by Kevin Kimmes
Ask your average 20/30-something Brewers’ fan about the history of Milwaukee baseball and they will probably mention the 1982 AL Champion Brewers, maybe even telling you something about the Braves once residing in County Stadium. Probe any further and you will find that the overall history of Milwaukee baseball becomes sort of a hazy, ghostly thing. A phantom past that seems to be lost in the dust of years gone by.
It’s a sad state of affairs when you consider that Milwaukee has been supporting professional baseball for over 100 years. This series will focus on the cardboard history of Milwaukee baseball, with an emphasis on Topps in years where multiple producers were making sets. By doing this, it’s my hope that I can help shine the light of discovery on the players who were once household names in the Cream City.
So, let’s start with Milwaukee’s earliest appearance on cardboard.
Most famously known for containing among it’s 523 total cards what is commonly known as the “holy grail” of baseball cards, the T-206 Honus Wagner, this set contains 4 American Association Milwaukee Brewers among it’s subjects. These cards were an insert in 16 different brands of cigarettes and loose tobacco between 1909 and 1911. Each company emblazoned the backs of their cards with their own branding, leading to variants in many of the subjects. (1)
The American Association Milwaukee Brewers:
Established in 1902, this incarnation of Milwaukee Brewers called Athletic Park on the city’s near north side home. Later renamed Borchert Field (after owner Otto Borchert who died unexpectedly in 1927), the Brewers would play 51 seasons in Milwaukee, collecting championships in ’13, ’14, ’36, ’44, ’51 and ’52. The team would serve as a farm team for MLB franchises beginning in 1932, eventually becoming a Boston Braves minor league club in 1947 and paving the way for the Braves arrival in 1953.
The team’s history even includes the names of several baseball/sporting notables including on the field contributions from world famous Native American athlete Jim Thorpe (who led the league in stolen bases in 1916) and future MLB Hall-of-Famers Rogers Hornsby and George Sisler in 1928, and off the field contributions from managers Charlie Grimm and Casey Stengel. Even “The P.T. Barnum of baseball”, Bill Veeck, would ply his trade in Milwaukee, purchasing the franchise in 1941 and bringing with him promotional tactics the likes of which the city had never before seen.
For those seeking further information on the American Association Brewers, I suggest reading Rex Hamann and Bob Koehler’s The American Association Milwaukee Brewers (ISBN 978-0-7385-3275-2) as well as Baseball in Beertown: America’s Pastime in Milwaukee by Todd Mishler (ISBN 1-879483-94-7).
Dennis Lawrence “Cap” McGann (July 15, 1871 – December 13, 1910) covered 1st base for Milwaukee from 1909 to 1910, the final 2 years of his professional baseball career. A former major leaguer, McGann began his professional career in the minors in 1895, but quickly advanced to the MLB’s Boston Beaneaters in 1896. He would also record time in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles in 1898, the Brooklyn Superbas and Washington Senators in 1899, St. Louis Cardinals from 1900 to 1901 and Baltimore Orioles 1902. He would eventually settle in with the New York Giants where he would play from 1902 through 1907 and become a World Series champion in 1905. His final stop in the majors would be in 1908 as a Boston Dove. (2)
Dennis would use his brothers name, Dan, for his 2 years of service to Milwaukee. In 160 appearances for Milwaukee in 1909, McGann would record 137 hits in 559 at-bats (.245 average). (3) While not spectacular by today’s standards, it should be noted that this was during what is commonly known as the “deadball era” during which batting averages as a whole were lower across the board.
McGann’s production would dip in his final season, recording just 117 hits in 520 at-bats (.225 average) across 151 games. On Tuesday December 13th, 1910 McGann was found dead in a Louisville hotel room, the victim of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.