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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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In Sports

One of only a small handful of renderings that exist of short-lived Lloyd Street Grounds, home of the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers.

In Sports

Another view of Lloyd Street Grounds.

In Sports

What the ballpark site looks like today, if you were standing on home plate and looking towards centerfield. (Photo: Doug Russell)

In Sports

Lloyd Street Grounds stood at the corner of 16th and Lloyd. Today there is no sign there ever was a ballpark there. (Photo: Doug Russell)

In Sports

There is a small monument to Milwaukee's first Major League team near the entrance of Miller Park. (Photo: Doug Russell)

In Sports

The American League was founded at the old Republican House Hotel on Old World Third Street.

In Sports

The site of the Republican House Hotel is now the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's parking lot (Photo: Doug Russell)

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.

Anderson enjoyed the finest season of his 14-year career in 1901, leading the Brewers in every major offensive category, hitting .330 (sixth in the AL) with 99 RBI's (third in the AL) and 190 hits (second in the AL). However, Anderson's stellar campaign was completely overshadowed by Milwaukee's losing, plus Philadelphia superstar's Nap Lajoie's Triple Crown season, the finest of his Hall of Fame career (.426, 14 HR, 125 RBI).

Opening Day proved to be an ominous start for the 1901 Brewers, who were leading the Tigers on the road 7-0 after three innings, but then let Detroit score 10 runs in the 9th inning for the win. The entire game story from the Milwaukee Journal, dated April 26:

"Milwaukee lost the opening game of the season with Detroit yesterday, in the final inning, after the game was apparently clinched. The Tigers fell onto Dowling and Husting with awful effect and pounded out ten runs and a splendid victory. Detroit made five two baggers and five singles in the ninth. An error by Burke helped to lose the game."

The Brewers fortunes didn't get a whole lot better after that, dropping their next three games in Detroit and falling at Cleveland 4-3 on April 29 before finally beating the Blues 8-6 the following day.

Following the club's 0-5 start, the closest they would get to returning to .500 was after their 11-1 win over Cleveland at Lloyd Street Grounds on May 14, capping a four-game sweep. The Brewers were 8-11 and were finally showing signs of life. However, that success would be short-lived. After sweeping the Blues, they immediately were handed the same fate at Chicago. As spring turned to summer in 1901, the Brewers losses piled up like the snow had during the long Wisconsin winter.

The beginning of the end was at hand.

June was particularly troublesome for the 1901 Brewers. Entering the month, they were mired in 7th place, 10 ½ game behind first place Chicago. The Brewers, at 12-19, were bad, but there was some solace that Cleveland, at a paltry 8-23, was worse. Surely the Brewers couldn't be as bad as the Blues, could they?

As it turned out, the only thing the Brewers were better than the Blues at was attracting fans to the gate, and that wasn't by much. Attendance for Cleveland's games at League Park sunk to last in the American League, drawing just 131,380 for the year. While the Brewers season attendance was slightly better, drawing 139,034 fans to Lloyd Street Grounds, that was hardly enough to sustain the franchise's viability in the Cream City.

By July 1, after a 7-18 June, the Brewers were locked in the basement at 19-37, and Killilea saw no other option but to start selling off his higher-priced players just to try to save some money.

At the end of the season, Milwaukee was a wretched 48-89, swimming in an estimated $5,000 debt, and saddled with an owner who was waging a personal war against tuberculosis. Because of his illness, Killilea was often times absent from team business while trying to find a cure.

After publically stating numerous times how much he wanted to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee, as well as turning down lucrative offers to move the club, Killilea relented. In January, 1902, the Brewers were sold to St. Louis businessman Robert Hedges for a reported $40,000, with Killilea's brother (and American League co-founder) Henry staying on as president of the now re-named Browns. On July 27, 1902, Matt Killilea died at the age of 40.

Perhaps it is a testament to the vision of Matt and Henry Killilea, Charles Comiskey, Connie Mack and Ban Johnson that all eight of their original franchises remain today. In addition to today's Baltimore Orioles (after moving to Maryland from Missouri in 1954) having been christened the original Milwaukee Brewers, more than half of today's American League was born on that cold March evening at the Republican House Hotel.

The White Sox and Tigers are the only ones to have retained their original cities and nicknames, while the Americans and Blues became the Red Sox and Indians, respectively. Today, the Philadelphia Athletics reside in Oakland, the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins in 1961, and the original Baltimore Orioles moved to the Bronx in 1903, eventually becoming the most successful franchise in North American sports history, the New York Yankees.

Talkbacks

sherm174 | March 2, 2012 at 4:52 p.m. (report)

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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