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.

No comments:

Post a Comment