Friday, April 18, 2014

Today in 1944 - the Opening Day Lineup is Set

Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series of day-by-day looks at the Brewers' 1944 season. For more detail, please check out Paul Tenpenny's fantastic overview of the season.

Seventy years ago today, the day before Opening Day Brewer manager Charley Grimm announced his starting nine. The Milwaukee Journal had the men line up for the camera, in batting order, at their Spring Training camp in Waukesha:
Here Are the Brewer Regulars Who Will Start Play Wednesday Afternoon in the Order They Will Bat
Let's take a closer look at that lineup:

They are wearing their old uniforms with the block "M" on the chest, not the script "Brewers" introduced for the 1942 season. Those uniforms were still part of the rotation in '42 and '43, but I don't think they ever saw the field in 1944 once Spring Training closed.

Leading off for the Brews, we have shortstop Dick Culler. Grimm liked to put his shortstops at the top of the order, and Culler was no exception. He had come to the Brews after spending 1943 with the White Sox. He had appeared in 53 games for the South Siders, hitting .216.

Up second, Milwaukee favorite Hal Peck. Peck had been a Brewer since 1942. In late 1943, team president Bill Veeck had signed a deal to send him to the White Sox before Peck lost two toes in a hunting accident. The Brooklyn Dodgers were still willing to take a flyer on the hard-slugging outfielder. He stayed briefly in Brooklyn before being claimed on waivers by the Chicago Cubs. Peck sat out most of the 1943 season recuperating from his accident, and in August the Cubs traded him... back to the Brewers.

Frank Secory was in his third season in a Brewer uniform. He had been on the Brewers' radar since 1940, when he was in the Detroit Tigers' farm system, but couldn't land him for another two years.

Our cleanup hitter, Herschel Martin, was a switch-hitter who also came to the Brews during the 1942 campaign. Veeck had bought him from the Tulsa Oilers when Hal Peck was injured, but Martin quickly earned his own spot on the team.

Bill Nagel was the only one of these starters in his rookie season with the Brewers; his contract had been purchaed from the White Sox after the 1943 season, in one of Bill Veeck's last deals before entering the Marine Corps. Nagel had spent the 1943 season with the Albany (New York) Senators, where he led the Eastern League in both hits and home runs. Nagel's bat seemed perfectly tailored to American Association parks, and there were high expectations when he arrived in Milwaukee.

First baseman George "Bingo" Binks had been wearing a Brewer uniform since the '41 season. He was discovered with the Green Bay Bluejays by their manager Red Smith, who had long ties to the Brewers organization. Smith's recommendation paid off when Binks knocked a home run in his first game as a Brewer. Bingo was also known for his lucky glove; the webbing had worn out and been replaced by a mess of bailing wire and tape by Bluejays clubhouse attendant. The resulting Frankenstein's Monster of a mitt became his calling card.

Tommy Nelson, was another player brought to Milwaukee by Bill Veeck. He was purchased from the Macon Peaches in the South Atlantic League. He had only played in 66 games in 1943, his rookie season at Borchert Field, but was ready to assume the full-time Role at second base.

The last of Grimm's position players is the catcher, Jim Pruett. He was a hot prospect in 1943, who returned his 1944 contract to the Brewers' offices with a note reading "I'll be your No. 1 catcher this year." True to his word, he spent 114 games behind the plate for the Brewers in '44.

In addition to his batting order, Grimm also announced his starting pitcher.

Opening game pitcher for the Brewers Wednesday afternoon at Borchert field will be the veteran Earl Caldwell. He was chosen definitely Tuesday by Manager Charley Grimm after Hi Vandenberg, who had first call on the job, reported his wrenched knee was too sore for him to pitch. Vandenberg was sold Tuesday to the Cubs.
Earl Caldwell was indeed a veteran, beginning his 18th year in baseball. He was another of Veeck's recent acquisitions (Sport Shirt Bill was certainly putting his own stamp on the club), in his sophomore season at the Orchard. He had a 10-11 record in '43, and was in better shape as the 1944 season approached.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: your 1944 Milwaukee Brewers, ready for Opening Day.

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