Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Former Borchert Field Usher Passes Away

Following right on the heels of George Crowe's passing, we learn that another witness to Milwaukee's baseball history has left us.

Marv Pfennig had his own sign in 1999 as wardrobe chief
for Milwaukee Brewers ushers at County Stadium.
Pfennig worked 3,665 games for Braves, Brewers

By Amy Rabideau Silvers of the Journal Sentinel

When it comes to baseball records, Marv Pfennig may have just about everybody beat.

Pfennig began as an usher in 1951 for the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers at Borchert Field. He was an usher for the Milwaukee Braves when County Stadium opened in 1953. Later came the major-league Brewers and later still Miller Park.

Altogether, Pfennig worked 3,665 major-league ballgames, the first 19 years as an usher and then more than 30 years as wardrobe manager for the stadium's team of ushers. He finally retired in 2004.

He also kept his own record of each game, including starting pitchers and who won.

"I just like being a part of it," he said in one interview, back when the goal was to make his 3,000th game and see Miller Park full of fans.

Marvin E. Pfennig died of pneumonia Saturday. He was 90.

He grew up on the west side, often walking to see baseball as a young man.

"I'd take a shortcut through the (VA) cemetery," Pfennig said. "That's all fenced in now. A lot of things have changed in 50 years."

An employee at Cutler-Hammer, he found himself in the U.S. Air Forces in 1942, serving as an aircraft mechanic in England during World War II. Decades later, he talked about the scene as D-Day began.

"My most vivid memory was looking to the sky and seeing all the aircraft fighter planes and bombers, both U.S. and British - just wave after wave of aircraft, a sight I will never forget," he said.

In a roundabout way, the war brought him together with his wife.

Charlotte Besecke picked his name off a Cutler-Hammer bulletin board and began writing. They married in 1946, and her name changed to Charlotte Pfennig.

He returned to work at the company - making sure to take off for any day games - until official retirement in 1982. He expected to be at the ballpark unless there was a very good reason not to be. For the record, he did attend his daughters' weddings.

"At that time I said, 'Don't you look at baseball schedules when you arrange these things?" he had said, joking.

It's worth explaining that while Pfennig may have been at the stadium, he didn't usually see the games. His office as wardrobe manager for ushers "and usherettes," as he liked to say, was deep in a basement level.

There, he listened to the games on a radio, unless the Brewers "got a situation going," Pfennig-speak for something too good to miss.

Robin Yount's 3,000th hit was one such situation.

"I was out there every time he came to bat," Pfennig had said.

There were plenty of other beautiful baseball moments. He talked about some of his favorites in interviews with Journal Sentinel columnists William Janz and Jim Stingl and other writers including Brewers sportswriter Tom Haudricourt.

"I want to tell you about the greatest ball game I ever saw," he once said. "It was May 26, 1959  . . .  when Harvey Haddix pitching for Pittsburgh had a no-hitter for 12 innings. Joe Adcock won the ball game for us with a home run in the 13th inning. That was the first hit off Haddix."

Then another moment came to mind.

"My biggest thrill was when (Hank) Aaron hit the home run that clinched our first pennant in 1957," he said. "I remember myself dancing out there."

Ushers sometimes had other duties, too, including keeping order on the field after that victory. In the early Brewers days at Borchert Field, ushers even helped with injured players.

"Only 12 ushers then," Pfennig had said. "If there was a player injured on the field, a stretcher case, we'd have to carry 'em off."

One of his most special memories came after someone invited him to Warren Spahn's house the night of the ballplayer's first no-hitter in 1960.

"I still had my usher's pants on," he said. At Spahn's house, Pfennig found a little party with only 12 people. When the last people were going, Pfennig got up to leave, too.

"Stick around, stick around," Spahn said. "Have another beer."

He stayed and they talked baseball.

Pfennig also had one quiet tradition of his own. At every game, he would take a practice ball - nothing fancy or signed - and hand it to some child at the stadium, daughter Diane Konicki said.

Pfennig's longevity was recognized in sometimes fun ways.

"He got a bobble head in his image that was made special just for him," she said.

"When he worked his 3,000th game, they had a uniform made for him special," she said. "It had his name on it and the number was 3,000. And he got to throw out the first pitch."

After retiring from official stadium duties, he still liked to go to games whenever he could.

"He had friends who worked as ushers and they would pick him up in his wheelchair and take him to games," his daughter said.

There was one other special trip worth mentioning. The mechanic whose heart soared to see the waves of D-Day fighters overhead got to take an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., with other World War II veterans.

Other survivors include his wife; daughter Sharon Pfennig; grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Roberta, died earlier.

The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Pfennig.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R.I.P. George Crowe

Every year, we lose more of the men who built Milwaukee's baseball legacy.

This past January, former Brewer first baseman George Crowe passed away at the age of 89. He was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949 as an amateur out of his native Indiana, where he had been a high school basketball star. Crowe worked his way to the top of the Braves' farm system in just two years, arriving in Milwaukee for the 1951 season.

He was one of three black players to play for the Brewers in 1951, during those early (and all-too-slow) early days of baseball integration.

Scan from 1951 Brewer yearbook. Courtesy Paul Tenpenny.

He is seen here belting a hit in the Little World Series, from the October 4th, 1951 Milwaukee Journal:

A healthy swing by George Crowe of the Brewers produces a two base hit in the seventh inning of the little world series game with the Montreal Royals at Borchert Field Wednesday night. The hit was a bounder which twisted away from second baseman Wally Fiala into right field. The Brewers scored four times in the inning to clinch their third victory in five games 6-0. The catcher is Toby Atell and the umpire Jim Gallin.
Crowe finished his first career in Milwaukee flannels with a .339 batting average and 24 home runs, earning him the league's Rookie of the Year honors:

Crowe was also selected to the American Association All-Star team in 1951. In addition to the plaudits, he received more tangible rewards. The Association gave their All-Stars electric clocks that season, Crowe among them.

His teammate Al Unser, the Brews' catcher, was chosen as the Association's MVP, and for their work these two Brewers were given trophies in the form of silver baseballs. Regulation size, naturally.

Crowe and Unser receive their awards
(collection of Paul Tenpenny)

Crowe started off 1952 well, hitting .351 for the Brewers before being sent to Boston. His play was good enough to keep him in the Bigs, and when he moved back to Milwaukee it was with the rest of the Braves.

Crowe did have one more stint in the minors, spending most of the 1954 season at Milwaukee's new AAA club in Toledo (ironically enough, the displaced Brewers, which had become the Toledo Sox in the spring of 1953) before returning to the big leagues for good in 1955.

The Braves traded Crowe to Cincinnati in 1956, and as a Red he made the All-Star team in 1958. This honor was bestowed on him by baseball's players, managers and coaches, fans having lost the vote the year before in a ballot box-stuffing scandal (ironically enough involving the Reds). The Reds traded him to the Cardinals in 1959, and Crowe finished out his career with three years in St. Louis.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Crowe. And thanks for everything.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Snow Day

Ah, April in Milwaukee.

"Play ball!"—oh yeah? Fredric Mendelson, secretary of the Brewers, sadly looked over snow covered Borchert field early Wednesday morning, then went into a huddle with other officials and called off Wednesday afternoon's opener with Minneapolis. The opening will now be held Thursday. Both the pitchers' box and home plate were protected by tarpaulin, but the rest of the park Wednesday morning lay under a light blanket of snow.
That was how the Milwaukee Journal reported the situation on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 16, 1947.

It's a nice photo of the neighborhood park, with the neat line of houses just across the right field fence. You can also clearly see the folding chairs which made up much of the Orchard's seating.

Fredric (Shorty) Mendelson was a Borchert Field fixture from the time he was 12. His father operated the Orchard's concessions, and Shorty spent his teenage summers selling hot dogs and peanuts to the Brewer faithful. He went on to Marquette, where he was a track and football star in the late 1920s. Mendelson returned to working the Borchert Field concessions full time in 1936. He parlayed his salesman skills into a part-time job in the ticket office before Bill Veeck took over the club in 1941. It didn't take long for one master salesman to recognize another, and within weeks Sport Shirt Bill made Shorty director of ticket sales.

Mendelson stayed with the club after Veeck sold his interest, and was elevated to team secretary by the new owners. In December of 1946, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that Mendelson, by then the last of Bill Veeck's original Brewer office staff remaining with the club, "could join Veeck (with the Cleveland Indians) any hour he mentioned the word, but insists he 'likes Milwaukee' and intends to stay."

When the Braves bought the Brewer club for their own farm system, Shorty stayed on. He and secretary Betty Voss were frequently the only people to be found in the Borchert Field office as the out-of-town owners directed personnel moves from Boston.

In the late 40s, Mendelson spurned several other offers to leave the Brewers, including one with the NBA's Milwaukee Hawks and MECCA arena.

In 1952, Mendelson was finally convinced to leave the Brewers to manage the new Milwaukee County Stadium, then under construction. The Sentinel reported his approach to the job:
Shorty smiled the same old winning smile he had as a 12 year old hustler and said, "Yes, sir, if hard work will make the stadium a great big success, then we'll succeed."
County Stadium was indeed a success, drawing a major league club to Milwaukee before it even opened. Shorty had hit the Big Leagues, and although he didn't know it at the time, this meant he would have the opportunity to remain in his hometown long after the relocating Boston Braves sent the Brews out of town.

Having opening County Stadium, Mendelson resigned in 1954, finally leaving baseball behind to take over the daily operations of a beer distributorship in Janesville that he purchased with former Milwaukee manager (and fellow Veeck compatriot) Charlie Grimm.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Forrest for the Trees

The Google News Archive strikes again, with this lovely shot from May of 1935:

Forest Pressnell's Hand Back in Shape

The Brewer pitching staff returned to full strength Wednesday when Forest (sic) Pressnell returned to duty. His injured hand is all right again but he needs work to get into good pitching form. He was beaten Wednesday by Kansas City. The picture shows him throwing his knuckle ball.
The hurler is Forrest "Tot" Pressnell, a knuckleballer who pitched for the Brewers from 1933 through 1937. The uniform Pressnell's wearing is the "fancy M" variation, introduced in April of 1935, just in time for Opening Day:

Pressnell came to the Brewers after the 1932 season from the Longview (Texas) Cannibals, a St. Louis Browns farm club. The Toledo News-Bee called him "one of the leading exponents of the knuckle ball among the younger generation of minor league pitchers." As with most knuckleballers of the times, he was accustomed to filling the dual roles of reliever and occassional starter.

Pressnell was eager for a shot with the Brewers, and was the first player to return his signed contract. He was able to because, unlike most players, he didn't try to negotiate a higher salary. The Milwaukee Journal noted that he included a note with his contract:
"I realize that clubowners are up against it in these times. But I am young and intend to stay in baseball for a long time. When conditions improve I know I will get more money."
True or not, the reports would go a long way to establishing Tot as a fan favorite.

The 1933 season was a very forgettable one for Brewers fans, as the club limped to a 67-87 record, good for second-worst in the American Association. Pressnell himself struggled against the stronger opposition—ending 1933 with a 10-13 record and an ERA of 5.01—as the team tried to "improve" on the delivery of his knuckle ball. In August, manager Frank O'Rourke had enough, and instructed his young hurler to ignore all the advice. Pressnell tore through the final month of the season (scoring most of his ten victories in the last four weeks). This promise was enough to make him one of the few Brewers brought back in 1934, as most of the Brewer squad was sent packing, including O'Rourke.

New Brewer skipper Al Sothoron was determined to learn from his predecesor's experience.
"Since I came (to Milwaukee) I have listened to a lot of ballyhoo about Pressnell. Friends tell me the boy might have won more than 10 games last year if fewer people had interfered with his style earlier in the season.

"A young pitcher can be ruined by having too many players telling him what to do. Pressnell's record for a first-year man in the A.A. is impressive."
Sothoron did make one immediate change; he swapped Tot's ill-fitting "dime store glove" with a larger one better fitting his large left hand, in hopes it would preventing him from telegraphing his pitches. The new glove seemed to knock Tot off his stride, and Sothoron was forced to let him return to the familiar, if undersized, glove. Sothoron had more success adding an off-speed pitch to Pressnell's repertoire, and by the end of Spring Training Tot was quoted as saying he had "learned more about piching under Sothoron than (he) had since joining organized baseball several years ago."

In addition, the Brewers brought veteran catcher George Susce from Detroit to handle the knuckleball, which Milwaukee fans had nicknamed the "dipsy-doo." With "Sweet Sue" as his backstop, Tot began to reward the Brewers for their faith. In addition to his starting appearances, Tot continued to pitch relief as well. He finished the season 15-11, and by the end of the season Sothoron's Brewers climbed to the middle of the American Association pack.

The 1935 season was a tough one for Pressnell. He missed most of May with a broken finger after being struck in the hand by a line drive off the bat of Toledo first baseman Bob Garbark, the injury mentioned in the first caption above. Susce was gone, released to the Mud Hens for starting fights with both teammates and fans.

Pressnell was made a full-time starter in 1936, and his 19-9 record that season was an integral part of the Brewers' pennant-winning campaign. Tot also pitched well in the playoffs, starting the final game of the 1936 Little World Series, which the Brewers won 8-3 to clinch the Little Series for Milwaukee.

Tuesday night will be Pressnell night at Borchert field, in honor of the Brewer mound ace, Forest (Tot) Pressnell. The picture gives some idea of his popularity. He stopped to autograph a program for a youngster and the third base stand above the clubhouse door broke out with a rash of youngsters with programs.
Tot's popularity in Milwaukee, which had started with his very first contract, continued to grow. He was the rare minor-league superstar who wasn't publicly angling for either more money or a big-league contract. Tot was biding his time, perfecting his craft in the American Association, while waiting for an opportunity to prove himself against the best in the Bigs.

Pressnell went 18-12 in 1937, when it was becoming increasingly clear to the Brewers and their fans that Tot would soon get that opportunity. "All Tot needs is a chance," Sotheron told the Sporting News. "He deserved promotion last year, but the scouts lacked the courage to recommend his purchase."

Brewer fans, for their part, were happy to keep him at Borchert Field. The club held a "Forrest Pressnell Night" on Tuesday, August 10, 1937. Before the game, which the Brewers won 6-2 on the strength of Presnell's 15th victory of the season, Tot was given a golf bag by his teammates. The fans presented him with a new car, an extremely generous gesture even if they reportedly traded in his old one to pay for it.

In 1938, Pressnell was finally rewarded for his years of hard work. The Brooklyn Dodgers brought Tot and fellow pitchers Whitlow Wyatt and Luke Hamlin from Borchert to Ebbets Field, where Pressnell quickly established himself as the Dodgers' number-one starter.

Tot's arrival in Brooklyn was overshadowed by another new face in the Bums' dugout; coaching on the first-base line that year was a baseball legend named George Herman Ruth. Two years removed from his days in the field, and already a charter member of baseball's Hall of Fame, the Sultan of Swat was trying to kick-start a managerial career.

Alas for the Babe, it was not to be. As the season went on, it became clear that the Dodgers always viewed him more as a quick box-office boost than a potential manager. They were happy to charge the crowds to watch their base coach take batting practice (and even play in exhibition games), but when a managerial vacancy came up at the end of the season, the Dodgers hired Leo Durocher. A diappointed and disillusioned Bambino left baseball for good, giving away his baseball equipment to the younger players he had hoped to lead. Pressnell ended up with Babe Ruth's glove, a keepsake Tot treasured for the rest of his life.

In 1940, the Dodgers acquired Milwaukee's Tex Carleton and Newt Kimball. With five former Brewers on his pitching staff, Brooklyn president Larry MacPhail boasted that the Dodgers had "the pitchers who made Milwaukee famous."

Having finally made it to the Majors, Tot went for the money he had known wasn't to come from the Brewers. He returned his contracts to the Dodgers unsigned, twice in 1939 and another four times in 1940, holding out each season.

Perhaps the holdouts soured Dodger management on Pressnell. Perhaps Tot's absence from Spring Training allowed other pitchers to make their case for his spot in the rotation. Whatever the case, in 1940 Pressnell found his playing time limited in favor of another knuckleballer, Freddie Fitzsimmons. In August, Tot was optioned back to the American Association, this time to the Dodgers' farm team in Louisville. He was there long enough to garner a 6-4 record before returning to the Dodgers in late September.

The 1940 off-season was a tough one, as the Dodgers sold him to the St. Louis Cardinals, who took less than a month to decide that they didn't have a spot for him. The Cards sold him to the Cincinnati Reds, who on February 4, 1941 sold his contract to the Chicago Cubs. Pressnell played for two seasons on Chicago's north side to close out his Major League career, coming in as a reliever in 56 games.

In 1943, new Brewers president and owner Bill Veeck bought his contract from the club and offered Pressnell a chance to return to the Orchard. Tot had hoped to stay in the Majors, but told Veeck that if was to play in the minors at all, it would be Milwaukee.

Unfortunately, there was to be no hero's return for Forrest Pressnell. Before agreeing to terms with Veeck he decided that, at 35, he'd had enough of minor league baseball. He elected to remain at his off-season job as a salesman with an oil company and retired from the game.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Milwaukee's Sandlot Superstar - Chet Laabs

"Many a South Side youngster dreamed of making it to the big leagues while playing on the sandlots of Milwaukee. For Chester Peter Laabs, his dream came true ..."

Milwaukee's Sandlot Superstar
"Chet Laabs"

by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2011 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

"The hard-hit ball bounced twice on the second floor porch of a house on the south side of W. Burleigh St. before it was retrieved by a spectator viewing the George Meyer Co. Big Shore Store Triple A League game at the Auer Avenue diamond. The year was 1934 and the batter who smashed the Herculean clout was Chet Laabs, the stocky Meyer second baseman with the powerful wrists, one of the best sandlotters developed on the South Side."
Young Chet Laabs was introduced to readers of the South Side Times by writer George Reimann and in his book Sandlot Baseball on Milwaukee's South Side back in 1968.

Chester Peter Laabs was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 30, 1912. As with many of the youngsters, playing ball was a regular activity for Chet and he excelled at the game at an early age. He grew up in the south side neighborhood near South 4th and Mitchell Street. He began his amateur career at the age of 13. His hitting brought notice in 1930 when young Chet hit .518 for the Federation Life Insurance team. Chet started out as an outfielder but moved to the infield, playing 3rd, short and 2nd. He was a sometime pitcher for Wally Erdman's West End Merchants Major A team which won the League Championship in 1932. He set a record that year by striking out 17 batters in one game for the Merchants.

1932 West End Merchants – Chet Laabs (Top row 3rd from left)

Prior to his time with West End, Laabs played with the Braman Coals and the Federation Life Insurance baseball teams. Chet Laabs was considered extremely fast, one game, reaching base on bunts 5 times. His best years according to Reimann were 1932-1934 with a total of 45 extra base hits and a 6 for 6 day in 1932. That same year his batting average was a huge .468.

In 1933 Laabs helped to lead his Upper Vliet St. Merchants to the Major AA title with a .396 batting average.

In 1934, Chet Laabs led the league with a .441 batting average. Chet was picked to play 2nd base on the amateur All-Star team by the readers of Wisconsin News for a charity game against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was here that manager Al Sothoron took notice and signed the young Laabs. Baseball scouts took keen interest in Laabs. The Chicago Cubs wanted to sign him to a contract but he was already under contract with the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

The Milwaukee Brewers would send Chet to Fort Wayne in 1935 for his first taste of professional baseball. The Fort Wayne Chiefs were part of the "Three Eye" League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa), a class B minor league team. The 23-year-old Laabs was phenomenal while playing in 87 games that summer. In his 362 at bats he stroked 139 hits for a .384 batting average. Twenty-two of the hits were doubles, 10 were triples and 24 were home runs for a .699 slugging percentage.

He finished the 1935 season with the Milwaukee Brewers. In the 8 games he played in he hit 11 for 32, a .344 batting average with 2 doubles and a triple. With just one year in professional baseball, he was being called one of the best looking hitters in years.

While many major league teams were interested in Chet Laabs, the Milwaukee Brewers had a close relationship with the Detroit Tigers and owner Henry Bendinger had promised them the first chance at him. The Detroit Tigers, managed by Mickey Cochrane, wasted no time in purchasing Laabs. The 5 foot 8 inch, 175 pound powerhouse would be joining Detroit in the spring of 1936.

1936 Spring Training with fellow sandlot alum, "The Duke of Mitchell Street" Al Simmons
(Author's Collection)

Chet Laabs lived up to the expectations as a great right handed hitter in spring training but Detroit wanted him to fill a void in their outfield, a position that he needed more experience with. So as part of a deal with the Brewers, they sent him back to Milwaukee for the 1936 campaign to get experience in the field.

The "farming out" of Laabs to Milwaukee would prove to be a lucky break as the Milwaukee Brewers and Chet Laabs were about to have a heck of a season!

Chet Laabs hits another one at Borchert Field
(Author's Collection)


The Milwaukee Brewers had a season to remember in 1936, winning their first American Association crown in 22 years. It will forever be considered one of Milwaukee's greatest teams. They were considered, at the time, the best minor league club in the country.

Milwaukee not only won the pennant that year with a 90-64 record, they went on to defeat Kansas City in 4 straight games and dispatched the Indianapolis Indians 4 games to 1 to win the Shaughnessy playoffs.

They made easy work of the International League's Buffalo Bisons, winning 4 out of 5 games to win the Little World Series. For the season their record was 102 wins with just 66 losses.

Chet Laabs' Game-Used Bat
(Author's Collection)

The victory was a team effort and Chet Laabs contributed superbly to the Brew's season. With clutch hitting Laabs saved the day on many occasions.

In the 157 games Chet played he stroked 203 hits in 675 at bats. Twenty-seven of the hits went for doubles, 16 were three-baggers, and a team-leading 42 were home runs. His batting average was a healthy .324 with a .619 slugging percentage and 150 RBIs for the 1936 season. In the outfield he finished with a .947 fielding average.

"Little Chester" had a great season in 1936
(Author's Collection)

A great 1936 campaign behind him, "Little Chester," one of the best natural hitters in the game of baseball, would rejoin the Detroit Tigers for the 1937 season.

Detroit Tigers Signed Postcard
(Author's Collection)


While he did well his first two years in the minor leagues, playing at baseball's highest level would be a challenge. As previously mentioned, Mickey Cochrane had felt Laabs would have his best chance at making it in the bigs if he learned how to play the outfield. After watching him during the spring of 1936, he didn't think the small but powerful Milwaukeean was suited for playing in the infield. Sent down to the Brewers to gain experience, he had done well in his assignment with Milwaukee and was now considered ready to move on.

While his hitting was never a question mark, it is interesting to note that Minneapolis skipper Donie Bush, whose Millers team played against Milwaukee in 1936, felt that he could be pitched to.

Chet Laabs would get his chance to prove himself a major league hitter and outfielder with the Tigers in 1937. In the 72 games played with them in 1937, the right-handed Laabs got 58 hits in 242 at bats, with 13 doubles, 5 triples and 8 home runs for the 2nd place Detroit Tigers. With only 37 RBIs, his output was nothing near his minor league totals. Nineteen thirty-eight wasn't much better with 211 at bats in 64 games played. Fifty hits were all he could muster with 7 doubles, 3 triples and 7 home runs. His batting average dropped to a dismal .237.

Echoing the words of Donnie Bush, pitchers had found something on Chet that, at times, neutralized his power.

On October 2, 1938 Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller set a strikeout record* against the Detroit Tigers, setting down 18 players via the K. A main victim that day was Chet Laabs who struck out 5 times, including the final out on a fastball called strike. (*The record has since been surpassed by Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan.)

According to Feller:
"Laabs was stocky and muscular strong. He had a lot of power for a little guy. If he ever got a low one he'd hit it. But he could not hit a high fastball, he had a blind spot two feet tall."
In 1939 the Detroit Tigers needed an "Ace" pitcher and traded Chet Laabs to the Browns along with Mark Christman (Milwaukee Brewers 1950-51) and four other players for Buck (Bobo) Newsom, who had won 20 games in 1938 for 7th place St Louis. Chet played only 5 games for the Tigers in 1939.


Saint Louis was a good fit for Chet and the Browns in 1939. In the 95 games he hit for a .300 average with his new team. He collected 95 hits in his 317 at bats, 20 doubles, 5 triples and 10 four baggers. His RBI total for the year was 62.

In 1940, Laabs played in 105 games for St Louis hitting, .271.

For 1941 he played in 118 games and improved his batting average to .278.

Chet had his best year with the St. Louis Browns in 1942. While playing in 144 games, Chet posted his career-best stats: 99 RBI's, 143 hits, 21 doubles, 7 triples, and 27 home runs, second only to Ted Williams (36).

All-Star Chet Laabs played another full season in 1943, hitting 17 home runs, but saw his batting average fall to .250 with 85 runs batted in. He also led the league in one statistic that wasn't so desirable, strikeouts with 105.

With the war going on, Chet's availability would be limited in 1944 due to his working full time in a war plant in St. Louis. Even so, playing only on evenings and weekends, Chet helped the Browns in spite of his .234 batting average. His two home runs against the Yankees in the final game of the season lifted his team to a 5-2 victory for a one-game pennant win over Detroit. The Brownies would go on to lose the World Series to their hometown National League rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 2.

1944 World Series – Laabs with the American League Champions The St. Louis Browns
(Author's Collection)

Chet Laabs would play two more years with the St. Louis Browns. He would scatter 26 hits in 35 games played in 1945. In 1946 he hit for a .261 average in his 80 games played.


Chet Laabs would finish his major league career with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947, playing in only 15 games. He would briefly return to minor league ball but be out of baseball as a player after the 1950 season.

His major league play encompassed 11 seasons:
950 Games
3102 At bats = 813 Hits
151 Doubles
44 Triples
117 Home Runs
509 RBI's
Batting Average .262
His 8 year Minor League career:
771 Games
2819 At bats = 877 Hits
146 Doubles
46 Triples
183 Home Runs
319 RBI's
Batting Average .311

Chet Laabs Model Baseball Glove
(Author's Collection)

Milwaukee's Chet Laabs, like Al Simmons before him and Ken Keltner shortly thereafter, proved that the dreams of young sandlot baseball players making it to the big leagues can come true.

Those dreams of young baseball players continue today...

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Prizes for Brewers' Opening"

Readers of The Milwaukee Journal on Thursday, April 8, 1937 were greeted by this smiling face:
Prizes for Brewers' Opening

Journal photo

Among the prizes to be given Milwaukee baseball fans on opening day at Borchert Field are balls autographed by the whole Brewer team. Vivian Bernhardt, 3134 S. Indiana Ave. is shown looking over the autographs in the office of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsor of the opening day celebration.
Man, who wouldn't love one of those baseballs today? And I love the poster taped to the wall over her shoulder - See you there!