Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Trio of Old-Timers

Old-Timer's Day is a long tradition in baseball, going back to "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" on July 4, 1939, when the 1927 Yankees were reunited to watch Lou Gehrig be honored.

The pinstripers made it an annual event in 1947, and has been a part of baseball's culture ever since.

So what do you do if your major league team isn't old enough to have Old Timers? You reach back in the city's baseball history. And that's exactly what happened in Milwaukee in 1960 when the Braves held their first Old-Timers game at County Stadium. Many former Brewers were brought back to greet the crowd, and three of them were photographed at a dinner in their honor the night before.

MILWAUKEE, WIS., JULY 9 -- OLD TIMERS SWAP YARNS -- Baseball greats of by-gone days got together last night when they were honored at a dinner at the Miller Brewing Co. Recalling some of their diamond deeds of yesteryear are: left to right, Geo. McBride, Bill "Jap" Barbeau and Davy Jones. McBride and Jones played on the Milwaukee American League team in 1901 and Barbeau played on the Brewers of 1915 and 16.
The Miller Inn is well-known to anyone who has taken the Miller Brewery tour; it's the last stop, where you can sample some of the wares you saw being made. It still has the distinctive diagonal wood paneling.

1915/16 M101-4
Sporting News card
George McBride was a former shortstop who only had a brief tenure with the Brews. Born in the Cream City in 1880, he made his debut in September of 1901 with the American League Brewers, collecting three appearances. The team moved to St. Louis after the season ended, but McBride he turned down the opportunity to stay with them, choosing instead to sign with the new American Association club.

McBride went back to the majors in 1905. After short stints with the Pirates and Cardinals, he finally found a home with the Washington Senators in 1908 and from that point on he would be found at Griffith Stadium. As his career wound down, he began to transition into coaching under the watchful eye of Clark Griffith himself. From 1917 through 1920 made only a handful of appearances, served mostly as an instructor, base coach and fill-in manager when Griffith was traveling on scouting missions. In 1921 Griffith appointed McBride Washington's manager, but his tenure was short-lived. On July 27, just over halfway through the season, he was struck in the head by a thrown ball, suffering a concussion and spending the following week confined to bed. McBride returned to the dugout on August 4, but continued to be afflicted with dizziness and fainting spells. He resigned his position the following December and, turning down Griffith's offer of a scouting job, returned to his hometown as a "man of leisure".

McBride became active in the Milwaukee Elks club after moving back to Milwaukee. In 1935, he was selected to chair the Elks' annual pre-season dinner honoring the Brewers, a post he held well into the Milwaukee Braves era. He passed away in 1973. At least into the 1990s, the Elks presented an athletic scholarship known as the "George McBride Award" to a Milwaukee-area high school athlete.

   Barbeau as a Brewer in 1915
Third baseman Bill "Jap" Barbeau played for the Brewers from 1914 and 1915 and then again in 1917 and 1918. Although the majority of his fourteen-year career was spent in the minors, he did make it to the Show for short stints in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The New York City native took to Milwaukee; he led the Brewers' off-season barnstorming team for years.

I don't know where his colorful nickname came from, although I fear it may have been a reference to his stature; he was famously the shortest Brewer on the pennant-winning 1914 club.

After leaving the Brewers, Barbeau finished his career with short stints in St Paul and Omaha, and then retired to Milwaukee. He was active as a manager, coach and occasional player in the local semi-pro baseball scene for twenty years, which brought him to Borchert Field with some regularity. He died in 1969.

1909-11 T206 card   
The final member of our trio, Davy Jones, was an outfielder known for his speed, both in the field and on the basepaths. Born David Jefferson, he played baseball at Dixon College in northern Illinois, where he studied law. The Dixon team traveled to Rockford to play a series of exhibition games with the local Three-I League club. Jones was instrumental in the college team's victories, and he was persuaded to sign with the professional club after the end of the college season. He appeared in 77 games for the Rockford Red Sox, winning the league batting title with a .384 average. That was enough to attract the notice of the majors, and the Chicago Orphans (soon to be renamed the Cubs) bought his contract. Jones decided to sign instead with the new American League Brewers, joining them for the last month of the 1901 season. When the Brewers left town after the end of the season he went to St. Louis with them, but wouldn't stay long. Mike Grahek profiled Jones for the Society of American Baseball Research's Baseball Biography Project, and described the outfielder's next moves:
When the Brewers moved to St. Louis after the 1901 season, Jones took advantage of a clause in his AL contract which prevented transferring a player to a new city without his consent. The young lawyer signed with Chicago, which still owned his rights within organized baseball. Later that winter he jumped back to St. Louis, but played in only 15 games in 1902 before jumping back to Chicago after Orphans owner James Hart offered Davy a fifty percent raise and $500 signing bonus. All told, Jones had jumped four different contracts in a nine-month span. Jones left his Browns teammates without a word on the morning of May 14 and was patrolling centerfield for the Cubs that afternoon. Though a major leaguer for barely a month all told, Davy was quickly gaining a reputation for jumping contracts whenever a better offer came along. The Chicago Tribune referred to him as a "rubber-leg," and Chicago fans even quit teasing fellow outfielder Jimmy Slagle, another noted jumper, out of deference to Jones. As Jones himself said later, "a contract didn't mean anything in those days."
Jones broke his leg in a home-plate collision on July 4, 1904, and when he struggled upon returning to the lineup in mid-August the Cubs sold him to the Minneapolis Millers. He blossomed in Minneapolis, catching the eye of scouts for the Detroit Tigers.

1907 AL Champion Detroit Tigers
(Jones is second row, far left)

Jones started in left field for Detroit, opposite Ty Cobb who was then playing in right. Jones became the Georgia Peach's best friend on the Tigers, often having to relay signals on the field from teammates with whom Cobb was not on speaking terms. He also claimed to have encouraged Cobb to invest in the stock market; Cobb put his money in a local business—Coca-Cola—and made millions.

He also supported Cobb in one of the man's darkest hours. On May 15, 1912, the Tigers were playing the Highlanders at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. Cobb was heckled mercilessly by a New York fan, and when the taunts turned racist, Cobb hurled himself into the stands and fought with the man. Jones was one of a few Tigers to follow Cobb into the seats, but was far more helpful in the aftermath than he was in the melee. American League president Ban Johnson suspended Cobb immediately and fined him $500. In response, the Tigers went on strike and refused to play their next game; Cobb might not have been personally popular, but he was their star player. Drawing on his legal training, Jones represented the players at a meeting with Johnson and the other league owners. He successfully argued that the suspension was unfair and that the players deserved protection while on the field. The fine and suspension were lifted, the Tigers were back in uniform, and Jones would later describe this as a formative event in the long struggle to unionize the sport.

While still an active player, Jones bought a drugstore in Detroit, and worked it in the offseason. He retired from playing in 1913 and went to work full-time as a druggist. When it came time to retire from business as well, he and his wife moved back to the Milwaukee area. He died in 1972. A memorial to Jones was erected in 2006 on the grounds of the Cambria-Friesland Historical Society in his native Cambria, Wisconsin.

Three very interesting men, with long careers in their chosen sport. I would love to know what they talked about on that evening of July 9, 1960. Good for the Braves, to recognize and embrace the long history of baseball in Milwaukee.

Friday, September 25, 2015

1952 Press Pass

This press pass, issued to longtime Brewers employee Bill Topitzes, dates from the Brewers' final season at Borchert Field, which later turned out to be the club's last year of existence.

The simple white card is worn and battered around the edges; presumably carried around in his wallet. It is signed in blue pen by general manager Red Smith.

The back was originally blank, but somebody—Topitzes?—has written an address in red pen, that of a PFC Tom Schwalbach stationed at Camp Carson in Colorado.

Topitzes fell in love with baseball, and the Brewers, when his uncles took him to a game when he was nine. The next year, he started working for the club as part of a group of boys chasing down the foul balls that flew over the left field fence onto 8th Street. He was quickly noticed by team president Bill Veeck, and soon Topitzes had worked his way up first to bat boy, then visiting club house attendant, and scoreboard operator. By 1952, he was in charge of both clubhouses.

Topitzes in uniform at Borchert Field

When the Braves came to town, he took over the visitors' clubhouse at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Ballplayers from all clubs took a shine to the young man, who was known for his cheerful disposition and encyclopedic baseball knowledge. Many of the players he met at County Stadium and Borchert Field corresponded with him in the off-season. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal, Topitzes recalled an interaction with New York Giants manager Leo Durocher on his club's last visit to Milwaukee in 1953. Before the game, Durocher saw Topitzes shagging balls in the outfield and he gave the youngster a brand-new glove. "Hey kid," he said with a smile, "break this in for me, will you? If I ever need it, I'll ask you for it."

That openness carried him throughout his life, and when Bill Topitzes passed away in 2013, he left behind a legion of friends and admirers.

I'm not entirely sure why the clubhouse manager would need a press pass, though. He was a notable baseball memorabilia collector, even as a kid; perhaps Red gave it to him as a souvenir?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

1943 Pocket Schedule

In 1943, the Milwaukee Brewers were searching for their first American Association pennant since 1936. America was at war, and FDR was in the White House. Bread cost nine cents a loaf, three pennies bought you a first-class stamp, and the average American annual salary was $2,500. A Brewer fan could look at this pocket schedule to decide which games he or she would be spending part of that salary on.

This is a little larger than most pocket schedules; about 3¼ by 5 inches folded. On the cover, manager Charlie Grimm and mascot Owgust rally the fans.

1943 was a great year to "come out to Borchert Field and watch the Brewers play ball!". Owner/president Bill Veeck was starting his second year at the helm.

The Brewers must have loved that photo of Jolly Cholly - they used it again on the pocket schedule the next year.

On the inside, the list of games.

Look at all those night games in red! The Brewers didn't play their first night game until June 6, 1935, and now eight years later the Brews were playing most of their games under the floodlights.

Apparently when this schedule went to prees Veeck hadn't yet thought of holding 10 am morning games for war production swing-shift workersl the first morning game was held on June 5, which is marked here in blue as just another day game. I wonder when the idea first came to Sport Shirt Bill?

The Brews also had three exhibition games during the regular season; the Brewers would welcome the Yankees and Cardinals to Borchert Field, and would hop just across the border to play the draftees at the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago.

And in case you were wondering, the average price of a gallon of gas that year (presumably even MobilGas) was 15¢.

Even sixty years ago, teams were looking for ways to make ticket-buying as easy as possible for their fans. Buy them by mail, head on down to Borchert Field, call the ticket office at COncord 3180, or stop in to Gimbel's downtown to pick them up.

And look at all those options. Box seats a buck-and-a-quarter, but kids could get 'em for sixty-five cents. Grandstands for 85¢ and the bleachers were forty-five cents for adults and twenty-five for children. When was the last time kids got a reduced rate at the ballpark?

Wadham's Oil Company had been sponsoring the "Sport Flash", with "up to the minute sport news" since at least 1933. Even if you couldn't make it to the ballpark any of those nights, you could still get updates on the radio.

For those fans who did get to Borchert Field, they saw some pretty good games. The Brewers finished 1943 with a 90-61 record, taking home the club's fourth pennant.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

1914 Signed Ball

This amazing signed baseball recently came up for auction at MEARS:
1914 Milwaukee Brewers Team Signed Official American Association Baseball w/ 22 Signatures Including Happy Felch, Pep Clark, Joe Hovlick & More (JSA)

Offered is a blue & red stitched AJ Reach Official American Association baseball which has been signed by 22 members of the 1914 Milwaukee Brewers. Those to have signed include future participant in the Chicago Black Sox scandal Happy Felch, Pep Clark, John Hughes-Mulgrew, Phil Lewis, Joe Hovlik, Irv Young, Earl Smith, Alfred Braun, Ralph Cutting, Leo McGraw, Tom Dougherty, Jack Sheehan, JP Burg, Tom Jones, John Shackelford, Jim Jones, Jap Barbeau, Cy Slapnicka and more. "910 536/24" also handwritten on baseball which remains in excellent overall condition given its advanced vintage. An interesting note is that during the 1914 season, he was listed in period newspaper accounts as "Felch" but later with the White Sox, he was listed as "Felsch."

Wow. What a beauty. I love the blue and red stitching on the official American Association ball.

This amazing piece set somebody back $1,299 including the buyer's premium. If you're the lucky new owner (or the lucky old one) drop me a line - I'd love to talk with you about the other gems in your collection!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Storti With the 'Doc', 1937

On June 2, 1937, Brewer third-sacker Lin Storti was struck in the foot by a foul tip and taken off the field for medical attention. The photo published in the Milwaukee Journal the following day provides a fascinating look into a seldom-seen area of the ballpark.

Storti Has 'Tire' Trouble

Lin Storti, Brewer third baseman, was struck on the left instep by a foul tip from his own bat Wednesday night and had to leave the game. Doc Buckner, trainer, is shown giving first aid in the clubhouse. An X-ray will determine Thursday whether a bone is fractured. Shilling replaced Storti. (Journal Staff Photo)
Storti's foul tip added injury to insult for the Brewers; while he was in the clubhouse, his team was busy losing their tenth game in a row.

I don't know if I've ever seen this angle of the Orchard's clubhouse. Storti appears to be sitting on a long wooden bench, as though trainer Doc Buckner was treating him in the dugout.

I wish the resolution of the photo was a little higher; it would be great to get a better peek at all the medicine bottles lined up in a row.

Looking at this photo, I'm also struck by two uniform details, the first being Buckner's cap.

We know that in 1936 the Brewers wore a blue cap with a squat block red "M" logo. The year before, they wore the same cap, only with the red monogram trimmed in white. The logo on Doc's cap is neither of those; it is a sans-serif "M" in what appears to be white.

So where did the cap come from? Buckner had been with the Brewers since 1920, and it very possibly have come from one of those earlier Milwaukee crews. Could it have been left over from some other club in Doc's long career? That seems less likely; a quick look at his Negro League stats shows that of fourteen teams he played for, only the Schenectady Mohawk Giants could plausibly have been identified by an "M", and they seem to have only worn blank caps. More research is needed.

The other interesting element is Storti's sleeve. It appears to have piping running down from the shoulder to the cuff.

That could just be a trick of the light or an artifact caused by poor reproduction; this is, after all, a rough scan of a crude photocopy of the original newspaper page. Or it could indicate a detail of the Brewers' uniforms that I just haven't seen before.

The Journal did an amazing job chronicling the Brews' history, their photos giving us a peek into the past while raising intriguing new questions for us to pursue.

And just in case you were wondering, Lin's X-ray came back negative. He was back in the lineup for the next game and went 3-5 with a home run as the Brews beat the Toledo Mud Hens and snapped their losing streak at eleven games.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labor Day; Milwaukee and the NBPAUS

The Major League Baseball Players Association was formed in 1953, and for the first time ever baseball players had the same union representation that other workers had enjoyed for generations.

The MLBPA wasn't the first time ballplayers had tried to organize; there were several prior attempts at organizing, and one of those had a distinct Milwaukee connection.

This story starts with Raymond Joseph Cannon, a Milwaukee attorney and former ballplayer. Born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1891, he was orphaned at six months of age and grew up in an orphanage in Green Bay before coming to Milwaukee to attend Marquette Law School.

Cannon had a strong legal mind, and was admitted to the Wisconsin bar before his 22nd birthday. He styled himself as a champion of the underdog and common man, often representing clients for little money—he kept his college job as a waiter for several years into his career.

Cannon also had a lifelong love of baseball. He played in the Milwaukee City leagues, and spent a brief spell with the Toledo Mud Hens. In 1924, on a Spring Training tour with a minor league club, he pitched the Philadelphia Phillies to a 6-2 victory over the Boston Braves.

In 1922, Cannon's vocations came together following the "Black Sox" World Series scandal. He was introduced to "Shoeless Joe" Jackson by Happy Felsch, who had come up through the Milwaukee Brewers system. After Jackson, Felsh and the others were kicked out of baseball by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, Cannon represented Jackson in a breach-of-contract suit against the owner, looking to secure back pay due under his contract.

Jackson and the other players had been acquitted by a Chicago grand jury for their part in throwing the Series (largely due to the fact that their signed confessions had disappeared after they had been presented to the grand jury but before they could be admitted into evidence in their trial), but Comiskey had fired them anyway under a no-cause termination in the contract. The champion of the underdog put Comiskey on the stand and asked him to defend the firings and the clause itself. Comiskey replied that Jackson had admitted to throwing the Series, and when Cannon replied to remind him of the acquittal Comiskey's attorneys produced the "missing" confessions.

Even so, the jury returned a verdict in Jackson's favor, but the judge set it aside on the strength of the produced confessions. Cannon was able to secure an out-of-court settlement for his client.

In was during this period that Cannon became convinced that players needed better representation. Surely they deserved the same rights to collectively bargain and to have union representation that protected workers in other industries. He took it upon himself to organize, and began recruiting current players for the National Baseball Players Association of the United States.

In light of Cannon's involvement in the suit against Comiskey, I can only imagine what the baseball owners felt about his leadership of this new union.

National League president John Heydler claimed that the existence of a Commissioner there was no need for a baseball union. "With Judge Landis at the head of organized baseball every player knows he can always get a square deal." Heydler granted that players may have had legitimate grievances against the owners in the past, but assured the nation that baseball's current rules were sufficient to fairly handle any possible situation.

Cannon replied with assurances of his own, telling the owners he wasn't forming the union to address any specific current grievance but rather to handle what might arise in the future. To the players, he maintained the union would be an active advocate, not a mere trade association. And from the players' perspective, his pitch seemed to be working. Cannon signed three-quarters of the active National League players, including virtually the entire rosters of the Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies, Reds and Braves. One report indicated that twenty-one of the reigning world champions New York Giants had signed up.

For their part, the owners claimed nonchalance. They had managed to prevent the new union from gaining much of a foothold in the American League, and were confident of their control over the players.

A possible strike was floated, but that failed to impress the baseball magnates. In the era of the Reserve Clause, which bound a player to one team for as long as that team desired, there was little a player could do but forfeit his ability to play at all.

The owners' confidence was well-deserved. Players began to defect and the union collapsed. It would be another 30 years before the landscape changed enough for a real baseball union to take root.

Following his defeat, Cannom was asked if personal animosity over the Comiskey suit might have poisoned his attempts to unionize; that is, if we has the wrong man to lead the charge. He declined to attach any personal feelings to the owners' resistance, rather that they were opposed to a union under any circumstances, and had the power to prevent players from joining. He further claimed that they had targeted influential players with bribes to kill the movement.
"The union was not a success principally because the bitterly opposed club owners selected the most influential players on their rosters who belonged to the union and granted them every wish they desired, including a substantial salary raise, to forsake union activity."
Cannon Brent back to his private practice, which kept him tremendously busy; throughout the 1920s he averaged more than 100 jury trials every year. There became to be some issue over precisely how he had landed quite so many clients, and in 1927, he was caught up in a sweeping proceeding by the Milwaukee Lawyers' Club before the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Known as the "ambulance chasing quiz", it was intended to crack down on the manner in which attorneys were soliciting their clients. The complaint charged that "... such solicitations had been made upon the public highways, at the bedsides of injured persons who were writhing in the agonies of their injuries, that the solicitors impersonated public officers and exhibited stars and badges to overawe and unduly influence persons to sign such contracts." Sixteen attorneys were named in the complaint, and in 1929 three were convicted of soliciting clients in an unethical fashion and disbarred, including Raymond Cannon.

The decision was was not unanimous, and one of the justices, Charles E. Crownhart, was concerned that the punishment was excessive. Crownhart was quoted as saying the stiff penalty could lead to "a weak and spineless bar in the future, one that will be afraid to fight the battles of the poor and the humble." Admitting that Cannon had made mistakes, Crownhard nevertheless thought he "seems to have a rugged honesty that has procured for a host of friends among the common people who have trusted him and still do."

Perhaps because he could not practice law, Cannon sought public service. He ran for a Supreme Court seat, and even though he lost the election the disbarred lawyer carried Milwaukee County.

Cannon continued to fight his disbarment, and in 1931 the Wisconsin State Legislature passed a special bill allowing him to resume his practice, a first in state history.

The following year he upset an incumbent Congressman in a landslide to represent Wisconsin's 4th District in the House of Representatives, where he served for three terms. After returning to Wisconsin, he returned to his legal practice and made two unsuccessful runs for the Democratic nomination for governor. He was also personal counsel to boxer Jack Dempsey for many years.

Cannon's son Robert C. Cannon followed in his father's path. He too graduated from Marquette University Law School, and immediately made a name for himself. At the age of twenty-seven, he ran for a spot on the Circuit Court in Milwaukee, beating an incumbent with nearly forty years of experience. That made him the youngest judge of a major court to be elected in the state of Wisconsin, and possibly in the entire country. He later recalled that the first couple he married was older than he was. On December 4, 1959, thirty-seven years after his father tried to organize a baseball union, Robert Cannon became legal counsel for the MLBPA.

He served in that capacity until 1966, when the fledgling union was restructuring and many of his office's duties redistributed. The players asked him to take over the new Executive Director position, but this would have meant a move to New York, and so Judge Cannon declined. Their next choice, Marvin Miller, presided over a revolution in labor relations. When baseball Commissioner William Eckert resigned in 1968, Cannon was briefly considered to take his place.

And there you have it; Milwaukee's connection to baseball's labor movement. How different would the sport have been had Raymond Cannon been successful back in 1922, and what it would have added to Milwaukee's contributions to the sport. Milwaukee was the birthplace of the American League, and the home of the Commissioner's office during the tenure of Bud Selig, the second longest-serving commissioner behind Kennesaw Mountain Landis (and that only by a matter of months). Being the cradle of the union would have been another amazing feather in the city's baseball cap.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

1942 Brewers Jersey on Display

This amazing 1942 Brewers jersey is on display now through September 7th at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, as part of their "Chasing Dreams" exhibit.

Here's how the museum describes the exhibit:
Chasing Dreams celebrates baseball and the many fans, players, and characters who helped shape our American story. Every triumph and defeat, every hero on and off the field, has become another chapter in the history we all share. And for immigrants and minority groups especially, it has played a crucial role in understanding, and sometimes challenging, what it means to be American.

Jewish Museum Milwaukee is thrilled to celebrate baseball this summer with a core interactive exhibit from the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia and locally borrowed memorabilia.
This uniform style was brand-new for the 1942 season, unveiled the previous February. It marked the first time the name "Brewers" had appeared on a jersey.

The corresponding road uniform that year was all-blue with the red script team name outlined in white, before the ridicule from opposing teams led team president Bill Veeck to adopt a more traditional gray jersey beginning in 1943.

Although the jersey style was in use through 1945, we know this particular exemplar is from 1942 by the "HEALTH" patch on its right sleeve. This was the logo of the "Hale America" campaign promoting physical fitness, worn that season by major and minor league teams, as well as amateur and recreational groups in sports from softball to bowling.

The Jewish Museum Milwaukee is located at 1360 N Prospect Avenue in the Helfaer Community Service Building, immediately north of downtown.

Museum hours are:
    Mon - Thurs      10am - 4pm
Friday10am - 2pm
Sunday12pm - 4pm

This is a fantastic opportunity to view a piece of Milwaukee's baseball history in person, to say nothing of the rest of the exhibit. Don't miss your last chance before it closes next week!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Red and the Pack, 1939

The Green Bay Packers won their fifth World Championship on December 10, 1939, when they dismantled the New York Giants in the title game, 27-0. Four days later, they attended a testimonial banquet in their honor in Green Bay. This team photo comes from the banquet's program.

There are the handsome Green Bay boys, led by Curly Lambeau (front row left):

In the second row, far right, we have longtime Brewer catcher/coach/manager/general manager Red Smith.

Smith spent his offseasons in Green Bay (not to mention a couple of his summers), and he was as successful there as he was in Milwaukee. He holds a particular position in Wisconsin sports history, tied to two of the state's most important and long-lasting teams.