Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Milwaukee Chicks 75th Anniversary Night!

Yay! It's official!

For the past several weeks, I have been in talks with the Milwaukee Brewers to host an event honoring the 75th Anniversary of the 1944 AAGPBL Champion Milwaukee Chicks. And now they've made it public!

From the Brewers' website:

Milwaukee Chicks 75th Anniversary

The Brewers are teaming up with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Milwaukee Chicks' 1944 AAGPBL title. Join us as we celebrate women in baseball by purchasing this special ticket package, which includes a seat for the Brewers matchup against the Pirates on Saturday, June 29, and a commemorative Milwaukee Chicks 75th Anniversary hat. Additionally, a portion of all Milwaukee Chicks 75th Anniversary ticket package proceeds will be donated to the AAGPBL Players Association.

Saturday, Jun 29 7:15 PM v. the Pittsburgh Pirates
The giveaway will be a cap - I haven't seen a mockup yet, but I'm hoping that it looks like the old Chicks/Schnitts cap with the "M" in front and maybe a 75th Anniversary logo on the side.

Can't tell you all how overjoyed I am that this is finally official. It honestly hasn't seemed real, even as I spoke with the club about it. But now that they've gone public, I can breath a little easier.

Thank you all for making your voices heard, and I'll see you at the ballpark!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Land of the Free, and the Home of the... Cards?

We all know the story, how the success of the Brewers coupled with the shiny-new County Stadium led the Braves to relocate from Boston to Milwaukee.

But... what if Perini didn't move his club from Beantown to Beertown? What if another club just barely beat him to it?

This is one of the great lost stories in baseball lore, almost forgotten today. It's the tale of how the Cardinals almost moved to Milwaukee in the spring of 1953.

St. Louis had long struggled to support both its clubs. The Cardinals were easily the more successful, but the Browns owned the ballpark that they shared. One would have to move, and when push came to shove real estate may well have been the deciding factor.

Fred Saigh
St. Louis's bad situation came to a head on January 28, 1953, when Cardinals owner Fred Saigh pleaded "no contest" to two counts of income tax evasion stemming from his purchase of the club six years earlier. The National League quickly moved towards expelling him from organized baseball, and Saigh agreed to sell his full ownership of the Cards before serving his fifteen-month prison sentence.

At the same time, just three hundred and twenty-five miles north, the brand new Milwaukee County Stadium was nearing completion. Workers were putting the finishing touches on the ballpark in advance of its planned April 15 opening, just ten weeks away.

Ostensibly built to house the Brewers, the new "Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium" offered state-of-the-art facilities and nearly 30,000 seats. It was designed to put many major-league parks to shame, and openly intended to lure one of them to the Cream City. The Brewers would be its first tenants, but not for long.

So the pieces were all in place. St. Louis had a baseball team in need of new ownerhip and a new ballpark, while Milwaukee was in a unique position to offer both.

Fred Miller
On January 30, 1953, local brewer and sports booster Frederick C. Miller told the Milwaukee Journal's R. G. Lynch that he had been offered a chance to bring the Browns to Milwaukee over the previous winter, but the move would not have included a majority ownership stake, which wasn't to Miller's liking. At the same time, Miller denied that he had been in talks to buy the Cardinals, but in reality they were far enough along that Saigh had already offered to sell the club to him. Miller had balked at Saigh's initial asking price of $4.5 million dollars, but negotiations between the two men were ongoing.

The Cardinals had other bidders, including groups from St.Louis and Houston, but Milwaukee seemed the favorite to win. At one point, front office employees were told that the organization would cover their moving expenses should they decide to move to Milwaukee with the team.

In the end, Miller lost out when Anheuser-Busch bought the team. Saigh settled for less money—$3.75 million—to keep the Cardinals in St. Louis. Browns owner Bill Veeck saw the writing on the wall, knew he couldn't compete with the beer company's deep pockets, and sold them the only thing his Browns had that the Cardinals wanted: Sportsman's Park. Veeck decided to move the Browns back to Milwaukee (where they had played from 1885 through 1901) but was foiled by Lou Perini, who still owned the Milwaukee territorial rights along with the Brewers.

So the Cardinals stayed put in St. Louis. Veeck was eventually able to secure a home for his club in Baltimore, where they still play today as the Orioles. The Braves, of course, moved in to Milwaukee County Stadium themselves, and you know the story from there. The tale of the would-be "Milwaukee Cardinals" was quickly forgotten.

Fred Miller at County Stadium (Credit: MillerCoors Milwaukee Archives)

Now, it seems likely that Saigh was just using Fred Miller and the other buyers in an attempt to drive up the price before selling to local St. Louis interests. And it's also very possible that Perini would have had the National League block the relocation even if Miller and Company were able to complete the sale, as he did with Veeck's Browns.

But man oh man, think about how different the baseball landscape would be today had Stan Musial gotten his 3,000th hit in front of his hometown fans at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

AAGPBL Baseball Card - Vivian Anderson

We've previously seen a Fristch card remembering pitcher Sylvia Wronski, now she is joined by Vivian Anderson, the only other Milwaukee woman to play for her hometown AAGPL team.

Like the first card, this one 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.

Born Vivian Sherrifs on April 21, 1921, she was an athlete from an early age, playing not only baseball but also basketball, field hockey, and football with local boys. Her parents made her give up football over injury concerns, but she continued her baseball career, playing in local baseball leagues by the time she was fourteen. There she would later meet Daniel Anderson, a coach who would become her husband in 1942. Daniel was also a a staff sergeant in the Army, and was shipped overseas shortly after their marriage.

Two years later, Anderson was signed out of the very popular West Allis League, where she had played with and against other local girls. The AAGPBL extensively scouted the league for talent, and she was invited to the league's 1944 spring training camp.

The AAGPBL was a league of nicknames, and she was no exception. She was known to her teammates as "Andy". With her husband in the service, Anderson lived with her parents during her time with the Schnitts.

Her season was cut short by an injury. On June 4, 1944, the Schnitts were in South Bend playing a double-header against the Blue Sox. She suffered a collision at third, trying to field the ball as the runner crashed into her.

"The baseball, someone sliding into the base, and me – all at one time – hit (my) fingers."

The contact smashed the index and middle fingers of her right hand, taking her out of the game.

The club was enduring a rash of injuries at the time, with four starters on the bench nursing various ailments. Pitcher Connie Wisniewski had a twisted knee, second baseman Alma Ziegler a twisted leg, and left fielder Thelma Eisen a sprained knee.

Anderson was initially diagnosed with a sprain, less serious than Wisniewski's twisted knee, and the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that all four women were expected to "return to action in a few days." The league cancelled its next game following the D-Day invasion of France, which should have given Anderson an extra day to recover.

When she was checked out by a doctor back in Milwaukee, however, the true extent of her injury was apparent. She had four fractures in the two fingers, and that was it for her season. The doctor—the same sawbones who had removed the toes of Brewers outfielder Hal Peck after his hunting accident—suggested smputating the fingers, but she balked at the suggestion and found physicians willing to use less extreme methods. Anderson was able to keep her fingers, but not her spot on the team.

Andy stayed with the club as a third-base coach for the next few months, where the large splint on her right hand couldn't stop her. A true teammate to the end, she stayed with the Schnitts all the way to the end of the season, traveling with them to Kenosha for the championship series, where they defeated the Kenosha Comets in seven games to take the AAGPBL championship.

Anderson never returned to the AAGPBL, but not even two permanently-crooked fingers could kill her love of baseball or keep her off the diamond. As the team moved to Michigan to become the Grand Rapids, she headed south to play professional fast-pitch for the Bluebirds in the Chicago National Girls Baseball League. She played two years in Chicago before coming back to Milwaukee to play professional and semi-pro ball before finally hanging up her spikes. She and Daniel divorced in 1946. She returned to her maiden name, and had a long professional career before retiring at the age of 89 in 2010.

She died in 2012, having lived long enough to see a resurgence of interest in her youthful career. She was one of five former player interviewed by students at the the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for their "Forgotten Champions" oral history project.

Andy is part of the "Women in Baseball" permanent exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown and was inducted into the Wall of Honor at Miller Park as part of its inaugural class in 2001. A lifelong resident of Milwaukee, she became a fixture on the local baseball scene, appearing at SABR conventions and telling stories. Much of what we know of the Schnitts, we know from her first-hand recollections.

Andy in her playing days and at an AAGPBL player panel discussion
at the 2001 SABR Convention in Milwaukee

Although her time on the Borchert Field diamond was short, she had an invaluable contribution in preserving the story of the AAGPBL in Milwaukee. For that, we will always be grateful.

Friday, January 4, 2019

1937 Season Pass

This wallet-sized card, 3¾ inches wide by 2¼ inches tall, served as a season pass for 1937.

Stamped number 125, it "extends the courtesy of Borchert Field" to Sentinel Engraving. The name obviously fed into the typewriter at somewhat of an angle.

I don't know if Sentinel Engraving was a separate business, or referred to the engraving department at the Milwaukee Sentinel. But I'm struck that the line for a name includes "MR" as standard. I suppose an extra letter could have been typed to accomodate any "Mrs", but did they really extend the courtesy of Borchert Field to so few "Miss"es?

The pass is printed with the signature of Henry Bendinger, then the owner of the club. A lawyer by trade, Bendinger bought the Brewers in 1932. He restored the struggling club to a hint of its former glory, winning the American Association pennant in 1936. He can be seen in the second row in this photo of his championship club, wearing a brown suit:

Some time around 1940, Bendinger decided to sell his interest in the Brews. He approached Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley to gauge his interest. Wrigley declined, but two other figures in the Cubs' administration knew a good opportunity when they saw it, and in June of 1941 Charlie Grimm and Bill Veeck took over as the new owners of the Brewers.