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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The First Brewers


If you're interested in our new book about the Milwaukee Braves, you might also want to read about the minor league Milwaukee Brewers, the hometown favorites from 1902-1952.

They started when a group of Midwestern players, unhappy with the National and American Leagues, set up their own "American Association." They played in a bizarre, rectangular wooden park at Chambers and 8th Streets just north of downtown. Their first years were mediocre, but on Jan. 1, 1920, Milwaukee businessman Otto Borchert (1874-1927) took over their management and added some flair and charisma to the lackluster club.

For instance, at the start of the next season, when snow and 30-degree temperatures threatened to postpone a game, Borchert refused to call it off. His team played through an April blizzard to a 7-4 victory, and by the next morning, snow had filled the grounds to the top of the park's wooden fences. Borchert's enthusiasm was infectious, especially when the team went on a record 21-game winning streak five years later. As a prominent sportsman and civic leader, he focused the city's attention on the local "Suds Busters." Even Socialist mayor Dan Hoan joined the bandwagon by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

Unfortunately, Borchert died in 1927 while giving a pre-season speech to 700 fans at the Milwaukee Elks Club: "His voice broke off," the press reported. "Those near him detected the ominous death rattle in his throat. Otto fell back in his chair and slumped forward on the table, his head pillowed in his arms." He expired from a cerebral hemmorrhage in a nearby ante-room while his wife listened on the radio and the assembled Elks sang Auld Lang Syne.

The park at 8th St. and Chambers was named in his honor, and for the next 25 years fans flocked to "Borchert's Orchert" to watch the hometown heroes. Flambouyant businessman Bill Veeck bought the team in 1941 for $25,000 and immediately instituted policies that appealed to fans. For example, he scheduled morning games so third-shift workers in defense plants could attend, ordering ushers to wear nightgowns and serve coffee and donuts in the stands. The Brewers came in second in 1942 and finished first in 1943 and in 1945, after which Veeck sold them for a quarter of a million dollars -- ten times what he had paid only four years before.

Although the Brewers continued to be contenders and even won the league championship in 1951, their future was undermined when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953. Big league baseball with its superstars elbowed out the humble Brewers. By the time the club left town that year, they had played more than 4,000 games in front of more than 8 million loyal Milwaukee fans.

For more information, check out and The Minor League Milwaukee Brewers, 1859-1952 by Brian Podoll and The American Association Milwaukee Brewers by Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler. For a short history of today's Brewers see "The 1982 Brewers Dared Wisconsin Baseball Fans to Fall in Love Again" by Robert DeBroux.

[Sources: Besides the books linked above, facts were drawn from Todd Mishler's Baseball in Beertown and the Milwaukee Sentinel, April 28, 1927]


:: Posted in Curiosities on April 6, 2009

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