When the Brewers take the field this spring, they’re opening their 53rd season as Milwaukee’s team. From the days of Scott and Colborn through the Yount-Molitor era and on to Yelich and Cain, the franchise has defined baseball in Milwaukee for more than half a century. Although the current club has deep roots, another Brewers team represented the city for nearly as long. From 1902 through 1952, local fans cheered the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers. They were a mainstay of the American Association, playing the equivalent of AAA baseball in an eight-team Midwestern league.
Over the course of 51 seasons, the team won eight championships and treated the city to a never-ending procession of characters. The Brewers’ rosters included multisport legend Jim Thorpe, future All-Stars Ken Keltner and Al Simmons (born Aloysius Szymanski in Milwaukee), manager Casey Stengel, and position players variously nicknamed Bunny, Buster, Pud, Pep, Rabbit, Sugar Boy, Wee Willie, Scoops, Kewpie, Tink and Hot Potato. This photograph shows the 1905 squad. Led by manager “Pongo Joe” Cantillon (wearing the dark coat at center), the team finished the season with a 91-59 record, good for second place in the American Association.
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The Milwaukee Brewers represented “minor league baseball at its best,” wrote club historian Rex Hamann, but it was still minor league baseball. Bigger things were in store. Lou Perini, owner of the Boston Braves, bought the Brewers in 1946 as his farm team and moved his big league squad to Milwaukee just seven years later. The city was finally in the majors, and stayed there until the Braves left for Atlanta in 1965. The current big league Brewers came to Milwaukee (via Seattle) in 1970. A half-century later, time has erased virtually all memory of their baggy-pantsed predecessors.
Take a Closer Look
- “Cake box” hats were still popular in 1905, but the more familiar crown-fitting style was gaining favor.
- The Brewers played home games at Borchert Field, which covered one block at Eighth and Burleigh. I-43 now runs through the site.
- Individual uniform numbers weren’t standard until the 1930s, making hand-inked names necessary on team pictures.
- Many of the early Brewers teams had pint-sized mascots. The 1905 version was a kid identified only as Kelly.
- Oversized spikes were an essential accessory. An infielder trying to turn a double play risked serious injury.
IN COLLABORATION WITH MILWAUKEE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY