Tuesday, May 31, 2011

John House - One Cup of Coffee With the Brewers

By Dennis Pajot

I ran across an article in the February 9, 1913, Milwaukee Journal about Native Americans playing in professional baseball. The article said in 1912 the Milwaukee Brewers had an Indian on the team "for all of two days when [business manager] Charlie Moll dug up John House and brought him on here for a tryout. He worked out just one afternoon in right garden, during which time Manager Duffy worried for fear that he would be hit on top of the head with a fly ball and injured before he could be brought in and shipped back to Iowa on the night train."

I looked in the SABR Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference and found no John House listed as playing with the Brewers. I had no idea when this game was played—if it was even a game he played "right garden" in, or a practice season. I put the name John House into Google News, hoping against hope to find something. Shiver me timbers, there was one entry for John House, and it was the game he played in. Then I had only to back track in the newspapers and find all I could. I found quite a bit for a guy who only played one game with the American Association Brewers.

On Thursday, May 16, 1912, the Milwaukee Journal wrote:
"Looks as if everybody in the A.A. had got the speed bug in their bonnet. [Hugh] Duffy is particularly sweet on the speed stuff and added an outfielder, John Hause [sic], to his gang yesterday. Hause, according to dope, is lightening fast on the field and the bases. They say the newcomer, who is a full blooded Indian, by the way, is about as fast as [Ralph] Capron and you all know what that means."
The Milwaukee Sentinel of the same day reported:
"Manager Duffy announced the purchase of John House, a new outfielder, on Wednesday, from the Ottumwa, Ia. club of the Central association. House, who is an Indian, has been hitting the ball at a frightful pace in the bush, and as he is a reliable fielder and a fast runner, Duffy decided to given him a chance. He is expected to report here on Thursday."
The May 17 Milwaukee Journal reported that House arrived in Milwaukee the day before and there was a chance he would play in that afternoon’s game. The paper reported House was “a big, powerful-looking chap.”

The Milwaukee Sentinel of May 17 was a gold mine. Here is the portion of the local baseball article concerning the new Brewer.

John House, the Oneida brave joined our aggregation of nations on Thursday, and there is a possibility that Duf will insert him in the box score on Friday. House is a son of the Oneidas, and he lives on the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin. He is a big husky looking fellow, and looks not unlike Big Chief Meyers on the Giants.
He started to play professional ball three years ago with the Burlington club of the Central Association. He had some trouble there and jumped to the outlaw league on the Pacific coast where he played until a year ago. Of course he was put on the blacklist but he managed to play ten or twelve games with the Appleton club of the W-I [Wisconsin-Illinois] league last spring before it was discovered that he was under the ban. This spring he was restored to good standing on condition that he would report to the Ottumwa club, which is owned by the former owners of the Burlington franchise. He began to punch the ball like a fiend as soon as the season opened, and his warclub boosted him to our select set. If he can whale the ball the redskin will be a blessing in disguise, for Duffy surely needs an able bodied swatssmith on the club.
Milwaukee Sentinel May 17, 1912

House was a very popular player in Iowa. Only a few days before the Brewers acquired the outfielder the Waterloo Evening Courier wrote on May 13: "John House, the Indian, who has been on Ned Egans’s pay roll for several seasons, was given an ovation when he stepped to the plate the first time. The 'big chef' was always popular in this city and his absence of two years did not lessen his popularity in Waterloo." A year and a half later (December 20, 1913)—when he was traded by Ottumwa—the Waterloo Evening Courier wrote House was "one of the best drawing cards in the minors." Manager Egan certainly liked the big outfielder, as he owned the rights to him five separate times - in Burlington and Ottumwa.

But there were rumblings about House's playing. On May 17, 1912, the Waterloo Reporter ran this dispatch, originally from the Burlington Gazette:
John House, the full-blooded Indian and thoroughbred base ball player, who in the minds of many is one of the greatest, if not the very greatest, natural ball player ever seen in these parts, has been sold by Manager Ned Egan of Ottumwa to Milwaukee. Report does not state the price secured for the best of all Indians, nor whether or not he will be sent to the new club at once.

The sale of House had been anticipated from the very start of the season. House, by his indifferent manner, wasted some of the best individual baseball talent ever bestowed on any man. He never cared much about the game, but nature had made him an adept at all angles of it. McCloskey, who had him at St. Louis, after purchasing him from Burlington, said that a man was never given a better pair of eyes than the good-natured Indian had, and this was true, for the Burlington fan who saw John House strike out more than twice during the entire time he was with Burlington saw something that few of his friends did.

House refused to stay with St. Louis because he was a bench warmer, and his refusal no doubt robbed him of a chance to become one of the stars of the country. He has wasted the past four or five years, and still is so good that he was picked up two weeks after he got back into the game. The Milwaukee ownership is practically the same as the St. Louis management which owned him, and they know what they are getting. A slugging batter, a position bunter, a speed man in all respects, and a brilliant outfielder, is House, and he may yet make the most of his talent. He is at no disadvantage in faster company, as nothing can embarrass him in playing the game and no pinch can take his presence of mind away from him.
On May 18 the Milwaukee Sentinel wrote:
"House whaled the ball hard in batting practice yesterday morning, but he is said to be an uncertain outfielder.... John House practiced in the field with the Brewers before the game [against the St. Paul Saints] and Duffy had him tabbed for right field until it was announced that [Ed] Karger, a left hand pitcher, would work. [Regular right fielder Newt Randall played right field]. It is probable that the redskin will get in the game this afternoon."
John House played right field in the Saturday May 18, 1912, game at Athletic Park against the Minneapolis Millers. The box score showed he went 0 for 4 with no runs scored, no putouts, assists or errors. The Minneapolis pitcher was the right hander Ralph Comstock.

The Milwaukee Journal game article said this about him: "John House, the Brewers' latest addition in outfielders, was tried but after the first ripple of applause there was very little cause to be overjoyed over his coming. As a fence breaker, he failed to show anything in four chances. In the field he had no chance other than to return the remnants of a single, which he did in anything but a finished manner. However, his surroundings were new and his team mates were not much of an inspiration, so it's hardly fair to judge him yet." In his notes on the game Journal sports columnist Brownie wrote: "House did not have anything but a thinking part in the outfield, while the only time he hit the ball out of the diamond was on his fourth attempt."

The Milwaukee Sentinel did not make mention of House in its game summary in its May 19 issue, but the next morning had these two sentences. "John House, the Oneida Indian secured from the Ottumwa, Iowa club was turned back to that organization by Manager Duffy on Sunday [May 19]. He did not show A.A. class, and was handed the tinware quickly. He only came here for a trial."

The Milwaukee Journal of May 20 wrote: "Outfielder John House, the Oneida Indian, did not last long as a Brewer. He was shipped back right after his showing in Saturday's game."

For the record, the Brewers lost to the Millers 6 to 0 in the game House played in.

John House ended up playing 122 games with the Ottumwa Speedboys of the Class D Central Association in 1912. He played in various lower minor leagues from 1904 to 1914. This is the short stat list for House from Baseball-Reference, to which I added the one game I found with the Brewers:

                         Games  AB  Hits  Average
1904 Marshalltown-ILPB 108 450 130 .289
1905 Ottumwa 119 475 136 .286
1906 Burlington-ILPB 127 489 129 .264
1907 Burlington-ILPB 129 513 158 .308
1908 Burlington- 112 447 137 .306
Central Ass.
1909 Minneapolis-CKSL ? 138 32 .232
1909 Santa Cruz, 16 50 8 .160
Fresno, Ind.
1909 Sacramento-PCL 121 423 109 .258
1912 Ottumwa-Cental Ass. 122 462 151 .327
1912 Milwaukee-A.A. 1 4 0 .000
1913 Ottumwa-Central Ass. 118 431 114 .265
1914 Fort William-Port 126 433 119 .275
Arthur- Northern League

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bingo's Glove

Here's a great look at the custom glove worn by former Brewer first-sacker George Alvin "Bingo" Binks, who passed away last November.

The glove was his lucky charm, and as the leather wore out he had the pocket replaced with a Frankenstein's Monster of wire.

From Paul Tenpenny's excellent profile of Bingo last year:

George Binks with the 1941 Milwaukee Brewers
(collection of Paul Tenpenny)
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.
That homemade glove is one of the hundreds of personal details which color the rich history of the minor league Brewers and the characters who took the field at Borchert's Orchard. And I love the classic block-M uniform he's wearing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

1945 Opening Day Ticket Stub

The lucky bearer of this ticket got to see the Brews open their 1945 season (defending their 1944 American Association pennant) at Borchert Field for a mere $1.40 (including twenty-three cents federal tax).

The running Owgust icon was a staple of the Brews in the early 1940s. Adapting iconography from newspaper cartoons dating back to the beginning of the century, the Brewers introduced this version of the character who rapidly became the club's symbol.

The basic template of this ticket went back at least three seasons, as seen by this 1943 printer's proof:

$1.40 in 1945 dollars had the same buying power as $17.60 does in 2011. Not a bad deal to watch a pretty good club.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back, In Blue, Part II

Here it is - the other American League Milwaukee Brewers prototype uniform, as seen in the Milwaukee Journal on April 1, 1970.

—AP photo
NICE UNIFORM—Judy Deters of Milwaukee modeled the uniform the new Milwaukee Brewers will wear when they open the season Tuesday against the California Angels at County Stadium.
The photograph had been making the rounds for several weeks; here it is from the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald on March 18, where the model is identified as Judith Peters.

Although not identified as such in the captions, it has since been reported that the jersey was navy pinstripes. The script was trimmed in navy, like the Brews wore their last few decades in the American Association.

The picture was brought back by Journal on April 1st as part of the paper's coverage of the court decision allowing Bud Selig to buy and move the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee, coverage that started under the triumphant headline "We're Big League Again!"

Her uniform was also referenced in Associated Press coverage of the case, as in this article published in the St. Petersburg Times just before the decision came down:

...a few things have just possibly been done to get ready (for the team to move to Milwuakee), but you couldn't prove it by anything anyone says officially. You could get more operational details out of a Russian submarine commander than you could out of the Brewers.

Uniforms for instance. Uniforms? Um, yes. Nobody can say about uniforms. But there is a pin stripe model with a script "Brewers" on it hanging in a downtown sporting goods supply store.
This Los Angeles Times article about Milwaukee's preparations for big league call (printed on March 28, 1970), contained another tantalizing nugget:

Opening-day tickets are believed to have been printed. Uniforms for the players with Brewers written in script across the chest have been unveiled, although it is not known if the full order has been completed.
I think it's safe to say that they hadn't, because after the decision came down the Brewers issued this peek at their proposed uniforms.

Piping instead of pinstripes, and "BREWERS" in fancy block capitals instead of script.

So what happened? The day after it printed the picture of the pinstriped prototype, the Milwaukee Journal ran an article on the new club's uniforms:

Brewers Make Uniform Adjustments

There were those who said it would be a cold day when Milwaukee got back into major league baseball, or major league baseball got back into Milwaukee. Sure enough, it was snowing when Bud Selig held his press conference at the Pfister Hotel Wednesday.

The Brewers had been trying for five years, off and on, to get a ball club, and now here they were with one and less than a week to get ready for opening day at County Stadium.

As might be expected, arrangements were hectic, to say the least, but Selig came frowning through the whole thing in good style.

Quick Change

"What about the uniforms?" he was asked.

"Very simple," he said. "We just tear off the 'Pilots' and substitute 'Brewers' and we put an 'M' on the cap in place of an 'S'. Colors for the accessories are blue and gold.

Well, there went the story—and the pictures—that the Brewers had new uniforms all made up and ready for the new team. It turned out that three or four pilot (if you'll excuse the expression) sets were turned out two or three years ago, just in case.

"We figured if the team we got didn't have good uniforms, we'd then make our own," Selig said. Seattle's uniforms are fine, with the minor adjustments."
So there you have it. The pinstripes were out. A couple minor changes to the uniforms they brought with them, and the Brewers were born. They didn't even bother to remove the Pilots' distinctive (if ugly) sleeve trim.

What we don't know is why the intended fancy letters never made it onto the Brewers' jerseys. For whatever reason, they were replaced with arched block letters.

In the following seasons, when the craziness died down and the Brewers had time to make the jerseys more their own, the club modified the trim and ended up with something nearly identical to that second prototype, with piping at the neck and cuffs. The arched block letters remained, survived the 1978 overhaul, and to this day are featured on the club's alternate uniforms.

So the pinstriped prototype, seen prominently displayed "in a downtown sporting goods supply store", never got beyond three or four samples, and never took the field (pinstripes, of course, would make their County Stadium debut in 1978). I wonder if any of those samples survived.

(h/t: DW, Uni Watch)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Come on Down!

In conjunction with Paul Tenpenny's exhibition at the Milwaukee Public Library, there is a rare opportunity to hear some former Brewers speak this weekend.

OnMilwaukee.com has the details:

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Society for American Baseball Research's Ken Keltner Badger State Chapter holds its meeting this weekend at the library's Centennial Hall, 733 N. 8th St.

The meeting – free and open to the public – starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 7 and will feature a panel that includes former Brewers and Braves players Johnny Logan and Bert Thiel, Bill Topitzes, who worked for the AA Brewers and Dennis Pajot, author of two books about Milwaukee baseball.

The panel is moderated by baseball historian Bob Buege, who has written two books about the Milwaukee Braves.

In addition, Pajot will do a presentation on Otto Borchert.

You know Dennis, recipient of the 2010 Sporting News-SABR Baseball Research Award, from his books and his many articles on this site. I am honored to host his excellent work, and can't wait to hear what he has to say about Otto.

I would encourage any fan of baseball in Milwaukee, or Wisconsin for that matter, to check it out. I wish I could be there.