Friday, July 24, 2020

Vintage Brew: "1951: For He's a 'Jolly" Good Fellow"

Brewers baseball is back tonight, and we're back with it! We resume a regular publishing schedule, beginning with this absolutely stunning gem from regular contributor Paul Tenpenny.

1951: For he's a "Jolly" good fellow...
that nobody can deny...
"The Milwaukee Brewers & Charlie Grimm Win It All"

by Paul Tenpenny
Copyright 2008, 2020 Tencentzports
Printed with permission of the Author

The Milwaukee Brewers of the 1940's were one of the most dominant teams of the decade. Bill Veeck's and manager Charlie Grimm's transformation of the team in late 1941 and 1942 led to 3 consecutive American Association 1st place finishes from 1943-1945. Even after their departures, the Brewers of the 1940's stayed competitive.
1941 55 - 98 (8th place)
1942 81 - 69 (2nd place)
1943 90 - 61 (1st place)
1944 102 - 51 (1st place)
1945 93 - 61 (1st place)
1946 70 - 78 (5th place)
1947 79 - 75 (3rd place) (Winner Junior World Series)
1948 89 - 65 (2nd place)
1949 76 - 76 (3rd place)
After a poor showing in 1950, finishing at the 6th spot with a disappointing 68-85 record under Bob Coleman, the Milwaukee Brewers made a change and brought back Charlie Grimm to manage in 1951.

1951 color photo of Manager Charlie Grimm (Author's Collection)

The American Association was celebrating its golden anniversary in 1951, and with "Jolly Cholly" at the helm, Milwaukee was optimistic it would be a golden year for the Brewers too. Charlie was a player's manager who knew their abilities. He was easy going and his sense of humor, which included banjo playing and singing, kept the clubhouse atmosphere a laid back one. The players felt relaxed with him in charge and responded well to his style of managing.

Charlie Grimm predicted that win or lose, Milwaukee fans would find his hustling Brewer team an exciting one to watch. True to his word, the Brewers were just that and spent much of the early part of the season in 1st place battling with the Kansas City Blues for the top spot.

With the building of a new stadium (Milwaukee County Stadium) for the Brewers to replace the aging Borchert Field, Milwaukee was being seen by many as a major league town. From New York City, former Brewer skipper Casey Stengel, now managing the New York Yankees, emphasized this as he told reporters that Milwaukee deserved to be a Major League city. Casey never considered Milwaukee a bush league town, even though he was wrongfully accused of making that statement years later when his Yankees came to Milwaukee to take on the Milwaukee Braves in 1957.

2nd baseman & Team Captain Bill Reed with Manager Charlie "Jolly Cholly" Grimm. Note the Golden Jubilee Banner in the background. Photo with autographs (Author's Collection)

As the season moved on, Charlie's "Cinderella Kids" were being compared to the "Boisterous Brewers" of 1936 who won it all that year. Like that team of 1936, they fought back often, winning several games after posting the opposition to early leads. They were a "cocky" team who believed in themselves according to clubhouse boy, Bill ("Greek") Topitzes who accompanied them on their road trips.

Milwaukee hung around first place the entire month of July with Kansas City and the Saint Paul Saints giving them some competition, but not for long. By August, the streaking Brewers left their competition far behind, clinching the American Association on September 1st when they went 11 games over the pack with 10 games to go.

1951 Milwaukee Brewer Program
(Author's Collection)

Team Mascot "Owgust" had the look of "Grimm" determination on the cover of the programs that year.

1951 Milwaukee Brewers
(Original Team Photo - Author's Collection)

1951 Team Roster and statistics
(courtesy - Rex Hamann - American Association Almanac)

Milwaukee had 7 of its starters named American Association All Stars for 1951. Catcher Al Unser, 1st Baseman George Crowe, Outfielder Jim Basso, 2nd Baseman Bill Reed, 3rd Baseman Billy Klaus and pitchers Ernie Johnson and Murray Wall.

Lloyd Larson writing for the Milwaukee Sentinel acknowledged the play of the team but gave a large amount of the credit to Charlie Grimm, stating that it takes a good manager to bring out the talent of each individual, and he did that perfectly.

The Brewers were a powerhouse and dominated the rest of the American Association in 1951, finishing the season 9 games ahead of their nearest competitor, the Saint Paul Saints.

Pitching went deep, led by Ernie Johnson who had a record of 15 wins and only 4 losses with a league leading 2.62 ERA.

Murray Wall nearly matched Ernie J's record with a 15 - 5 win loss record.

Bert Thiel pitched in with 14 wins (including a no hitter on August 16th.)

Bullpen ace Virgil Jester went 13-6 in 47 games with a 3.21 ERA.

Charlie Gorin had a record of 12-9 with an ERA of 4.38

They were peerless in fielding and hitting. (.981 fielding with a .286 team batting average).

Rookie of the year, George Crowe led the league in RBI's with 119 and a batting average of .339, slugging 24 round trippers. Arguably worthy of a MVP nod too.

Al Unser was voted the league MVP and had 17 home runs and a batting average of .293.

Shortstop Buzz Clarkson batted .343.

2nd baseman Bill Reed tallied .311

Outfielder Bob Thorpe netted a .299 BA.

All Star - MVP Catcher Al Unser with autograph (Author's Collection)

Pitcher Bert Thiel on teammate Al Unser:
"Al was no young chicken, he handled our young pitching staff like an old hen watching her chicks. All of us pitchers give him credit for the year we had. We all marveled at his endurance at his age. He had some power but mostly he put the ball in play. Still had an arm to throw runners out. He was the main cog in the wheel."
Brewer Catcher Paul Burris with autograph (Author's Collection)

Paul Burris backed up Al Unser and usually caught the 2nd game in double headers. He was a good receiver who handled the pitchers well.

All Star - Rookie of the Year First Baseman George Crowe with autograph (Author's Collection)

George was a big guy at 6' 2" and 225lbs. He was a power hitter who had good bat control and knew the strike zone. He hit left handers well.

1st Baseman Len Pearson with his infield teammates (Program Photo Author's Collection)

A winter ball knee injury limited Len Pearson's play in 1951 for Milwaukee.

All Star Second Baseman Billy Reed in the Borchert Field dugout (Author's Collection)

Bert Thiel on teammate Billy Reed:
"It was an honor to play with Bill Reed for six years. Bill and I are both from Shawano County (Wisconsin). He was the captain of our ball club, a .300 hitter and a fine second baseman. " ...He knew each pitcher and always seemed to be in the right place to make plays."
Shortstop James "Buster" - "Bus" - "Buzz" Clarkson
(Author's Collection)

Charlie Gorin on teammate "Bus" Clarkson:
"I remember Clarkson on fielding a ground ball would make the throw and holler -"Do Something with it George" Bus was older and his arm was a little weak, but Crowe ( 1st ) would dig it out of the dirt. Bus made up for his arm with a strong bat"
Bert Thiel on teammate Buzz Clarkson:
"Nobody knew his age, but he could swing that bat and with power."
Shortstop Johnny Logan 1951 photo (Author's Collection)

Johnny Logan shared shortstop duties with Clarkson. A favorite of Charlie Grimm, Johnny Logan "became great because of hard work...he was able to get the ball away quickly" and Charlie compared him to Pie Traynor. He always hustled and was appreciated for his great sense of humor. A “gutsy” player. Johnny spent part of the season with the Boston Braves.

Shortstop Johnny Logan Autographed Exhibit card
(Author's Collection)

1951 Shortstop Gene Mauch with autograph (Author's Collection)

Gene Mauch was a great utility player, able to play all infield positions. Good hands and range. He was a spray type hitter who played the game hard and did just about anything to win. Truly knowledgeable on the rule book and actually he once convinced an umpire that his call was a bad one. A skill I am sure he developed further when he went on to manage at the major league level.

All Star Third Baseman Bill Klaus Photo with autograph (Author's Collection)

A "vacuum cleaner" at 3rd base, with good arm and range. Bill Klaus was a "pesky" hitter who could hit to all fields.

Photo Infielder/ Coach - Mark Christman with autograph
(Author's Collection)

Mark Christman was at the end of his career with the Brewers filling in occasionally and pinch hitting. As a coach he worked closely with the young infielders.

3rd Baseman Jack Weisenburger with autograph (Author's Collection)

From recent correspondence with Jack Weisenburger:
"I loved playing in Milwaukee, the fans were great and I enjoyed my teammates."
All Star Center fielder Jim Basso (Author's Collection)

Jim Basso was a great team player who did well in clutch situations, hitting the long ball when the team needed it. He fielded his position well having average speed and range.

Left Fielder Benjamin Robert "Bob" Thorpe with autograph
(Author's Collection)

Bob Thorpe was a steady player who covered the outfield well especially the short-left field fence at Borchert Field. A line drive hitter with average power and a good runner who could and did steal bases for the Brewers.

Outfielder Luis Olmo Signed Photo (Author's Collection)

Luis Olmo was a valuable part of the Brewer team, a fine fielder with a good arm and could hit with some power. He did the "little things" that helped his team win.

Right fielder Bob Montag with autograph (Author's Collection)

An outfielder with good range and arm, Bob Montag's long ball hitting was a natural fit for the short left and right field fences at Borchert Field. He also backed up George Crowe at 1st base which he played well.

1951 Photo Outfielder Earl Wooten, 3rd Base Ed Mathews, (w/Paul Burris) (Author's Collection)

A young man wearing the #4 on his jersey appeared late in 1951 and blasted a grand slam home run while with the Brewers. Manager Grimm "recognized the stamp of greatness on him from the start... He had raw power and a great lefty swing". He was not with the team for long and needed some work on his fielding, but while with the Brewers he averaged .333 in the 12 regular season games he played. Becoming a bit more popular as #41 with the Milwaukee Braves, he went on to greater fame in the Major leagues. He was, of course, Hall of Famer Ed Mathews.

All Star Pitcher Ernie Johnson in action at Borchert Field - Courtesy of Bert Thiel (Author's Collection)

Ernie Johnson was not overpowering, but he was a sinker type pitcher who relied on his control. His slider was his money pitch and he was remarkably effective with changing his speed.

In a recent correspondence with Johnson:
"The '51 Brewers were one of the best minor league teams around. Several of the players went on to the majors. We won it all, including 2 sets of playoffs."
ERA leader Ernie Johnson Autographed Card (Author's Collection)

All Star Pitcher Murray Wall with a great shot of Borchert's "Wall" with autograph. (Author's Collection)

Murray Wall, while not being overly fast, had good movement on all his pitches. He was a excellent fielder at his position. A perennial winner.

Bert Thiel Photo and autograph (Author's Collection)

Bert Thiel had a good fastball and a sharp curve. His changeup was more of a screwball which was an effective pitch for him against left handed hitters. He had a 14-9 season with an ERA of 3.71 in 1951.

Thursday August 16, 1951 was a memorable date for Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Bert Thiel, who pitched the American Association's first no hitter of the season in the first half of a twin bill with Toledo, blanking the Mud Hens in a 7 inning game at Borchert field 5-0. (The game ran 7 innings instead of the usual 9 due to American Association rules having double header games run only 7 innings long.) It was the first no hitter at Borchert field since Dennis Gearin pitched one against Columbus on August 21, 1926. Thiel, still a resident of Wisconsin, had previously pitched another 7 inning no hit game while at Hartford in the Eastern League the previous summer. Thiel allowed just two base runners, Bobby Mavis on a walk in the second inning. Then after retiring the next 12 batters, Russ Sullivan reached on a error by Buzz Clarkson in the 6th. Thiel contributed 2 strike outs and helped himself offensively with two singles. It was his 12th victory of the season against 8 losses. When asked about the game Thiel said:
"Yes, I knew I had a no hitter all along. I didn't notice any particular tenseness until the last inning, and then I could feel it from the crowd, which was cheering every pitch and even the easy outs. I was really bearing down in the seventh and wasn't upset at all by Buzz Clarkson's fumble of that pop fly, as he tossed him out at second. And what a relief when that third strike slipped past Don Lund's bat for the final out."
The ball had hardly settled in Paul Burris' big mitt, as all of his teammates charged Thiel to congratulate him.

From recent correspondence from Bert Thiel:
"I have wonderful memories playing for Charlie Grimm...and a fine G. M. Red Smith."
Charlie Gorin was a strong competitor, having a good fastball and curve and especially effective against left-handed hitters. He had a good pick off move and fielded his position well.

Charlie Gorin Signed Photo (Author's collection)

From recent correspondence with Charlie Gorin:
"Playing in Milwaukee was my first year in professional baseball... I really enjoyed being in Milwaukee."

"As players we got along well and enjoyed our teammates. Charlie Grimm was not a driving type individual-he believed in enjoying the game-but play hard."

"Borchert field was something to describe to my friends."
Pitcher Dick Donovan with autograph (Author's Collection)

Dick Donovan had a good fastball, slider, and curve. When he found the plate consistently, he was a winner. He eventually did, and spent many years in the majors.

Relief Pitcher Virgil Jester with autograph (Author's Collection)

Virgil Jester was a "Fine competitor". He was a spot starter along with being a good closer for Milwaukee. He had an above average fastball and his slider was his best breaking pitch.

According to fellow pitcher Bert Thiel: "Just wild enough to keep hitters loose".

From Virgil Jester:
"Playing in Milwaukee was my first year in professional baseball... I really enjoyed being in Milwaukee."

“We had a very good triple A ball club. The fans were great, the press was great... Milwaukee was a great place to play ball”
Pitcher Emil Kush (Author's Collection)

Virgil Jester on teammate Emil Kush:
“I received a lot of pitching help in those days from Emil Kush. He was a lot like a pitching coach on the bench.”
Bert Thiel echoes Jester on his appreciation for Emil's coaching abilities:
“Emil Kush kept telling me my fastball had more movement from the belt down, how right he was, more ground balls and more double plays."
Pitcher Dick Hoover with Autograph (Author's Collection)

Dick Hoover was usually used in the middle relief and was a spot starter. He had great control of his pitches. He had an average fastball but a good curve and slider. Exceptionally durable and could pitch often.

Pitcher Art Fowler: Another view of "Borchert Orchert" with Red Smith in the background. Photo with Autograph. (Author's Collection)

Another Great Panoramic view of Borchert Field - Pitcher Don Liddle with autograph. (Author's Collection)

Don Liddle's pitching was limited to just 4 games for Milwaukee in 1951.

Pitcher Bob Hall Autograph (Author's Collection)

Bob Hall pitched in 63 innings in 1951 with an ERA of 4.29

Pitcher Norman Roy Signed 3 x 5 and Signed Card (Author's Collection)

The Boston Braves pitcher appeared in just one game for Milwaukee in 1951.

Pitcher Bob Chipman (Author's Collection)

Bob Chipman went 1-0, giving up no runs in 7 innings in his only appearance with the Brewers.

Les Sepkowski Signed Photo (Author's Collection)

Outfielder Les Sepkowski played in 7 games for the Brewers in 1951.

Outfielder Howie Moss with Autograph (Author's Collection)

Howie Moss hit .259 in 1951 for the Brewers in the 19 games he played in.

Bob Jaderlund

Outfielder Bob Jaderlund hit .244 in the 37 games he played in for Milwaukee.

Pitcher Sid Schacht

Sid Schacht Won 4 and lost 1 with a 4.09 ERA in his 77 innings of work for Milwaukee in 1951.

1990 McCarthy Artwork - Borchert Field (Author's Collection)

Finishing on top of the American Association in regular season play had the Milwaukee Brewers looking forward to the playoffs. The Shaughnessy playoffs (created by and named after the International league President Frank J. Shaughnessy) were created to improve attendance in 1936. It pitted the top four teams in the American Association against each other in a 7-game playoff, virtually a 2nd season for 1st division teams. Only 3 times in the history of the playoffs did the winner of the regular season go on to win it all. A point of contention since these playoffs were instituted. Still, it gave everyone a 2nd chance if they were among the upper tier of teams and kept the fans coming to games, which was what these playoffs were envisioned to accomplish. But, every year, the system was challenged as to its merit allowing possibly the 2nd, 3rd or 4th place teams to represent a league in a playoff that was supposed to mean something. Again in 1951 there was a call to replace it with a major league style post season series.

1st place took on 3rd place finishers while the 2nd place team took on the 4th. The winners would then play for the Governor's cup and would represent the American Association as champion and would meet the winner of the International League who held similar playoffs, in the Junior World Series.

The Brewers, who handled the Blues easily enough during the season, defeated Kansas City 4 games to 1 in the first round of the playoffs. Ernie Johnson, arguably the best pitcher in the AA having beat the KC team twice during the season, repeated with two victories over the Blues, his second and clinching victory being an 11-3 blowout at Kansas City.

The team's next opponent was the St Paul Saints, who had defeated the Louisville Colonels. The Brewers set down the St Paul team 4 games to 2 with a blistering 17-2 final game victory in front of the hometown crowd at Borchert field, again with Ernie Johnson on the mound who struck out nine batters while walking only one. Johnson won two of the four games in this second round, bringing his playoff total to 4 wins, half of the team's 8 victories to that point. Pitcher Murray Wall pitched in with 2 playoff victories over the two series.

The Brewers would now face Walter Alston's Montreal Royals (95-57) for the Junior World Series, Milwaukee held a statistical edge over the International League Champions, but the Royals were the early favorites. While both teams led their respective leagues in team fielding and hitting, Milwaukee's team batting average was .286 vs. the Royals .268. and held a 9-point edge in fielding. The Royals had the edge in speed and stolen bases for the season. The first 3 games would be played in Montreal, then move on to Milwaukee.

Game 1 was won by the Royals 6-3 as Murray Wall was shelled in the 2nd inning with 4 straight hits, leading to 4 runs. It was enough of a lead for the Royals as their pitcher Chris Van Cuyk gave up only 7 hits and struck out 6. Relief Pitcher Tom LaSorda finished the game for him.

In Game 2, the Milwaukee Brewers rallied in the 9th inning to beat the Royals 4-3 thanks to timely hitting by Earl Wooten who singled to drive in Luis Olmo. Wooten took 2nd base when the throw went to the plate. Gene Mauch then singled in the lead run. Left hander Dick Hoover came in to preserve the victory for Virgil Jester who replaced Ernie Johnson when Johnson gave up his 2-0 lead in the 6th and 7th.

George "Shotgun" Shuba clouted a 2-run homer in the 2nd inning and repeated the feat with another in the 11th inning to win Game 3 by the score of 5-3. The Royals now led 2 games to 1 as play moved on to the friendly surroundings of Milwaukee's Borchert Field for the remainder of the series.

Game 4 went to the Brewers 4-2 on a 6 hitter by Dick Donovan in front of 11,595 fans. The left center field corner was roped off for the overflow crowd. Buzz Clarkson smashed a 3 run home run in the 5th inning as the Brewers evened the series at 2 games apiece. Donovan struggled with walking batters but managed to get out of trouble in the later innings.

With their ace on the mound for game 5, Milwaukee breezed to a 6-0 victory with Ernie Johnson pitching a 4-hit shutout. The Brewers were poised just one victory away from the Series title.

Game 6 was a game that if you lost faith and gave up and left early or turned off your radio, you would have missed a stunning comeback. The Milwaukee Brewers overcame an 8 run deficit to whip the Montreal Royals and win the minor league's biggest prize, the Junior World Series. Down after two innings by the score of 10-2. They came roaring back. It wasn't surprising that the Brewer's comeback occurred after a rhubarb in the 5th inning, started when Montreal's left fielder Al Gionfriddo had to duck a high inside pitch that he thought was deliberate, thrown by Dick Hoover. Gionfriddo proceeded to drag a bunt down the first base line and when Hoover went to first, he tried to spike Dick's foot. The pushing and shoving started emptying both dugouts. After order was restored, play resumed. It sure seemed to fire up the Brewers who put on a 5 run rally in the bottom half of the inning. The Brewers went on to score again in the 6th and 7th and Montreal was finished.

The Milwaukee Brewers had their 3rd Junior World Series, having won it before in 1936 and in 1947. It was the first Series win for Charlie Grimm. As he sat by his locker he said:
"This is the greatest thrill of my life."
After 34 years in baseball, he had managed three National League pennant winners with the Chicago Cubs, and had twice led the Brewers to American Association flags, but with this series victory, he said it was his biggest thrill.

Both teams were well managed and evenly matched. Several of the games could have gone either way. Montreal's Manager Walter Alston said after the game:
"We were beaten by a great ball team."
Grandstand ticket from 1951 Junior World Series
Game 5, Borchert Field

Rookie of the Year and RBI Leader George Crowe and League MVP Al Unser being presented their Junior World Series Trophies
(Author's Collection)

Charlie Grimm's 1951 Junior World Series Trophy
(Author's Collection)

As can be seen when comparing Charlie Grimm's trophy with the photo, Charlie's has since lost the original batter which has been replaced by a cup. Also, the glass crystal is absent from the clock face.

Comparison of the two trophies

1951 Junior World Series Logo Medallion (Close up)

Charlie Grimm won 3 National League pennants with the Cubs, he set up another for Gabby Hartnett. His 1943 Brewers won the American Association pennant, but his team lost in the playoffs that year. He was the setup man for Casey Stengel's repeat in 1944 when Casey replaced him later that year. Finally, upon his return in 1951, he won it all for Milwaukee, the American Association Season Pennant, The Governor's Cup and the Junior World Series. Charlie Grimm was deservedly named the American Association's Manager of the Year for 1951.

1951 Manager of the Year Award (Author's Collection)

1951 Manager of the Year Award (close up) (Author's collection)

The wait is over as Brewer Skipper Charlie Grimm finally won the "big one" his first World Series with Milwaukee. (Author's Collection)

"I was Jolly Cholly and I always thought that a pat on the back, an encouraging word paid off a lot more than a brilliantly executed piece of strategy...

that a manager should keep his players relaxed and save the whip for the lion tamer".
1951 Milwaukee Brewers - Courtesy of Bert Thiel
(Author's Collection)
Front Row: Jim Basso, Billy Reed, Tommy Bloomer and Nat Nachess(batboys) Billy Klaus, Sid Schacht.

2nd Row: Honorary Coach Art McCance, Bob Montag, George Crowe, Manger Charlie Grimm, Bob Thorpe, Coach Mark Christman, Bert Thiel, Coach Joe Just.

3rd Row: Secretary Fred (Shorty) Mendelson, Dick Hoover, Emil Kush, Paul Burris, Virgil Jester, Ernie Johnson, Dick Donovan, Murray Wall, General Manger Red Smith.

Top Row: Gene Mauch Luis Olmo, Earl Wooten, Trainer Bob "Doc" Feron, Jim Clarkson, Charlie Gorin, Al Unser.
Spring Training Brochure from 1952 displays the 1951 Championship Banner with Team Photo (Author's Collection)

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