Sunday, April 28, 2019

Mayor Zeidler Shows a Little 'Zing' of his Own, 1949

Last month, on Opening Day 2019, we looked at the Milwaukee Sentinel's coverage of the 1949 home opener. Today, on the actual 70th Anniversary of the game, I'd like to take a closer look at one photo from that coverage via an extant wire copy.

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
As part of the Opening Day festivities, the Brewers had a pair of local politicians throwing the first pitch. Not mentioned in the caption is Wisconsin Governor Oscar Rennebohm, who set up behind the plate to receive it.

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 the Gov.

The men were in good spirits after the game, quoted as saying "We made a mistake in our preliminary warmup. We practiced at 30 feet for a 60 foot pitch." The Brewers 9-1 win that day may have taken some of the sting out of the ribbing. Brewer hurlers had been every bit as dominant as the scoreline indicated, leading Sentinel columnist Lloyd Larson to quip that Ziedler looked "more like a Toledo pitcher" on the mound than the city's mayor.

And in any case, the Mayor's impressive form made the front page of the next morning's paper, with the story of his one-hop home safely buried in the sports pages.

Wearing a baseball cap with a suit is one thing, but the mayor didn't even unbutton his coat! That's very old-school. No wonder he bounced the throw home.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Going to the Wall, 1951

We now have another unique view of Borchert Field, thanks to author Matthew J. Prigge, who posted this amazing photo to Twitter:

Stunning. Let's take a closer look at it.

So much goodness here, starting with the wall itself. Center field wall, not Murray.

It's a remarkably clear shot of the advertising that covered the back wall of the Orchard. There's some perennial companies in there, with Miller, Gimbels, and Roundy's all represented. If you look closely along the right-hand edge of the photo, there's an ad for Philco televisions, which had been associated with the Brews since the first televised game three years earlier.

There's also Ruby Chevrolet, whose radio commercials were annoying listeners thirty-some odd years later with the jingle "Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby Chevrolet! (come in today!)". He's right next to Clark's Gas, which had been advertising on the covers of Brewer scorecards since at least 1942.

Then we have the people themselves.

I love the little cloud of dirt kicked up by his pitching motion. On the mound is right-handed hurler Murray Wall. Wall had come to the attention of Brewers president Jake Flowers two years earlier, when Wall was playing at the University of Texas and the Brews had their training camp in Austin. By this point, the Brewers were a fully-owned affiliate of the Boston Braves, and no doubt Flowers reported his discovery up the chain. When Wall was ready to graduate in 1950, several big-league clubs were ready to sign him, including the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, but the Braves offered him something that no other would match: a chance to start in the Show.

The plan was for Wall to join the Braves and see a few innings there before being sent to Milwaukee to develop his skills. And so he did; he pitched four innings of relief in a July 4th blowout loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves were already down 9-0 when Wall came in to the game at the top of the fifth inning. The rookie promptly gave up another five runs (four of them earned) over the next four innings, walking two, surrendering six hits, and committing an error trying to field a ball hit back to the mound. That might seem a terrible start, but numbers don't tell the story. He was reported to have shown great poise in his first appearance on a major league mound. And considering the hole the regular Braves pitchers gave him to dig out of, the Bostonians were fairly generous in their assessments. Henry McKenna of the Boston Herald wrote:
"Caution is urged in judging a rookie pitcher on his first showing but 24-year-old Murray Wall, just in from the University of Texas, impressed just about everybody in his four-inning debut in the majors today. With no minor league experience behind him and unfamiliar with the batters or even the park, the rangy right-hander did an excellent job."
Wall spent the next few weeks pitching batting practice and working with the Braves' coaching staff before being assigned to Milwaukee on July 19. He saw action in 13 games with the Brewers, finishing 2-5 with a respectable 3.91 ERA. He pitched the next two seasons at Borchert Field, earning records of 15-5 and 16-10 and ERAs of 4.30 and 4.08, respectively.

Murray Wall (front row, second from left)
with the Brewers in 1952

Wall made his way back to the big league club in 1953, just in time to see the Braves relocate to Milwaukee. He spent the next month on the County Stadium bench, unable to get into a game, before being sent to the relocated Brewers, still the Braves' top affiliate but now playing in Toledo as the Glass Sox. He fought his way back to the majors in 1957, that time with the Boston Red Sox.

There's one other thing I'd like to point out in this photo. Let's go back to that second close-up.

That unidentified man crouching on the left side of the frame is a news photographer. Until the 1950s, in the days before telephoto lenses, these shutterbugs would crouch just off the diamond, waiting for a play to unfold for their cameras. So many of the great field-level photos we've seen were taken by men such as this one, crouching and waiting and ready to snap.

Beautiful photo, on so many levels. I couldn't help myself, I had to ask Matthew if he had anything else in his archives. His answer gives us a reason to hope.

So many treasures surface this way, in shoeboxes or random collections, just waiting to be found and shared. Can't wait to see the next one.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Hanging Out After a Game", 1944

The AAGPBL posted this amazing photo on Twitter today:
Let's take a better look at that photo.

Beautiful. A great look at the wall between the grandstand and the foul area, not to mention the light standards and ads down the third base line.

Helen Filarski was a young infielder from the east side of Detroit. When she first heard about the league in 1943 from friends who played in her local semi-pro league, she was just eighteen and her parents forbade her to try out. One of those friends was Milwaukee pitcher Connie Wisniewski. Filarski eventually joined the league in 1945 at a tryout in Chicago (a tryout where Wisniewski was pitching to the young recruits) and was assigned to the Rockford Peaches.

Here we have Filarski presumably visiting her friend in Milwaukee. I don't know if she tried to join the league in 1944 (her own account isn't clear on the timeline); perhaps this photo was taken during a tryout session, or just a visit to see a friend.

Wisniewski is wearing her uniform, with its Milwaukee city seal at the center. A bat lies at her feet.

You can also see that the grandstand's lower boxes are filled with wooden folding chairs. The seats in the back, under the roof, are more traditional stadium seating.

Over Wisniewski's shoulder, we get a good look at the outfield wall ads.

You can also see the thick light standards installed just nine years earlier, in the foul territory between the grandstand and the diamond.

Our next closeup provides a look at the roof, flagpole, and the centerfield lights in the distance. And is that a net over the left field fence to catch those short home runs?

Simply magnificent. I can't wait to see what else the AAGPBL has in its archives.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Neighborhood Ballpark

This aerial photo of Borchert Field gives us our best sense yet of how the ballpark was integrated into its neighborhood.

There were taverns on the corners, but look at all those houses surrounding it. Block after residential block in every direction. With those short fences to either side, you can bet front windows were broken on 7th and 8th Streets.

I don't know when this photo was taken, except that it was before permanent lights were installed in 1935.

I'm also intrigued by the dirt foul area between the baselines and the grandstand. That's another element that was changed at some point during the ballpark's life.

By the late 1930s there was grass planted there, the vast space filled with bullpens, pitching mounds and catching areas where pitchers would warm up.

Even after the full pitching lanes had been added, there was still plenty of dirt on the warning track between the bullpens and the first row of seats. A huge space where pop flies could go to die. When all that was dirt, I wonder how much was kicked up by an August wind off the lake.

Comparing this photo with a recent Google Maps satellite image, you can see that many of the nearby houses are still standing, even though the site of the ballpark itself was scooped out to make room for the sunken Interstate 43.

Another reminder of how our Brewers were integrated into the community.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Ya Gotta Hand It to Them...

This is the cover art for this year's scorecards at Busch Stadium.

We have a couple of obnoxious Cardinal fans, a-whooping and a-hollering and flat out not caring if they bump into (or spill concessions on) the people around them. Odd thing to be proud of, but you do you, St. Louis.

The art itself is stunning, a luscious retro style. And right there in the front row is our very own Bernie Brewer, literally crying in his beer.

I had no idea Bernie was bald! No wonder he always wears a baseball cap.

And heck, I only wish Bernie still wore lederhosen. Never liked the baseball uniform he's been sporting since Miller Park opened. Ironic that the Cardinals created a better version of Bernie Brewer than the Brewers have used for decades.