Thursday, March 28, 2019

"Brewers Show 'Zip, Zing' in Home Opener", 1949

This afternoon, the Brewers will open the 2019 season in Milwaukee, taking on the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park.

Seventy years ago next month, on Thursday, April 28, 1949, the original Brewers had their own Opening Day. A week into the American Association season, they came home from a road trip to kick off their forty-eighth season at Borchert Field with a game against the Toledo Mud Hens.

Let's take a look at the Milwaukee Sentinel's coverage of that game, starting with the front page:

Mayor Zeidler, displaying the form of a veteran baseballer, gets ready to fire the first ball of the season just before the start of the Milwaukee-Toledo game at Borchert Field yesterday afternoon. An overflow crowd of 13,666 fans saw the Brewers pound the bases for a 9 to 1 victory. Page of pictures and game details in the Sports Section.
—Sentinel photo
That's pretty good form from Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler. Interesting not only that he's throwing off the mound instead of from the stands, but also that he appears to have taken a full wind-up. Hizzoner certainly gives the appearance of a man who really didn't want to bounce it to the catcher, but that's exactly what he did, one-hopping it to Wisconsin Governor Oscar Rennebohm behind the plate.

I love the cap with suit. In the days before sports merchandising was a thing, even the caps were hard to come by and rare to see off the diamond.

The front page is good, but it also promises us more inside. Let's turn now to the photo series, on page 3 of the sports section:
Brewers Show 'Zip, Zing' in Home Opener
Well, that headline gets us off to a good start.

Sadly, the reproduction of the page leaves our photo quality wanting. But even in this corrupted state, we get an excellent glimpse of our Brewers of 1949.

This is an excellent shot of the Brewers' Paul Burris connecting for one of his four singles at Borchert Field yesterday against the Hens. He had a perfect day at bat and continued to lead the club at hitting. The receiver is Joe Ginsberg, a highly touted Detroit Tiger catching hopeful.
Can't disagree; that is an excellent shot. A gorgeous Brewers' uniform, all navy and red, but not quite the Braves clone it would later become.

There was a great roar from the crowd of 13,666 when brawny Nick Cullop, Brewer manager, moved to the microphone in the pre-game ceremonies.
Brewer skipper Nick Cullop was a real character, beloved by the fans and inspiring many adjectives from newspaper writers. The most common one was "tomato-faced", describing his jolly, ruddy complexion, so often applied that I would expect to see it printed on his contracts. The former utility player was entering his fifth season at the helm of the Brews.

The first Brewer batter, Second Baseman Roy Hartsfield, held down a safe bunt as the Cullopmen opened their home season against the Toledo Mudhens yesterday at Borchert Field. Hartsfield is shown tossing his bat aside and dashing for first base. To the right Toledo Catcher Ginsberg jerks his mask and starts for the ball (arrow).
This is one where I really wish we had a better reproduction of the picture. Sentinel shutterbug Frank Stanfield set up off to the side of the plate, and captured this amazing action photo.

Hartsfield taking off down the line, the catcher leaping up, even the ball and arrow, highlighted against the backdrop of packed, bunting-bedecked stands.

Jim Gleeson made a fine try but his aging props just couldn't get him from first to third on Paul Burris' single to left in the eighth. Outfielder Bill Barnacle made a good throw to the hot corner, where Bruce Blanchard is shown straightening up after making the tag. Gleeson had started the inning with a single, his third hit.
Another marvelous shot that can't be ruined even by the poor reproduction. That's the large Borchert Field wall of ads in the right field corner behind them.

Damon Phillips received a big hand from fans and teammates alike when he stroked the game winning homer for the Brewers in the third inning. The third sacker is greeted at the dugout.

All pictures by Sentinel Photographer Frank Stanfield.
Ah, an appearance by the Brewers' fantastic wool dugout jackets. ALways good to see those.

The rest of the coverage is every bit as fun as the photo series.

The box score tells the basic details - the game was scoreless through two, then Toledo took a temporary one-run lead in the top of the third before the Brewers stormed back with five in their half of the inning. Four more in the bottom of the sixth and the Brewers absolutely cruised to a 9-1 victory.

Those dry numbers are only part of the story, of course. Sentinel columnist Lloyd Larson brought the game to life with his own colorful (and lengthy) recap, under the headline "'Twas a Perfect Day—The Brewers Won". I reprint it here in its entirety, because no excerpt could do it justice.
It was a perfect opening day for 13,666 customers, some of whom helped open the gates at 11:30 ... Though the air was nippy, the sun was bright and reasonably warm. Pre-game ceremonies, including the speeches, were short and snappy ... And, best of all, the Brewers, old and new, looked good in winning just about as they please. Nine to one was the score ... That means the winning streak is boosted to four ... and the home club moved over the .500 hump for the first time.

He's Milwaukee's outstanding mayor, but Frank Zeidler looked more like a Toledo pitcher in throwing the traditional first ball in the direction of his equally well known battery mate, Gov. Oscar Rennebohm ... There was too much to the mayor's "downer" ... Result: The ball reached the governor on the first hop ... "We made a mistake in our preliminary warmup, "chorused the chief executives of city and state ... "We practiced at 30 feet for a 60 foot pitch," they added by way of explanation.

It was all in good fun ... So everybody got a chuckle out of the act that signalized the official start of the 1949 season ... One guy who didn't get much of a whallop out of what followed was Eddie Mayo, new Toledo manager.

Some nightmarish base running, which snuffed out a possible big inning in the third, was the toughest to take ... George Corona stumbled rounding second one Rip Russell's single to right and was promptly snuffed out on Jim Gleeson's throw to Johnny Logan ... A moment later Russell was cut down by the same combination after Bruce Blanchard singled ... Russell didn't stumble ... He simply dozed momentarily.

It All Adds Up to Trouble

Add the error which would have retired the side and cut off three Brewer runs in the third, a pop fly almost hitting a couple of outfielders on the toes, a couple of prospective outs skidding through shortstop territory for hits and lack of pitching, and it's to understand why Mayo is on his way to becoming old before his time ... The tipoff on the pitching situation was Rufe Gentry's entry as a reliever in the sixth ... Rufe is supposed to be one of the very few starters ... He gave up four hits and a walk before Mayo gave up on him ... If it wasn't a relief, it was at least a change.

Art Moher, a 1948 Ya;e graduate, obviously isn't ready for this league ... His only professional experience came late last season at Flint ... But the entire Detroit organization, including Manager Red Rolfe, sees a bright future for young Art.

The one sure-fire Toledo operator is Bruce Blanchard, 23 year old former Michigan sprinter ... Boss Mayo planned to play third base himself until Blanchard took over ... Blanchard hit .328 at Williamsport to lead the Eastern League last year ... This is his third season.

Roy Hartsfield lived up to advance notices, both afield and at bat ... This little guy started the big third with a single on Lefty Perme's first pitch ... The next offering may be going yet ... It was hit high and far over the left field fence by that popular and reliable favorite, Dee Phillips ... As things turned out, that was the ball game.

Couldn't Happen to a Better Guy

Gleeson, like Phillips, is in the it-couldn't-happen-to-a-better-guy class ... And, like Phillips, he peeled off one of those big blows ... It was a drive into the bleachers with two mates aboard in the sixth ... Philips did nothing his other four times at bat, but Gleason finished with three for five.

It was a complete hit day for Paul Burris ... Four times he peeled off base knocks and the other time the ball hit him on the arm ... Hartsfield and Howie Moss missed getting into the home run act bu inches ... Both showed power in belting those loud fouls over the left field wall.

Nick Etten and Hank Perry drew up the only goose eggs in the hit column, but they more than made up for it ... Perry was a pitcher out there—definitely not a thrower ... And etten gave the folks a treat a couple of times around first ... He knocked down Creel's sizzler along the line in the seventh and completed the out with a backhand flip to Petty, who came over to cover ... In the eighth Nick started and finished a double play on Blanchard's hopper, with Johnny Logan as the middle man ... Strictly pro stuff ... After the second effort, one fan yelled: "Can you imagine Heinz Becker doing that?" ... Hardly ... The first-to-short-to-first play was a bit too tough for Heinz.

*      *      *

Thirty-sixth Consecutive Opener

Logan and Homer Moore were off to encouraging starts ... Both fielded their positions perfectly ... Moore, whose ability to hit is in doubt, connected safely twice in four tries.

George Boggs, 2953 N. 7th Street, saw his thirty-sixth consecutive opener ... And yesterday marked the start of Charlie Fichtner's thirty-sixth season as a ball club employee ... In the days before public address systems, Charlie did the announcing.

Schoolboys and schoolgirls were out in force to boost the crowd total to overflow proportions ... As usual, the big majority were well-behaved ... But the inevitable handful of post-game bottle breakers, chair tippers and cushion throwers spoiled an otherwise perfect day.
Magnificent, every paragraph. If Larson loses points for employing "snuffed" twice in the third paragraph, he more than makes up for it with the rhyme on "Rufe Gentry's entry" and describing Toledo's unsuccessful relief pitcher as "If it wasn't a relief, it was at least a change."

I'd love to learn more about Charlie Fichtner. He's only come up once before in our studies, appearing on the field during a pregame promotion in 1934. Dressed in a suit and tie, he was identified then by the Milwaukee Journal as "Silver Lips Charlie Fichtner". If he was Borchert Field's announce before the PA was installed, I'm picturing him behind a large megaphone. Definitely need to do more research there.

And with that, the Brewers' 1949 home campaign was underway. There's nothing more perfect than Opening Day. Especially when the Brewers win.

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