Before Miller Park: Milwaukee’s Bygone Ballpark

The rowdy, beloved stadium that brightened the days of early 20th-century Milwaukeeans.

At Borchert Field, it was said you had to buy two tickets to see the game: one for left field, and one for right. The slender, cozy stadium built in 1888 (“a ballpark of human dimensions,” said Mayor Frank Zeidler) occupied a single city block to the northeast of Eighth and Chambers streets, and its bathtub-narrow sides meant that second-floor neighbors often had the best view, along with anyone quick enough to grab a seat at the bar behind home plate.

A long line of college and professional teams paraded through the stadium, which was first called Athletic Park and later renamed after an owner from 1920-27, Otto Borchert, who liked to roam the stands, bantering with fans – until he died from a brain hemorrhage while speaking at an Elks Club dinner.

Today, I-43 runs right smack over the old site, which was dismantled in 1954, and once held about 10,000 fans for contests as varied as wrestling, “donkey baseball,” a rodeo, and hot air balloon races, according to Milwaukee History, the journal of the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

The venue’s banner year was clearly 1944, when a minor league team called the Milwaukee Brewers (today’s major league Brewers didn’t yet exist) won the American Association title, and the field’s premier ladies club, the Milwaukee Chicks, became world champions of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the association depicted in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. ◆

‘Our Bygone Ballpark’ appears in the March issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning February 27, or buy a copy online.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.