January 22, 2019

The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball: The Cream City From Midwestern Outpost to the Major Leagues, 1850-1901

spacer.jpgDennis Pajot

ISBN ISBN 978-0-7864-3951-5
44 photos, appendices, index
softcover 2009

Available Fall/Winter 2009 from McFarland Publishing.



Although centered on Milwaukee baseball, this book is actually a study of the evolution of all of baseball. As the game evolved throughout America, it also evolved in Milwaukee. Patterns were set and followed across the country. Milwaukee was not the hub of the baseball universe–or even the mid-west, Chicago, St. Louis or Cincinnati taking that honor—but it was large enough to have hosted four franchises in major leagues during this period. This enabled me to discuss the formation of these leagues and how Milwaukee came to be a part of them. The latter chapters of the book include a look at the Western League’s evolution to the American League, from the Milwaukee standpoint.

Another aspect covered in much detail here is the amateur and semi-amateur clubs formed in Milwaukee. These players and clubs were popular and certainly helped form the baseball world of Milwaukee. This is an interesting and forgotten portion of Milwaukee baseball history.

Below are the opening paragraphs of four selected chapters of the book to give a glimpse into areas the book covers.

Chapter 2 The Cream City Club (1865 – 1868)

The war finally came to an end with General Lee surrendering to General Grant in 1865. It was time to rebuild in the south. In the north it was a time to live a normal life again. This meant the revival of baseball. The resumption of the sport began in Milwaukee on August 10, at Camp Scott, with a number of members of the Old Milwaukee Base Ball Club on hand and a sprinkling of “green hands” thrown in. Two of the members from the old club were chosen captains and made the sides. Chief Beck’s side scored 20 runs and “swung their hats in token of triumph,” as H.H. West’s team could only tally 19 runs. Everyone wanted to see a new ball club organized in the city and hoped to see it challenge some of the clubs already formed throughout the state.

Hope became reality when on August 17, 1865, a baseball club again was organized in Milwaukee.  H.H.West (co-owner of S.C. West & Co, bookseller and stationer at Water and Michigan) was elected the president; James G. Jenkins (an attorney for the City of Milwaukee), secretary; and Samuel Howard (a lawyer and notary public) treasurer. This club continued to practice at Camp Scott, but never met the expectation of playing outside clubs. And it had the opportunity to do so. As mentioned above, other clubs were being formed in Wisconsin. In late September, the Dubuque County Agricultural Society offered “a heavy silver ball of regulation size, a prize to the club declared to be the champion Base Ball Club of the northwest.” The second prize was a silver mounted rosewood bat. The Milwaukee club was urged to go, but declined, being content to stay home.

In October this ball club either reorganized, or disbanded and was replaced by a new club. About 30 players met at H. Bentley’s (a local tavern on Michigan Street) on Friday, October 6 “for the purpose of permanently organizing a club.” H.H. West, president of the first club, was selected chairman of the meeting and J.B. Brown chosen secretary. A committee of four, consisting of Chairman West, J.A. Bryden, Morgan Furlong and J.B. Brown was appointed “to draft a constitution and by-laws for the government of the club.” After discussing the organization, the players adjourned to meet again the following Tuesday. At the second meeting permanent officers were elected. West continued on as president, and James Jenkins became vice-president. Richard Allen was elected treasurer and O.G. Leach was made secretary of the club. Martin Larkin, J.A. Bryden, and Frank Smith became directors of the club. Thus on October 10, 1865, the Cream City Base Ball Club of Milwaukee was formed. The new club met with great favor in the press.

During the formation of the Cream City Club rumors were spreading that the team was to play a match game against the Chicago Base Ball Club. The contest was to be held in Chicago on October 19, but never was played for reasons unknown. Once again the club only practiced among its own members. In the November 7, 1865, Sentinel, nine members of the Cream City Club published the following notice:

We, the undersigned nine players will play any other nine players of Base Ball in the City of Milwaukee, on Wednesday next at Camp Scott, at 2:00p.m. sharp. J.B. Brown, A. McFadyen, M. Larkin, J.A. Bryden, R. Rickerson, Riordon, T.L. Mitchell, Chandler, Wood.

This challenge had not be published twelve hours when it was met:

We, the undersigned, hereby accept the challenge offered by J.B. Brown & Co., and will play them a match game on the day proposed. O. Gilbert Leach, Frank A. Smith, G.P. Kelly, Geo. O. Sweet, Morgan Furlong, James B. Jenkins, A. Jackson, H.H. West, E.M. Moore.

If one looks closely at the reply, one will find these men are also from the Cream City Club. In accepting the challenge they “had little thought of vanquishing their opponent as they merely accepted for the purpose of having a match game before the season should become so far advanced as to prevent any more play.”

The match came off, almost as scheduled. Two of the Jackson party did not show up, and two men from the crowd were picked to play for that side. One of these was old reliable Chief of Police Beck. Only seven innings were completed before darkness set in, and the score stood 36 to 30 in favor of the challengers. Only one complaint was made regarding the affair; the Daily News thought it was much too noisy a contest. Here is the box score of the Cream City’s first match game.

    O R       O R
Jenkins P 2 4   McFadyen P 4 4
Jackson C 3 4   Brown C 2 6
West 1B 2 4   Riordon 1B 1 4
Kelly 2B 1 4   Wood 2B 1 3
Whitcomb RF 3 1   Mitchell 3B 3 4
Leach SS 3 2   Larkin SS 2 5
Beck 3B 5 1   Bryden RF 3 3
Smith CF 1 5   Chandler CF 3 3
Sweet LF 1 5   Rickerson LF 2 4
      30         36
Runs Per Inning: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Total
Brown, Capt. 4 2 4 11 4 10 1 36
Jackson, Capt. 3 4 7 2 9 4 1 30
Fly Catches-Jenkins 1, Jackson 4, Kelly 1, Brown 1, Larkin 2, Chandler 2
Umpire-Ed. M. Moore of Fond du Lac City Base Ball Club.

The city was blessed with lovely weather that year and a few more challenge match games were played between Cream City members. As the scores of these games are read, it is apparent to see that baseball was beginning to change. The younger members of Cream City Club continued to beat its older members. This change is important, because soon winning would become more and more important to the team members.

Chapter 6 Amateur Era (1879 – 1883)

Milwaukee was out of the National League, but potential backers still claimed to be interested in reorganizing. About two weeks after the expulsion of the Grays a meeting was called for this purpose at the Plankinton House. However, “the gentlemen who were reported to have interested themselves in next year’s Milwaukees failed to show themselves…There were not enough present to fill the positions of chairman and secretary.” Several businessmen decided to reorganize under new management and apply for admittance to the National League in March. Even if not admitted, “small importance would be attached to the fact, as there are a large number of outside teams, and many of them as good as the League nines.” Unfortunately, nothing was to come of this talk.

In late February word came that Charley Bennett and Bill Holbert were to organize a professional club. The Evening Wisconsin rejoiced in its editorial, writing that “the average citizen of Milwaukee feels a deep interest in baseball,” and after the failure of the Grays, the new organizers should be congratulated “upon the prospect that we are not to be left entirely out of the baseball records of the coming season.” It was first reported the proposed club would play in the minor league Northwestern circuit. Bennett disclaimed this, saying it would be a good semi-professional club, playing all its game at home so the people of Milwaukee could see more baseball. Capital stock of $1,000 was needed to set the club up, and Bennett hoped to bring “the people of Milwaukee baseball as it was given in the days of the West End Club; i.e., baseball for pure enjoyment and at a cheap price.” In addition to Bennett and Holbert, Weaver, Sullivan, Creamer, Coons and McKelvey were reportedly signed. Some of these players said they had offers from other clubs and would take those offers if the club was not organized soon.

Over $250 was quickly obtained for the Sanderson Baseball Club, as it was to be called, and within a week Bennett claimed to have enough money to start the club. E.T. Durand was named treasurer of the club. It was announced the club would play at Athletic Park on the east side, charging 25-cent general admission and a dime to sit in the grandstand. The Evening Wisconsin thought this price reduction in itself would raise attendance, as the 50-cent National League admission was thought to be too high. However, the editor quickly pointed out “if the effort to raise the necessary sum of $1,000 should fall through now, let no one grumble hence because of the failure.”

Within two weeks the club fell through and the money was returned to the backers. Bennett dropped the attempt, concluding the baseball business in Milwaukee was a thankless job. “If you ever catch me undertaking such a task again here, you can just lift my head from my shoulders and use it for a football.”

The Milwaukee Grays of 1878 were now completely in the past. John Chapman would manage 1879 at Holyoke, Massachusetts. All the players were engaged with other clubs. Sam Weaver and Charley Bennett went to Worcester of the International League, although Weaver was soon “retired in favor of Richmond, the phenomenal pitcher of that city.” Weaver was then engaged in business in Philadelphia and pitched there for a few more years. He finished his big league pitching career with 70 wins and 80 losses, and died in Philadelphia at the age of 58. As reported in the previous chapter, Charlie Bennett went on to have a great career in Detroit and Boston. He lost his legs in 1894 and passed away in 1927 in Detroit at the age of 72. Bill Holbert played with the Syracuse Stars of the National League. Holbert would play ten more years in the major leagues, finishing with a modest .208 batting average. In 1893 The Sporting News reported he had “a good position in the government secret service in New York City.” Bill lived to be 80 years old, passing in Laurel, Maryland, in 1935. Others also signed with National League clubs. Abner Dalrymple and John Peters signed with the Chicago White Stockings and Bill Foley with Cincinnati. The Rockford club engaged five others—George Creamer, Michael Golden, Billy Redmond, Jacob Goodman and Joe Ellick. Baseball was back in the amateur’s hands in Milwaukee.

Chapter 9 Western Association (1888 – 1890)

The Northwestern League’s two year stay had strengthened the foundations of minor league baseball in the West. It was time to organize a new and stronger league. Back in July of 1887, Jim Hart, in a letter to the Sporting Life, developed a plan for the formation of a new league for 1888 to include Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Des Moines. The plan seemed feasible. By late August word was in the press that a new league would be formed for 1888.

On September 27 representatives from nine cities met at the Tremont House in Chicago to set up this new league, the Western Association. Sam Morton, secretary of the Northwestern League, was elected chairman over delegates from the eight cities that Hart had mentioned in his letter, in addition to Lincoln, Nebraska. Chris Von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis American Association team, also owned the St. Louis Western franchise, and wanted to use this new league as a training school for “der Browns.” The other clubs did not care for his idea and Lincoln was admitted instead of St. Louis to form the eight club circuit. On October 26 the clubs met again and formally united. The delegates had a change of heart and admitted St. Louis into the league, cutting Lincoln. The constitution of the National League was adopted, with bonds of $1,500. The guarantee to visiting clubs was set at $100, with clubs receiving 3 per cent of the receipts on all days except Decorations Day and the Fourth of July, when receipts would be divided equally. Samuel Morton was elected president, secretary and treasurer of the Western Association.

The new league had some detractors. Some thought it was a ploy by Albert Spalding to keep the American Association out of Chicago. Others wondered why Oshkosh was not in the Western. After all, it had won the Northwestern pennant. Rumor had been that the Oshkosh club would be transferred to Chicago. It was generally believed, however, the Western Association would be the strongest minor league in the country.

In Milwaukee a few issues were making news concerning the Western club. Back in August the St. Louis Republican announced that Jim Hart was anxious to secure the Louisville club of the American Association. In October Hart announced he was indeed attempting to buy the Association club and transfer it to Milwaukee. Hart could then mix the two clubs and have players left to sell. If Milwaukee entered the American Association, it was believed Oshkosh would replace the franchise in the Western Association. Hart offered President Phelps of Louisville $15,000, but Phelps wanted $25,000, and the deal fell through. Then a rumor went about that Hart had been offered the manager’s job of the Kansas City team, and would go there, before he announced he would remain in Milwaukee.

Before long there was trouble in Kansas City. From St. Louis came dispatches that Kansas City was withdrawing from the Western to take a place in the American Association. It was believed that K.C. would replace the outgoing New York Metropolitans and either Duluth or Oshkosh would enter the Western. Most expressed doubt, however. It was not believed the Kansas City people would pay the $15,000 demanded for the New York franchise. If they did, it would be doubtful that the other clubs would substitute a town like Oshkosh for Kansas City. Manager Manges of Kansas City decided to stay in the Western Association, saying that there was no assurance attendance would be better in the American Association. Milwaukee thus became the most desirable candidate for the American Association vacancy. The club would have jumped at the opportunity in the past, but was not tempted this time. For one, the Association’s long standing 25 cent admission charge was changed to 50 cents for 1888. Hart also told the Sentinel that the club would probably end near the bottom in the American Association–at an increased price. He was confident in the Western Association.

Chapter 14 The Final Step (1901)

The American League’s final step to independence from the National League had numerous courses to guide it. One was the lack of good, solid leadership in the National League. Its president, Nick Young, was just the opposite of Ban Johnson, having little control over league affairs. The November 10, 1900, Sporting News commented: “How different have been the methods of the major league magnates. The president of the National League is vested by its Constitution with powers which he does not dare to exercise. The club owners, instead of being held to strict account under the terms of the partnership, have been allowed to do as they please, regardless of base ball law, either through fear or favoritism”. After citing some examples, the paper finished by writing, “the more one studies the methods under which the National and American Leagues are conducted, the easier it is to account for the decadence of the former and the advancement of the latter in poplar favor”.

The problem of rowdiness and continuing arguments by managers and players with umpires was a constant in the press. Calling for an end to rowdyism, the Sporting News of October 6, 1900, called for “the elimination of the evil, that has paralyzed its popularity, and made it unprofitable in many of the cities of the National League”. In this same issue of the St. Louis weekly, H.G. Merrill, the Wilkes-Barre correspondent, headed his column. ROWDYISM THE GAME’S GREATEST HANDICAP; while the paper’s Kansas City correspondent commented “the advancement made by the American League in 1900 in the matter of discipline of players, the elimination of rowdy ball players and snappy play makes it a formidable rival of the major body”.

The time was right for a new major league. The Sporting News of October 13, 1900, wrote:

The National League cannot maintain its monopoly on professional base ball much longer. It is only a question of a year or two when it will have to share the field with a friendly or a hostile organization. Rivalry is conductive to the game’s good…The National League can only protect its circuit from invasion by assenting to the expansion of the American League, along the lines of the old American circuit. With the best cities in the country on its circuit the National League has nothing to fear from a friendly rival.

Three other factors in the American League’s status we will explore in greater depth: the Players’ Association, a new American Association and the American League’s urge to push east.