July 22, 2014

Anton Falch–Ballplayer, but much more in life

March 16, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Anton Falch the baseball player is easy to overlook. Look him up in Total Baseball and your finger and eyes might easily pass over his 5 games in the 1884 Union Association. As with so many baseball players who filled in the gaps, Anton Falch’s life was more than just a line of stats in a very large book. Falch’s impact on Milwaukee was not on the baseball field, but at the most important intersection of 1890s Milwaukee. Thus, I dedicate this posting to the “fillers” in baseball, whose real success in life was serving their community.

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Anton Falch was born in Milwaukee on December 4, 1860, to Bernhard (a harness maker by trade) and Margaretha Falch. In a city with numerous breweries, large and small, it is not surprising to find Anton’s occupation in his early adult life was a cooper. Falch apparently had a bit of an unruly streak in him as a young man. The Milwaukee Sentinel of March 9, 1880, reported he was fined $10 and cost for a fight (with four others) in the Milwaukee Garden while a dance was in progress. In 1882 it was reported Falch was booked for resisting an officer when he tried to prevent a person from being arrested in a saloon. As Anton was reported to be “a giant, weighing 220 pounds and 6 feet 6 inches tall” these incidents were probably something to behold. But as we shall see, Tony turned out more than OK, something Milwaukee can be proud of.

Anton Falch played with the local semi-professional Arctic Baseball Club in 1882. It was reported in the local press he was the only player around to still catch without the aid of gloves or a mask. In June 1883 it was reported Falch left to catch for the Peoria Reds, for $125 and expenses paid. In July he was back in Milwaukee to again catch for the Arctics–the club that would claim the championship of Wisconsin for 1883. It is likely Falch was paid to catch for the Arctics, as a report in the Milwaukee Journal of June 30, 1883, reported the Arctics had engaged several professional players.

Falch reportedly signed with the Chicago Unions sometime after the 1883 season, but jumped his contract to sign with the Milwaukee Northwestern League club. He started the 1884 season on the Milwaukee Northwestern League Reserve team, and signed with the regular team when the reserves disbanded in May. It was reported Falch was “perhaps the most promising catcher in the country. He is fearless, stands ready to face any pitcher, is a fair batsman, and his throwing to bases is superb.” Falch would primarily be the change catcher behind Cal Broughton, but also filled in the outfield and at third base. Anton showed improvement behind the plate and it was reported in late July he “now rarely drops the ball.” Unfortunately, shortly after this he broke his finger and was out for a few weeks. His time out with the injury was not wasted, as Falch umpired games in the Northwestern League throughout the remainder of the season, being “very accurate in rendering judgment, there being no occasion for fault-finding by either nine.”

The Northwestern League had troubles and folded, Milwaukee joining the Union Association on September 13, 1884. Falch remanded with the team, playing in five games and hitting .111, collecting only 2 hits. Anton was still primarily a catcher, although he appeared in more games in the outfield (2 games in left field, 1 in center and 2 behind the plate), due to the “lame arm” of the regular outfielder. In one game Anton “won applause for a fine throw to the plate from left field.” Falch even umpired in one game in the Union Association, filling in “creditably”.

In addition to the Northwestern and Union clubs Falch played with at least two other teams in 1884. Before the Northwestern season and again after the Union Association season, he played some games with the local Arctics. Interesting, on September 28 he and pitcher Charles ‘Lady’ Baldwin were loaned to Dubuque for a game against the Tama City club. It was said the Tama Citys were the stronger of the two teams before the addition of the Milwaukee battery. Newspaper reports said up to $1,300 changed hands on the result of the game. The contest ended in a 3 to 1 victory for Dubuque, both Baldwin and Falch being spoken of in a very complimentary manner by a Dubuque paper.

Falch signed with the Milwaukees (now in the Western League) again for the 1885 season for $600. However he played poorly, having a hard time handling the swift pitching of the new pitcher. In a game against the St. Louis Browns Falch had nine passed balls. A new catcher went behind the plate and Falch saw action again in the outfield. In late May Falch was fined $100 and suspended for 30 days for missing a train. While serving this suspension the Northwestern club disbanded. Falch stayed in Milwaukee and played for local semi-professional clubs, including the Golden Eagles, Whites, and Bay view club. In August 1885 the Detroit National League club came to Milwaukee to play an exhibition game against a local team of semi- professionals, and Falch caught for the locals. Falch also umpired some games of the Bay View club this season.

Anton Falch was also one of the best bowlers in the city. Bowling for the Aromatic Bowling Club he won three prizes at the Milwaukee Garden in December 1884. In January it was reported he rolled 768 in a match for the Aromatic club.

On September 2, 1885, Falch was appointed to the Milwaukee Police Department as a patrolman. On September 28 he married Bertha Knop, and took up residence a block north of his family, at 299 15th Street (later address 1017 North 15 Street). The Anton Falchs moved to 326 15th (1114 North 15 Street) in 1895, and then in 1900 to 300 North 21st (1018 North 21 Street), where Anton lived until he passed away 36 years later. Anton and Bertha would have five children.

Officer Falch’s name appeared numerous times in the local newspapers for arrests made. One arrest in November 1886 stands out. Falch arrested two railroad men at the corner of Market and Oneida (today’s West Wells Street) and while walking them to the police station was jumped by four of their companions, one dealing “a savage blow in the mouth, felling him to the sidewalk.” On the ground–still holding his prisoners–Officer Falch was kicked in the forehead by an assailant with “such force as to knock the entire heel off his boot.” Falch let go of his prisoners and took on the man who first assaulted him. “The officer dealt him a blow in the face which felled him to the sidewalk, with a stream of blood flowing from his nose. As he again showed resistance, Falch gave him another blow in the face, knocking him down, while the others, becoming alarmed, fled.” Officer Falch took his man–whose head and clothes were covered with blood–to the police station where he was charged with resisting an officer. It was reported Officer Falch’s upper lip was cut and badly swollen, and he had two large lumps on his forehead. Amusingly, a man appeared at the station to furnish bail for the arrested man. Falch recognized him as another of his assailants, and this man was also locked up. Each man was fined $40 the next day. As they were unable to pay their fines the two were sent to the House of Correction for three months.

A far more serious incident was reported the next year. In the early morning of Sunday, September 26, 1887, Officer Falch was found unconscious at the foot of the stairway leading down to the barbershop at West Water Street (today’s North Plankinton Ave.) and Grand Avenue (today’s West Wisconsin Ave.). Falch was taken home and did not regain consciousness until late in the evening. He could not remember what happened, only that he had sat down on the railing to rest for a moment, and next found himself in his bed. It was thought he fell asleep for a moment and lost his balance. The fall was about 12 feet and the Milwaukee Sentinel reported “It was a miracle he was not killed.” Falch had an ugly gash on the back of his head and a bruised face. After a week of recovering from his injuries, he had a relapse and was reported laying in a critical condition. However, within a short time “Tony” was back on the beat, arresting a clothing thief on 3rd and Grand Avenue in mid-October.

Officer Falch was back on his downtown post during the early hours and at about 2:45 a.m. on March 3, 1888, he noticed the Milwaukee River was brightly lit up. Walking to the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge he saw flames shooting out of the rear of the Ferenke Candy Factory on West Water Street and immediately turned in an alarm from box 10 at the corner of Wisconsin and East Water Street (today’s North Water Street). Unfortunately it was too late. The candy factory and its stock were a total loss, and buildings around it were also badly damaged.

In a downtown made up of mostly wooden buildings, fire was rather common. Less than two weeks later Officer Falch discovered another fire. At about 1:45 a.m. he said he heard what seemed to be a terrific explosion and then found the entire front of the Atkins, Ogden & Co. shoe factory had fallen out, followed by an instant roar of flames. This fire on West Water Street turned out much worse than the March 3 fire. One double store was completely destroyed and others badly damaged. Most tragically, at about 2:15 a.m. the sides and roof of the rear of the Gimbel Brothers department store collapsed, burying a number of firemen. Two firemen were killed in this blaze and a number more badly hurt.

In spring 1891 Officer Falch “made a fine catch” by halting a team of horses attached to a load of brick on downtown’s Third Street, but not before the load of brick was scattered for six blocks. Tony was dragged quite a distance and had another narrow escape with death. Five years later Officer Falch grappled with a runaway team on West Water Street, which hauled a heavy truck wagon with one wheel off, barely missing a lot of people and grazing a streetcar. After bringing the team to a stop, two hundred pedestrians cheered at “a most dangerous act and bestowed lavish praise on the policeman.” Unfortunately Officer Falch could not save every horse. In November 1897 he had to shoot a horse that fell, breaking a hip, at 2nd and Michigan Avenue.

As with most police officers, Tony had cases very heartbreaking. In August 1895 a 7-year old boy playing ball on the dock of the Milwaukee River in the rear of 208 West Water Street, fell into the river and drowned. Patrolman Falch recovered and took the boys’ body to the morgue.

Tony still loved baseball and attended games. In 1887 he was said to have “made a brilliant catch of a hard-hit ball”, as a spectator.

In August 1890 the first of the later to be traditional Milwaukee Police-Fire baseball games was played at Athletic Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western Association. Anton Falch was captain and catcher for the Police team. The “Run-me-in’s” lost to the “Water-squirters” 27 to 20, catcher Falch “thumping the ball for a home run.”

Another Police vs. Fire game was played in 1897, again Falch captaining the Police squad, but this time taking over first base. Tony had sprained his foot a week before the game, but decided to play. He should not have, and “played a poor game with his lame foot.” His team again lost to the firemen, 43 to 2, before about 4,000 people.

In 1894 a number of police officers equipped the drill hall in the Central Police Station on North Broadway as a gymnasium. At first there was no formal organization for the “brawny coppers” to punch the bag, spar, wrestle and “go through other forms of exercise”, but in March 1895 the Milwaukee Police Athletic Association was formed and Anton Falch was active as a member of the Committee on Finance. This organization is still in existence today.

In an article in the November 3, 1895 Milwaukee Sentinel readers were informed of some police officer’s duties. The paper told its readers Officer Falch was in charge of the corner at Grand Avenue and West Water Street (today’s West Wisconsin Avenue and North Plankinton Avenue), where he had stood “swinging his club, controlling the movements of teams and passengers alike” for eight years.

falch.jpgMilwaukee Sentinel
November 3, 1895

This post also looked after the Grand Avenue Bridge, and was reported to be the most important corner in the city. A perhaps less “officially” important duty at this post was giving “bashful young fellows” (many from Chicago) directions to the residence of Reverend Hunsberger, known at the time for performing numerous marriages at his residence. Other tasks were providing directions to the Pabst brewery, answering if there were free drinks there, and where the great Third Ward fire had started. Anton Falch was a rather popular officer, collecting over 1,000 votes in a contest for the most popular policeman held by the Milwaukee Journal in 1899–but far behind Officer C.R. Sullivan’s 27,429 and south side Officer Thaddeus Wendzinski’s 15,209 votes. In 1904 Anton Falch was promoted to Sergeant, remaining at this rank until he retired in 1917. After his retirement he was shown in City of Milwaukee directories to work for many years as a clerk for David Adler & Sons Co., a clothing store on Broadway and Buffalo Streets in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

Anton Falch died March 31, 1936. He was survived by his wife Bertha, who continued to live at 1018 North 21 Street, three children (one of his sons, Edwin, a Milwaukee fireman, had been killed fighting a fire in 1920) and one grandchild. Anton Falch is buried in Milwaukee’s Union Cemetery.

Comments

One Response to “Anton Falch–Ballplayer, but much more in life”
  1. Justin Murphy says:

    Great research, Dennis. So many stories from back in the day…

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