Milwaukee's first Major League team remembered. No, not them.
When then-acting commissioner Bud Selig offered up his Milwaukee Brewers to switch leagues in 1997, fans rejoiced as the town was once again back where they felt it belonged. There was only one problem with that logic.
Milwaukee had actually been an American League city since literally Day 1.
In the late 1800s, Byron "Ban" Johnson had grown weary of the rough-and-tumble National League. Johnson, who had been elected president of the Western League in 1893, felt that the only "major" league was driving away women and children because of what he considered a rowdy atmosphere and coarse language at games. Johnson understood that fewer fans to draw from logically meant that there were fewer dollars coming through the turnstiles.
Among the teams in the Western League were the Milwaukee Brewers, owned by attorney and Wisconsin Rep. Matthew Killilea.
Soon after taking office and allowing umpires to control games, families began attending Western League games. Before long, the increased attendance, and thus increased revenue, emboldened Johnson to call a meeting with league officials to take his brand of baseball to the next level.
The American League was born.
Today, if you take a stroll down Old World 3rd Street in Downtown Milwaukee, next to the Journal-Sentinel newspaper building you will come across the historical marker that denotes the birthplace of the American League on March 5, 1900 in the long-since razed Republican House Hotel. It was here that, "Milwaukee attorney Henry Killilea, his brother Matt, Connie Mack, Byron (Ban) Johnson, and Charles Comiskey gathered in Room 185," the plaque reads. "In defiance of the existing National League, Comiskey's Chicago White Stockings (later Sox) were incorporated, and the league's eight-team alignment was completed."
The eight teams that became the American League charters were Comiskey's White Sox, the Boston Americans, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Senators, Cleveland Blues and Matt Killilea's own Milwaukee Brewers.
Empowered by a 10-year contract, Ban Johnson had virtual absolute power. He made the schedules, signed players, and even had the authority to move franchises. Johnson was the single most powerful man within the sport.
However, he did not think Milwaukee could sustain its team long-term.
There is a saying in baseball that you cannot win the pennant in April. In 1901, the American League's Milwaukee Brewers seemingly tried their best to lose it. After getting swept in a four-game series to open the season at Detroit, the Brewers, led by future Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy (who both managed and played outfield) won only one game before the calendar turned to May.
The jump from the Western League of the minors to the American League in the majors was seamless for some clubs, most notably Chicago. Not content to rest on his league championship laurels from 1900, Comiskey poached experienced National League stars like future Hall-of-Famer Clark Griffith, pitcher Nixey Callahan, second baseman Sam Mertes and centerfielder Fielder Jones.
Conversely, in Milwaukee, outside of Duffy, the Brewers were only able to acquire pitchers Ned Garvin and Pink Hawley. Garvin was a journeyman the Brewers lured away from the New York Giants (who had just traded him to the Chicago Cubs) for the tidy sum of $2,500.
Unfortunately, he wound up having the worst year of his career in 1901, going just 8-20 with a dead-ball era ERA of 3.46. Meanwhile, Hawley, a Beaver Dam native, was playing out the final season of his 10-year career, going just 7-14 with an ERA of 3.33 in 23 starts.
Offensively, the 1901 Brewers were led by "Honest" John Anderson, who was a part of the 1900 minor league Brewers, but had played for Brooklyn and Washington in the National League from 1894-1899. Anderson, a native of Sarpsborg, Norway, returned briefly to the Brooklyn Superbas after his 1900 season in Milwaukee in a dispersal draft, but quickly returned to the Brewers by jumping leagues following Johnson's power play.
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Great article! Love baseball history, especially Milwaukee baseball history. Too bad there aren't any photos of the Lloyd Street grounds - would have been interesting.
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