Monday, February 22, 2016

Vergil Jester Passes Away at 88

(Photo courtesy Paul Tenpenny)

Sad news out of Colorado, where former Brewers right-handed pitcher Virgil Jester has passed away at the age of 88.

Jester came to Milwaukee in 1951 and instantly made himself an invaluable part of the Brews' battery, winning 13 games in relief. He came back again for 1952, and was called up to the Boston Braves during that season. Jester came back to Milwaukee in 1953, this time with the relocating big league club.

The Denver Post published this obituary:
Virgil Jester made it from North to big leagues

By Irv Moss
The Denver Post
POSTED: 02/16/2016 08:08:22 PM

The Virgil Jester chapter in Denver's baseball history has closed.

Randy Jester, Virgil's son, announced Tuesday that his dad died of pneumonia early Monday morning in a care center. Virgil Jester, 88, came out of Denver North High School and became a fixture in Denver baseball. Randy Jester said there will be no services.

During his career, Virgil Jester played three seasons with the Denver Bears and played in the major leagues with the Braves, first in Boston and then Milwaukee. He started as an infielder but was quickly moved to the pitching mound because his fastball reached speeds into the 90 mph range.

Jester signed a contract with the Boston Braves in 1947 for $2,500. As he looked back on his career a few years ago, he said he was born 55 years too soon, missing the big salaries that came to major-league baseball.

Jester pitched in the old Denver Post tournament at Merchants Park on South Broadway. He once pitched against Hall of Famer Satchel Paige.

Jester compiled a major-league record of 3-5 in 21 games with a 3.84 ERA.

Jester retired from baseball after the 1959 season. He was back with the Bears for his final year.

"That was the end of it," Jester said of his baseball career. "I got tired of it. I enjoyed baseball for a while, but it was time to get out of it and go on with my life."
The Denver-based reported his passing this way:
Virgil Jester, last winning pitcher for Boston Braves dies at 88

By Nick Diunte
Baseball History Examiner
February 18, 2016
7:39 AM MST

Virgil Jester, one of Denver's prodigal baseball figures has passed away. The former pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves died due to complications from pneumonia on February 15, 2016 according to a report from the Denver Post. He was 88.

Jester was a standout athlete at Denver's North High School, where he played both infield and pitched. So renowned for his accomplishments on field, Jester was selected for the 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Jester was the starting pitcher for the West Squad that was managed by Mel Ott. Other notables who played in that game were Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, as well as future major leaguers Erv Palica and Billy Pierce.

After attending Colorado State Teacher's College, Jester was signed by the Braves in 1947 for the princely sum of $2,500. In a 2012 interview with the Denver Post, Jester wished his bonus arrived a half-century later.

"If you look at the salaries today, I was born 55 years too soon," Jester said.

The Braves initially placed Jester not as a pitcher, but as an infielder, an experiment that was quickly abandoned after he hit .169 during his first season with Class C Leavenworth. It was a move that paid dividends for both the Braves and Jester, as he posted winning records each of the next five seasons in the minor leagues, including a 10-5 record at Triple A Milwaukee in 1952 that led to his arrival in the big leagues.

"I won 10 straight games real quick, after that they called me up," he said during a 2008 interview from his home in Colorado.

Jester pitched his way to a 3-5 record in 19 games for the Braves for 1952, with his third victory coming against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27, 1952. It was the final victory of the season for the Braves, as their last game of the 1952 campaign ended in a 12-inning tie against the Dodgers. Unbeknownst to him, it was also the final victory for the Boston baseball franchise, as owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee the following year.

"I pitched in the last game and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the last game of 1952," he said. "None of the ballplayers knew anything [about the move]."

Jester accompanied the team to Milwaukee and made the 1953 club out of spring training. He pitched sparingly in relief during April and was sent down to the minor leagues when rosters were trimmed at the end of the month. His demotion signaled the end of his career as a major leaguer.

He left the Braves organization after an arm injury in 1954 and remained out of baseball until 1959 when he was called by an old friend to help bolster the Denver Bears pitching staff. He gladly accepted.

"I left after the 1954 season and I never did ever hear from the Braves," he said. "After that I rejoined the Denver Braves in 1959. I just kept myself in good shape working out with them in Bears Stadium. … They were having trouble with their young pitchers they were expecting a lot of. Bob Howsam called me in and asked me if I wanted to join the ballclub and I told them, 'Sure!' That's how I got back with the 1959 club."

Jester kept himself involved in athletics working as a college football and basketball referee, as well as a baseball umpire for over 25 years. He attributed his success as an umpire to his former teammate and long-time major league manager Gene Mauch.

"I played with Gene Mauch and he was one of the men that I really followed because he knew the rule book inside out," he said. "I think he was the only manager / ballplayer that I ever knew that knew more about the rule book than the umpires did. I felt like that was the best thing to learn what to do was to sit down with the rule book and read it. I umpired with a lot of men that knew the rule book real well, but they didn't have the guts to really apply it on the field."
The Examiner article features two of our photos of Jester; the first is the shot of him wearing the Brewers team jacket, used in the article itself.

The second comes from the accompanying photo gallery, a Milwaukee Journal photo showing Jester celebrating with teammates Dick Hoover and Al Unser after defeating the Montreal Royals in the 1951 Little World Series.

I'm glad that we were able to help in some small way, that our research gave the Examiner something to build on. All I've wanted from this site is to help keep alive a small slice of Milwaukee's baseball history, which is ever more important as we lose the last of the men who contributed to that history.

Rest in peace, Virgil Jester.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"Three 'Original' Brewers Remain", 1915

The Milwaukee Sentinel ran this photo on March 26, 1915, featuring three Brewers with the longest tenure.

The "original Brewers" are presented here. Tom Dougherty, veteran pitcher; Harry Clark, third basemanm and Newt Randall, king of the right garden. These three old timers, who have seen the club rise from a second division bunch to a two time flag winner, know every blade of grass in Athletic park. Not once have they failed to deliver, and even Tom, who has been twirling a long time now, is still able to make his old soupbone shoot them over at all angles.
"Original" would imply that the three had been with the Brewers since the club's first season in 1902. But that was not the case for these three men.

Harry "Pep" Clark and Tom Dougherty had both come to the Brews in 1904. Newt Randall was a relative newcomer, purchased from the National League Boston Doves before the 1908 season. All three would become Brewer legends and fan-favorites. Clark added "manager" to his job description in 1913, and the Brews famously went on to win their first pennant that season, and a second in 1914, making him a popular fixture in Milwaukee.

These "original Brewers" would be broken up just months after this photo was published. Randall and Dougherty were sold, along with Joe Burg and "Jap" Barbeau, to the Pacific Coast League's Oakland Oaks in November of 1915. The four veterans were moved as part of a massive rebuilding by owner Al Timme, who warned that nobody on the roster was safe.

Dougherty never made an appearance for Oakland, but Randall had a cup of coffee with them. He saw action in five games, managing just one hit in eleven at-bats. For both men, leaving the Brewers also meant the end of their playing careers. Pep Clark hung on to his managerial job for one more season before he too was replaced, although he did come back for a second turn with the Brews as player/manager in 1922 and 1923.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Brewers On Tap" podcast

Podcasts are one of the ways I keep in touch with my Brewers across all the miles, and this off-season I've been listening to "On Tap", the Crew's official podcast.

And while I'm listening to the latest news about the Brewers, I have this cover image on my screen.

This is just another example of why mascot logos rock. They're adaptable to all situations. This isn't the best application of the Barrelman logo, obscured as it is by the muddy shades-of-blue color scheme, but it still carries a great deal of the original's whimsy and charm.

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Flying Milwaukee's Flag", Part Ia: Our Civil War Banner?

In a previous post, we discussed the history of Milwaukee's flag from 1897 to today, including one small detail on the current flag, introduced in 1954:

In the lower-left quadrant of the gear is a small flag, usually identified as a "Civil War Banner" or "Civil War-Era".

It has also been suggested that this isn't from the Civil War at all, but is instead a service flag.

The service flag was created by an Army captain during World War I as a way for families and organizations to honor their members serving in the military overseas. It features blue stars on a white flag bordered in red, each star signifying a servicemember. If one of those servicemembers was to be killed, then a smaller gold star was superimposed over the blue, with the smaller blue forming an outline around it.

These flags became widespread during World War II, and quickly became iconic. The blue star was a symbol of hope, the gold sacrifice. This is clear in the propaganda posters of the time:

You can see a service flag in this cartoon by Milwaukee Sentinel artist Lou Grant. On the back wall of our fictional Brewers tavern, a service flag remembering Brewer owner-turned-Private First Class Bill Veeck.

So, could this have been a service flag? It certainly seems possible, but I'm leaning against it. The war was still fresh in the public's mind in 1954, and adding one to Milwaukee's Frankenflag would have been an excellent way to recognize the city's war contributions. On the other hand, the design isn't quite right. Service flags were white with red border all around, whereas this is clearly a red/white/red horizontal tricolor. Seems unlikely to get the design wrong specifically because the war was so relatively recent.

I'm not ruling out the possibility, though. More research is needed on this particular chapter in the city's history.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Something New for Your Walls - MoonlightWraps!

I recently discovered a shop on Etsy that will interest everyone who loves baseball's design history. MoonlightWraps offers "vintage memorabilia handcrafted into Gallery Wraps", or printed canvasses stretched around wooden frames.

MoonlightWraps currently offers nearly a hundred vintage images re-created as wall hangings. Although those run the gamut from WPA posters to an apple crate label, the vast majority are sports-related and the vast majority of those are baseball score card covers, including two from our Brews.

The first is this beauty from 1944, featuring team mascot Owgust going up to snag a line drive. We took an in-depth look at this program back in October of 2012, and the cover remains one of my favorites.

This graphic was also used on the Brewers' pocket schedules that season.

MoonlightWraps is also selling a 10x14 wrap reproducing the cover of the Brewers' 1950 score card, with Owgust donning the Tools of Ignorance.

This version of Owgust was also re-used by the team, appearing on pocket schedules the following season.

These wraps are charming, and I'm going to order a set.

If we can demonstrate a market, perhaps MoonlightWraps will expand their Brewers offerings. The 1942, 1943, and 1947 score cards would be excellent choices for the next installment in this series, as would the 1943 or 1952 pocket schedules. Even the December 1944 issue of Brewer News might make a nice holiday-themed collectible.

Baseball has such a rich æsthetic legacy, it's always good to see it being valued and commemorated.

Best of luck to MoonlightWraps; I hope this line is very successful.