Monday, August 27, 2012

"Brewers Score", 1944

On the morning of April 22, 1944, Brewer fans not fortunate enough to have seen the previous day's home opener at Borchert Field were treated to this highlight in the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Sentinel photo

The first of two runs which were scored in the fourth inning to give the Brews an opening day victory over the Saints here Wednesday is shown above.
These graphic re-creations were the Sportscenter highlights of their day, allowing us to review the play closely:

Quick aside - look at all the fans sitting on the warning track in fair territory! In the past, I thought that might have been limited to special events, but here we have conclusive evidence that it occurred during some actual games.

As the play starts, shortstop Dick Culler comes up to bat with the bases loaded and second baseman Tommy Nelson on third, catcher Jim Pruett on second and right-handed pitcher Earl Caldwell on first.

Culler lines a bouncer through the infield, with the runners going. The St. Paul left fielder tosses to second, forcing out Caldwell. As the dust settles, Culler is safe at first, Pruett is standing on third and Nelson in the dugout with the Brewers on the board.

As a bonus, that's manager and part-owner Charlie Grimm standing in the third base coach's box, and coach (not to mention team fixture) Red Smith coaching at first.

1944 was a tumultuous year for the Brewers. Less than two weeks after that Opening Day win, Grimm was hired to manage the Chicago Cubs and Casey Stengel was brought in to take over for the rest of the season.

Casey guided his new team to the 1944 Association pennant and several of his players to the majors. All four of the men involved in that Opening Day play found themselves in the big leagues before the 1945 opener. In November, Pruett was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics, while Nelson and Culler were shipped as a package deal to the Boston Braves. Earl Caldwell was sold to the White Sox the following February.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Bull Moose From Oxford Junction, Iowa, Tosses A No-Hitter, 1912

by Dennis Pajot

One hundred years ago—on August 20, 1912—Milwaukee fans got to see a rare feat, a no-hitter. Even rarer, in theory impossible today, was that it was thrown by a spitball pitcher.

In January 1912 new Brewer manager Hugh Duffy secured the top-notch pitcher that he had been after for some time, spitballer Joe Hovlik. The big right hander had been born on August 16, 1884, in Austria-Hungary. It was said as a boy he practiced pitching by throwing at a mark on his father's barn on the old home in Iowa. "Feeling that he had progressed, he hired two different rubes to catch him, and broke both their hands with the spitball." He went back to throwing at the barn.

Joe had pitched in the Three-I League starting in 1908, and from 1909 to 1911 won 46 games and only losing 30 with Peoria. Hovlik appeared in a few games with the Washington Nationals in 1909 and 1910, before Duffy picked him up for the White Sox (the team he was managing at the time) in the middle of the 1911 season from Peoria. Hovlik's big weakness was his inability to control his sweeping spitball. But Duffy thought once the "Giant Bohemian" learned to control this he would become another Ed Walsh.

Duffy offered the White Sox $2,000, and manager Jimmy Callahan agreed, provided Milwaukee would give the Sox a chance to recall the pitcher for the same price. Duffy refused to make a deal with any string attached, and upped his offer to $2,500. Callahan wanted $3,000. Finally on January 25 the clubs split the difference and Hovlik was sold to the Brewers for $2,750. Within a week Joe sent in his signed contract.

Hovlik did not do as well in Milwaukee as everyone had hoped, but he was not pitching as bad as his mid-July 5 and 9 record indicted. In 118 innings he had given up only 109 hits, accounting for 58 runs. One issue he had was a painful boil on his arm, which needed to be lanced. To show Hovlik was highly thought of, it was reported that Clark Griffith of the Washington American League club was after him. Duffy said he knew nothing of this, and if true he would not let Hovlik go, as the spitballer was doing too good a job with his Brewers.

In August "the bull moose of Oxford Junction, Iowa" was pitching about the same. But good enough that it was possible other American Association teams wanted to do something about it. In Toledo on August 14 Hovlik held the Mud Hens scoreless for six innings, but the hometown boys finally broke through with two runs in the seventh, mainly due to two boots by Brewer infielder Chappie Charles. The Mud Hens ended up winning the contest 6 to 3. But Brewer players smelled something rotten had gone on—or more to the point, something tasted rotten. Some thought the ball used in the game was so heavily doped that Hovlik had taken ill during the game, and it was only through sheer gameness that he was able to stick it out. One of the Brewers was quoted in the Milwaukee Journal:
Joe began complaining early in the game about there being something on the ball. We did not take it seriously until along in the fifth inning, when after using his spitter all through the inning he was so sick when he came back to the bench that we thought he would have to retire. All of the players on the Toledo bench were watching our bench and when they saw that Joe was sick they all had broad smiles on their faces. However, Joe went back in the next inning, but in the eighth when they began hitting him he was taken ill again. Of course, we might have lost any way, but Joe's condition after the game showed clearly that something was wrong.
Hovlik also took sick on the train ride home, having several vomiting fits.

On August 18 the Brewers had a 60 and 65 record, and Joe Hovlik was 9 and 13. Then the pride Oxford Junction, Iowa, had his moment in the sun.

On Tuesday, August 20, Joe Hovlik, pitching "in superhuman form," tossed a no-hitter against the Louisville Colonels, winning 2 to 0, at Athletic Park. The Milwaukee Sentinel's Manning Vaughan described the performance in his great writing style:
Hovlik's mighty arm never uncoiled such magical twisters and such wide breaking snapping spitters as it did yesterday. His great spitball, the equal of Ed Walsh's when it is working right, broke north, east, south, west and to all other points and corners of the compass. It had the enemy standing on their eyebrow, their heads and ears and so effective was his support that but one man reached second during the record breaking contest. Joe was a trifle wobbly early in the game when he passed three men, but after the fifth when he had a no-hit performance in sight, the ball came true to the mark round after round. Up to the eighth the crowd sat back in its seats hoping against hope to see a no-hit contest but fearful lest they break the charm by rooting for such a possibility. They could contain their enthusiasm no longer however, and as Fisher, Ludwig and Northrup went down in a row in the eighth they shook the stands with their wild yells.

The ninth opened.

Burch, the first man up, buzzed a terrific shot down the third base line. The crowd let out a funeral groan for it looked like a safe hit but Clark was after the ball like a shot. He blocked it with his gloved hand, made a rapid recovery and by a beautiful throw nipped the mercury heeled runner at first. Hayden, batting for Molly McLean, who had been uncut for Joe all afternoon, he trotted out to smash the record, but Joe working like a Trojan put all his stuff on the ball, and Hayden fanned. The crowd could contain itself no longer and the bugs squirmed and tossed about on their seats like so many packages of frayed nerves. Stansbury was the only batter between Joe and a record breaking performance, possibly the feat of a life time. But he was the coolest man in the yard, cooler even than his pals who were straining every nerve and muscle for a no-hit game. Stansbury, one of the A.A. sluggers was up. He let one cut the plate. The next broke beautifully, but the swatter hit the ball and it went scampering at Lewis. The Cornell collegian wrapped his mitts about the ball, tossed it to Jones, and Joe was the biggest guy in town. The crowd gave the big fellow an ovation as he trotted from the field, and the nuts in the quarter seats jumped over the screen to show their enthusiasm by patting the big Iowan in the short ribs.
Hovlik, a weak hitter, collected a rare single in the game. After the game he was modest and gracious. When a Louisville player congratulated him on his performance, he answered "Sure, I knew I would get one some day." The Colonel replied that Joe had good stuff in the game. "Oh, you were talking about pitching," said Joe, "I thought you meant that hit I made." In a more serious mood Hovlik said: "Don't forget Jimmy Block. Jimmy deserves just as much of the credit as I do. The way he sized up the batters had as much to do with it as my spitter. Was I nervous? Well, at the start of the ninth inning I felt a little shaky. But after the first man went down I knew they wouldn't hit me."

It was the second no-hitter of the 1912 American Association season—the first was by Bill Lelivelt of Minneapolis a few weeks earlier. It was also the second no-hitter ever thrown at Athletic Park, Cliff Curtis having done it against Indianapolis five years prior.

The no-hitter was the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game Cy Slapnicka tossed a six-hitter, winning another shut out, 7 to 0.

Joe Hovlik ended the 1912 season with 12 wins and 15 losses. In 243 and 2/3 innings he gave up 203 hits and allowed 116 runs. He struck out 147 batters, while walking 78. The Oxford Junction Moose stayed with the Brewers another four years, winning 11 and losing 9 in 1913, before having his career season in 1914, posing a 24 and 14 record.

Injured in 1915, he was only 1 and 4. Joe really fell off in 1916, winning 1 and losing 12 before the Brewers released him.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Raising the 1914 Flag, Cont.

In reference to questions posed in an earlier post on the raising of the 1914 Pennant over Athletic Park, contributor Dennis Pajot writes to inform me that the 1914 pennant flag was raised on June 22 before the game with the Millers.

The Sentinel's Manning Vaughan (the subject of a recent article of his) put his wonderful spin on the proceedings:
There was the usual flubdub about hoisting the grandolrag. Preceded by a German band tooting an Irish air the members of the two teams marched from the clubhouse to the home plate, carrying the big pennant between them. Art Dunn, with his hat, not over his ear, but in his hand, then introduced Mayor Bading, who handed Clark and the champs a few verbal bouquets. He told them they were the best ever, and the Millers had to stand there all the time and swallow it just as thought they believed it. After the speech, which brought a big hand from the bugs [early 20th Century term for fans], the band cut loose with another Irish air, and the gang paraded to the flagstaff in deep left, there the bunting was hoisted to the top of the big stick. The athletes, evidently glad that the goose step was over, then hiked back for the diamond and started to tie into each other.
Here are the original photos from the Milwaukee Journal of June 23, 1915.

1) Harry Clark and Joe Cantillon raising pennant flag; 2) Bach’s band leading the parade of players; 3) Mayor Bading delivering his address; 4) members of the Brewers and Millers carrying the pennant to the flag pole; 5) Louis Nahin’s son, Wallace.
Outstanding. A couple of the Journal photographs made it into the broadside collage that hung in the Brewers' offices in later years:

The Minneapolis manager was no stranger to Athletic Park. "Pongo Joe" Cantillon was a Janesville native who had a long career as a manager and umpire beginning in the 19th century. In 1902, he was working as an umpire for the National League when he was hired to replace Brewer manager Billy Clingman partway through the club's inaugural season. He guided the Brews through 1906 before being hired to manage the Washington Senators. Cantillon spent three seasons in Washington before returning to the American Association with Minneapolis.

Pitching for Milwaukee at that home opener in 1915 was Cyrus Young. He out pitched the Millers' Earl Yingling for a 2 to 0 win. Young only gave up two hits, Yingling only 5. Young helped his own cause by hitting the single that scored the winning run. What a great way to celebrate the Brewers' pennant-winning campaign.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Brewer News" 1945, Vol. 3, No. 4

Once again, we continue our ongoing look at Brewer News, the club newsletter published throughout the year to keep fans appraised of the latest news and upcoming events.

This is Volume 3 Number 4, from August of 1945. We've previously seen April and September from that year.

This issue is dominated by the safe return home of a beloved figure.

Team president and part-owner Bill Veeck had enlisted in the United States Marines in late November of 1943. After being injured during during the Bougainville campaign, Veeck began the long process of recovering and assimilating back into Stateside society. Beginning, of course, with a trip to Borchert Field where Veeck posed at his desk, still wearing his duty uniform.

This must have been taken close to press, as the top story on page 2 deals with Veeck's expected return "within the next two weeks."

That's a great photo of tomato-faced Brewer manager Nick Cullop. I especially like the caption: "WHAT!!!" I'm guessing he didn't agree with the umpire's call.

Note the plug for the upcoming "STARS OF YESTERDAY" league championship game. The Stars of Yesterday was a youth league run by the city Department of Municipal Recreation. All forty-two teams were named after former Brewer players, in this case Dickie Kerr (who played for the Brews in 1917 and 1918 before being sold to the Chicago White Sox) and Ken Keltner (a local boy made very good).

Here's an interesting character. Johnny Price was a member of the proud tradition of baseball clowns. A longtime minor leaguer, he was known less for his glove and bat and more for his pet snake and balancing act before the grandstand. Price was a favorite of Veeck, who never missed any opportunity to entertain a crowd, and when Veeck bought the Indians in 1946, he soon brought Price's act to the big leagues.

It wasn't all bread and circuses, though. Veeck had serious plans to expand his team's fanbase, and part of that was drawing in women. Five games on the August schedule—two nights and three afternoon games—gave reduced admission to female fans.

And that's Vol. 3, No. 4. A little less content, thanks to the magnificent photo spreads, but a great look into what the Brewers were saying to their fans sixty-seven years ago.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Another Beauty from Ebbets FIeld - 1953 Green Bay Bluejays Jersey

Jerry Cohen and his team at Ebbets Field Flannels have produced a new home run - a reproduction of the 1953 Green Bay Bluejays jersey. As regular readers know, the Bluejays still hold an important place in our club's history.

We've seen an exemplar of the jersey this is based on. Ebbets Field did a pretty good job with this one.

The Bluejays in turn modeled their jerseys after those worn by the Brewers in the early 1940s. It was common at the time for major leagues to recycle old jerseys by sending them down through the farm system. I presume that they Brews did that as well, outfitting their old flannels with a new chest logo:

Best yet, it's on sale now for $129.00.

While you're perusing their collection of Milwaukee Brewers history, you might also take a look at this Toledo Sox jersey from 1953.

When the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee, our Brewers found themselves without a home, and moved to the recently-vacated Ohio city.

Two great minor league jerseys, each with a tie to the Brews. And if you order something from Ebbets Field, tell them sent you - maybe we can convince them to add another Milwaukee jersey to their line.