Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Video: Our Boys in the 1917 World Series

This film gives us a look at Game One of the 1917 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants.

It is a rare opportunity to see some early-20th century Brews in action, as the Cream City club had contributed three starting position players to that 1917 White Sox squad:
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch was Chicago's starting center fielder. A local Milwaukee boy, Felsch was a member of the 1913 and 1914 pennant-winning Brewer squads, going to the Sox in 1915. By 1917 he was a true star. He was later banned from baseball for his part in throwing the 1919 World Series, the only one of the infamous "Eight Men Out" who ever wore a Brewer uniform. Felsch came home to live the rest of his life in Milwaukee, where he owned a grocery store and a tavern.

  • Catcher Ray Schalk, widely considered the best catcher in the majors, had played for the Brews in 1911 and the first half of 1912 before being sold to the White Sox in late July for $10,000. He played nineteen years in the majors, all but the last with the Sox. Schalk moved into managing and was the skipper of the Buffalo Bisons in 1936, when the Brewers beat them to win the Junior World Series. He would return to Milwaukee for a brief managerial stint with the Brews in 1940, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

  • Outfielder Nemo Leibold had a more circuitous route from Milwaukee to Chicago than either of his two teammates. He was a Brewer in 1911 and 1912 before moving to the Cleveland Indians, who traded him to the Sox during the 1915 season. After his playing days were over, he had two managerial stints in the American Association; first with the Columbus Red Birds (1928-32) and the second with the Louisville Colonels (1944-48).
That 1917 roster also included two men who would later play in Milwaukee:
  • Backup first baseman Ted Jourdan was a frequent visitor to Athletic Park; he had a solid five-year career with the Minneapolis Millers (1919, 1922-24) after leaving Chicago. In the middle of the 1924 season, he got to see the home dugout when the Millers loaned him to the Brewers for 14 games.

  • Lefty Dave Danforth pitched for the Brewers in 1926. He won seventeen games that season, including two during the club's 21-game winning streak. He struggled at the beginning of 1927, and just weeks into the season (and following the sudden death of team owner Otto Borchert) he was shipped off to New Orleans of the Southern Association.
Now that you've met the Brewers' contribution to the 1917 White Sox, see if you can spot any of these men in the footage!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Were These Intended to Replace Our Beer Barrel Man?

Paul Lukas's blog Uni Watch had a great little nugget today:
Matthew Prigge was at an antique sale and found someone’s renderings for new Brewers logos. "Perhaps these were intended for the 1977 logo design contest that resulted in the glove/ball 'mb' logo," he says.

I think Matthew might be correct. They certainly have that 70's vibe to them, don't they?

The contest he refers to was the Brewers' process for replacing the Beer Barrel Man, the descendent of our very own Owgust. After nearly a decade of using an updated version of the American Association club's mascot, they were looking for a modern logo. Their fan-submission contest finally yielded the now-famous "ball in glove" logo.

These newly-uncovered sketches don't represent the clean break we got in 1977; they're more of an evolutionary step. Let's take a look at each of them.

The first one anticipates the large bushy mustache of Bernie Brewer.

I love the Tyrolean hat, playing on the city's German heritage.

He owes a bit to the original version of Bernie Brewer (right), which was briefly used by the club in 1970. I can easily see this logo translated into a full-body version complete with lederhosen.

The anonymous designer has also included a potential wordmark - "brewers" in curved, even, lower-case letters. Again, very groovy '70s.

The second version has clear Beer Barrel Man ancestry.

Overall, this one is a combination of Owgust's tap nose with the round baseball noggin of Messrs. Red or Met. Bonus points for the old 19th Century pillbox cap. I could definitely picture him hanging out with these guys:

He's even facing the right direction.

If Matthew is true, and these were contest entries or steps along the way to contest entries, it's a shame they were never developed. Mascot logos are the best, and not just because they lend themselves to grown-ups dressed in gloriously ridiculous foam suits. The applications are limitless, from special logos to seasonal applications to the unhappy Mr. Met Rain Check on this 1972 ticket stub.

I guess I can't really complain; after a long time in the wilderness the Beer Barrel Man is back in force. And featured as a costumed character in Miller Park, a delightful development. But it's possible that he might not have had to go away at all in late 1977, only adapt into a slightly new form.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"The Street Car Takes You to the Ball Park Entrance", 1936

I recently had the privilege of speaking with WTMJ Radio's Doug Russell about Borchert Field and the neighborhood around it; one of the things we talked about was how fans got to the ballpark.

Many fans took the streetcar, as seen in this Milwaukee Journal ad from May, 1936:

Amazing. The contemporary trend towards downtown stadiums often includes public transport, trying to recapture days gone by.

What it must have been like to jump aboard the No. 20 Eighth Street car to take in a game. Perhaps with the planned Milwaukee Streetcar, we might be able to re-create this on our way to Miller Park.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spring, 1944: Julio Acosta Tosses One In

This gorgeous 8x10 photo features Julio Acosta, the Brewers' Cuban pitcher, showing off a little follow-through.

Acosta was central to one of president Bill Veeck's best gags; in late August 1943 Veeck secretly bought the left-handed hurler's contract and had Acosta jump out of a cake during an on-field birthday party for manager Charlie Grimm.

So can we date this photograph? In addition to stamps indicating "Milwaukee Journal Library", there is a stamp on the reverse indicates that the picture was filed on Monday, June 12, 1944. At that point, Acosta had been on the team less than a year, so the window is fairly narrow as these things go.

This uniform design predates the Veeck administration; a solid uniform with thick, dark royal blue piping and a red block "M" on the chest. Sport Shirt Bill introduced his own design starting with the 1942 season, his first full season in charge.

The patch on his left sleeve is even more telling; it was introduced to commemorate the "100th birthday of baseball", and was worn by all professional clubs during the 1939 season. The Brewers were no exception; here we can see it on the gray flannel road jersey of then-player/manager Minor "Mickey" Heath:

Look at how long Heath's sleeves are in that picture! In the early 1940s, baseball fashion was changing. Sleeves were shorter, and this jersey had its sleeves crudely chopped off above the blue piping to make them fit the period's preferred style.

So Acosta is wearing a jersey that is at least four years old. It's therefore most likely that the photo was taken at Spring Training in 1944. Even today it's still common for clubs to re-use old uniforms in spring and exhibition games. If that's the case, the location is Waukesha in the outer Milwaukee suburbs. Wartime travel restrictions caused the Brewers to move their Spring Training camp to a closer location.

There's another tantalizing detail, although a bit out-of-focus. There's an unidentified right-handed player wearing a team jacket.

Although it's not clear in this photo, that jacket features a patch of team mascot Owgust, and it is one of my personal Grails. I don't know if any still exist, but we can certainly hope.

In 1943, or at least the nine appearances he made in a Milwaukee uniform, Acosta went 3-1 with an ERA of 3.89. He finished 1944 with the exact same ERA, this time with a 13-10 record from 36 appearances. He bettered all those numbers in 1945, a 15-10 record and 3.44 ERA. Those good times were not to last; in 1946 Acosta struggled in Spring Training and was provisionally sold to the Little Rock Travelers. His struggles continued in Arkansas, and they returned him to Milwaukee in June. Unable to get him back to his old form, the Brewers released him outright that month.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

1948 Capital Airlines Pocket Schedule

This 1948 Milwaukee Brewers pocket schedule was printed up by Capital Airlines to promote their service in and out of Milwaukee.

On the front, a generic if stylish view of a gentleman picking up his tickets from the counter. Remember when air travel was glamorous and adventuresome? Me neither.

"Serving Air-Minded America for Over 20 Years" refers to Capital's founding in Pittsburgh in 1936 as Pennsylvania Central Airlines. They re-branded to Capital the year this schedule had printed.

The reverse lists all the Brewers contests at Borchert Field.

It might have been fun for an airline to produce a schedule of road games, which fans might fly to see. But a list of home games is probably more practical for fans in Milwaukee.

Compare it with this 1948 schedule, printed by the Brewers themselves.

These schedules were printed up for many of the pro teams in cities served by Capital, such as the Baltimore Colts of the All-America Football Conference.

At the time, Capital was an eastern-based airline as seen in this 1952 route map:

Not many American Association cities on there, although the Brewers could fly Capital for their road trips to Minneapolis, St. Paul or Toledo.

Capital Airlines merged into United Airlines in 1961.

Friday, October 9, 2015

1943 American Association Championship Ring

Championship rings are the ultimate prize in sports. An athlete's career is often judged by how many he won. This was no less true in the 20th Century than today, and no less true in the minor leagues.

This 1943 American Association championship ring recently came up for auction:

1943 Milwaukee Brewers American Association Championship Ring

Founded in 1902, the American Association was one of the oldest and highest levels of professional baseball’s minor leagues until its merger with the International league in 1997. The original Milwaukee Brewers were a charter member of the American Association and remained in the league until the city was granted a Major League franchise in 1952.

This 10K, size 9, 13.8-gram American Association Championship ring was presented to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Bill Norman, a member of two consecutive championship teams from 1943-1944. Norman hit .275 with 18 home runs and 83 RBI in 132 games for the Brewers in 1943. This aged but well preserved ring contains an approximately ½ carat diamond in the center of a sliver outlined infield diamond encircled by “American Association Champions” in raised but slightly fading lettering with the league’s American Eagle logo and “1943 Milwaukee AA” on both shanks; Comes with handwritten LOA from Stephen Koschal of Boynton Beach, FLA, dated 5/2/95 verifying purchase of the ring from Norman’s daughter.

This is the second 1943 ring I've seen. The first was owned by skipper Charlie Grimm, but he had the diamond crown replaced with his monogram. This one gives us a good look at the original design.

Gorgeous. I love the eagle/shield design on each shank.

Outfielder Bill Norman was a favorite among Milwaukee's baseball fans, and he loved playing in the city. Although this is one of two rings he won during his time in Milwaukee, he may have been awarded another: the Brewers won their third American Association pennants in a row in 1945, after he left the club in July. In any case, this ring is well-worn and was presumably much-loved.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Glenn Elliott in the Corner

This photo of Brewer pitcher "Silent Glenn" Elliott, standing in front of the Borchert Field left field corner, was taken sometime around 1948.

"Silent Glenn", also known as "Lefty", was (naturally enough) a left-handed hurler. His quiet nature, coupled with the spectacles he wore, led sportswriters to describe him as "contemplative" and "scholarly", and the Oregon State graduate was in fact a schoolteacher during the offseason.

He came to the Braves organization from the Pacific Coast League's Seattle Rainiers after the end of the 1946 season. The 27-year old made his big league debut in relief during the second game of 1947, and promptly entered the history books; coming in to the game in the fifth, he gave up Jackie Robinson's first hit in the major leagues, a bunt single. After the game, Elliott received some scorn from those opposed to the integration of baseball, but Robinson's continued performance caused those voices to fade and now Elliot's role is reduced to a footnote.

Elliott struggled with the big club, and in May he was sent to Milwaukee for seasoning. Brewer manager Nick Cullop recognized the young man's potential to help the Brews. Cullop added a curveball to Elliott's repertoire, and Elliott ended the season 14-5. The Brewers could do no better than third place in the pennant race, but they did secure a playoff berth. Elliott would be an important part of that playoff run.

The Brewers' bookish lefty won a game in each of the Brewers' two series, first against the Kansas City Blues and then the Louisville Colonels, to take the Brewers to the 1947 Little World Series. And when they came to the deciding seventh game, Cullop put Elliott on the mound. Silent Glenn rewarded his skipper's confidence by pitching a complete game as the Brewers demolished the Syracuse Chiefs 9-1 to take their fourth Series.

Back in Milwaukee to start the 1948 season, Elliott found himself on both ends of a 12-game losing streak. He was on the mound on July 24, when the St. Paul Saints beat the Brewers, 3-2, in 17 innings. The Brewers then lost the following dozen games before Elliott dominated the Colonels on his way to an 8-3 victory on August 3rd. He was retrieved by the Braves on September 1st having accumulated a 14-7 record and 3.76 ERA, the best in the American Association. The call-up bothered fans in Milwaukee; the loss of their ace certainly contributed to a second-place Association finish and first-round playoff departure. To make matters worse, Elliott made only one appearance for the Braves—on September 1st, his first day there, no less—and watched from the bench as Boston lost the World Series to Cleveland.

He saw a little more big-league action in 1949, making 22 appearances including 6 starts, four of them complete games. That, coupled with a record of 3-4 and 3.95 ERA, was good enough to earn an invitation to the Braves' Spring Training camp in 1950, but he failed to make a mark before the end of April they had sold him outright to the Brewers. Elliott hit all the right notes speaking with the Milwaukee Journal; writer Lloyd Larson quoted Silent Glenn as saying:
"I'm sure glad to get back. Milwaukee is a fine city. The fans here were always kind to me. And I know I can pitch regularly here. That's what I want to do—pitch. I didn't have too much opportunity to do that with the big club, you know."
He did indeed get to pitch at Borchert Field, but he wasn't the ace Brewers fans had seen just a couple years earlier. Elliott was carrying an 11-12 mark and 4.50 ERA by August, when the Braves sold him to the PCL's Sacramento Solons. He bounced between the Salons and Portland Beavers through the end of the 1956 season before becoming the Philadelphia Athletics' Pacific Northwest scout. He died of cancer in 1969, at the very young age of 49.

This photo was most likely taken during Silent Glenn's first stint with the team; this uniform style was worn from 1946-1949. Starting in 1950 the Brewers wore a clone of the Braves' script across their chests. The white cap logo would place this in 1948; the 1947 club wore red "M"s on their caps.

As for the background of the picture, this is the best look at the left field corner I've ever seen. And "corner" is the only word for it; the left field wall ran parallel with 8th Street and the centerfield fence with Burleigh, resulting in a sharp 90° angle where they came together. Much has been said about what the Orchard's configuration did for hitters, with the short porches and incredibly deep centerfield, but it must have been equally challenging for fielders. I'd hate to have to play a ball off that corner.

Some great local ads color those walls.

Clark's Super Gas was a Milwaukee-based oil and gasoline company which had been a Brewer sponsor at least as far back as 1942.

We've seen ads for Snirkles caramel bars, the local treat created by Howard B. Stark Co. Confectioners, in the 1944 score card. Johnnie Walkers is a new one to me; they were a mens' clothing shop founded in 1937. They had their heydey in the 1960s with five locations, and survived until the last store closed in 2010.

One photograph can tell so many stories. Even an impromptu snap such as this.