Wednesday, June 12, 2019

"For the Boss", 1944

We're going to step outside our "On This Day" exploration of the Milwaukee Chicks for today, to recount a moment of serendipity that struck me.

I had a wonderful conversation today with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League on Twitter. It was kicked off by this tweet:

Fantastic picture, no? I remembered seeing something like it, this photo from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, obviously taken at the same time, where Carey and Hunter are joined by Chicks second baseman Alma Ziegler (who is herself the actual subject of the second photo):

A black-and-white photograph of chaperone Dottie Collins (left), manager Max Carey (middle), and player Alma Ziegler (right). Ziegler is a Milwaukee Chicks uniform, while Carey and Collins are in street clothes. Carey is holding the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League championship trophy. On the trophy, the names "Max Carey" and "Milwaukee Chicks" are visible.
But still, something didn't seem right. I looked through my notes and realized that the Hall of Fame's caption wasn't quite accurate.

That isn't the 1944 AAGPBL championship trophy. It was made by (or on behalf of) the Chicks players, and presented to their manager in a pregame ceremony on "Max Carey Night" at Borchert Field. Here's how the Milwaukee Sentinel covered it:

FOR THE BOSS—The Chicks, who have great admiration for their boss, Max Carey, topped off the Carey night celebration last night at Borchert field by presenting the Milwaukee manager with a combination trophy and plaque. Left to right: Alma Ziegler, Merlo Keagle, Dorothy Maguire, Thelma Eisen and Carey. The Chicks also presented Carey with the second half flag by beating Kenosha, 5 to 4.
Sentinel photo.
Gorgeous. We'll talk more about "Max Carey Night" when we get to that part of our "On This Day in 1944" series this September. But in the meantime, we can take a closer look at the trophy itself.

It's topped with a female figure at bat. At the bottom, the words "MILWAUKEE CHICKS 1944". I can't make out the long vertical plaque, but that could be a list of the Chicks players.

The main plaque is of great interest.

I can only make out a few of the words, but the Sentinel's coverage gives us the full inscription. It reads
above a picture of a chain, and this text:
According to the paper, Carey would have his players form a circle before every game, holding hands in a chain as he would recite those words to them. The women obviously took his mantra to heart.

And there we go. Not the 1944 Championship trophy, but something more personal, and possibly even more special. I wonder where it resides today?

You never know what might inspire your research, or where you might find a wonderful story. Sometimes all it takes is the right tweet to send you on your way.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

On This Day - the Chicks Become the Chicks

On this day in 1944, something momentous happened to the Milwaukee Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League. That was the day the Chicks became the Chicks.

The question of what to call the team had been percolating for some time. The league itself just used "Milwaukee", in the style of the times. Nicknames were more casual in the first half of the twentieth centuries, more transient, and were often linked to moments in time. When Cleveland was managed by Napoleon Lajoie, they were known as the "Cleveland Naps." When four starting players got married in the off-season, the papers started referring to Brooklyn's National League club as the "Bridegrooms". The Brewers had been the Brewers for forty years, more or less, but hadn't put their nickname on uniforms until 1942. And since the AAGPBL didn't wear team names on their uniforms, only city and state, it would make sense that the nickname could arise organically.

The Milwaukee Journal settled on a nickname fairly early%mdash;the "Schnitts", after the Bavarian term for a half-glass of beer&Mdash;but the Sentinel took some time to find a name they liked. They started with "Brewerettes" and "Brewettes", used almost interchangeably, as seen in these clippings from June 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1944.

And then, on June 9th, something amazing happened. Buried on the sports page...

if you can find it...

was this off-handed reference, buried in the third paragraph of an article about the previous day's games.

Manager Max Carey of the Milwaukee Chicks announced he had signed Clara Cook, a pitcher from Elmira, N.Y. She formerly hurled for Kenosha.
And there you have it. The Sentinel had settled on a name.

Ostensibly, the name referred to a 1938 RKO Pictures film, well-known at the time and based upon a 1911 novel. "Mother Carey's Chickens" was a melodrama about a widow striving to provide for her four after her naval captain husband is killed in the Spanish-American war.

"Chicks" in the story referred to her whole brood, two boys and two girls. The term as slang for children in general is as old as Shakespeare. The etymology of "chick" as a term for a young woman specifically is unclear, but it was certainly in use by 1944. Not always with a positive connotation.

Someone at the Sentinel took note of manager Max Carey's name, and applied to the film title for a world-class pun. And that's the name that stuck. It would become the name the team would use, even if only casually. The newspaper ads would continue to use "Milwaukee" or "Our Milwaukee Team", but the name "Chicks" would become official soon. Perhaps "Schnitts" was too close to another rude term, and frankly the less said about either "Brewettes" or "Brewerettes" the better.

"Chicks" may seem dismissive to our modern ears, as both the book and RKO Radio Picture have faded into historical obscurity and we're left without context. But that's how the women referred to themselves, and it all started seventy-five years ago today.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Julio Acosta, 1944

We have a lot of Milwaukee Chicks coverage this year, in honor of their 75th Anniversary, but that doesn't mean we're forgetting the Brewers. This is Brewer hurler Julio Acosta, photographed in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This was taken at Lexington Park in St. Paul, when the Brewers were in town to play a four-game series against the Saints.

Acosta had been signed by Bill Veeck the previous season. Acosta had a particularly flamoyant Milwaukee debut, courtesy of Sport Shirt Bill's showmanship: he burst out of a 15-foot cardboard cake wheeled out to home plate and presented to Brewers manager Charlie Grimm as part of a birthday celebration for the Milwaukee skipper.

Couple details of the uniform that stand out to me.

Look at the curve on his brim! That cap looks well worn-in. It's a bit hard to read the red felt "M" against the blue wool in this print.

Acosta is wearing the Brewers' road gray flannels. This uniform is unique in Brewers history for a total lack of blue on either the jersey or pants, featuring instead red script and numbers outlined in white. Veeck's first stab at a road uniform was unveiled in 1942, solid blue head-to toe with red details trimmed in white. This unique look had led to a lot of ribbing from the other teams in the American Association, and for the next season the Brewers had lifted the red-and-white patches from their blue uniforms and sewn them on to a more traditional gray.

Underneath his jersey, Acosta is wearing an undershirt with white sleeves, a style that was popular at the time and now reads as iconic of its era. White sleeves were very much the standard in the early decades of the twentieth century, but by 1951 all major league clubs had adopted colored undershirt sleeves.

Posed with his arms raised in a wind-up motion, you see that the red soutache sleeve stripe doesn't go all the way around, leaving about an inch-long gap under his arm. You can also clearly see his underarm gussets, offering greater range of movement.

Curious how he's wearing his belt, with the buckle all the way to the side.

We see this from time to time on ballplayers, especi but I don't know if I've ever understood the reason behind it. Was it a comfort thing? Did he appreciate the rakish style? I honestly don't know.

Acosta didn't pitch in that series against the St. Paul Saints; the 25-year old hurler had lost a close one to the Minneapolis Millers on June 21st, as the Brewers began their road swing through Minnesota, and his spot in the rotation wouldn't come up again until the Brewers had headed home to Borchert Field. Acosta ended the 1944 season with a 13-10 record and 3.89 ERA.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

On This Day - D-Day!

Throughout this summer of 2019, we've been following the 1944 season of the Milwaukee Chicks as it happened, as they begin the All-American Girls Professional Ball League season. But seventy-five years ago today, the newspapers were full of other news, and baseball at all levels took a back seat to unfolding world history.

Shortly after sunrise, on June 6, 1944, while Milwaukeeans at home were asleep in their beds, Allied forces were landing on French beaches in the largest seaborne assault in history.

D-Day was enormously successful, if costly, and even at the time it was understood that the sacrifice of those troops was laying the foundations for the eventual Allied victory.

Thanks to those newspaper reports, and out of respect for global events, organized baseball at all levels canceled its slate of games that day. The All-American League was no exception.

Schnits Cancel D Day Contest

Two Infielders Signed

The Milwaukee Schnits game at Racine Tuesday night in the Girls' Pro Ball league was canceled because of the invasion. Four Schnits are injured. Pitcher Connie Wisniewski twisted her knee at South Bend Sunday and will be out a week. The others nursing injuries are Vivian Anderson, third base; Alma Ziegler, second base; and Thelma Eisen, left field.

Doris Tetzlaff, Watertown, Wis., joined the Schnits Monday and will replace Miss Anderson Tuesday night against the Belles at Racine. Miss Wisniewski will be out a week. The others will be ready Tuesday night.
The Chicks had an unexpected off-day. The timing was fortuitous, allowing them to nurse their injuries, but it seems unlikely that was much of a concern. No doubt the women found their thoughts turning to the beaches of Normandy, where their husbands, brothers, fathers and friends were laying down their lives in the service of freedom.