Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The last opening day at Milwaukee's Borchert Field", 1952

Fans are right up on the action during opening day at Borchert Field on April 16, 1952. Attendance was 11,190 for the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minneapolis Millers, in what was the final home opener played at the Milwaukee ballpark. (Milwaukee Journal)
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just published an amazing retrospective of the last home opener at Borchert Field.
Our Back Pages: The last opening day at Milwaukee's Borchert Field

Chris Foran
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Published 8:24 a.m. CT March 28, 2017 | Updated 4:25 p.m. CT March 28, 2017

It was the end of an era, but at least it was warm and sunny.

On April 16, 1952, the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers played in what everyone knew was going to be the last opening day ever at Borchert Field against the Minneapolis Millers.

"Borchert's Orchard" had been the home of Milwaukee baseball for half a century. But the wood-framed stadium — rickety, worn out, its roof ripped off by a windstorm eight years earlier — was making way for a new baseball palace. Workers were in the home stretch on County Stadium, the Menomonee Valley ballpark being built ostensibly to house the 1953 Brewers but really to lure Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee.

But on this spring day, with sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 60s, Borchert Field, at the corner of N. 8th and W. Chambers streets, was where the national pastime returned for one final opener.

The Brewers came into the 1952 season with high expectations. The team had won the American Association pennant in 1951, and beaten the Montreal Royals in the "Junior World Series."

"A holiday atmosphere pervaded the old field," The Milwaukee Journal's Bob Wolf reported in his game story on April 17, 1952.

"The park was spruced up for its last opening-day fling. Bunting billowed in the fresh breeze, and the many shirt-sleeved fans provided an unusual sight for such an early opening," Wolf wrote. "Even the grass was surprisingly green."

After a color guard ceremony came the speeches. Wolf reported that Frank Zeidler – who was sworn in to start his second term as Milwaukee's mayor the day before – "drew a laugh when he suggested the shortest speech on record: 'Milwaukee, hurrah; Minneapolis, hah-hah; umpires, bah.' "

Once the game started, the Millers struck first. Brewers shortstop Johnny Logan, who had set a league record the year before with 46 straight games without an error, fumbled a grounder hit by future Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, and before it was over, the Millers had scored three runs.

The Brewers responded with four runs in the bottom of the first, powered by a three-run homer by Hank Ertman. But that was the only lead the Brewers would have in the game, as the Millers pounded four pitchers for 14 hits and won, 11-5.

"It emphasized again that we must have some experienced pitchers to get along in this league," Manager Charlie Grimm told the Milwaukee Sentinel in its April 17, 1952, game report. "And the sooner the better."

Attendance for the game was 11,190, 40 more than were at the 1951 opener, which the Sentinel reported had more "rugged" weather. But, the Sentinel added, "most of the fans took the shellacking in good spirits."

Concessionaire Jack Schwid told the Journal that he had his best opening-day business in years. The Journal dutifully ran the numbers: "The fans consumed 7,425 hot dogs, 12,780 bottles of beer, 8,700 bottles of soft drinks, 3,800 bags of peanuts, and 2,040 ice cream bars. Sales averaged 55 cents a head."

The Brewers regrouped from that opening-day defeat to top the American Association standings again in 1952, only to lose in the playoffs to the Kansas City Blues, 4 games to 3.

Demolition of the old ballpark began in December of 1952. County Stadium opened for business, with the major-league Milwaukee Braves, in April 1953. Two months later, Borchert was gone, replaced by a city tot lot and, later, by I-43.
There's also an amazing photo gallery.

Give the Journal Sentinel a click, so we can get more articles covering the Orchard's history.

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