Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Sign of the Times - Opening Day, 1936

On Wednesday, April 29, 1936, the Milwaukee Journal gave us a sign of spring's burgeoning baseball fever in the Cream City. The Brewers, having started the season on the road, were about to open Borchert Field for another season.

Mayor Daniel Webster Hoan, scheduled to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, issued a proclamation:
WHEREAS, the Milwaukee baseball club will play its opening game here Friday, May 1, and

WHEREAS, our baseball team advertises Milwaukee throughout the sport world and depends for its success upon the loyalty, support and encouragement of our citizens, and

WHEREAS, a large turnout of baseball fans for the opening game will be a real demonstration of our interest and give the players a greater incentive,

THEREFORE, as mayor of Milwaukee, I am pleased to welcome the Milwaukee baseball club back to the city, and I call upon our citizens to co-operate in making the opening game of the season a real civic sport holiday.
Whether the mayor was driving popular support or just riding it, Milwaukeeans took the advice to heart.

A Sign of the Times—and the Sign Tells Its Own Story

The Brewers, despite injuries and a batting slump, arrived home Wednesday in fourth place and Milwaukee began to prepare for the opening game Friday. Signs like the one shown above at Herman Militzer's grocery, 4303 W. Vliet St., blossomed out. Some factories also will let as many employees as possible attend the opener.
I love it:


Grocery clerks and factory workers weren't the only ones looking forward to Opening Day at the Orchard. Milwaukee school superintendent Milton C. Potter agreed to let high school students out early so they could make their way to Borchert Field.

Just another sign of the love Milwaukee fans had for their Brews.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Opening Day at Athletic Park, 1912

by Dennis Pajot

The 1912 Brewers, with new manager Hugh Duffy, opened their season with an extended road trip. They won 5 of the 12 games played before returning home for their home opener at Athletic Park one hundred years ago today, on Friday, April 26.

The weather forecast for the 3:00 opener was "unsettled, probably with showers." There turned out to be no rain, but the wind "swept across the yard with all the enthusiasm of a Kansas cyclone." This kept the crowd down to a still-respectable 6,000 fans to watch the Brewers and third place (7 and 6 record) Toledo Mud Hens.

In respect to owner Charles Havenor's memory—he had died only three weeks previous—the expected Opening Day frills and formalities were kept to a minimum. A hit with the fans was a man with a megaphone announcing the batteries in the grandstand before the game, Mayor Gerhard Bading threw out the first pitch—the first mayor to do this in a number of years—and Duffy was presented with flowers at home plate before the game.

Note the black armband on Duffy's sleeve.

Hugh Duffy had wanted to start his new pitcher, Cy Slapnicka, recently acquired from Rockford of the Wisconsin-Illinois League, but "the Athenian prince" did not arrive in time for the game. Duffy went with veteran John "Rube" Nicholson, "the husky son of Scandinavia."

Nicholson, a big right-hander from Eleva, Wisconsin, had been 11 and 19 with the Brewers in 1911. He had hurt his leg late in the season but was saying it was now "sound as a brick." There was another issue with the big right-hander—he loved the night life. However, he told the Brewer management he gave up that way of life. The Milwaukee Journal wrote of this declaration:
"If John sticks to his knitting this season, it looks as if the Brewers would have a twirler who would make the association batters break their backs to touch his benders. Duffy is a past master at handling unruly ball tossers and if anyone can get Nick to deliver the goods, Hughey is the boy."
Nicholson would stay out of trouble enough in 1912 to win twenty games (with 12 losses) for the Brewers.

On this opening day Big John lasted only one third of an inning, giving up four runs on three hits and two Brewer errors. Right-hander Don Marion—who had toiled to a 4 and 8 record for the Brewers in 1911—took over, but allowed one more run to score in the inning. Marion settled down in the second, and the Brewers scored one in the bottom of the second on a double by Phil Lewis, who moved to third on an out and scored on an error by the Mud Hen third baseman.

Marion continued to pitch well until the Toledo boys scored two runs in the fifth on a wind-blown triple by Ray Chapman over Nemo Leibold's head in center field. All and all, Marion pitched well, the Milwaukee Sentinel reporting he "had a world of speed and his curves broke with a beautiful snap." After one more run scored, Duffy called for Stoney McGlynn in the sixth to finish the game. The soon to be 40-year old veteran allowed a solo run in the eighth, then four runs in the ninth. This last outburst included another wind-blown triple, this time by Mud Hens pitcher Hy West—the ball started off in left center field, and finally landed over Leibold's head in straight away center field—and a home run over Athletic Park's left field wall by Ray Chapman.

When it was finally over the Mud Hens had won 13 to 1, the Brewers having been "clawed, booted, hamstrung, tied in knots and then some," according the Sentinel's Manning Vaughan. In its lead off story of the game the next day the Milwaukee Journal gave the definitions of Rotten, Inability and Bone-headed to its readers. Brewer pitchers gave up eleven hits, walked one batter and hit two more by pitches. The Brewer fielders committed six errors.

The star of the game was the 21-year old Ray Chapman. The young Toledo shortstop went 3 for 5 at the plate--a single, triple and home run--scoring two runs, and driving in six. Milwaukee newspapers reported his play at short was a revelation, accounting for two assists and three put-outs.

Chapman had played 1911 with Davenport of the Three-I League, hitting .293. Late in the season he was purchased by the American League Cleveland Naps and assigned to Toledo. Hitting .310 with the Mud Hens during the 1912 season he would go up to Cleveland later in the season, playing in 31 games, hitting .312. Ray Chapman would play in Cleveland until August of 1920, hitting .278 and playing a very good game at shortstop when he was involved in one of the game's most tragic events. He was hit in the head by a pitched ball from the New York Giants' Carl Mays on August 16, 1920 and died at the hospital the next morning, the last player killed during a major league game.

In the second game of the home stand played the next afternoon before a crowd of 3,000, Ralph Cutting's "codfish ball" failed to stop the Mud Hens, as the Brewers dropped the game 6 to 4. The only real amusement of the game was an argument by the Toledo pitcher Irv Higginbotham and manager Topsy Hartsel over a balk call by umpire Charlie Ferguson in the fourth inning. "The conversation waxed hot, and judging from a few words which drifted to the scribes' coop, the ancestry of those concerned was discussed more or less freely." Hartsel and Higginbotham were asked to leave the park. The Brewers were winning 4 to 2 at the time, and as the hometown boys had been whaling on Higginbotham's pitching "in rare style" the pitcher’s ejection was the turning point of the game.

These two games were all that were played in the scheduled four game Brewer/Mud Hen series. The third game of the series was rained out and a cold strong north wind caused the Brewers and Mud Hens to agree to call off the final contest.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Buck Marrow Saves Himself", 1939

Today's dynamic Borchert Field game photo comes from the Milwaukee Journal, published Wednesday, May 10, 1939.

Buck Marrow Saves Himself a Wild Pitch

—Journal Staff Photo
After Buck Marrow made a bad pitch, which got away from Catcher Joe Just in the eighth inning of Tuesday's game at Borchert field, the Brewer pitcher dashed to the plate in time to take the toss from Just and tag Hitchcock of Kansas City as he tried to score. The umpire is Genshlea.
I love the late-1930s Brewer uniforms, with the thick blue piping and red block "M" on the chest. The baseball centennial patch on Buck's left sleeve was particular to the 1939 season. The æsthetics of baseball were changing; jerseys still had relatively long sleeves, reaching to a player's elbows, but that was changing during this period. Within a few years, they would be shortened to the mid-bicep length which survives today.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Can't Tell the New Players...", 1942

On April 16, 1942, seventy years ago today, Borchert Field patrons walked past this young lady as she stood selling programs on a glorious Opening Day.

'Can't Tell the New Players Without a Program'

-Journal Staff
"Program! Program! The Brewers are all new and you can't tell them without a program!" "Peanuts! Peanuts!" "Red hots! Get your red hots!" "Buy the lady a seat cushion!" "Ice cold root beer" "The batt'ries for t'day's game—" And the baseball gets under way at Borchert field Thursday afternoon.
In our review of this score card, I imagined vendors walking up and down the aisles of the Orchard in the summer of 1942, collecting nickels and passing out these cards to eager Milwaukee fans:

Well, know we know exactly what that looked like.

Bit by bit, this glorious chapter in Milwaukee baseball history comes alive to us.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Here's the New Boss", 1912

This cartoon ran in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday, April 7, 1912.

This photo collage by the Journal's own reporter/photographer "Brownie" depicts new manager Hugh Duffy as he was beginning his new job as Brewers skipper.

"Sir Hugh" Duffy might have been new at Athletic Park, but he was well-known to baseball fans in the Cream City.

Duffy was the player/manager of the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers, playing in what we now recognize as the inaugural season of the American League. When those Brewers moved to St. Louis following the season, he stayed behind to manage the Milwaukee Creams, one of the two minor league clubs which sprang up to take their place. The Creams folded (or more precisely, the Western League folded around them) partway through the 1903 season, and Duffy found himself back in the bigs for 1904, this time with the Philadelphia Philles.

He stayed in Philly for three seasons, then spent the next three with the Providence Grays (all but the last as player/manager) before moving to the White Sox in 1910. He managed on Chicago's South Side for two seasons before returning to Milwaukee at the beginning of 1912.

Duffy had reportedly kept a good relationship with Brewers owner Charles Havenor, despite being on opposite sides of the city's baseball war in 1902-1903, and when Brewer skipper Jimmy Barrett quit after a single season, Havenor lured him away from the White Sox and back to Milwaukee. The Journal proclaimed Duffy brought with him "the confidence of the Milwaukee fans" after Barrett's lone campaign.

Unfortunately, Duffy's second stint in Milwaukee was as brief at the first. 1912 was a deeply disappointing season on the diamond and a turbulent one off it; Havenor died right before Opening Day, and in the midst of the inevitable chaos his widow tried to gut Duffy's salary. Sir Hugh's response was to resign the job rather than wait to be fired, and the Brews found themselves looking for their fourth manager in as many seasons.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sophomore Campaign (A Mickey Tussler Novel)

Frank Nappi has followed up his coming-of-age novel The Legend of Mickey Tussler with a sequel, Sophomore Campaign. We return to Borchert Field for the second year in the young autistic pitcher's career:

It is 1949. Seventeen year old pitching phenom Mickey Tussler returns for a second season with the rejuvenated minor league Brewers. Despite Mickey’s proclamation that he will never play baseball again after last season’s violent conclusion, manager and now surrogate father Arthur Murphy, whose relationship with Mickey's mother has blossomed significantly, cajoles the emotionally fragile, socially awkward autistic boy into giving it another shot. Murph’s job is, once again, on the line. The owner’s edict is clear; win or you are gone.

The Brew Crew gets off to a fast start, with the Baby Bazooka once again electrifying the hometown fans with his incomparable pitching prowess. The Brewers seem primed to erase last year’s devastating loss to their Rival Rangers when Boxcar, the team’s starting catcher and one of the cornerstones of the club, falls ill and is replaced by Lester Sledge, a young African American ballplayer Murph pries away from a local Negro League team. Mickey has trouble dealing with loss for the first time, while Murph’s selection ignites a firestorm of controversy, beginning with the club owner who fears the public criticism. Despite Lester’s brilliance on the field, the entire team is subjected to racial threats and various episodes of violence, one (involving one of his teammates) which Mickey happens to witness. Struggling to understand the ugliness and hatred to which he has been exposed, and fearful of reprisal should he tell anyone about what he has seen, the boy’s performance on the field suffers. Mickey struggles with the weight of this dark secret, and Murph’s Brewers go into a mid-season slump; it appears as though they will finish behind the Rangers yet again, rendering Murph out of baseball forever. The only one who can save them now is their enigmatic fireballer, who must now deal with a side of human nature he scarcely understands.

Sophomore Campaign was released April 1, and is now available on

At the same time, The Legend of Mickey Tussler has also been published in paperback, with a new cover. Gone is the pile of Mickey baseball cards, replaced with an old leather glove against a solid red background and white sans-serif text.

As a rule, I prefer cleaner, simpler designs, and this one is striking. It also looks much better at reduced size, which means it will stand out better on your iBooks shelf.

That almost makes up for losing the period baseball card details on the hardcover; Owgust and the (mostly-accurate) Boston Braves-inspired uniform the Brewers wore in 1948.

Congratulations, Mr. Nappi, and continued success. I look forward to reading Sophomore Campaign.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"It's Baseball Time Again", 1947

Ah, Opening Day in Milwaukee.

Today, at 3:10pm Central Daylight Time, the Milwaukee Brewers play host to the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park, and another season of Brewer baseball will be underway. It's a glorious time of year - time to pull on your baseball cap, buy the MLB At Bat app (the reason the iPhone was invented, in my opinion) and reflect on the sport's grand history while you wait for the game to start.

On Wenesday, April 16, 1947, Cream City fans were waiting as the Brewers prepared to welcome the Minneapolis Millers for their home opener at Borchert Field. With an extra day to clear the snow, Borchert Field's crews prepared to open the season in style.

At Borchert Field

Edward Polzin puts out the Opening Day sign—
Edward Kretlow, head groundskeeper, oils the turnstyle—
Workers set up new seats—it all adds up to—the Brewers are coming back to town and it's baseball time again.
Sentinel photos by Frank Stanfield

Anyone who has spent an April in Wisconsin, or remembers the debate over putting a roof on Miller Park, knows how mercurial the weather can be. 1947 was no exception, and the opening had to be pushed back a day to Thursday the 17th after a snowfall covered the city.

"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.
Although the grounds crew was able to clear all the snow in time for the rescheduled opening, the conditions weren't much better on Thursday. The players and fans faced freezing rain throughout the game, but that didn't stop the Milwaukee faithful from turning up to see their Brewers, with 11,337 fans crammed into the old wooden ballpark.

As those fans streamed through Edward Kretlow's well-oiled turnstyles on Opening Day, they were probably wondering what they would see that day. 1947 was a year of great change for the Brews; the team had been purchased by the Boston Braves near the end of 1946, ending what had been (save for a three-year blip in the early 1930s) nearly four and a half decades of independent baseball.

Some of those changes would have been instantly obvious to Brewer backers as they took their seats. The Brews were now the top farm club in the Braves organization, and they dressed the part, wearing brand-new uniforms with the Braves' navy/red/navy piping under the classic Veeck-era "Brewers" script wordmark.

The Orchard had also undergone a facelift in the offseason; the city-block configuration didn't give the Brews any room to move the fences out, so to get 375 feet to direct center they moved home plate back 20 feet. That extra room in the outfield didn't stop Minneapolis catcher Wes Westrum from knocking one over that "new" fence in the top of the 5th.

Here's how the Milwaukee Sentinel covered the game, with nearly a full page of photos (Part 2, Page 3), sharing space only with a Wisconsin Telephone Company ad across the bottom that I couldn't help but include:

Sentinel photos by Leland Benfer and Frank Stanfield

Let's look at that coverage in greater detail.

11,337 Fans, Rain and Snow Greet Brewers

It rained and it snowed, but 11,337 of the faithful turned out yesterday to welcome the 1947 edition of the Brewers.
There it is - the Orchard. A bit more intimate than in previous seasons, if that was possible, with the plate pulled back towards the backstop.

Things got off to a good start for the Brews:

The Milwaukee Brewers lost the opening game of the season to the Minneapolis Millers yesterday at Borchert Field, 11 to 8, but in the third inning things looked bright for the home clubbers. They scored a pair of runs in the third, one by Carden Gillenwater who came home on a single by Bestudik.
That's a good look at the sans-serif block numbers the Brewers used from 1947 through the 1950s.

The Brewer fans were anything but happy in the sixth inning when the visitors took advantage of the home club for five runs which later proved enough for victory. Wesley Westrum, Minneapolis catcher, was in on the fun and here he slides safely into second base on a steal.
The fans ate it up:

Who's afraid of rain? Not Thomas Horton, 13 (left) of 772 N. Van Buren St., and Dan Blazer, 11, of 413 E. Knapp, who were on hand for the opener.
That reminds me of the many spring days I would catch the bus to County Stadium with my friends. We had our share of cold and rainy days as well.

The rain and snow didn't bother the ball players and it didn't dampen the spirit of the fans who just whipped out a blanket and kept on cheering, although their favorites would up on the wrong end of the score. The paying customers got a look at five Brewer pitchers.
You can't keep a good fan away. Even through rain and snow (and a pitching staff coughing up 11 runs), the fans screamed and cheered for their Brewers.

One thing that hadn't changed for 1947 was the Brewers' skipper. Returning to the dugout was Nick Cullop.

Nick Cullop (right), manager of the Milwaukee club, and Tom Sheehan, head man of the Millers, go into a huddle with those favorites of the fans—the umpires.
Cullop, affectionately known as "Tomato Face" was starting his third season with the club, having taken over for 1944's one-year manager Casey Stengel. Although the Braves were keeping him for now, it was widely reported that Boston had him on a short leash, and 1947's results would determine whether Cullop would finish out his contract.

That Thursday's result didn't offer him much hope. Sentinel writer Lloyd Larson summed up his review of the Brews' performance this way:
"So the first game is written into history ... And there's no longer any need to guess about the Brewers ... As they stack up at the moment, they're shy of championship class."
Larson was partially right. They finished the season in third place with a record of 79-75, 14.5 games behind the American Association champion Kansas City Blues.

That 3rd place finish, however, was enough to get the Brewers into the league playoffs, where they showed some fight. The Brewers scrambled past the Kansas City Blues and Louisville Colonels for the right to represent the American Association in the "Little World Series" against the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. It took them all seven games, but the Brews prevailed to bring the 1947 minor league crown back to Milwaukee (in the process saving "Tomato Face"'s job for another season).

Those 11,337 disappointed fans, making their way home through the snow and slush after the Brewers' Opening Day loss, had no idea of the sunny skies ahead.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"A Sketchy Character"

by Paul Tenpenny

Once in the Marine Corps, the Milwaukee Brewers' prexy Bill Veeck disappeared from view. Until the press caught up with him, his location was just like any other soldier,

"Somewhere in the South Pacific"

This view of him is dated September 1944 with the following press release:
Marine Private First Class Bill Veeck, formerly of the Chicago Cubs and now president - owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, American Association, is sketched Somewhere in the South Pacific by Marine Artist, Private First Class William J. Draut, of 1715 Crain Avenue, Evanston, Ill.



From the collection of Paul F. Tenpenny