Friday, July 7, 2017

Young and Polli in Spring Training

This Spring Training wire photo, dated April 2, 1933, shows catcher Russ Young conferring with right-handed pitcher Lou Polli.

Let's look first at the two men.

Russell Charles Young was an institution behind the plate at Borchert Field, with over 800 appearances in a Milwaukee uniform over the course of eleven seasons. He made his professional debut with the 1923 Brewers at the ripe old age of twenty. A two-sport athlete, Young left baseball in 1925 to play one season with his hometown Dayton Triangles of the NFL. He must have decided he had a better future in baseball, because he was back with the Brewers in 1926. In 1931, he had a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Browns, during the brief time the Brewers were owned in part by Philip De Catesby Ball, who also owned the Browns. Young saw action in sixteen games during his time in the majors, but managed only a .118 batting average, and was back with the Brewers the following spring. He flourished in Milwaukee, and bounced back with an excellent season as the Brews' starting backstop. As the picture was taken he was about to have his best season overall; in 1933 he played 113 games as catcher with a .302 batting average and 72 RBI.

Louis Americo Polli has been called "one of the greatest pitchers in minor league history". He was born in Baveno, Italy in 1901, immigrating to America with his family when he was just seven months old. After coming up through the Yankees organization, he came to the Brewers in 1931. Like Young, Polli also spent a short stint with the Browns; his was in 1932, making him the first Italian-born player in Major League Baseball history. He pitched 623 innings over five games in St. Louis, earning an ERA of 5.40. He had more luck that year as a starter in Milwaukee, making appearances in 26 games and earning a record of 14-6. Polli threw a no-hitter against the St. Paul Saints on September 7, 1935, before moving to the International League's Montreal Royals at the end of the season. His career would eventually span twenty-three seasons, all of it in the minors except that one stint with the Browns and a slightly longer nineteen-game run with the New York Giants in 1944. When he died in 2000, he was the oldest living former major league pitcher.

This is one of my favorite Brewer uniforms; about eight years ago I had Ebbets Field Flannels make a reproduction. Very classic; navy details on gray flannel. Pinstripes and piping, rare to see these two elements paired these days but not uncommon in its era.

The photo itself is also interesting for the retouching. Click to enlarge, and you can see the details exaggerated and rough edges smoothed out in those very pre-Photoshop days.

Young's face has been pulled away from the background by a liberal application of white, and dark streaks accentuate the detailing on Polli's uniform.

There are more interesting details in the lower half of the photo:

Look at the suit of armor Young is wearing on his legs. Looks like rivets.

We can also see that Polli's socks have a Northwestern stripe pattern, one thick stripe surrounded by two thinner stripes. It's dangerous to extrapolate colors from old sepia-toned photographs. I presume those are the same socks our Brewers were wearing in 1931: red stripes on a navy background.

All in all, another wonderful look at our Brewers from the early 1930s.