Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Brewing a Different Kind of Pride in Milwaukee

There are two shirts currently up for auction on eBay, auctions which reminded me of a lost chapter in Borchert Field's history.

Borchert Field Milwaukee Brewers American Assoc. Baseball t shirt white large

Milwaukee Brewers American Association Baseball t shirt gray large Champs!

I recognized these shirts instantly. They have graphics never seen before or since.

The first has an image of Borchert Field.

I like the particulars; 8th & Chambers, the phone number COncord 5482. I have to admit that phone number is a new one for me; we've seen COncord 3180 in 1943 and 1944, and COncord 4-8227 in 1950.

The second shirt features a new interpretation of our beloved Owgust.

In front of our little beer-barreled friend are three baseballs, labeled "Champs / Little World Series / 1951 / '47 / '36"

Now you might think those dates incomplete. After all, the Brewers won five postseason championship series against the winners of other leagues: 1913, 1914, 1936, 1947, and 1951 (along with eight American Association pennants). But only three of those postseason series were actually known as the Little World Series, which didn't become an annual event until 1919. In 1913 and 1914, the Brewers organized their own "minor league championship", playing the Denver Grizzlies of the Western League in '13 and Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association in '14. So it's clear our artist has done the research.

So where did these shirts come from? They came from a now-forgotten little store in the then-new Grand Avenue Mall, and they may well be the first American Association Brewers merchandise produced after team moved and their ballpark razed.

They were sold in the early 1990s in a store called "Pride of Milwaukee", a kiosk at Grand Avenue. Opened in 1989, Pride of Milwaukee was co-owned by childhood friends Paul Miller and Kevin Callahan, and for five years they sold Milwaukee-themed products. Including, as it turns out, shirts commemorating Milwaukee's pre-Braves baseball history.

In 1994, Pride of Milwaukee lost its Harley-Davidson license, and with it much of its product line. Miller and Callahan went on to have a profound impact on Milwaukee's culture. Miller had already co-founded a local coffee company called Alterra Coffee Roasters the year before, and after shuttering their Grand Avenue kiosk Callahan joined him at Alterra. Callahan started as a delivery driver but quickly become their in-house designer.

Callahan was instrumental in their re-branding to Collectivo, designing the new logo and some of the coffee house's most iconic designs.

Outstanding. I'd love to see what Callahan could do with Owgust today.

These two shirts represent a unique connection in Milwaukee's history, linking a local institution of the 20th century with one from the 21st. You can bid on them them up here and here.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Rare Photo - the 1923 Milwaukee Bears

The short-lived Milwaukee Bears club has long been a source of curiosity.

The Brewers have worn three different throwback uniforms honoring the one-year Negro League club.

2001 2006,

They also wore a gray road version of the black-and-white in 2006.

So which is it? Seems very unlikely that a short-lived team could have had so many uniforms; given the economics of the league it's far more likely the Bears would have eschewed home-and-roads entirely for one single uniform.

I remember when the black-and-whites were brought back in 2013, I asked the Brewers why they had ditched the blue-and-cream "BEARS" uniforms for a return of the pinstripes. I was told that they had come across new photographic evidence indicating that the club had been right back in 2006. Now, we get a look at one of those photos.

Frankly, I prefer the 2009 uniform. At least the cap. But I'll always opt for an historically accurate throwback. And now we can say with confidence that when the Brew Crew take the field at Miller Park wearing their black pinstripes, they're paying a proper tribute to one of the clubs that prowled old Borchert Field.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"The First Rows of Summer", 1938

From the 1938 home opener, we get this amazing photo from the Milwaukee Journal of fans leaving the ballpark by... walking on the field?

The first rows of summer leaving the ball park. Fans were asked to respect the infield grass as they started for their streetcars on 8th st., but not all of them remembered. The grass looked more than fit to stand up under a few score grounders and a few thousand exits.
Unfortunately, the focal point is the foreground. But we can still get a great deal of information about Borchert Field from the entire photo.

I love the uniforms worn by the ushers, as they stand trying (in vain) to keep the fans off the infield.

White jackets with dark ties and trousers. Can't tell what color their peaked caps are - blue, perhaps? The white jackets certainly make them stand out in this photo, as they would have stood out at the ballpark.

The entire Borchert Field staff was given new uniforms for 1938 by team owner Henry "Heinie" Bendiger, who had purchased the Brewers from the Phil Ball estate in early 1934.

Speaking of uniforms, this gentleman at home field is wearing what appears to be a dark jacket with the name "BREWERS" in arched letters across the back.

I'd love to know more about this. Team jacket? Or maybe coveralls? Perhaps that's the groundskeeper, watching the fans trample his grass underfoot.

The photo also shows us the rudimentary safety precautions at the Orchard. Today, our ballparks have netting wrapped around the diamond from base to base, and behind home plate all the way up to the second level. In 1938, however, only a few feet of fencing stood between Bendiger's patrons and the field.

This appears to be a public address speaker, hung just below the roof:

Speaking of ballpark infrastructure, we can see once again how obtrusive the light poles must have been. They were added in 1935, almost fifty years after the ballpark opened, and for want of a better place were installed on the field directly in front of the stands.

And finally, we get another look at Borchert Field's distinctive angled dugouts.

The Brewers won that day, beating the Columbus Red Birds 9-2. Aside from being Opening Day, it was also manager Al Sothoron's birthday, and starting pitcher Whitlow Wyatt gave him one heck of a present; a wonderful four-hit complete game. Those two Columbus runs came in the eighth, when the Brewers were already up 6-0.

It must have been a heady experience for the Milwaukee faithful; the first win in the books, walking over the Borchert Field grass on the way to the exit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Beer and J. C. Penney, 1993

This photo recently surfaced on eBay:

Longtime readers will recognize it as being from a Turn Back the Clock event held at Milwaukee County Stadium on on July 6, 1993. This was the first TBTC event the Brewers had hosted, held only a couple years after the White Sox had pioneered the concept. For their first event, the Brewers eschewed any actual American Association uniforms for a gray creation intended to give off a 1920s vibe; they looked sharp but were of dubious historical value.

As you can see from our top photo, County Stadium herself was dressed up in vintage clothing.

This is a great addition to our historical record, and I'm going to add it to the original post.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Newcomer on the Mound, 1936

This picture was published in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday, March 8, 1936. The Brewers had just opened their Spring Training camp at Lake Wales, Florida, and this man was among those hoping to make the club.

A NEWCOMER to the Milwaukee pitching staff is Joe Heving, who's shown here all wound up and ready to let fly. The former big leaguer is expected to bolster the Brewer staff considerably. Other pitching regulars probably will be Garland Braxton, if he signs; Presnell, Hamlin and Clyde Hatter.
It's an unusual photo, taken from above as the pitcher begins his windup. The ground fills the frame, forming a rough backdrop that works very well with the intricate texture and deep folds of his flannel uniform. A closer look reveals some of the crude airbrushing of the day, exaggerating the lines around his eyes and giving him a somewhat-kabuki appearance up close.

There's only one problem; that's not Joe Heving.

The caption on the reverse of the photo crosses out Heving's name entirely. Along the top, a handwritten notation: "Luke Hamlin".

So who is it? Heving, Hamlin, or someone else entirely?

Joe Heving was, as the original caption indicated, "former big leaguer" who was new to the Brewers. At thirty-five years of age, had already pitched for fifteen seasons. Most recently he had spent 1933 and 1934 hurling for the White Sox at Comiskey Park. That second season was a rough one, and he was sent to the Louisville Colonels. Heving, perhaps not willing to accept the "former" part of that title, refused to accept his assignment and sat out the 1935 season rather than play for Louisville. Now, a year later, he had a lot on the line when he reported to the Brewers' spring training camp.

On the other hand, Luke Hamlin was well-known to the fans at Borchert Field. Like Heving, he was in his thirties (thirty-one year as the season started). He was also a former big leaguer, who had spent part of 1933 and all of 1934 in the Show. In Hamlin's case it was Detroit, where he earned an ERA of 5.38 in 1934, his only full season. Hamlin was about to start his second season with the Brewers, after going 8-14 in thirty appearances with the Brews in 1935.

Both men pitched well as the Brewers cruised to the 1936 American Association pennant. Heving went 19-12 with an ERA of 3.48, and Hamlin was just behind him with 19-14 and an 3.82 ERA. Similarly, both found used their time in Milwaukee to vault themselves back in the bigs in '36; when the next season opened, Hamlin was with Brooklyn and Heving was hurling in Cleveland.

So which one is shown in our photo? Google makes this one easy. Let's take a look at the two men in the years immediately following this one, when Heving had been traded to the Boston Red Sox and Hamlin was in Dodger blue.

Joe Heving in 1938
(Getty Images)
Luke Hamlin in 1937

Two clean-shaven men of approximate age; I guess it's possible to see where an editor might have misattributed the photo. But looking at the two men side by side, there's no question. Between the deep vertical lines on his cheeks and the thin lips, that's obviously Hamlin in our photo.

Whoever corrected the attribution was dead-on.