the action was not over, as we see.
ROUND 5 – After the game Clark lies in waiting for Altizer in the dressing room. Clark makes a fierce rush at his opponent, and for a moment a fierce encounter ensues. Policemen and players interrupt the battle and quiet is restored again.
The game ended with the Millers taking a 20 to 9 victory. But former Brewer manager Joe Cantillon, perhaps remembering his time in Milwaukee, sensed his player might be in bigger trouble with the police.
ROUND 6 – Manager Cantillon spirits Altizer out of town to avoid any legal action.
What happened was Cantillon kept Altizer in his room until the last minute and then quickly got him on a train for Chicago. Altizer would meet up with his teammates in the Windy City and continue on to Kansas City.
ROUND 7 – President Thomas M. Chivington will land a solar plexus blow and then both men will be repentant.
The two combatants had their say in the press. The Milwaukee Sentinel gave each a paragraph to explain their side:
BATTLING CLARK—Altizer deliberately spiked me. He aimed his spikes straight at me when he jumped at the bag, and one of his feet caught me just between the eyes, cutting a deep gash in my forehead, which a doctor had to sew up. His other spiked shoe got me in the chest. Early In the game he threatened to "get me," and losing my temper I hit him. I know he tried to injure me, but if the same thing happened again, I would wait until I got off the ball field to settle accounts. I would rather lose $1,000 than to get mixed up in an affair of that kind. I have been playing ball for ten years, and that was the first time I ever exchanged a blow with a fellow player though the circumstances were such that I could not restrain myself. But it was the dirtiest kind of a dirty trick.

SPIKES ALTIZER—Clark called me a vile name early in the game, and told me he would "get me" the first chance he had. When I came to bat in the seventh, I know he ordered Nicholson to try to hit me, for four balls were thrown straight at my head. When I reached second he invited me to try and steal third, and I told him I was coming on the next pitch. I stared for the base, and as he was in the way he was spiked.
Milwaukee Sentinel May 18, 1913

As can be expected the local press sided with the Brewer manager, but not 100 per cent. The Sentinel gave this paragraph on the incident:
That he [Altizer] deliberately tried to spike the Milwaukee leader there is no doubt, and to an unbiased spectator Clark was perfectly right in taking a punch at him, though it would have been better judgment to seek his revenge some other place than on the ball field. At that we can hardly censure Clarke for his part in it. Any player who will deliberately try to maim a fellow ball player is worthy of no consideration whatever, and it was only the impulse of a healthy human being to resent such an attack in the same way it was made.
The Evening Wisconsin had this to say:
From the press stand it appeared as if both men were about equally to blame. Altizer for jumping into Clark feet first when there really was no occasion for his double steal, as the Millers were far in advance of the Brewers. Clark, however, stayed right in his position in the middle of the path and Altizer could not have avoided him had he tried.
Perhaps the man coming out looking the best, and having the best attitude, was Minneapolis Miller manager Joe Cantillon:
It was a deplorable affair, and I would give anything if it had not happened. It was I who landed Harry his present job, and I am almost as anxious to see his club up there fighting as my own, and I am sorry he had to got into this kind of a mess. He and Altizer had a few words in the third inning, and when Dave returned to the bench he said that Clark had called him a bad name. However there is no excuse for one player deliberately trying to spike another, no matter what the provocation may be. I do not believe, however, that Dave spiked Clark in the face as Harry claims. Altizer made a kick at Harry while Clark was on top of him, and it was then that Clark's face was cut. It was a case of both men losing their heads. Altizer told me after the trouble that when he was at second, Clark urged him to try to steal third, and warning him to be careful. Dave has just as much nerve as Clark, and he started for the bag on the next pitched ball, and made a leap for the base. Harry refused to get out of the way and when he went down to take the throw was slashed by Altizer's spikes. Altizer is working for me, but I am not in sympathy with that kind of baseball and no matter what provocation he had he should have been more careful in sliding for the bag. Clark should also have kept his temper and not struck Altizer. It was a nasty affair and one player is, as much to blame as the other.
Brewer management promised the last game, a Friday ladies' day, would produce no violent incidents. And as promised, the game was played as peacefully "as a Quakers' camp meeting". The Brewers won the contest 11 to 2, as the two teams split the four game series.

American Association president Chivington sat on the incident for a while, in part due to his being ill. A week later he fined each player $50, but there was no suspensions. (A number of newspapers reported the fines to be only $25.) Chivington explained suspensions would be more of a hardship on the clubs than on Clark and Altizer.

Milwaukee Sentinel May 18, 1913

At least one state newspaper came down hard on the owners of baseball regarding this, and other rowdy incidents. The Racine Journal-News' T. S. Andrews wrote in a lengthy editorial:
The numerous fights between players and also between players and umpires on the field this season have brought the owners and heads of the leagues to a realization that something must be done to put a curb on such work, or the first thing they know baseball will be getting into disrepute the same as some other sports....

Ball players are but the same as other human beings. They have feeling the same, but they must also know that they are being paid to please the spectators, the same as actors on the stage, and they should learn to control themselves at all times. A boxer in the ring controls himself if he is knocked down or out by an opponent; in fact boxers have proven time and again that they have wonderful control over their feelings, so why not baseball players?

Players work for salaries the same as clerks in stores and they should work for the benefit of each other….The American people like clean baseball and aggressive ball, but there is a difference between aggressive and rowdy ball. Cut out the rough stuff and give us baseball which ladies can attend without fear of being ashamed of lending their presence to each contests.
This "disgraceful scene" fueled the border-state rivalty, and the Millers and Brewers would continue to battle throughout the summer, though thankfully with their bats and not their fists. When the season ended in September, the Brewers finished three games ahead their Minnesota rivals, claiming their first American Association pennant and the bragging rights for 1913.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Brews On Exhibit

For those fortunate enough to live within driving distance, Paul Tenpenny's amazing collection of Brews memorabilia is the subject of an exhibition now on display at the Milwaukee Public Library.

I love that "Oh, You Brewers" 1913 pennant.

The road jersey on the right is Red Smith's 1943 flannel.

And, of course, we can't forget the Brews' most recognizable legacy, the Beer Barrel Man:

The exhibit looks amazing! I wish I could see it in person.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gorilla at the Orchard

By Pete Ehrmann

On August 25, 1931, the middleweight champion of the world successfully defended his title at Borchert Field and moved a step closer to becoming the middleweight champion of the world.

It sounds like double-talk, but it's actually true. When William "Gorilla" Jones won a 10-round decision at the Orchard over Tiger Thomas, it was a match for the "colored middleweight championship" held by Jones. And it was also a first-round elimination bout in a National Boxing Association tournament to crown a new 160-pound champion following the abdication of Mickey Walker.

Jones would go on to win the NBA title four months later in Milwaukee—where not much more than a year earlier he was barred by decree of the autocratic commissioner whose decisions about which boxers were fit to grace Wisconsin rings were based on his starkly black and white view of the situation.

"We have a rule on our books that negroes cannot box in this state," Walter Liginger announced upon becoming chairman of the state athletic commission when professional boxing was legalized here in 1913. "Negro boxers have done more to put boxing in disrepute than all the white boxers in the game, and whenever there is a scandal, invariably there is a colored gentleman involved."

Liginger was hung up on Jack Johnson, whose woolly 1908-15 reign as heavyweight champion and unabashed preference for white women of loose virtue caused a lot of frothing at the mouth by people who figured that all black people looked and acted alike.

It was 1922 before there was another black world champion (light heavyweight Battling Siki), and in 1926 there was Tiger Flowers, who held the middleweight belt for almost a year before losing it to Mickey Walker.

When Walker voluntarily gave up the title on June 19, 1931 to fight as a heavyweight. Milwaukee boxing promoter Billy Mitchell proposed to the NBA, which governed boxing in most US states, that a tournament be held in Milwaukee to determine the new champion. Permission was granted on the ground that the Cream City was the stomping ground of two of the top contenders, Tait "The Cudahy Adonis" Littman and Frankie Battaglia, who'd moved here from Canada.

Wisconsin rings had finally been desegregated by Liginger the year before, and there were plenty of black middleweights anxious to joust for the vacant title. In addition to Jones and Thomas, the list included Ham Jenkins, Snowflake Wright, Jack McVey, Roy Williams, Angel Cliville, and Rudy Marshall (who promoter Mitchell thought was white until informed otherwise). "One thing for sure is that there will be plenty of color to the tournament," cracked veteran boxing manager Tom Walsh.

The best and most controversial of the black contenders was the Memphis-born Jones, who had started boxing in 1926 and was said to come by his nickname either because of his dark skin and long arms, or because of his "jungle dance" in the ring, or because there had been another Gorilla Jones from Memphis before him.

"He has never been knocked out," wrote Sam Levy about Jones in the Milwaukee Journal. "His record is studded with KO victories. Several times he and his opponents have been chased from the ring, referees charging the boys with stalling. That's because Jones' style does not meet with the (approval) of some officials and commissions. Then too, there have been times, many times, when Jones has gone into the ring handcuffed. By this I mean he has been unable to open fire because he was under orders not to. If he violated such an agreement, he was threatened with boycott."

In 1936, Dick Collum of the Minneapolis Journal wrote:

"Experts in boxing who judge Jones by form rather than by the record agree he has been the only truly brilliant middleweight since Mickey Walker renounced the championship. He has been a flawless boxer and a terrific puncher. His courage is not questioned and he is high in ring generalship – all in all, a nearly perfect fighting machine.

"Yet, he has seldom fought up to his true ability and he has always been regarded as a safe man for any well known white middleweight to meet, a most considerate fellow who could be trusted. Through the many years in which he has been the world's best middleweight, he has fought below his best in most of his important engagements."

Jones himself didn't deny it. "I've done some business in fights," he told Russ Lynch of The Milwaukee Journal. "A colored boy had hard going. If I wanted a match with a good white boy I had to say 'Yes.' I had to live, Mr. Lynch, and sometimes I said 'Yes,' and I always kept my word."

Since black fighters weren't afforded many opportunities to fight for world championships, they had their own "colored" titles, and Jones won his by beating Jack McVey in 1929.

Many in the crowd of almost 5,000 at Borchert Field thought he was lucky to keep it against Tiger Thomas.

"There were many squawks when the decision was announced," reported the Wisconsin News, "and it was quite a few minutes before [ring announcer Rusty Hagen could go on with his announcements."

According to the News's Jim Delaney, Thomas was the aggressor, "carrying the fight to his 10-pound lighter opponent, but judges saw fit to give Jones a lot of credit for his excellent blocking and his ability to counter Thomas's swings."

He was referring to ringside judges Ben Steinel and Louis Schultz. Referee Julius Fidler voted for Thomas.

The city's other daily newspapers sided with the judges. "Jones gave the fans a treat with his masterful handling of Thomas," said the Milwaukee Sentinel. "At times it appeared as though Gorilla wasn't doing much fighting, but it was only his cleverness that furnished that idea to the fans."

The Journal called it "a close fight" and said, "After gaining an early lead Jones slowed up in the sixth. He tried to coast but the Tiger clawed away, punching the Gorilla all over the ring. Realizing that Thomas was pulling up on even terms, Jones went back to work in the closing rounds."

In the other two 10-round elimination bouts in the orchard that night, Tait Littman beat Ham Jenkins and Clyde Chastain beat Rudy Marshall.

The tournament continued through the end of 1931 at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Jones won successive elimination matches against Chastain, George Nichols, Frankie O'Brien and Henry Firpo, and then won the NBA title on January 25, 1932 by stopping Italy's Oddone Piazza in six rounds.

Richie Mitchell, Milwaukee's greatest boxing idol, probably hit it on the nose when he said that Jones "could have beaten every man in the tournament on the same night. He was that much better than any of them."

But as champion and after, Jones had more fights in which his less-than-full throttle performances left an odor so rank that Journal sports editor Russ Lynch would recall him in 1947 as "the 'crookedest fighter' the ring has even seen."

By then such fulminations were of no matter to the Gorilla. Though he'd lost the fortune he'd made in the ring—along with the big cars, expensive wardrobe and the pet tiger cub he walked around on a leash—on too many unlucky rolls of the dice, Jones spent his later years in the lap of luxury, perhaps literally.

Jones was chauffeur for and according to some a bed partner of Hollywood sex symbol Mae ("A hard man is good to find") West. He lived in the Los Angeles house she bought for him, when the man whose march to the technicolor middleweight title started at Borchert Field died in 1982.

When ramped up to its full wattage, Jones' brilliance in the ring was unmistakable. That's why he's in both the International and World Boxing Halls of Fame today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

All Heroes, No Goats (UPDATED)

This cabinet photo shows the Brewer squad which won the 1913 American Association championship, the first of eight pennants the Brews would bring home to Milwaukee.

The same photo, cropped a little differently, is featured on the cover of Brian Podoll's book The Minor League Milwaukee Brewers, 1859-1952.

The goat mascot, sometimes called "Woozy" but propertly named "Fatima" was presented by the club by the Milwaukee Journal in 1912. He lasted with the club at least as long as 1914, by which time he had taken up a summer job cutting the grass at Athletic Park.

I think the image is greatly enhanced by the presence of the fans in the background, and when you can see the wooden slats on the top of the dugout.

Milwaukee Public Library Historical Photograph Collection

Podoll identifies the players this way:
Back row: Hap Felsch, OF(?); Cy Slapnicka, P; Newt Randall, OF; Johnny Hughes, C; Phil Lewis, SS; unknown. Sitting: Ralph Cutting, P; Buster Braun(?), P; Cy Young(?), P; Tom Jones, 1B; Harry "Pep" Clark, manager/3B; Tom Dougherty, P; unknown; Jap Barbeau(?). On ground: Lena Blackburne, IF; Joe Berg(?), IF; Joe Hovlik, P (with goat).
But, as Borchert Field contributor Dennis Pajot reminds me, Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler's wonderful book "The American Association Milwaukee Brewers" identifies them this way:
Standing: Jimmy Block, Rube Nicholson, Newt Randall, Johnny Hughes, Phil Lewis, Doc Watson
Seated: Larry Gilbert, Buster Braun, Cy Slapnicka, Tom Jones, Harry Clark, Tom Dougherty, Joe Berg, Doc Marshall Reclining: Ralph Cutting, Larry Chappelle, Joe Hovlik
Obviously, this warrants further investigation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Dirty Jack" and the 1907 Brewers

After a second-place finish in 1906, manager "Pongo Joe" Cantillon was hired away from Athletic Park by the Washington Nationals. In his place, the Brews tapped the Irish-born "Dirty Jack" Doyle as field general.

This page from the "Illustrated Sunday Section" of Milwaukee Sentinel was published on May 5, 1907. It intoroduces Milwaukee baseball fans to their new skipper and his charges.

The 1907 season was disastrous; after two consecutive second-place finishes, the Brewers finished 71-83 and in 7th place, with only St. Paul between them and the cellar.

George Havenor, pictured at top left, had been the owner of Milwaukee's entry in the American Association since its inception in late 1901, and ran the club until his death in April 1912, when his shares passed into the hands of his wife.

That's a beautiful block "Milwaukee" on those uniforms, as much of it as we can see – love to find a better view.