Sunday, September 18, 2011

Green Bay's *Other* Team

With the Packers' season in full swing, it's good to remember that Green Bay has been home to other professional sports clubs, including one with a significant connection to our Milwaukee Brewers.

This is the 1941 Green Bay Blue Sox, a Wisconsin State League farm club of the Brewers. As a significant independent club, the Brewers were large enough to have affiliates in lower leagues.

With the exception of that single year, the team was known from 1940-1959 as the Green Bay Bluejays, which would explain the beautiful sleeve patch those Sox players are sporting. Note the one-word nickname, unlike the later American League franchise in Toronto.

Standing in the back row, far right is team manager Red Smith.

Smith had a long history with the Brewers as a player, manager and executive. Originally brought to the club as an injury-replacement catcher in 1936, was assigned to manage a Brewer affiliate the following season. Within two years he had worked his way up to director of the Brewers' entire farm system. In early 1941, he was hired to lead the Bluejays.

Smith was already well-known in Green Bay. He himself was a Packer in 1927 and 1929 (making him the only man to have worn a Brewer and Packer uniform) and was a member of the Packers' first pennant-winning squad. After hanging up his cleats, Curly Lambeau hired him as an assistant coach and in 1941 was in his eighth year walking the City Stadium sideline.

After taking the job at Joannes Stadium, Smith would continue to coach the Packers in the fall and winter while managing the Bluejays in the spring and summer.

Baseball Reference indicates that Smith also took the mound to pitch a single inning during that 1941 campaign. He gave up two hits, no runs and recorded a strikeout.

Smith led his Blue Sox to the Wisconsin State League championship in 1941, with a record of 76-35, 6½ games up on the second-place LaCrosse Blackhawks.

Interestingly, one of the players on that 1941 Green Bay roster was George Binks (known as "Bingo"), although he does not appear to be in this team photo. It was during his stay in Green Bay that Bingo had the tattered leather pocket of his beloved old mitt rebuilt in wire by an unknown clubhouse hand.

Also a member of the Blue Sox was future big league outfielder Andy Pafko (back row, next to Smith). Although his contract was owned by the Brewers, Pafko never made it up the ladder to Borchert Field. Milwaukee traded him to the Chicago Cubs farm system after the 1942 season, and he quickly found himself playing at the two Wrigley Fields, first the minor league park in Los Angeles and then its namesake on the North Side. Pafko would finally make it to Milwaukee in 1953 as a member of the relocated Braves, but is perhaps best known for the brief time in between, when he wore a Brooklyn Dodger uniform. He was playing left field in the Polo Grounds when Bobby Thomson hit "The Shot Heard Round the World", and was captured by the cameras standing helplessly, watching the ball sail over his head.

Smith continued his two-sport career until 1943, when Lambeau decided that he needed his assistants year-round. Faced with a choice between the diamond and gridiron, Smith chose to leave Green Bay altogether and take a job coaching the Brewers under Charlie Grimm. He followed Jolly Cholly to the Chicago Cubs in 1945 and back to the Brewers as the club's general manager in 1950.

After winning the a second Wisconsin State Baseball League championship in 1946, the Bluejays severed their ties with the Brewers, becoming a Cleveland Indians farm team starting with the 1947 season.

I do like the interlocking "GB" logo worn by the Bluejays/Blue Sox, whether worn on the cap, chest or sleeve. The initials lend themselves to a good-looking monogram.

Today, the Green Bay Bluejays are largely forgotten. Ebbets Field has in past years offered a 1953 throwback jersey and handsome 1959 cap, although neither is currently available except as a special order.

Green Bay will always be famous for its football team, but Titletown has also contributed much to Wisconsin's rich baseball history.

(ht: Indians/Bluejays photo via Uni Watch)

No comments:

Post a Comment