April 24, 2018

The Man Who Brought The American League to Milwaukee: Matthew Killilea

April 24, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

If asked, most no doubt would answer Bud Selig was the man who brought the American League to Milwaukee–and that answer would not be wrong. But 70 years before the 1970 Brewers first played at Milwaukee County Stadium, Milwaukee had a team in the American League, and Matt Killilea was a major part of the original Brewers being in the American League.

Matthew Robert Killilea was born to Irish immigrants Matthew and Mary Murray Killilea in the Town of Poygan, Winnebago county, Wisconsin, in 1862. His primary education was in the district school before taking a course at Daggett’s Business College in Oshkosh. Matthew then entered the college of law in the University of Wisconsin. Considered one of the brightest law students he graduated in June 1891 with high honors, also having been chosen class president that year. The following month Killilea was admitted to the bar, joining the Milwaukee law firm of Fiebing & Killilea, the Killilea being Matt’s older brother Henry J.

Obviously a promising, capable young lawyer, in December 1892 Milwaukee District Attorney-elect, Leopold Hammel, announced he would appoint Matthew Killilea as his assistant. However, a law that read this position could only be filled by a lawyer who had been admitted to the bar for at least two years, disqualified Matthew from this appointment. Hammel showed his confidence in the young lawyer by telling the press he was looking for an assistant who would be willing to resign July 1, so Killilea could be appointed when he was qualified. Matthew never served in this post.

In 1894 Matthew Killilea was the unanimous choice of the Democrat party to run for the 7th District of the U.S. Congress (comprising Milwaukee’s 2nd and 4th Wards). During the October/November campaign Killilea made numerous speeches, often times with David Rose, the Democrat’s candidate for congress in the 4th District. Interestingly, Killilea attacked his primary opponent, Republican Edward C. Notbohm, on the grounds Notbohm was not a German-American and had extreme views on the then hot-button liquor question. Notbohm answered he certainly was a German-American citizen and had never refused to help any German immigrant. The Republican also said he was liberal on his views toward temperance. A large Populist vote in the November election carried Notbohm to victory with 1,865 votes, to Killilea’s 1,283, and Peoples’ Party candidate Louis Wieman’s 724.

Matthew was still busy practicing law in the Fiebing & Killilea firm, but took on a new position in the fall of 1893. Milwaukee investors were organizing a baseball club in the new Western League, and Killilea—“a man of very kindly impulses and cordial ways”–was elected president of the club. Matthew Killilea had been a baseball player “of considerable distinction” in his younger days. With his brother Henry they formed one of the strongest amateur batteries in the state, the Winneconne team having been considered invincible when they teamed up. The 1894 Brewers did not do so well in the field, ending up in last place with a 50 and 74 record. However, financially the club made $800 on the season, according to Killilea. [However, Harry Quin, who owned Athletic Park, where the Brewers played in 1894, claimed he was told the team lost up to $10,400. Western League president Ban Johnson also reported Milwaukee was the only team to lose money.]

As an owner Killilea appeared to be fair to players. The Brewer president claimed his club’s expenses were the highest in the Western League, one reason being he put his players up at the best hotels and obtained the best railroad accommodations for them. While playing exhibition games in April 1894, former player Bill Widner attached Milwaukee’s $123 share of receipts of a game in Cincinnati, claiming his salary of 1892 had not be paid in full. Even though that club was now out of existence Killilea promised Widner he would look into the matter for him. In June of that same year John Luby left the team claiming the manager misused the players, and that he had been promised additional money if he pitched, money he had not received. President Killilea initially suspended Luby, but within days reinstated him, promising the player he would get his money. A few years later when Cincinnati owner John T. Brush proposed a rule that any players “who are not able to bridle their tongues” be blacklisted, Killilea stepped in and said that would be “absolutely contrary to law.” He continued: “No man has a right to deprive another person of the means by which that person makes a livelihood. The law would never support a manager in putting a man out of a game for the balance of his life merely because he used indecent language on the diamond, upon one or two occasions…For, should a man once be blacklisted, he would never be able to play the game again….I am not countenancing rowdyism, or the use of vile language. It must be checked. But the reform must be a legitimate one, and one that will be upheld by the law.” Yet Killilea was fair to all, saying he was strongly opposed to the constant umpire baiting and thought some rule could be adapted to check “baby-like kicking and to prevent the players from indulging in personalities during the game.” The Brewer President even went into the courtroom for one of his players. In 1897 pitcher Fred Barnes was arrested for riding his bicycle on the sidewalks. Killilea appeared for Barnes in the police court the next day and explained that Barnes had not resided in the city long enough to know there was a bicycle ordinance. The judge suspended the sentence.

The 1895 season proved interesting for Killilea and his club. Killilea was part of the Western League board of directors and busy with finding a replacement city for Sioux City in the league. At home there was talk of a new American Association forming to compete with the National League, with Harry Quin putting a team in Milwaukee. Quin owned Athletic Park, at 8th and Chambers Streets, where the Brewers played their home games. When the Brewers’ lease expired at the park on October 15, 1894, Quin decided not to lease to the Brewers for 1895. Killilea believed the talk of a new American Association in Milwaukee was Harry Quin’s way to get more money out of the Brewers in rent at Athletic Park. Indeed Quin did offer the park to the Brewers for $3,000 yearly rent. Killilea said the Brewers would have nothing to do with Quin in a business way anymore. A battle of rumor, propaganda, blacklisting and talk of franchise shifts ensued between the National League and new American Association that fall and early winter. However, before Christmas 1894 the American Association was dead.

The Brewers decided to build a new ball park, leasing grounds at 11th and Wright Street. Work began on the 10,000 seat capacity park, with an estimated cost of $8,000 in February 1895. Shortly the Public Board of Works gave the Brewers notice work had to stop and all materials removed. The board was acting on an opinion from the city attorney that it was illegal to obstruct or close a public highway without a public petition or verdict of a jury. An alley was platted mid-block between 11th and 12th, but had never been put in. The Brewers were certain Quin was behind the move.

Within days the club found a large property at 16th and Lloyd Streets, which it rented. The plans for the Wright Street Park were adapted to this new location. Soon construction began on the new park that would have a seating capacity of about 7,000. Officially named Milwaukee Park, with the name painted in bold letters along the rear of the grandstand, it was finished by opening day, at a cost of about $8,000.

As for the 1895 playing season, Killilea hired a new manager, Larry Twitchell, who was given full charge of the team, financially and in matters of engaging and releasing players. However, Killilea still worked at looking for players, as his mid-season trip to the south to look for players in the Southern League showed. The Brewers finished the 1895 season in sixth place, with a 57 and 67 record. Again the club did better in the ledger books than on the field, as Killilea reported the club made $11,000 on the season.

After the season Matthew Killilea was again very active in Western League affairs. He was named to a committee to look for two replacement cities in the league. After much time and work, only Columbus replaced Terre Haute in the Western. He was also instrumental in new draft rules set up between the National League and Western League. One change Matt Killilea pushed would have the money paid by the National League for a drafted player be put into the Western League sinking fund, rather than the entire amount going to the team that lost the player. A comprise was reached where $200 would go to the league, the remainder staying with the team.

Within the Milwaukee franchise there was much turmoil. At the winter Western League meeting, Matthew Killilea was given sole ownership of the club. It was known Killilea wanted two or three of the 15 stockholders out, and by getting the franchise in his name he could let in only those he wanted. It was thought he wanted to oust a couple stockholders who were not in favor of spending money on players who were needed. In November Killilea was re-elected as team president and a new board or directors put in place. This new board would be more to Matthew’s liking.

Killilea, the new board of directors, and manager Twitchell were committed to building a new team, and spending money to do it. However, they found some players wanted too much of the green stuff. After the Brewers acquired the rights to George Speer and offered him a $100 raise over his 1895 salary, the player wanted more. The Brewer president responded: “It is possible that [Speer] may want a portion of the gross receipts, section of the grandstand, or a four carat diamond as an inducement for him to play with Milwaukee next year. We have offered him a good salary and if he does not desire to accept that, he will not play ball at all.” In March Speer did sign with the Brewers.

As is found many times throughout baseball history, spending money on players does not guarantee a winner. As the 1896 Brewers stumbled to a 27 and 33 record Larry Twitchell resigned and Robert Glenalvin was hired to manage the team. Killilea vowed he would “X-ray the baseball world” to find players to fill the weak spots.

In August 1896 Matthew Killilea took a break from the baseball world, leaving for a trip to Europe, spending time in Ireland—where he planned on visiting relatives and seeing the former home of his parents–, England, Scotland and France. When Killilea returned in mid September he said he was in much improved health and spirits. Matthew said he had not kept very close track of the Brewers while away, as he not able to find a newspaper carrying information on the team. However, he was satisfied that team had done the best it could.

The Brewers wound up the 1896 season again in sixth place, now with a 62 and 78 record. Although the club publicly stated it broke even monetarily on the season, this is doubtful, as about 10 days before the season ended it was stated the club would lose about $2,500. It was rumored the club was for sale, with offers said to be between $9,000 and $12,000. However, Killilea said the club was not for sale at any price.

Matt Killilea was a baseball owner, but enjoyed a number of other sporting activities. He was a bowler, and held a place on the Chickasaw bowling team. He owned a crack pacer horse named J.H.L., which “promised to do some of the best work of the [1894] season and to finish close up in the first in every race.” Sporting journals reported his accompanying Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey on fishing trips “in the wilds of Minnesota.” The Sporting Life of January 16, 1897 told this story of Killilea, Johnson, Comiskey and Tom Loftus’s rabbit hunting experience in Dubuque. Johnson and Comiskey met Loftus in the Iowa city, but Killilea only got as far as Praire du Chien and was held up. “Rather than allow his friends to learn about his adventure he returned to Milwaukee and hid himself in his room at the Republican house.”

Western League affairs in the off season again proved most interesting. Indianapolis owner John T. Brush had a plan to reorganize the Western League. His Indianapolis club and the Minneapolis club petitioned to leave the Western League. His plan then called for the remaining Western League clubs to be disbanded and the players to be transferred to the National League. (Brush also owned the National League Cincinnati Reds). The players would then be returned to the Western League, with the franchises given new owners. Brush pegged Harry D. Quin as the Milwaukee magnate. The day after this plan was submitted to the Board of Arbitration, Western League president Ban Johnson and Detroit owner George van der Beck came to Milwaukee and registered at the Republican House—where Matthew Killilea live–under assumed names. After talking over the situation Killilea and Johnson appear to have gone to Chicago to talk with National League owner James Hart about the plan. Killilea issued the following statement about Brush’s reorganization plan: “Because we would not permit Brush to dictate to us in the Western League he now wants to annul the franchises held by us, but he will find that the law practices in the highest tribunals of justice will be different law from that enacted by the base ball magnates of the National League. It is preposterous to assume that our rights and property should be jeopardized by Brush and [Minneapolis owner] Goodnow…If these two clubs want to withdraw from the League we will give our consent, but if they want to drive us out we will fight.” Killilea fought against Brush’s plan and in October Brush’s petition was turned down by the Board of Arbitration.

Matt Killilea, described by a sportswriter as “a big, jovial, warm-hearted Irishman,” was becoming more and more respected in baseball circles, and in its February 27, 1897 issue Sporting Life commented he “is now looked up to as the legal advisor of the Western League magnates.” After his death it was said of Killilea: “He was the brains of the American League, having advised Ban Johnson in all his moves before and after the war started with the National League. Even the genius, John T. Brush, with all his base ball experience, failed to cope successfully with the Milwaukee magnate, although the latter was new to the game compared to the Cincinnati man. Charlie Comiskey and other well known magnates, have said that Matt Killilea had all the other leaders beaten by a mile when it came to base ball law.”

Again talk of franchise changes in the Western League also kept Killilea busy in the off-season. Killilea favored Omaha as a new member, but in the end no franchise changes were made. At this time Killilea, Western League President Ban Johnson and St. Paul owner Charles Comiskey were becoming very friendly. It had been Killilea the previous year who proposed Johnson become the full time president of the Western League and his salary be raised from $1,500 to $2,5000. As a full time president Johnson could better see how each club in the league operated and make better decisions on each, Killilea reasoned. Johnson and Comiskey both were reported frequently to visit Killilea in Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee magnate was often reported to be in Chicago in the company of one or the other. In March 1897 it was reported the threesome were taking some leisure time in West Baden, Indiana. It was said there was nothing to West Baden at that time but a small hotel and a spring surrounded by a few small mountains. “This spring, however, possesses wonderful curative powers.” Killilea, who took the trip mainly for his health, and his companions spent the time climbing mountains and looking for bird nests. Killilea, Johnson and Comiskey became the backbone of the Western League. In September 1898 when rumors were about that Milwaukee would go into the National League the next season, Killilea told the Milwaukee Sentinel he “not only has no desire to shine in the big league, but will stand by the Western until hades is converted into a skating rink.”

Clearly a change was needed for the 1897 Milwaukee team. Matt Killilea at first stated he would not accept the presidency of the club again, but reconsidered and was re-elected in November. Connie Mack, who had been released from his managerial duties in Pittsburgh toward the end of the 1896 season, was signed to manage the 1897 Brewers. Mack was given a $3,000 contract, the highest ever given a manager in Milwaukee, plus 1/5 share in the club. (Other local sources gave his contract figure at $2,500 and $1,500). Mack was given free reign to build a winning team. President Killilea told the press: “It takes money to do it, but we will have nothing but the best [players].” Many talented players were looked at, and a good team signed. Good enough that the Brewers staying within the Western League’s salary limit of $2,200 a month was questioned. The Sporting News commented: “A look at the payroll of the Milwaukee club would be interesting, and President Killilea, who is a strong advocate of the policy, would have a hard time to explain the figures.”

The 1897 Brewers finished with 85 wins and 51 losses, but this .625 winning percentage was only good for 4th place, as Indianapolis won 98 games, Columbus 89 games, and St. Paul 86 games. In September it was reported the club would make a $20,000 profit, although at the later Western League meeting the club claimed to only have cleared $5,000. The Milwaukee Journal attempted to figure the Brewers’ true financial picture, and came up with a net profit of $22,100.

Although Milwaukee had a good financial year in 1897, most other clubs in the Western League did not. The off season again proved interesting for the league, and Killilea’s friend Ban Johnson was given unheard of powers over franchises, disciple of players and salaries–even given the authority to examine club’s financial books—in addition to being in charge of umpires and railroad transportation for the entire league. A riff between the Western League and the National League was beginning. Commenting on a player decision in April 1897 Killilea at the time said of the National Board of Arbitration: “The National Board is composed of a judicial set of men, and all their actions have been free from prejudice.” But now the Western wanted more say in baseball matters, and Matthew Killilea took aim at the National Board of Arbitration in April 1898:

It is utterly impossible for the minor leagues to get justice from the National Board
of Arbitration, which is in the nature of a judge sitting on the bench trying a case
affecting his own interests. If a judicial body were selected as the Board of Discipline
has been, disputes between the National League and the minors could be satisfactorily
adjusted, but there never will be a National Board of Arbitration of a judicial character,
fair and impartial in its dealings, until all the minor leagues have a voice in the
selection of its members, and the men who compose it are not identified with some
National League Club.”

Back in Milwaukee, Connie Mack stayed with the Brewers, even though he said he had offers from National League teams that exceeded his Milwaukee salary by $2,000. Matt Killilea was yet again re-elected as club president. Mack and Killilea scouted and signed players to put a winning club on the field again for 1898. Killilea, however, was worried that if a war started with Spain, as the Spanish-American war was about to erupt, some of the players might enlist. Mack eased him by saying “they would prefer $200 a month to hard tack and $13 per month.”

During this season Killilea showed his interest in civic affairs when he announced he would donate the entire receipts of the May 27 game against Kansas City to Mr. Lydia Ely to help her raise the amount needed for a large Soldier’s Monument which was—and still is—placed on West Wisconsin Avenue.

The Brewers again played well in 1898, finishing in third place with an 82 and 57 record, six games behind first place Kansas City. It was thought the Milwaukee club was “financially located at the junction of Velvet Avenue and East Boulevard,” with profits of about $20,000 on the season.

Attorney Matthew Killilea still had time to practice law in 1898. At least two of his cases made the news that year. In April Killilea appeared in court on behalf of a baker named Somers, who was alleging a doctor and his son assaulted him. The incident started when Somers turned off the water to the doctor’s apartment, as the doctor had not paid his water rates. A fight ensued between the two. Then Somers’ wife entered the fight, followed by the doctor’s son. While the doctor attempted to keep Mrs. Somers out of the action, the son fought with Mr. Somers, giving the neighbors a “double contest.” Employees of an adjoining laundry broke up the combatants, but Somers and his wife ran to the basement where they “assailed the doctor and his son with a horsewhip.” After a little more hostilities the show ended. After hearing the facts, the court dismissed the case. In September Attorney Killilea appeared on behalf of L.J. Ryan at the Committee on Licenses of the Common Council to obtain a license to conduct a saloon on Fourth Street. Killilea told the committee Mr. Ryan had been in the saloon business for fifteen years and never had a problem, having “always conducted a respectable place.” After promising to “tear out the stalls” Ryan was granted a license.

In November of this off-season Matthew Killilea ran for (against Elias Lehman of the People’s Party and Edward C. Notbohm, again a Republican) and won the Second District Assembly seat in the state legislature by a 400 vote plurality. Killilea, a Democrat, took the seat of retiring Republican Charles Polacheck, also a director of the Milwaukee Baseball club.

With Killilea as president and Connie Mack as manager the Brewers entered 1899 with the usual problems: Mack with players, and Killilea with Western League ownership problems, in particular John Brush. However, Matt Killilea was becoming quite a power in the Western. In November it was reported he and Ban Johnson had full authority to negotiate with several cities and to close deals to complete the circuit. Some in the Western League thought entering Chicago would be a good idea, but the Brewer president thought it would be “suicidal” because the Western League would lose its protection under the National Agreement. Killilea was originally in favor in favor of admitting Toronto to the Western, and pushed hard to have each club donate $500 toward purchasing the Toronto franchise and turning it over to Tom Loftus. This plan fell through and Killilea then turned to Buffalo, which eventually was taken into the Western.

Incredibly, while representing his district in the Wisconsin Assembly—a duty he found “agreeable”– and running a baseball club, Matthew Killilea still had time to practice law. For example, in March he appeared as the attorney representing a man bit by the dog of another man “whose success in teaching his canines and felines to ape the deeds of men and go through all sorts of tricks has been phenomenal.” In April Killilea appeared on behalf of a matrimonial bureau employee charged with six counts of fraudulent use of the mails and two counts of attempting to bribe United States officers. Matthew, however, had disposed of his livery stables at auction the previous year, freeing up some time.

The Brewers disappointed on the field in 1899, winning only 56 games and losing 68. Losing brings criticism, and with the first losing year since Connie Mack came to town, the Milwaukee correspondent to The Sporting News heaped criticism on the Brewer brass, saying “Of course, base ball is a business; still the public want something in return for their money and the moment the directors of the club make it evident to the public that they are in it for the coin regardless of the position of the team then that is the time the public sours on them….The popular idea is that the Brewers are run on a very cheap basis.” No doubt the Brewers lost money, but no public statements were made on the club’s financial condition.

The march of the Western League to transformation into a major league took its penultimate step after the 1899 season. Already during the season dispatches from New York were reporting another new American Association was being organized as competition to the National League, with Milwaukee as one of its cities. Matthew Killilea stated his Brewers had no intention of leaving the Western League. It was soon discovered the American Association was planning on putting a second club in Milwaukee, with Harry Quin as its head. Killilea and Connie Mack thought the time was right for another major league, but did not you think much of the American Association idea.

Western League directors, with Ban Johnson’s backing, saw this National League-American Association war as a chance to improve their situation. The Western League first asked for a higher draft price for its players and later decided to move into Chicago and Cleveland. Another bold move was to change the Western League’s name to the American League. Matthew Killilea was originally against this change, but when he saw he stood alone he went with the new name. Eventually, for this one year at least, war between the National League and other leagues was avoided. The American Association idea died, and Killilea gave the press his thoughts on Harry Quin in a telegraph to Ban Johnson: “Place H.D. Quin on our claim list, if not a success as an organizer or player it makes no difference to us, as intend to use him on the lines as coach. We want somebody to make great noise, even if he amounts to nothing else.”

Matt Killilea was re-elected Brewer president in November 1899, now going into his seventh year in the position, and Mack was back as manager of the Milwaukee club. A very good team was put on the field in 1900, finishing in second place behind Chicago, with a 79 and 59 record. After the season Killilea would not give the financial results of the club, saying “the public is no more interested in that than it is in the day’s sales of one of the large dry good houses…the public doesn’t care so long as we give them good baseball.” The local press estimated the club made about $8,000 on the year.

For the 1901 season the American League took its final step to major league status. As the American League maneuvered in the baseball war against the National League, the Brewers filed an amendment to its articles of incorporation, increasing the capital stock from $10,000 to $25,000. Matthew Killilea, Fred Gross and Connie Mack were the principal stockholders. But soon Mack was setting up in Philadelphia, and Killilea hired Hugh Duffy as his manager.

As early as February 2, 1901, The Sporting News reported the American League was ready to transfer the Milwaukee franchise to St. Louis, but this was denied by Killilea. And yet again, an American Association threat was making the rounds, with Milwaukee again a city mentioned, and yes, Harry Quin as head of that franchise. By February 1901 this AA threat again died.

Killilea and Hugh Duffy put together a team. As in all baseball wars signing of players from the rival league, as well as keeping your own players, was an important element. The Brewers were not particularly successful in signing major talent, and finished 1901 in last place, with a 48 and 89 record. Milwaukee’s home attendance was second lowest in the American League, and the team probably lost about $5,000.

After the 1901 season the Milwaukee Brewer franchise was transferred to St. Louis. This probably would have happened prior to the 1901 season if not for Matthew Killilea. It was reported Ban Johnson and several other American League owners wanted to move the club to St. Louis, but Killilea ”declined to accede to the request…with protestations of civic pride.” During the season Killilea worked to keep the franchise in Milwaukee, with a plan to move Cleveland to St. Louis. At the end of July the Brewer president told the Milwaukee Sentinel he would personally vouch for Milwaukee staying in the American League, and he had just turned down a $30,000 offer to for the Brewers from St. Louis people. Again in August it was reported Killilea turned down a $42,000 offer for the club.

However, by mid-September reliable sources were claiming the Brewers would be transferred to St. Louis. By this time Matthew was again ill, and his brother Henry was now the directing head of the Brewers. Henry denied these stories. Matthew said he would retire from baseball if the Brewers moved to St. Louis. But soon a report came out of Philadelphia stating Ban Johnson had made a deal where the Milwaukee owners would receive $25,000 for 40% of their stock from a St. Louis brewer, and Matt Killilea would be made president of the club after the transfer. In early October it was reported Henry Killilea went to St. Louis to negotiate the deal and came back reporting the Brewers would indeed transfer to St. Louis. Ban Johnson denied this. More rumors of a transfer were printed and shortly denied, causing the Milwaukee correspondent to The Sporting News to write these were only “one of the thousand little and big things which prove how much confidence may be placed in the announcements of the base ball magnates these days. They had adopted a policy of denying and claiming everything, so that when a piece of news that is authentic is dug up, it must be supported by oaths and pledges…”.

At the December American League meetings the Milwaukee-St. Louis situation was to be cleared up. Matthew Killilea was delayed by the trains and could not make the first day, so the matter was postponed. However, when he arrived Killilea told newsmen “the owners of the Milwaukee club are opposed to the transfer to St. Louis and the American League cannot make a change without the consent of the owners.”

However, word was around Milwaukee wanted $48,000 for the franchise. On December 3 a deal was made. Matthew Killilea bought the interests of his brother Henry, who did not want Matt in baseball because of his failing health, and transferred the club to St. Louis. Matthew was president and principal owner of the St. Louis franchise, and named Jim McAleer as the manager.

The Milwaukee press, which had been very kind to Matthew Killilea in the past, was not now. The Milwaukee Journal wrote “it is a very clever trick of the American League bunch in keeping Killilea…on their staff with ground awaiting them in Milwaukee in case St. Louis should go to the bead.” The Daily News, said Killilea and his associate Fred Gross “had pink tea in their veins instead of sporting blood,” for not taking a chance on Milwaukee. However the Sentinel was more understanding, stating it was a business proposition, and as Milwaukee could not adequately support the expensive team the owners had secured, they had to leave the city.

Some doubted if Matthew Killilea was really behind the club, thinking Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey were looking after the finances of the club. This is possible. Because of his failing health Matt Killilea spent the winter in Texas, leaving George Munson to run the club. In January Killilea sold out to a St. Louis syndicate for a reported $40,000. He and his brother Henry then bought into the American League Boston club.

However, Matthew had been very ill for some time. As early as July 1899 it was reported he was confined to his room at the Republican House, ill with pleurisy. In early August Matthew left Milwaukee to recuperate in Winneconne from “his long siege of sickness.” However, he returned to Milwaukee later in the month to be hospitalized at St. Joseph hospital. In mid-October it was reported he was in better health and had gained nearly 40 pounds since he had left the hospital in September. In February 1900 the Brewer president spent two weeks at West Baden, Indiana, then returning to Milwaukee “much improved in health.” In 1900 Killilea also declined re-nomination for the State Assembly seat due to his health. When the American League met in March 1901 for final preparations, Matt Killilea had a bad case of bronchitis and missed the meeting, as he had traveled to Arizona. He spent the winter of 1901/02 in Texas with the hope of improving his health. However, his health got no better and in early summer he returned to his mother’s home in Poygan, Wisconsin with difficulty, where his health continued to grow worse. A report out of Milwaukee dated July 16, 1902, stated Killilea was dying at his country home in Winneconne, The report stated “It is a pity to look at him, for he is nothing but skin and bones and can hardly speak above a whisper.” The week prior to this Ban Johnson had visited the sick man at his home. Johnson found his brain as clear as ever, as the two talked baseball. In a touching account The Sporting Life wrote: “When Johnson entered his room, the curtain was rung up to the top, so that the sunshine could get full sway. Johnson asked him if he should pull it down, but Matt replied, ‘No, I want to look on that beautiful sun and clear air, for I have but a few more days to enjoy it.’ Johnson promised him that he would make another call.” Matthew R. Killilea died of tuberculosis on July 27, 1902, with his mother, two brothers and two sisters at his bedside.

What might have been in Matthew Killilea’s life is worth thinking about. He perhaps would have had a bright future in state or national politics. The Detroit Free Press in April 1899 said this about Killilea: “President M.R. Killilea of the Milwaukee Baseball club is an attorney. He is also a member of the Wisconsin legislature and is at present serving his first term. As well as being an able attorney and lawmaker, he is a true sportsman and a man that will go to the limit any time in behalf of the rights of those who are interested in any particular branch of sport. He believes that might does not make right, and thinks all lines of sport—of a legitimate nature—should have one end in view and work together for mutual protection. The wheelmen are becoming prominent in politics of cities and states, and the recent action of Representative Killilea [in defeating a bill against bicyclists’ rights] may be the stepping stone that leads to some other office of more prominence than the one he now so ably holds.”

Milwaukee Sentinel July 28, 1902

Matt Killilea no doubt would have made a huge difference in the baseball world. He appeared to not only be well respected in baseball circles, but had a history of getting agendas accomplished. It was reported “at the annual meetings of the [Western League] his solution of different problems was always accepted and his genial nature softened many an acrimonious debate.” By December 1898 he was being applauded by the eastern press for stating baseball should be conducted as any other business, without treating the public to “buncombe.” In 1901 The Sporting News devoted an article to Matt Killilea, headlining it “American League’s Lawyer.” Calling the Brewer president “one of the shrewdest magnates in the business,” the St. Louis weekly reported “no move has been made by the [American League] magnates without first consulting the Milwaukee man.” Killilea had the respect and friendship of American League President Ban Johnson, and the powerful Chicago owner Charles Comiskey for many years. Being close to both these powerful men, Killilea might have been the link between these two men that could have stopped a disastrous outcome in later years. Reportedly his influence brought the two together in 1901 after a period of estrangement, so perhaps it would have worked again.

Whatever might have been his future, one thing known about Matthew Killilea was his generosity and sincere caring about his fellow man. This story, told by a Milwaukee lawyer, perhaps best tells us about Matthew Killilea:

One Saturday afternoon we were trying a case before a justice on the Port Washington
Road and got through about 5 o’clock. As we were driving back to town we overtook
a laborer trudging along the same way. Killilea knew him and offered him a ride. The
man had been drinking and told Killilea that he had spent his week’s wages and was
ashamed to go home. Without any argument Killilea turned his horse and drove the man
to his home half a mile away and left with his wife an amount of money equal to that
spent by him.

The Milwaukee Sentinel summed Matthew R. Killilea up shorter, but better, than anyone could hope for:
“He was admired and esteemed by a wide circle of friends, and was idolized by his family.”

Sources Used:

Men of Progress, Wisconsin; edited by Andrew J. Aikens and Lewis A. Proctor, published 1897 by Evening Wisconsin Co.

Rise of Milwaukee Baseball; Dennis Pajot, published 2009 by McFarland & Co.

Evening Wisconsin various issues 1895 to 1901

Milwaukee Daily News various issues 1895 to 1901

Milwaukee Journal various issues 1891 to 1902

Milwaukee Sentinel various issues 1891 to 1902

The Sporting Life various issues 1895 to 1902

The Sporting News various issues 1895-1902


One Response to “The Man Who Brought The American League to Milwaukee: Matthew Killilea”
  1. Norbert says:

    Hi, Dennis Pajot,
    I am researching Good Harbor Michigan. Otto Schomberg and his family were integral to this little village. I read your article about Otto and figured you probably had a lot more info about him that you did not use. I would like to have that information if you are willing to share it – anything about the entire family, but most especially Henry, Otto, and Richard and their father Henry.

    Please respond,

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