Monday, May 14, 2018

Our Brews at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

Now we've come to the real meat of the milwaukee County Historical Society's recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History"; the display dedicated to our very own Milwaukee Brewers.

And there it was, on the second level of the museum, right next to the Braves who would displace them at County Stadium.


The display is headlined by a photo of the 1904 Brewers we've discussed before.


Magnificent photo.


The American Association Brewers (1902-1952 were founded after the major league Brewers became the St. Louis Browns following their inaugural 1901 season.
Under that, a posed picture of the 1913 Brews and their goat mascot Fatima, as well as another familiar face.

WHO WAS THE FIRST WOMAN BASEBALL EXECUTIVE IN MILWAUKEE AND HOW DID HER TEAMS DO?

Agnes Malloy Havenor was named the team president after her husband died in 1912. She ran things from an office in the Majestic Building, though she left the on-the-field decisions to manager Hugh Duffy. The two did not get along and Havenor hired third-baseman Harry Clark to be player-manager of the team. The 1913 and 1914 teams won American Association championships and post-season series to claim the minor league championship. In 1914 Havenor married Al Timme who assumed the presidency for the rest of her ownership.
Of course, we can't talk about the Brews without mentioning Al Simmons, the greatest player to come out of the Milwaukee sandlots. The local boy had started his career with his hometown club:

HOW DID THE "DUKE OF MITCHELL STREET END UP IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME?

Al Simmons (Aloysius Szymanski) was born in Milwaukee in 1902 and became known as the "Duke of Mitchell Street," the street that was the heart of Milwaukee's Polish Community. There is little argument that Al Simmons was Milwaukee's best baseball player. He played 20 seasons and is one of four Wisconsin natives in the Hall of Fame. Simmons' first Brewer game was on September 3, 1922, and he hit a home run, triple, and single. He split the 1923 season between Milwaukee and Shreveport before Connie Mack paid $35,000 for him to play for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League. Simmons had over 100 RBI each of his first 11 major league seasons. He batted .358 in his nine years with the Athletics before being sold to the White Sox in 1933. His lifetime average is .334. Simmons died in Milwaukee in 1956.
Below the Duke, a collage of photos relating to the 1936 pennant-winning Brewers.


I love this team photo, against the wooden fence. That's longtime trainer Harry E. "Doc" Buckner> at the far right of the picture.


Below the photo, a newspaper ad from the team headlined "71 Years of Good Sportsmanship", thanking Milwaukee fans "for their patronage and encouragement". The picture of the dapper young men in floppy caps is the Cream City baseball club, Milwaukee's first post-Civil War club and the first to declare itself major league. It's interesting that the Brewers were drawing a line between that early team and themselves.


Next to it, a commemorative supplement from the Wisconsin News that chronicled the Brewers' 1936 campaign. I have one of those in my collection, and can't believe that I haven't yet reprinted in on this site.

We then jump to the next championship era in the Brews' history: the 1940s.

HOW MANY NO-HITTERS DID BREWERS PITCHERS THROW DURING THEIR HALF-CENTURY IN THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION?

> Joe Hovlik, a native of Czechoslovakia, threw the first Brewers no-hitter on August 20, 1912.
> Dennis John Gearin, who was only 5'4" and 145 pounds (prompting several nicknames - Denny, Dainty Dinty, and Kewpie) threw a no-hitter at home on August 21, 1926.
> Louis Amerigo "Crip" Polli, born in Baverno, Italy and one of six Italian-born major leaguers, threw a 10-inning no hitter on the road against the St. Paul Saints on September 7, 1935.

> Bert Thiel threw the fourth no-hitter on August 16, 1951 in the customary seven inning second game of a double header with the Toledo Mud Hens.
And of course you knew Sport Shirt Bill would make an appearance.
Bill Veeck purchased the Brewers in 1941 and showed his knack for promotional gimmicks and showmanship. He hired Cubs star Charlie "Jolly Cholly" Grimm to manage the team and they won the American Association penannt in 1943. The Cubs hired Grimm to manage the Cubs in 1944, and he convinced Veeck to hire Casey Stengel - at that point a losing manager - to take over the Brewers. They won the pennant that year going wire-to-wire with a 102-51 record, resurrecting Stengel's career. After the Brewers won the pennant again in 1945, Veeck sold his interest in the team for a $275,000 profit.
That story isn't quite accurate; as Veeck himself would later say, Grimm hired Stengel without his knowledge and over his very strenuous later objections, but Veeck was deployed with the Marines at the time and unable to stop the deal.

Finally, we have two photos from that era. The first is an action shot of Grimm himself at bat, from a May 2, 1943 Milwaukee Journal photo spread of their Waukesha spring training camp, and the second is a team photo that was reproduced in the August 16, 1943 edition of Brewer News. You can barely see Veeck himself in the upper-right corner of the photo.


Hard to distill 51 years of baseball history into a single panel's display, but the curators did so admirably.

This section was a fitting tribute to our Brews, but as we'll see, it wasn't the only one in the exhibit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Milwaukee Badgers at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

We continue our look back at the Milwaukee County Historical Society's "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee's Sports and Recreation History" exhibit with Milwaukee's very own NFL team, the Milwaukee Badgers.


The Badgers were included in with the Marquette's now-defunct football program and the Packers' part-time home.
In 1922, two years after the National Football League was founded, two Chicago sporting promoters established the Milwaukee Badgers. The team played from 1922 to 1926 at Athletic Park (Borchert Field), but was not particularly popular. The team did have some notable players, however. Future actor and signer Paul Robeson, who played football at Rutgers and earned a law degree from Columbia, played with the Badgers in 1922. He joined Fritz Pollard, who as player-coach for the Akron Pros in 1919 was the first African American to coach white players in American professional sports. Pollard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Other well-known players for the Badgers include Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman and future Packers stars Red Dunn, LaVerne Dilweg, and Johnny "Blood" McNally. Despite talented players, the Badgers did not do well in Milwaukee. In the 1920s college football was far more popular, and even high school and semi-pro leagues did better than pro leagues. Milwaukee had an amateur football program called the Milwaukee Amateur Football Association that had 34 teams in 1922, and semi-pro games would often draw 9,000 fans compared to the 4,500 the Badgers drew.
In 1925 the Badgers were involved in a scandal in which they used high school players in an out-of-season game against the Chicago Cardinals. The Badgers had trouble fielding a full team and used the four Chicago-area players to fill out the roster. The team was fined $500, which hurt their already perilous financial situation. They played the 1926 season, but folded due to lack of money.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is this architect's rendering of the proposed Milwaukee Municipal Stadium:


It looks a bit like Cleveland Municipal Stadium, opened in 1931, only without the roofed second deck.


The Milwaukee version features a WPA Project number, so we know this rendering post-dates Cleveland's stadium, as the Works Progress Administration wasn't created until 1935.

If built, this stadium would have replaced Borchert Field as the home of the Brewers. Ah, what might have been....

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Milwaukee Bears at the Milwaukee County Historical Society

We begin our look at the artifacts from "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee's Sports and Recreation History" exhibit at the Milwaukee County Historical Society with the Milwaukee Bears. The Bears represented Milwaukee in the Negro National League club for just one year, 1923. They have since become well-known thanks to our National League Brewers, who have made "Negro League Tribute Night" an annual event since 2006. Even if there has historically been some confusion about just what the Bears' uniforms looked like.

Here's the exhibit's look at Milwaukee's Negro League history.


A little brief, but then again so is the history.

Here's a closer look at the display:


Excellent photos, though, especially the one of our hometown team.

That's a better look at the photo we first saw earlier this year. This the photo that settled once and for all what the Brewers' throwbacks should look like.


The exhibit also a replica jersey, made by Ebbets Field Flannels.


Ebbets Field is one of our favorites, but I'm a little confused by this one. Each of the Bears throwbacks have been double-knit polyester, not this classic flannel. Was it made as a potential prototype? I've asked Ebbets, we'll see what they say.

Next up - the Milwaukee Badgers. Our very own NFL team.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A look back at "Back Yards to Big Leagues"

Over the next couple weeks, we're going to take a look back at the recently-closed exhibit "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History". It covered not only the big ones—Brewers, Packers, Bucks, Admirals—but also the many short-lived teams that peppered our city's history. Special thanks to longtime readers Mike Reschke and Cyndy Holtan for their photo assist.


The Milwaukee County Historical Society's building is stunning. Originally a bank, the marble-and-brass serve as a dignified compliment to the artifacts on display.


This kiosk welcomed visitors and let them know what to expect:

Sure you know the Bucks and Brewers, and maybe even the Braves. But, do you know the Bears, Badgers, Bavarians, and Bonecrushers? How about the Hawks, Does, Chiefs, and Chicks?

Milwaukee's sports and recreation history is exciting and extensive. There are dozens of teams and sports with a good story, all of which play a role in shaping Milwaukee social and sporting landscape. This exhibit looks at many of the people, teams, and sports that have been instrumental in shaping our sporting lives. It may not cover it all, but this exhibit will provide a new appreciation of the breadth of Milwaukee sports and recreation and how engaging in these activities, as a fan or participant, can influence the development of our community.
On the reverse, a quick shout-out to the many sponsors, including the city's current pro teams.


So, tune in tomorrow as we take a look at the exhibit itself.

First up... the Milwaukee Bears!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Happy Belated "National Zipper Day"!

So yesterday was apparently "National Zipper Day". Which is a thing, I guess. But fortunately, I had the perfect thing to wear:


It's a reproduction of this beauty as seen on Brewers shortstop Johnny Logan:


The piping down the front isn't quite right—it should run down the middle of the placket, not the outside seam—but I still love it. And it's got a zipper, so I guess it's also seasonally-appropriate.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Last Chance for "Back Yards to Big Leagues"


If you haven't seen "Back Yards to Big Leagues: Milwaukee’s Sports and Recreation History" at the Milwaukee County Historical Society's riverside location, you have one last chance. They've given us a brief "overtime" this morning, and you can check it out until 1:30 PM.


If you haven't yet gone, go now. We'll look at some of the Borchert-related highlights next week, but you really have to see it in person.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Opening Day at the Orchard, 1948

It was a momentous day for the Brews, even by home-opener standards.

The 1948 Brewers opened with a road trip, as our 2018 Crew did. Those Brewers came home to Milwaukee after stints in Toledo, Indianapolis and Louisville with a 6-7 record.

Seventy years ago today, the Milwaukee faithful packed their old wooden ballpark to see the Brewers play their home opener. And thanks to a timely grand salami from the bat of third-sacker Damon Phillips, the many fans went home happy.


The Milwaukee Sentinel's box score headline was typically understated.


Result aside, this opener was an historic day for Milwaukee baseball fans; this was the first game to be broadcast on television.

The broadcast didn't harm attendance at Borchert Field, though; nearly 14,000 fans packed the old wooden ballpark (the Sentinel reported 13,758, the Journal a more modest 13,705). Either way, that was about four thousand above its standard seating capacity, so the Brews turned again to their customary solution.

Part of the overflow crowd of 13,705 fans who greeted the Milwaukee Brewers in their first appearance of the season at Borchert field Tuesday is shown watching the action from left center field. It was the largest opening day crowd in 10 years. —Journal staff
They packed the overflow fans into the spacious corners of the infield. As was their custom in such situations, any ball hit into the seated fans was a ground-rule double.

The Sentinel also had good coverage:


As was customary, the governor and mayor both put in an appearance. And, of course, both wanted in on the first pitch ceremony.

READY TO GO— GOV. (Catcher) Oscar Rennebohm, Coach Ray Berres, Manager Nick Cullop and Mayor (Pitcher) Frank Zeidler are snapped just before Zeidler goes out on the mound to officially open yesterday's first home game for the Brewers against the Mud Hens of Toledo.
In addition to the main sports page, the morning paper also devoted an entire page to photographs of the festivities:


Wow. Look at that crowd.

Fans jammed the stands and overflowed onto the field yesterday for Milwaukee's home opener against Toledo.
Everything appeared rosy the Toledo Mud Hens in the sixth inning of the home opener yesterday. In that inning they scored four runs, two of them on a double by Boris Woyt, center fielder. Here Boris slides safely into second base. Johnny Logan holds the relay from the outfield while Gene Markland stands by.
Boris Woyt did O.K. for himself in the sixth, but in the 5th it was a different story. That's Boris racing toward third base trying to beat the ball to the bag, which he failed to do. Waiting for the throw from the Brewer catcher, Paul Burris, is Damon Phillips. Toledo Manager George Detore is the coach.
The third-base photographer got quite a workout, also capturing Brewer runners making a beeline for the hot corner.

Brewer pitcher Glenn Elliott got a free pass to first base in the third inning and went to second on a single. But that's as far as he got. The next batter hit to the infield and Elliott (racing toward the camera) was forced out at third. Don Richmond made the put out. Brew Manager Nick Cullop got in on the play.
Love that view of the Brewers' simple, bold number font.

The "lucky 7th" was lucky for the Brews when Damon Phillips clouted the game winning home run with the bases loaded. Gene Markland moved in to shake Phillips' hand as he crossed the plate. No. 17 is Carden Gillenwater. Heinz Becker is at the left and Nanny Fernandez at the right behind Markland. Sentinel Photos by Elmer Richardson.
The font's "1" is even better, a single sans-serif vertical bar.

I love how Elmer Richardson snapped his photo just after the unnamed Journal staff photographer.

An enthusiastic welcome awaited Damon Phillips at home plate after the Brewer third baseman had hit a grand slam home run in the seventh inning to give Milwaukee a 7-5 victory over Toledo in the home opener Tuesday. The reception committee included Carden Gillenwater (shaking hands with Philips), Heinz Becker (behind Gillenwater), Gene Markland and Nanny Fernandez, all of whom had been on base at the time. The Brewer bat boy and Frank Mancuso, Toledo catcher, look on as the Brewers rejoice. —Journal staff
Bonus points to the Journal for actually catching Phillips with his foot on the plate.

Yes indeed, 1948 was off to a rip-roaring start. What a great time to be a Brewer fan.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Orchard in 1894

The Digital Archives of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee comes through again with a second set of Sanborn Maps. Previously, those maps showed us how Milwaukee looked in 1910, this time they catalog the Cream City as it appeared sixteen years earlier, in 1894.


This is a particularly fascinating map to peruse; so much of what today defines Milwaukee is absent. Take a look at this section of downtown:


City Hall, then a year from opening, is just a foundation. Virtually all the street names have been changed; what we call State Street is "Martin", Kilbourn Avenue is "Biddle", Wells Street is "Oneida". Interesting - Byron Kilbourn was founder of Kilbourntown, one of the three towns that would eventually combine to become Milwaukee in 1846. Daniel Wells was one of his primary investors. In 1894, the streets had different names on the other side of the river, Kilbourn's side. Sometime after this map was published, Wells Street was extended to include the former Oneida, and Biddle Street was combined with Cedar Street on the west side of the river into one unified Kilbourn Avenue.

"River Street" is now entirely gone between State and Wells. It was first buried under the Performing Arts Center in the 1960s, and then the Milwaukee Center two decades later. What remains north of State Street is now Edison Street, named for the Edison Electric Illuminating Co. power plant that once stood on River street just north of what is now Wells. That same power plant gives name to the Milwaukee Rep's Powerhouse Theater.

Of course, as fascinating as this is, we're really interested in Athletic Park. And here Sanborn comes through again.


Not a lot of development around the park - 7th and 8th Streets had been carved up into residential lots, but only a few houses had been built. The plots across both Burleigh and Chambers (their names unchanged since then) are still large and expansive, not yet subdivided for individual yards.


The ballpark itself was barely worthy of the name; one small grandstand section behind the plate, with "open seats" along the first- and third-base lines. Five small structures—one labeled "Dressing Room, another "Office", the rest undefined—complete the site.


This was only six years after Athletic Park hosted its first baseball games (or should that be "base ball"?) in May of 1988.

Just how much did Athletic Park evolve between this view in 1894 and our earlier look at 1910? Let's overlay and compare the two studies.


As you can see, the basic orientation is the same. But in the sixteen years between 1894 and 1910, several changes were made:
  • the grandstand was expanded and moved to the edge of the lot, maximizing the limited playing space in our single city block;
  • the grandstand was extended to include the third base bleachers (but not the first base side; I wonder if the setting sun might have had something to do with it, that they wanted to block late-afternoon light from the setting sun in the west?);
  • bleachers were built in the outfield; and
  • the dressing room was relocated from the southeast corner of the lot (on Chambers) to the northeast (Burleigh). Similarly, the office was moved from the southwest corner to the northwest
So what sort of action did this young Athletic Park see?

In 1894, the ballpark was the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Not the Brewers who play at Miller Park, obviously, or even our Brews who would prowl the Orchard during the 20th Century. These Brewers were the ones who inspired our Brewers' name.

These Brewers were charter members of a recently-reorganized minor league named the Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs. It was a strictly regional outfit, with clubs in Cleveland‚ Indianapolis‚ Kansas City‚ Omaha, and Toledo in addition to the Cream City. These Brewers played their first season at Athletic Park before moving to the then-new Lloyd Street Grounds. Why the move? Perhaps the Sanborn map of Milwaukee can give us a clue. The park hadn't been built when the 1894 survey was completed, but we can see the large tract of land it would occupy, between Lloyd and North Avenue, bordered by 16th Street on the east:


It's a full city block long, same as Athletic Park, but since 17th Street stopped at North Avenue this parcel of land was almost a half-block wider. That gave the Brewers a little more room to stretch; room they would need, as the Western League declared itself a competing major league and re-named itself the American League.

Again, we are indebted to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee for making these historic maps available to all online.

Friday, April 13, 2018

AAGPBL Baseball Card - Sylvia Wronski

Today we take a look at one of the very few pieces of Milwaukee Chicks/Schnitts merchandise ever offered for sale. This 1995 trading card depicts right-handed pitcher Sylvia Wronski, and is part of a set of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League cards produced in the mid-nineties by Larry Fritsch Cards, LLC of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.


There she is, in her uniform with the distinctive four-lobed Milwaukee city seal.

On the back of the card, some stats:


As you can see, Wronski had a remarkably short career. Her first year in the league was also Milwaukee's first (and only) season, and when the team moved to Grand Rapids in 1945 she went with them before being cut early in the season. In 1946 she was offered the opportunity to play for a semi-pro club in Chicago, but chose to stay in her hometown with her fiancé Ed Straka, whom she married the following year. Ed died of cancer in 1954, at the age of 29, and Sylvia went back to work to raise her three children.

Even in that short career, Wronski had moments of distinction. She was the starter in an exhibition game the Chicks played at Wrigley Field against the South Bend Blue Sox, a game attended by 16,000 baseball fans. She was only one of two Milwaukeeans to play for their hometown club, the other being Vivian Anderson at third base. Wronski also pitched the last Chicks game at Borchert field, a complete game 4–2 win over the Kenosha Comets, in which she held the Comets to only six hits.

The Society for American Baseball Research has a great biography of Wronski written by Jim Nitz; I highly recommend it.

If you're interested in these AAGPBL cards, you can order complete sets at the Fritch website.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Turn Ahead the Clock. Again.

Back in 1999, the Brewers participated in a rather unusual event known as "Turn Ahead the Clock". A counterpoint to the traditional "Turn Back the Clock", where teams wear vintage style uniforms, this postulated a future where teams wore sleeveless pullovers with gaudy graphics, and brought them into the 20th century for an evening. It also postulated that the Mets would relocate from Queens to Mercury, but the less said about that the better.

The Brewers didn't host a TATC game, but they participated in one down in Miami. And the results were... interesting.


The best thing to come out of this was the return of the Barrelman, who at the time had been discarded and abandoned by the Brew Crew. Strange as it may seem, but this was his first appearance on any Brewer jersey. In fact, it was his first appearance on any Brewer uniform aside from the 1942 warmup jackets.

Caps were sold at the time, but in limited number. You now have a chance to grab one, as part of Lids' exclusive deal with New Era.

Milwaukee Brewers New Era MLB Turn Ahead The Clock 59FIFTY Cap

$34.99

Style: 20979185
Color: Navy/navy
Material: Made of 70% Wool, Woven, 30% Polyester, Woven
Departments: Fitted,59FIFTY
Primary Logo: Raised Embroidery Letter on Front Middle
Back Logo: Flat Embroidery League on Center
Crown: High
Closure: Fitted
Fit: Structured
Bill Type: Normal

They're selling a whole line of them, though (mercifully) not the Mercury Mets.

Now, this cap isn't a precise replica of the original. Compare:

photo credit: wtmj.com

The logo isn't exact—you can see that they've moved him up a bit inside the square, revealing slightly more of his barrel chest—but it's close. And his cap is now gold instead of blue, which is an upgrade in æsthetic if not historical terms. Slightly puzzling, though; MLB had moved to digital files by 1999, so certainly New Era has the original specs in their files somewhere. Why re-create the logo from scratch, as they apparently did?

Still, this is an opportunity to own a rare and fun cap. And anything with the Barrelman is notable on its own.

Stock seems to be extremely limited - several sizes have sold out in the couple days since I first became aware of this offering. Act now, and you still may be able to snag yours.