Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In the first half-century of the American Association, Milwaukee showcased many fine champions, fielding one of the best of the group in 1952. As it so happened, this campaign also marked the final year of minor league baseball in the city.
The city of Milwaukee, located in southern Wisconsin, showcased its first pro team in 1877 in what is generally regarded as baseball’s first minor league. Playing in the League Alliance, a team simply known as the Milwaukee club went 19-13 against other league teams, while going 35-23 overall. The next year, the team won four fewer games while playing in the National League, finishing last with a 15-45 record.
Six years later, Milwaukee enjoyed another flirtation with the majors as a team called the Cream Citys served as a replacement team late in the Union Association season. Although only going 8-4, the team had its brief season highlighted by a 5-0 no-hitter tossed by Ed Cushman on September 28. In 1891, Milwaukee placed another team in their third major league of the 19th century - the American Association. When Cincinnati (43-57) could no longer continue in August, Milwaukee jumped into the fray, going 21-15 the rest of the way.
In other 19th century seasons, Milwaukee participated in several minor leagues. Before its Union Association experiment in 1884, a team called the Brewers went 53-34 in the Northwestern League. Three years later, the Brewers finished five percentage points behind Oshkosh, again in the Northwestern. After an undistinguished four-year stint in the Western Association, Milwaukee joined the Western League for several seasons during the 1890s. In six seasons, the team finished in the first division only twice.
The most important event of Milwaukee’s six years in the Western League was the hiring of Connie Mack as manager in 1897. Following the 1899 season, league president Ban Johnson added two cities to his circuit, Chicago and Cleveland, and renamed it the American League. The 1900 American League was not recognized as a major league, but in 1901 Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore replaced Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis and achieved major league status. Milwaukee remained, but was replaced by St. Louis in 1902.
The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues was organized in September, 1901. In 1902, the Milwaukee Creams had a franchise in the revived Class A Western League and the Milwaukee Brewers played in the new American Association, which was not affiliated with the national body. For the Western League, Milwaukee and Kansas City were its prestige clubs. The other franchises were in smaller cities from Peoria at the eastern end to Colorado Springs and Denver in the west with Des Moines, Omaha and St. Joseph in between. In 1903, the American Association was admitted to the National Association. The intra-city competition caused financial problems for all four teams in Kansas City and Milwaukee and following the 1903 season, the Western League withdrew from both cities after being promised by the National Association that the loss of the two cities would not result in a reduction of its Class A status.
The Brewers did not win their first American Association championship until 1913, then repeated the next year. Over 20 years would pass until they claimed another with a 90-64 club in 1936 as a Detroit affiliate. In 1944, the team won again, placing the team in the top 100. Three years later, the Brewers became a farm team of the Boston Braves. Although this move eventually paved the way for the team’s demise, in the short run it led directly to Milwaukee’s final two league championships--one in 1951 when they also won the Junior World Series, followed by an even better team the next year.
During its 51-year tenure in the American Association, Milwaukee played in the same ballpark. Originally constructed in 1888, it was located in the North side of Milwaukee on a rectangular city block with the main entrance on Chambers St. between Eighth and Ninth Streets. It had abnormally short foul lines, 268 feet to left and right. The fences then angled out sharply, making for deep “power alleys” and center field was 400 feet from home plate. It was known as Athletic Park until 1928 when it was re-named Borchert Field in honor of Brewers owner Otto Borchert, who had died the previous year.
The 1952 Brewers opened the season with ex-Chicago Cubs skipper Charlie Grimm as manager. Grimm led the Cubs to pennants in 1932 and 1935, then resigned in 1938. He managed Milwaukee from mid-1941 through the first two weeks of 1944 when he returned to Chicago. In 1945 he managed the last Cubs team to win a National League title. He piloted the Cubs until June, 1949. In 1950 Grimm managed Dallas (Texas), then led the 1951 champion Brewers. Milwaukee lost the 1952 season opener, then won seven straight, jumping into first place. On May 31, they were first with a 24-15 record when Grimm was hired by Boston owner Lou Perini to manage the Braves. He was replaced at the Milwaukee helm, on a temporary basis, by general manager Richard (Red) Smith, who had been a coach under Grimm in the earlier Milwaukee period and with the Cubs from 1945-48. Smith had a perfect 7-0 record. On June 7, Braves pitching coach Bucky Walters, the former pitching star of the 1939-40 champion Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati manager in 1948-49. Walters had a 70-38 record as the Brewers pilot, then returned to the Braves coaching job in 1953.
In late June, the Brewers dropped out of first place when Boston recalled two Milwaukee stars, 2B Jack Dittmer and P Virgil Jester. Kansas City took over the lead, but Milwaukee never fell below second place. On August 13, they regained first place and won 27 of their last 35 games to finish with a 101-53 record, 12 games ahead of the Blues. In the playoffs, the Brewers swept St. Paul four straight in the first round. They lost the finals to Kansas City 4 games to 3 after having a 3-2 series lead. The second game featured a no-holds barred fight between Milwaukee 2B Gene Mauch and Kansas City C Roy Partee. (Partee is best remembered as the Red Sox catcher in the 1946 World Series who waited in vain at the plate for the throw from the outfield as St. Louis’ Enos Slaughter scored the winning run in the seventh game.) The Brewers lost the playoff finale, but not without a struggle. Kansas City was ahead 8-2 going into the last of the ninth, but Milwaukee scored five runs before going down, 8-7.
In the regular season, the team had the best average (.292), scored the most runs (872), and collected the most hits (1,512), doubles (280) and stolen bases (99). On the field, the Brewers were led by a pair of outfielders, Billy Bruton and Luis Marquez. Bruton (.325) also led the league with 130 runs and 211 hits. Marquez (.345) scored 100 runs while driving in 99. Bruton began a solid 12-year career for the Braves and Tigers in 1953, batting .273 with 1,651 hits. Marquez batted a modest .182 in 99 at-bats for the Braves, Cubs and Pirates.
Other hitters of note included Mauch (.324) who, after a major league career which ended in 1957, went on to manage in the big leagues for 26 years. Points of interest in his lengthy managerial career included the collapse of his ’64 Phillies club and the playoff losses of his ’82 and 86 Angels teams, both of whom lost just one game short of the World Series. These instances would mark the closest Mauch came to leading a team to the Fall Classic.
The Brewers’ best pitcher was 5’9-˝ “, 160-pound Don Liddle (17-4), who won two legs of the pitching Triple Crown, finishing with a 2.70 ERA and striking out 159. He also posted the best percentage (.810) and hurled the most shutouts (5). He spent four years in the majors with the Braves, Giants and Cardinals and had a 28-18, 3.75 record. Liddle is probably best remembered for one pitch. In the first game of the 1954 World Series, he relieved Giants’ starter Sal Maglie in the top of the eighth with the score tied 2-2, runners on first and second and no outs. The first Cleveland batter he faced, Vic Wertz, smashed a 440-foot fly to center. Willie Mays made his famous, miraculous over-the-shoulder catch (later voted the number one sports thrill of the year in a Sporting News poll). Marv Grissom relieved Liddle and got out of the inning without the Indians scoring. New York won in the tenth, 5-2.
The Milwaukee staff also featured 6’8” right-hander Gene Conley (11-4) who also starred in the NBA for the Celtics. In 11 big league seasons, Conley was 91-96, 3.82 winning 14 games for the 1954 Braves and 15 for the 1962 Red Sox. He pitched in the Major League All-Star Games in 1954, 1955 and 1959. Despite Milwaukee’s obvious superiority, Liddle was the only Brewer to make the 1952 American Association All-Star team.
In 1953, Perini moved the Boston Braves to Milwaukee to play in the new Milwaukee County Stadium. The Brewers moved to Toledo, which had lost its American Association franchise in mid-1952 to Charleston, WV. The Braves stayed in Milwaukee until 1965 when the team moved to Atlanta. In 1970, the defunct Seattle Pilots moved east to Milwaukee to become the Brewers, where they remain today. As soon as the minor league Brewers left, Borchert Field was torn down. A highway now runs through the property.
The ’52 Brewers were the strongest team in the American Association during the 1950s. More importantly, their championship allowed the city to leave the Association at a high point--as a winner in their very last minor league season.
|1952 American Association Standings|
|1952 Milwaukee Brewers batting statistics|
|1952 Milwaukee Brewers pitching statistics|