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.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Milwaukee Tavern Scorecard - June 2, 1924

This tavern card, that uniquely Milwaukee institution of the early 20th century, was published on June 2, 1924. It was distributed to watering holes all around the Cream City,


The card is credited to "B. F. Steinel" and "C. Leysenaar". We've seen that first before on other cards, but the second is new to me. A quick check of corporate records indicate that a Cornelius Leysenaar owned a printing company going back at least thirteen years before this time. I don't know why Mr. Steinel took on a new partner, but it didn't seem to take; by 1927 he was again the only person listed.

The box score tells a sad story for the hometown heroes:


They let the visiting St. Paul Saints off to a quick lead in the second, cut it in half in the bottom of the inning, then let the Saints double it again and add another before staging a mini-rally in the bottom of the fourth. In the bottom of the seventh the Brewers scored four runs to take the lead before surrendering it again in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Brewers plated a run to tie the game and send it into extra innings, finally surrendering two runs in the top of the 11th to seal the game for St. Paul.

That loss had to have been especially frustrating for a Brewers club in desperate need of a win; they were coming off a disastrous road trip, having lost 10 of their last 11 games. At the conclusion of this game they stood solidly in the American Association cellar with a .400 record, 16-24.


Ouch.

Looking around the majors, it's interesting to note that the two New York clubs were on top of the two leagues (with Brooklyn fairly close behind in the senior circuit), and the Philadelphia clubs were each in last place.

As always, the ads give us a wonderful glimpse into a section of Milwaukee life of the day. So far as I can tell, all the establishments are gone now, even the two printing companies, but there are some here more notable than others.


The Boynton Cab Company was one of the earliest cab companies in the city, having started with horse-drawn wagons in 1858. In 1903 the company purchased its first four motorized cabs and began the transition to automobiles. In 1923, just one year before this card was printed, the Boyntons purchased the Milwaukee Yellow Cab Company and the Black and White Yellow Cab Company, consolidating their hold on the marketplace. No wonder they could afford to undercut their competitors' rates. The Boynton Company was in business for 121 years, an amazing run. When it finally closed its doors in 1979, several of its drivers formed the Yellow Cab Cooperative, which still ferries passengers today.


Morgenroth, the "baseball and boxing headquarters", has an interesting story. Run by "Honest John" Morgenroth, it was the hub of the Cream City's illegal gambling industry, with everything from a roulette wheel to news tickers to track horse racing results. It flourished for years, until Honest John attracted the wrong kind of attention by investing in a business run by Mayor Daniel Hoan. The press (and police) could no longer turn a blind eye to "Milwaukee's sporting headquarters", and the joint was shut down in 1931 following a series of vice raids.

As always, these cards tell us as much about Milwaukee of the day as they told tavern patrons about the previous day's ball games.

Monday, April 2, 2018

"Now We Got More Kinds of Bums", 1948

In a few short hours, at 2:10 PM Central Daylight Time, the Milwaukee Brewers will take the field at Miller Park for their 2018 Home Opener of 2018. This is a special day for every fan of the True Blue Brew Crew, myself included, and even though I can't be in the stands this afternoon I still intend to watch.

To put this in context, let's take a look at Opening Day in Milwaukee, seventy years ago. Or rather, one particular aspect of that Opening Day. We'll review the game itself on the actual anniversary in a couple weeks, the coverage was too good not to, but there's something specific I'd like to talk about today. The 1948 home opener was a special one, because for the first time it was televised.


Check out this advertisement for Philco televisions, published on Monday, April 26, 1948, the day before the Brews' home opener:


That central image is something, the "sensational Philco 1001" showing a baseball game on its "full-size television receiver, 24 tubes plus 3 rectifiers, with a big 10-inch picture."

For that 10-inch picture, you'd pay $349.50 (plus $1.75 federal tax, installation extra). That's a staggering $3,656.40 in today's dollars, adjusting for inflation. Not counting the $18.31 tax, installation still extra.

The lowest-price television listed in that ad comes out to $2,087.13 in 2018 greenbacks, the most expensive $4,702.58. There's one additional model, a "B-I-G 20 x 15-INCH" projection television "almost as big as a large-size newspaper page!". The price isn't listed in this ad, but it retailed for $795 ($8,317.14). Guess I'd have to settle for the "big 10-inch picture" of the Philco 1001.

And do you see that across the bottom?
If you can't get to the Brewers' opening game tomorrow, see it on PHILCO TELEVISION at your nearest Philco dealer*
*Consult your classified telephone directory for location

And "see it" they did, not only at their nearest Philco dealer but also at bars, restaurants, department stores, and other gathering places.

This was a novelty that the Milwaukee Journal covered right along with its coverage of the game the next day:


Cleon Walfoort, writing in the Journal, brought the subject to colorful life:
Television May Have Changed Baseball but Fans Are the Same

It stood in the paper, as Otto pointed out in the streetcar on the way to work, that 13,705 baseball fans saw the Brewers play for the first time this season Tuesday afternoon, but that isn't right at all. It must have been three or maybe four times that number, maybe a lot more. No doubt 13,705 is the number who jammed Borchert field for the home opener but countless others say the Brewers, too—on television, and for the first time.

They gathered in large and little groups all over town. At Joe's place (where good fellows meet) and at the Dew Drop Inn (Tables for ladies). At the big downtown stores and appliance shops where they have bigger screens and less opinionated fans. In the dimly lighted cocktail lounges and in homes. In all these places the Brewers opened the baseball season as surely as they opened it at Borchert field.

As John, the bartender who used to play baseball in the minors, was saying: "It ain't exactly like being out at the park but it's a lot better than just radio."

You got to give it a chance to grow up," someone reminded him.
Walfoort highlighted some of the flaws with this new medium, kinks to be worked out, while recognizing its soaring potential.
Sometimes the play was too far away to follow accurately. Once something happened to the camera and the screen blanked out for half an inning. In some places reflections from the sun that streamed through open doors or interior lights distorted the images on the larger screens. Still, a lot—not all, admittedly, but a lot—of the excitement and thrills and suspense of the action on the diamond filtered into places remote from Borchert field through the medium of the recent scientific miracle.

The umpires were far removed from verbal blasts but that didn't mean that they were immune from criticism, any more than was Manager Cullop when he was slow taking the pitcher or when new shortstop Logan, when he made the low peg to first. Television may have changed baseball, but is has had little effect on the fan, except that he now has a double target to which he speedily adjusted himself. The announcer has become as legitimate a target as the umpire, and radio never was quite like that. Like the time the count was 3-2 on (Brewer pitcher Glenn) Elliot and the announcer struck him out on the next pitch.

"That bum!" said the man with the beer in disgust, meaning the umpire. But it had been a fourth ball, and when Elliot trotted to first the man amended it. "Still a bum, only now it's the announcer."

"Yeah," seconded the fellow in the coaching box near the juke box, "now we got more kinds of bums."
Walfoort paints quite a picture. So strange to see Johnny Logan, "Johnny Brewer" himself, described as the "new shortstop" to be booed by fans watching the game all over Milwaukee.
Nor does television cramp the style of the second guessers, although the spectators who drop in for a quick one, or just to see how the game's coming and how baseball televises, probably as not as astute students of the national pastime as are their brethren who inhabit Borchert field.

And the man at Joe's place wasn't so much different than the fan behind first base, even allowing for the fact that he may have had just one too many.

"Never could see that Cullop as a manager," the man said positively when Elliot was knocked out of the box. "Imagine starting a southpaw with all them right handed hitters like Toledo has. Should have used Roy."

But two innings and at least that many beers later the man had changed his mind. It was right after (third baseman Damon) Phillips had hit that jackpot homer and it looked as if the Brewers were in.

"Great hitter, that Phillips," said the man. "Spotted him the first time I ever saw him swing a bat. Them Brewers are first division for sure. Might even win the pennant. That Cullop gets a lot out of his pitchers."

Then maybe you ought to let Cullop run the team," his pal said, but this suggestion was dismissed as unworthy of any real consideration. Television hasn't changed the baseball fan.
It certainly hasn't.

Life is different in 2018. Thanks to the MLB At Bat app, I'm going to stream today's game while sitting in my office in Midtown Manhattan, watching on an iPad with a screen just barely smaller than that "big 10-inch picture" on the Philco 1001.


And while I do, I promise not to call the announcers "bums". At least not too loudly.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

"Hop" On Towards the Orchard


A reader sent me an article from this morning's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Columnist Steve Jagler write about downtown business leaders' reactions to "the Hop", Milwaukee's new streetcar.

Jagler interviewed a dozen local business representatives for his piece. They were almost all bullish on the new transit service, but there was one wag who made a contrary point with style:

Steve Laughlin, executive chairman at Milwaukee-based Laughlin Constable, chose to have some fun with his response to my questions.

"I’m going to celebrate the opening of the Milwaukee's new trolley by taking a railroad train from downtown Chicago to the beautiful Northwestern Railroad Station," Laughlin said. "I'll hop aboard the new trolley and head west toward Borchert Field for a ball game. I'll be tempted to visit Schuster's new department store on the way. I hope there’s time for a tour of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. I’ve heard that someday we'll be able to include an airplane ride in this odyssey! It's 1918, and it’s great to be alive."
That's some good snark. But points off for failing to mention dirigibles.

And more importantly, when I started this blog nine years ago, a doubt that many people would have reached for Borchert Field as an example of Times Gone By. In the past decade, we've done a lot to raise awareness of this glorious chapter in Milwaukee's history, and even an example like this shows that we're making progress.