THE 1891 MILWAUKEE BREWERS

by Clifford Blau



After the close of the 1890 season, the Brewers applied for admission to the American Association (AA).  When the application was denied, they could little imagine that that is just where they would wind up before 1891 was through.


Milwaukee finished a strong third in the Western Association (WA) in 1890 and drew well.  After the turmoil of the Brotherhood War, the AA needed new teams to replace some of its weak 1890 entries, and Milwaukee thought it could better itself.  But the AA went for larger, eastern cities such as Boston and Washington.  However, Milwaukee found itself moving up anyway.  Under the terms of the new National Agreement, the WA was given equal rights with the AA and the National League (NL), including representation on the Board of Arbitration, so some considered the WA a major league.

The Brewers made several personnel changes in order to pursue the WA pennant.  Pitcher Jack Thornton was traded to the Philadelphia NL club in exchange for fellow pitcher Tom Vickery and catcher William “Pop” Schriver.  They purchased center fielder Eddie Burke from Pittsburgh and added California League batting average champion Sam Dungan, first baseman William Campion, catcher/utility man John Grim, and pitchers Fred Smith, Fritz Clausen, and John Buckley.  Their big loss was ace pitcher Clark Griffith, who jumped to the St. Louis AA club after that league pulled out of the National Agreement.  Held over were veteran left fielder Abner Dalrymple, speedy Bob Pettit, who would be used both in right field and at second base, shortstop and team captain George Shoch, third baseman Gus Alberts, who was voted the team’s most popular player, and right-handed pitcher George Davies, a medical student in the offseason.

The club commenced its spring training at home in late March before traveling to Des Moines and Sioux City.  They finished up by defeating the Chicago Colts by a 3-1 score.

The championship season opened in Omaha on April 16 in a happy way with Pettit hitting three doubles and stealing six bases to lead the club to a 13-6 victory.  But the Brewers struggled in the early going.  Buckley was released on April 22 after walking eight in his only game.  They lost 27-8 in Denver on the 26th.  Vickery demonstrated the delightful uncertainty of baseball by pitching a no-hitter there the next day, Milwaukee winning 1-0 on an unearned run.  They finished their initial road trip with an eight and eight record.

The Brewers lost their home opener on May 5 with Davies and Vickery combining to give 10 walks and hitting two batters.  Two more losses followed, dropping them to what would be a season-low record of eight and eleven.  They pulled out a 13-12 win in the ninth on May 8 over Lincoln, which marked the turning point.  Soon they would beat Kansas City by scores of 20-5 (with 15 stolen bases) and 23-2.  They overcame 11 walks by Vickery in an 18-9 victory over Denver on May 14.  By May 18, they were up to 16 and 12, just half a game behind first place Omaha.

Grim, who would lead the WA in fielding average, was doing most of the catching at this time, but the team turned down the Colt’s offer of Bill Dahlen and cash for Schriver.  They may have regretted that soon after, as Gus Alberts was not performing well, and he missed several weeks starting in late May due to death and illness in his family.  Newly acquired Howard Earl, claimed on waivers from Minnesota, started sharing third base with Grim.  The club also signed pitcher John “Phenomenal” Smith, but he didn’t clear NL waivers and had to return the advance given him by Milwaukee.
               
The Brewers cruised along in second or third place for the next few weeks.  One notable game came on June 11 as Dell Darling hit three homers and a double for Minnesota in a 12-7 win over Milwaukee.  The first evidence of financial difficulties in the WA came at that time as St. Paul announced it was moving to Duluth.  The Brewers, carrying 10 non-pitchers, were trying to find a buyer for Dungan, although he had performed well when used, since they couldn’t afford an extra man.  Three of their players, Grim, Shoch, and Vickery, were being recruited by the AA, but none bit at the bait.

The Brewers beat Omaha 4-3 with an unearned run in the ninth inning June 27 and 7-6 in 12 innings June 28 to take over first place.  However, their lead was shortlived, as on July 5 they fell to 3.5 games out.  By then they had made a change in captains, with Pettit replacing Shoch.  They were finally able to add Phenomenal Smith after he was dropped by the Phillies.  He replaced the little-used Clausen.  Soon after that, they acquired their third club president of the year, with Harry Gillette replacing Bill Furlong, who had resigned.  Furlong, a former National League umpire, had replaced R.W. McGuire in mid-May.

There was soon more trouble in the league, as first-place Omaha disbanded due to financial losses.  Sioux City was also having money troubles.  Omaha was reorganized by the league, but with its players signed by other clubs after being released, it had to be stocked with players from the other WA teams.  Milwaukee contributed Sam Dungan, who would finish with a combined batting average of .33.  The Brewers also got the honor of playing the first series with the new Omaha club, thrashing them 17-1, 20-7, and 17-2.  On July 29, Milwaukee won on a first-inning forfeit by Denver, retaking first place.  This time they would hold on to it.  The club was led offensively by Eddie Burke, who finished with a .36 batting average in the WA, stealing 54 bases and scoring 104 runs in 96 games.  Dalrymple chipped in a .34 batting average, 41 steals, and 73 runs in just 76 games.  Bob Pettit contributed an additional 87 runs in 94 games.

On August 10, Minnesota announced it would disband.  Although it held on for a while longer, it seemed the WA was going bust.  So the Brewers’ board of directors voted to try to get in AA by purchasing either the  Cincinnati or Louisville clubs.  They also released the frequently ill Fred Smith.  At this time they held a 5.5 game lead.  Four days later, while leading a game in the seventh inning in Sioux City, the Brewers walked off the field, forfeiting the game, upon receiving word that the club had been admitted to AA in place of Cincinnati.  However, they were notified while at the train station not to come to St. Louis; their ascension hadn’t yet been approved by the AA owners.  They spent the next two days in limbo while negotiations continued.  Meanwhile, their lead in the WA pennant race grew to 7.5 games.

Milwaukee was finally admitted to the AA on August 16; they bought the Cincinnati club and would play its remaining schedule.  They didn’t arrive in St. Louis for their first game whole, though.  Both Vickery and Schriver jumped to the Chicago Colts rather than play in an outlaw league; Davies threatened to jump also but Milwaukee matched the Colts’ $300 offer.  However, they did have their choice of players from Cincinnati, and added pitchers Frank Dwyer and Willard Mains, first baseman John Carney, second baseman Jimmy Canavan, and catcher Farmer Vaughn.  They also signed free agent pitcher Frank Killen and dropped Campion and Phenomenal Smith.  The Brewers added some front office talent as well, in the person of Cincinnati’s business manager, Frank Bancroft.  Bancroft had a long, distinguished career in baseball, including managing the first World Series champions, the 1884 Providence Grays.  But with Milwaukee he was relegated to the ticket office, and resigned before the season was over.  Killen proved to be a real find, however.  He was in just his second season as a professional, and would go 7-4 with a 1.7 ERA for Milwaukee.  Two years later, he won 36 games for Pittsburgh, and three years after that would become the last lefty to win 30 games in a season in the NL.

In the Brewers’ first AA game, they appeared overmatched at first, failing to get a hit in the first six innings.  But they broke through in the seventh against Jack Stivetts, Eddie Burke hitting a three-run homer, and beat the Browns 7-2.  They won their second game as well, but then lost four in a row.  They also nearly went out of business, as the purchase of the Cincinnati club drained their resources.  By the end of August, the club had run out of cash and owed $12,000.  President Gillette and a couple of other men, including brewer Gustav Pabst, agreed to assume the debt and become the club’s sole shareholders, the other 50 stock owners losing their investment.

With their financial problems solved for the time being, the Brewers won a couple of games, then dropped six in a row and finished their road trip with a record of 5-10.  But when they returned to Milwaukee, they quickly and convincingly showed they belonged in the AA.  Their first home game was on September 10 against the Washington Nationals.  Milwaukee won by the astounding score of 30-3, pounding out 24 hits, drawing 14 walks, while Washington chipped in with three hit batters and eight errors; Burke and Dalrymple scored five runs each while pitcher Killen went three for five and scored four times.  Milwaukee completed a sweep of Washington the next two days, with pitchers Dwyer going three for four and Davies four for five in the final.  While the opener drew only about 2000 loyalists, some 10,000 rooters showed up for the next game, paying the standard ticket prices of 25 and 50 cents,  and a similar crowd appeared at a doubleheader against the Philadelphia club two days later.  The Brewers swept through their 3 1/2 week homestand, not losing a series.  Another highlight was when Killen pitched a one-hit shutout against first-place Boston on September 21, striking out Tom Brown four times. 

With an eye toward the future, the Brewers picked up a couple of minor leaguers late in September, outfielder Tom Letcher and pitcher Jim Hughey, the latter later a 30-game loser with the notorious 1899 Cleveland Spiders. They released Earl, who had managed a .32 batting average in the WA but had problems fielding, with the lowest or second lowest fielding average at second, third, and outfield.  In the AA, his fielding was better, but he didn’t hit well.

In a bid for extra attendance as the season drew to a close, Milwaukee and Columbus agreed to play a game in Minneapolis on October 2, the only major league game played in Minnesota in the 19th century.  With the weather typical of the north in October, though, the crowd was sparse.  The game was highlighted by center fielder Burke rushing in to take a pickoff throw and tagging out a runner on second.  They finished the season on October 4- one game of the scheduled doubleheader called off due to field conditions as 400 or so fans saw Hughey defeat Columbus for the Brewers’ 16th win in 21 home games.  Their overall record in the AA was 21-15 as they were led by excellent pitching, the staff compiling a terrific 2.50 ERA in the AA.

To wrap up the year, they played a series of eight exhibition games against St. Louis, losing six of them.  The club also needed yet another infusion of capital, as it was short when it had to pay the remaining $3000 owed for Cincinnati.  Still, the club kept going, and lured Bill Dahlen away from the NL for the 1892 season.  But it was not to be.  The NL and AA merged in the offseason, with four AA clubs joining the expanded NL, and the other four, including Milwaukee, being bought out.



Sources


Milwaukee Sentinel
Milwaukee Daily Journal

The Sporting Life

The Sporting News

Baseball Reference.com

Retrosheet

Much of the research for this article was done by Frank Vaccaro.

Thanks to Dennis Pajot for his comments on this article.


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