Monday, February 25, 2013

"Whoever heard of playing baseball in overcoats?", 1943

Seventy years ago this month, representatives from the Milwaukee Brewers left Borchert Field and drove twenty miles west to inspect proposed new Spring Training facilities in Waukesha. Wartime travel restrictions forced the Brewers to move their Spring Training camp from Ocala, Florida, and a Milwaukee Journal photographer was there to catch the action as they toured the snowy grounds.

Good eye, Charley! Brewer officials visited Waukesha Tuesday noon and inspected the facilities for the spring training of Milwaukee's baseball squad. They are shown trying out the Frame Park diamond, with some of Waukesha's reception committee in the background.
Talk about a mighty swing! That's manager Charlie Grimm teeing off a snowball from Mickey Heath, coach and radio announcer. President Bill Veeck is behind the plate, with general manager Rudie Schaffer (in his undershirt!) acting as umpire. All the Brewers' top brass, having a little fun in the snow.

R.G. Lynch, sports editor of the Journal, reported the visit this way:
The Brewer officials went to Waukesha Tuesday to have lunch with sundry bigwigs of the town and inspect the spring training facilities. Everything was dignified enough at lunch and while the skaters' shelter house was inspected as a potential clubhouse, but that was as long as (Veeck) could stay on his dignity. As the party left the shelter house, a snowball hit Walter Dick, the city engineer, behind the ear, and another caught L.L. Bray, secretary of the Association of Commerce, in the middle of the back. And if venerable Charles Schuetze had not had to go back to his church furniture factory it might have been his ear.

     Veeck had an armful of snowballs by that time—it was swell packing snow, too—so everybody had to make snowballs in self-defense and they flew from every direction.

     When the party reached the grandstand in Frame park, the Journal photographer wanted a picture. Veeck, Grimm, Schaffer and Mickey Heath piled into the snow for an impromptu ball game. Somebody dug up a stick for a bat. Just as they got set for a shot, Veeck yelled, "Wait a minute! Whoever heard of playing baseball in overcoats?"

     Veeck, Heath and Schaffer shed their coats. "Not me! protested Grimm. "I just came up from Missouri. Do you want me to catch pneumonia?"

     Just then a snowball caught Charley in the back of the head. He stiffened, rolled his eyes and, in the best Grimm comedy style, did a dead man fall smack on his face in the snow.

     Grimm got up and let out a howl. He pointed and there was Schaffer with his shirttails out, unbuttoning. A moment later he was in his underwear, ready to umpire the snow game.
And with a click of a shutter, the moment was captured for us to marvel at today.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Such Respect for Bright Colors": the 1904 & 1905 Road Uniforms

By Dennis Pajot and Chance Michaels

Milwaukee Public Library

This handsome fellow with the impressive mustache is Brewer manager "Pongo Joe" Cantillon in his 1904 Brewer road uniform.

We tend to think of baseball in this era in either sepia tones or shades of gray; rarely do we have an opportunity to learn much about the teams' actual colors.

An article in the February 16, 1905 Milwaukee Journal talked of the Brewers' new 1905 uniforms, and gave us a rare color description not only of the new duds, but the outgoing color scheme as well:
The matter of uniforms is another of the hundreds of details of running a ball team which has been decided on, and in the matter of dress this year the Brewers promise to be just as many as any of the teams in the association. Their at-home uniforms, of course, will be white, the same as usual, with black trimmings and caps. When it comes to their traveling suits, there is to be a change. The black and yellow combination which has afforded opportunity to the fans of the home cities to make all sorts of comment, will be displaced by a neat Oxford grey, with maroon trimmings and cap. The Oxford grey was agreeable to both (team owner Charles) Havenor and Cantillon, but when it came to the trimmings there was a hitch. Dago Joe, as he is sometimes called by those who know him pretty well around the log cabin in Chicago, held that owing to the remarks made by some of his fellow countrymen in regards to the "yellow" of last season, they thought it was time that Cantillon was declaring himself, and so for a long time Joe argued that green was the proper color for the trimmings, and it was not until the census of the Milwaukee population had been shown him was he convinced that the green trimmings were not the proper thing for a Milwaukee team. It was a hard blow, but at last Joe consented, and so the Brewers' traveling uniform will be Oxford grey with maroon trimmings.
So there you have it. The suit "Pongo Joe" is wearing in the photo above is black, with a yellow "M". Clear to see how that combination might have inspired opposing fans "to make all sorts of comment" when these Brewers came to town (something similar would happen with Bill Veeck's first road uniforms nearly four decades later). Also interesting is the back-and-forth between Cantillon and team owner Charles Havenor as they each intended to put their own visual stamp on the club.

This is the home uniform that black-and-yellow road suit was paired with in 1904: white with black trimmings and an elegant "Milwaukee" script across the chest:

Milwaukee Public Library

And this is the 1905 home uniform, white with dark trim, that would replace it:

Is that maroon, as the article indicated Cantillon wanted? Or black, or possibly navy blue?

Cantillon had very strong ideas about baseball uniforms, and not just about their color schemes.
In 1906, the Toledo News-Bee reported that Cantillon had laid down guidelines on how the players should act while in uniform, specifically that they should refrain from profanity. The article also mentioned that Cantillon had exempted himself, as he would "attend to all the indelicate language" for the entire team.

Following the 1906 season, Cantillon was hired away from the Brewers to manage the American League club in Washington, DC. According to press reports of the time, he intended to bring his same "respect for bright colors" to the big leagues, with his 1907 Nationals wearing "something entirely original in that line."

As far as I can tell, it was not to be.

Looking at the Baseball Hall of Fame's online uniform database (which is based on Marc Okkonen’s book Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century), the Nats looked much the same after Pongo Joe took over as before.

Graphic courtesy of Marc Okkonen

Based on the limits of that database, it appears his major change was to replace navy blue with black on the home uniforms. Hardly the radical changes promised from a man with such a love for "bright colors". Perhaps Washington owner Thomas Noyes wasn't as progressive-minded as Milwaukee's Charles Havenor.

For the Brewers' part, they eventually settled on blue as the primary team color (no later than 1913), and Milwaukee ballclubs have been "true blue" ever since (sometimes more so than others). Today it seems inconceivable that our Brewers would wear black or green or maroon, or even that maroon trim would be considered a more "proper thing for a Milwaukee team" than green, but that was the fluid and experimental nature of baseball in the early days of the 20th century. The sport was finding its balance before rules and equipment, not to mention æsthetics, would settle into the tradition we now recognize.

We haven't yet been able to find a photo of the Brewers' 1905 road uniforms which, according to that Journal article, were going to be "Oxford grey with maroon trimmings." We will post a photo of the uniform if we come across one as we continue to research the 1905 team.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reminder - Lecture at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear

Don't forget - tomorrow, February 18, 2013 at 6pm, Dr. Patrick Steele, professor of History at Concordia University, will be speaking at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear on the early American Association Milwaukee Brewers.

The pennant-winning 1913 Milwaukee Brewers

Tickets are $3 for the General Public, $2 with Student ID. The museum is located at 839 North 11th Street in Milwaukee, a little over 2 miles due south of where Borchert Field once stood.

I wish I could attend - it sounds fascinating. I'll definitely check out the museum on my next visit to Milwaukee, which won't unfortunately be until well after Professor Steele's lecture. If you're able to attend, let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

1953 Old Time Ballplayers' Banquet Program

February of 1953 was an exciting time for Milwaukee baseball fans. The Brews were coming off their eighth American Association pennant, and that success had drawn interest in the Cream City as a major league market. Former Brewer owner Bill Veeck had tried to move his St. Louis Browns back to Milwaukee, but was blocked by the Boston Braves, in a move seen as reserving the market for their own relocation. It was only a matter of time before Milwaukee was big league again.

While looking to that future, baseball fans could also remember the past. On February 12, the Old Time Ballplayers Association of Wisconsin held its 16th Annual Banquet at the Elk's Club in Milwaukee.

The Toastmaster for the event was Charlie Grimm, then the manager of the Boston Braves and two-time former skipper of the Brews.

That's Brewer manager Tommy Holmes on the cover; he and Jolly Cholly had a complicated history. Holmes had been a popular outfielder with the Boston Braves for nearly a decade who had briefly been the club's player-manager before being fired partway through the 1952 season and replaced with "Jolly Cholly", then in his second stint managing in Milwaukee. The Braves then hired Holmes to manage the Brews, taking over full-time for Grimm, at the end of the season.

There were many notable men on the dais that day, none more so than former major leaguer and Milwaukee native Al Simmons. Born Aloisius Szymanski on the South Side, Simmons came up on the city's sandlots and played for the Brewers in parts of the 1922 and 23 seasons before being signed by Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, where he had a stellar 21-year career. Simmons had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown only two weeks earlier, and Wisconsin was flush with pride in its first Hall of Famer.

On the back of the program is a word from Fred Miller (who supplied the banquet with programs and beer) and the notation
"Good Luck to the Milwaukee Brewers during the 1953 Season"
As we know now, it was not to be. Barely a month later, on March 18th, the National League approved the Braves' move to Milwaukee and the Brewers were out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Cowboys Swarm Where Brewers Used To Frolic", 1945

We've seen how Borchert Field hosted many events besides baseball games. The Orchard was home to boxing, NFL football, cycling, soccer, ice skating and even balloon racing.

In late July and early August of 1945, Borchert Field was scheduled to lay vacant for thirty days while the Brewers took a forty-game road trip across the American Association. To fill some of that time, a brand-new event was booked into Milwaukee's baseball park: a rodeo.

Among the attractions, the Circle A Rodeo promised to feature two and a half hours of "Cowboy and Cowgirl Champions Riding Outlaw Broncs, Wild Brahma Steers, Bull-dogging and Other Hair Raising Rodeo Events". They brought circus acts and a car jump, "dive bomb crashing a stock automobile over a transcontinental bus into five parked cars." Something for everyone.

By the time the show closed, it had featured all that plus a little extra drama that the promoters hadn't planned on.

THEY'LL BE THERE—Here are some of the prairie flowers you'll see in action when the Circle A rodeo appears at Borchert Field Aug. 2 through Aug. 7. Proceeds of the Friday evening performance will go to the Sentinel's Fun Fund for Hospitalized Veterans. The cowgirls, from left (top), Doris Huskey, Wichita Falls, Tex.; Mary Parker, Cheyanne, Who.; Avis Camble, Pendleton, Ore.; (bottom), Alma Williams, Pocatello, Ida.; Dora Rogers, Butte, Mont.; Jean Albright, Panama City, Fla.
Sentinel photo

The Circle A Rodeo rode into Milwaukee on Wednesday, August 1. The rodeo opened a six-day run at Borchert Field starting the next day, with nine performances; one each evening and an extra matinee on Saturday and Sunday.

The ballpark had been prepared for the buckaroos; the Milwaukee Journal reported that
the baseball field was converted into the traditional rodeo arena. Chutes to hold the broncs for the rough riding event were built along the base line. Bulldogging and calf roping areas were laid out. The stock was pastured near the city limits, waiting to be moved in just before show time.
When that show time came, an estimated 5,000 spectators were there to watch the action. The opening night event started well, with all the Wild West pageantry the Milwaukee fans could hope for.

Cowboy Bob Barton entertained the rodeo crowd with rope twirling tricks in the best Will Rogers manner. He made loops big enough to drive a fire truck through and small enough to catch a cigaret. Barton was later tossed by a steer but escaped injury.
Sentinel photo

This pyramid of performers produced some of the skillful entertainment in the rodeo.
Sentinel photo

There was some added excitement when a Brahma bull kicked its way out of a pen and chased the rodeo hands around the outfield for about ten minutes, during which time "nearly 500 youngsters left their seats and swarmed to the north-west end of the stands to get a better view of the action".

There were other unplanned incidents, including at least two separate ambulance rides to the hospital as riders were thrown from their horses. One of those broncos, freed of its rider, charged over an infield fence and into the seats behind first base.

A rangy cayuse got out of hand during the Circle A rodeo last night at Borchert Field when the saddle came loose. The horse kicked and struggled for a time before its rider subdued it.
Sentinel photo

The Friday night show was a benefit for the Milwaukee Sentinel's "Fun Fund", which provided entertainment for patients at the Wood Veterans' Hospital on National Avenue. The rodeo agreed to donate the evening's box office to the Fun Fund, and the Brewers agreed to do the same with their rent proceeds. All in all, 5,128 patrons turned out and nearly $2,000 was raised for the hospitalized veterans.

That crowd of 5,128 saw the same wild show as the previous night, complete with spills and runaway horses.

All sorts of unscheduled events are apt to happen at a rodeo. One of the unexpected incidents of the Circle A Rodeo performance last night at Borchert Field is shown here. A bronco got loose and didn't stop until it crashed into the fence. The animal was not badly hurt.
Sentinel photo

Another rodeo performer who fell victim to the surging and swaying back of a rambunctious steer was Cowboy Robert Barton of Texas. But those cowboys don't expect to stay on the steer's back for very long.
Sentinel photo

As might be expected, kids made up a large percentage of the rodeo's audience. I love this photo of three Milwaukee boys, in what I hope are Brewer caps, getting a close-up view of the action:

Clowns got a lot of laughs from the audience at last night's Circle A Rodeo show at Borchert Field. Clown "Smiley" is talking through the fence to a group of youthful admirers. Left to right, they are, Dennis Yunk, 3776 N. 11th St.; Tom Morrissey, 3822 N. 9th St., and Jerome Tuszklewicz, 3011 N. 1st St.
Sentinel photo

The third performance featured the most exciting event of all: a police raid.

A rider in the show named Gale Lee had secured a judgment against John T. Daros, the rodeo's owner, claiming an unpaid debt of $7,500. On that Saturday night, four deputy sheriffs arrived at Borchert Field to serve it.

They arrived at the box office in a squad car, three men in plainclothes and one in uniform, and seized the night's receipts, $2,305 in all.

Among the outraged parties was Harry Zaidins, the Brewers' attorney. Fifteen percent of those box office receipts belonged to the ball club, not to mention $500 still owed as a deposit against damages to the facilities. Uncle Sam hadn't been paid taxes on those ticket sales, meaning that the government had a claim on $401 of those seized dollars, money which would have to be made up somewhere.

Zaidins immediately filed an order to show cause, on the grounds that Daros had sold his interest in the rodeo that past August (right around the time Ms. Lee had loaned him the money). He was joined in this by the men who had purchased the rodeo from Daros, George Nicholson and Alma Williams of Chicago.

By Tuesday, Zaidins had convinced Circuit Judge August E. Brown that the original injunction was invalid, and he left the courthouse carrying the box office receipts in a money bag.

That night, the Circle A Rodeo ended its run at Borchert Field and moved on, taking their cut of the box office with them.

Zaidins told reporters that it would cost at least $1,200 to restore the infield before the Brewers returned home the following week. "Those horses ruined the place," he told them.

Regardless of the damage done to the field, and despite the high drama of an evening raid (or perhaps in part because of it), rodeos would become a regular summertime feature at the Orchard for the next several years.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

1905 Team Photo

This is the 1905 Milwaukee Brewer squad.

Milwaukee Public Library

Dennis Pajot informs me that this photo was published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on April 23, 1905 and identifies the players as:
TOP ROW: Jay Towne, Walter Mueller, Quait Bateman, Cliff Curtis
MIDDLE ROW: Monte Beville, Tom Dougherty, Jack O'Brien, Barry McCormick, Frank Hemphill
BOTTOM ROW: Joe Cantillon, Clyde Robinsin, Harry Clark Harry McChesney, Bill "Tip" O'Neill
I love the 19th century ringed cap (known as "Chicago style"), with the little "M" on the bill.

It's a reminder that not everything old is classic, and that the sport spent the first years (or decades) of the 20th century working out the æsthetic that would finally set and come to define it.

(edited to correct player identification)