Monday, February 28, 2011

Clear as a Bell

This dashing fellow is Jimmy Cooney, who was the Brewers' shortstop from 1920-23.

Otto Borchert purchased Cooney's contract from the New York Giants and brought him to Borchert Field in 1920. He spent the next four seasons there, having his best year in 1923. That year he led the American Association in stolen bases, hit .308 and, according to the Milwaukee Journal, "played a sparkling game at short."

This production hadn't gone unnoticed, and the Brewers rejected several offers from big league clubs. Eventually, Cooney threatened to quit organized ball if he wasn't sent to the majors, so in May of 1924 Borchert worked a deal with Branch Rickey of the Cardinals, sending Cooney to St. Louis in exchange for the Redbirds' shortstop Lester Bell and two others.

Cooney went on to a solid major league career. He was with the Cardinals for two seasons before moving to the Chicago Cubs in 1926. In 1927 he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, finishing up his big-league career with the Boston Braves the following year. He is perhaps most notable today for making an unassisted triple play against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 30, 1927. Cooney caught a line drive on the fly, stepped on second base to retire the second out, and then the runner advancing from first to complete the inning.

Les Bell, his replacement at short for the Brewers, had a brief but very successful career in Milwaukee. He tore up Association pitching, ending the 1924 season in a tie for the RBI crown and winning the batting title outright with a .365 average in 630 at-bats. Rickey quickly re-acquired Bell from the Brewers in the off-season. After a single campaign at Borchert Field found himself headed back to St. Louis.

This wheeling and dealing was characteristic of the Brewers' existence as an independent team in the first half of the 20th century. Quick player turnover was common as Otto Borchert and his predecessors and successors tried to buy low and sell high. In this case, it was a single team on the receiving end of Borchert's maneuvering.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

1909 Brewers Revisited

This is the second team picture I've seen of the 1909 Brewers.

Our own Dennis Pajot has identified the players for the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Back row (standing): Edward Collins, left field; Shad Barry, right field; Larry Pape, pitcher; Cliff Curtis, pitcher; Frank Schneiberg, pitcher; Tom Dougherty, pitcher; Dan McGann, first base.

Middle Row (seated): Newt Randall, center field; Harry Clark, third base; John McCloskey, manager; Barry McCormick, second base; Lou Manske, pitcher; Robert Wallace, pinch hitter; Art Hostetter, catcher

Front row (on ground): Stoney McGlynn, pitcher; Clyde Robinson, shortstop; Charlie Moran, catcher

The first photo (previously discussed here) was taken in the same session, just moments earlier. Just before the dog ran away.

Photos courtesy Milwaukee Public Library

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.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday in the (Ball)Park with Owgust

This undated photo shows Borchert Field in the middle of an afternoon game.

The rooftops across 7th Street remind us that Borchert was a truly neighborhood ballpark.

The photo has been heavily retouched, rendering sections of it almost Georges Seurat-like.

The retouching makes it hard to date the photograph, even obscuring the identity of the visiting team. But it also elevates what started out as a pretty standard game photo into something etherial, a work of art.