Wednesday, January 5, 2011

1901 Milwaukee Brewers: The Original Brew Crew

Welcome to the first installment of the "Home For October" series, which will focus on some of the most interesting teams not to qualify for the postseason!

For most of us the phrases "Milwaukee Brewers" and "American League" together bring to mind a blue-and-yellow ball-and-glove logo and the heroics of Robin Yount. For the ultra-old-timers (if any are still around), it recalls an era when the Junior Circuit was an unestablished outlaw trying to gain a foothold as a major league. Back when the American League was still the Class A Western League, there was a franchise in Milwaukee known as the Brewers, owned by attorney and Wisconsin state representative Matt Killilea. When league president Ban Johnson decided to take his loop to the big time, Killilea fought to keep his franchise located in the Cream City, and for a year he succeeded.

One American League strategy in the battle for respectability was to pilfer top talent from the National League, and the Brewers managed to land an established star: future Hall of Fame outfielder Hugh Duffy, who would also serve as manager. Duffy proved to be the team's second-best hitter in part-time duty (120 OPS+), but at age 34 it was his last season of significant playing time. After Sir Hugh, Milwaukee's only noteworthy poachings were pitchers Ned Garvin (perhaps the unluckiest hurler of all time) and Pink Hawley (a Wisconsin native who didn't have much left).

Nine Brewers were holdovers from the 1900 minor league team, including first baseman John Anderson, who led Milwaukee in all major offensive categories. Shortstop Wid Conroy, pitcher Bill Reidy and outfielder Irv Waldron also provided some value, but most of the others played like they still belonged in the minors. With such a thin roster, the Brewers never saw success; they got off to an 0-5 start and never recovered. By June it was clear they were going nowhere. Plagued by financial difficulties, Milwaukee began unloading its veterans, either through sales or outright releases.

The Brewers employed five players that year who were born in the state of Wisconsin, and three of them were brought on in the last two months (perhaps to give some local boys an opportunity on the cheap). 26-year-old Ed Bruyette didn't amount to much, but the other two (who were also significantly younger) went on to solid Major League careers. Davy Jones became famous as one of Ty Cobb's outfield-mates and played his last ML game in 1918 (all before reinventing himself as a baby-faced heartthrob on The Monkees, of course). George McBride resurfaced in 1908 with Washington, where he was a fixture at shortstop for nine years before easing into an eventual managerial role.

From the beginning, Ban Johnson had had ambitions of tapping into the St. Louis market. At the time St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in America, and the chance to supplant the Cardinals was an enticing proposition. Given the pitiful product on the field and the city's relative lack of size, the Milwaukee franchise was an ideal candidate for transfer. Talks of the Brewers moving to St. Louis heated up in July, but Matt Killilea, a loyal Milwaukee man, did everything he could to keep his team in town. In December Killilea finally relented, agreeing to the transfer while staying on as president. He soon changed his mind about staying on though (perhaps due to his failing health), and sold the soon-to-be "St. Louis Browns" to a syndicate led by Robert Hedges.

In the end, these Milwaukee Brewers were the inverse of their later namesake; they were moved after only one last-place season, whereas the Brewers of today are descended from a team (the Seattle Pilots) that was moved after only one last-place season.

Pre-union Team: No team had more than two. The teams with two included the 1896-97 Phillies, 1897 Pirates, 1898 Senators, 1899 Superbas, 1900 Beaneaters and 1900 Pirates.

Reunion Team: The 1904-05 Highlanders (John Anderson, Joe Connor (1905), Wid Conroy, Ned Garvin (1904)), 1905 Cardinals (Jimmy Burke, Tom Leahy, George McBride) and 1909 Senators (Wid Conroy, Jiggs Donahue, George McBride) each had three.


Baseball Reference
Google News Archives
Matt Killilea SABR biography

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