Author: mpitsch

The Bulge

Arriving in Milwaukee

West1666-1024

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
May 23rd, 1889

Sigurd Olsen had a great career in front of him. At the age of 19, the Philadelphia Quakers offered him cash to play baseball. The great Harry Wright became the manager and heard of a raw diamond somewhere in Wisconsin. This was in 1884.

After the great collapse of 1884, when the National League and the American Association folded, the contract offer was off the table. Olsen returned to his parents’ farm in the middle of nowhere, about 20 miles northeast of Madison, Wisconsin, where he had to hear it all from his father. His father warned him more than once that a game doesn’t secure a living. He and his father never got along, and the comeback only lasted one year. Because in 1886, baseball enthusiasts in Milwaukee announced a semi-professional league and Sigurd Olsen signed up immediately.

The Madison Mad Hats welcomed him with open arms. Because of his boyish appearance, everyone called him Kid. Or Sick, because Sigurd was challenging to pronounce. And a few called him Sick Kid Olsen.

It was time for the first road trip of the season. The Mad Hats suffered six losses. Three against the Oshkosh Farmers and three against the Saint Paul Pigs. The biggest ballclub of the Northern Central League wanted to extend their six-game winning streak. It would be difficult to beat the Milwaukee Sailors this season. Because so far, they were 6-0.

Their team name was more or less a joke, Olsen chuckled. Although the ballpark was next to the Menomonee River, it was more or less sewer for the slaughterhouses on the other side who dumped their waste in the river. This is what his teammates smelled as they approached Fowler Street.

The Ballpark at Fowler Street

“Not bad,” Hershel Hackman, the Mad Hats’ first baseman coughed in a quick moment of amazement. Hackman was a butcher by trade and 44 years old. It’s said that he was in the war as well, but he never talked about it. Often, he was considered the grandfather of the team. He voluntarily took over this role. “A fine ballpark it is. The first season for these grounds.”

The first three seasons of NCL baseball, the Sailors had a few homes. It all started in 1884. The Milwaukee Grays, a Northwestern League team constructed a stadium which drew many people to their games. At the same time, they hoped that the numbers might lead to an offer by the National League or American Association. But the Big Collapse of 1884 ended the dreams. The Northwestern League folded just weeks after the major leagues, and no new league filled the vacuum. A year later, the city demolished the Wright Street Grounds after prospects for a new league continued to look bleak.

City officials regretted their decision when they approved a request to construct a new ballpark only eleven months after flattening the Wright Street Grounds. From 1886 until 1888, the Sailors used old and smaller ballparks, but nothing met the requirements of the front office. Now, the group of players stood with awe in front of the Ballpark at Fowler Street like a school class with their teacher, who would be Hackman in this case.

Finally, someone welcomed the team and pointed to a gate on the northern side of the ballpark. The Kid almost forgot about the disgusting smell, but it was nearly gone when they disappeared in the inside of the ballpark. As they walked through the hallway, the scent of piss tickled his nose hairs.

“The Milwaukeeans placed the away team’s locker room where it’s supposed to be,” he commented on the hospitality. “Right next to an open room with a tiled wall and a drain. An open urinal.”

The same smell penetrated the locker room, too. One more reason for the team to quickly put on the uniforms, maybe have a quick glass of whiskey or other spirits to numb the taste buds.

On the field

Warming up was something different to the tiny ballpark in Madison which theoretically held 1,000 people, but the attendance averaged at 800 in the first games. Milwaukee had a population of way more than 100,000 and about 2,500 can squeeze into the stands, which they might as well did.

One curiosity was the Bulge. On both corners of the outfield, the distance measured 320 feet. Centerfield had a 435 feet distance, left-center field 360 feet, right-center field 350 feet but there was an anomaly in the wooden left-center-center-outfield barrier. One industrial building along the river had some piece of infrastructure sticking out which caused the fence to lose its round appearance for 30 feet before it continued towards the deep center. Outfielders on both teams would have to find a strategy for it.

Rip Johnston stepped up to the plate. Originally from Milwaukee, he found employment in Madison before the NCL came alive. Excellent legs and eyes, but Otto Dell struck him out with four pitches.

“Watch out for his slider, Hersh,” Rip told Hershel Hackman, who would bat after John Dahlem. Johann Dahlem, a young Dakotian and son to German immigrants, knew how to swing a bat. Although his fate was the same as Johnston’s. Two quick strikes, a foul ball, and a nasty slider.

Olsen paid close attention to Otto Dell’s pitches and Hershel’s batting. The old butcher was a smart man. He knew how to play the pitcher.

And he knew how to do it this time. In the Kid’s time with the Mad Hats, he hadn’t seen Hershel swing left-handed often, which was a rarity in the Madison ballclub. Today, Madison’s pitcher Dick Hartmann was the only natural left-handed batter in the lineup. The first pitch was a ball, then two strikes right down the middle, and the curveball was too low for the 2-2 count.

Another low curve and Hershel trotted to first base. The crowd didn’t like the walk, Hershel, or Sigurd. It was tough to understand them, although the stands where relatively close to home plate.

Now it was time for the Sick Kid. Could he send Hershel home? Dell started his motion, and there was a high and inside fastball. Olsen had to dodge the pitch.

“Welcome to Milwaukee, buddy,” the catcher snarled. Thanks, Olsen thought but ignored him otherwise.

The next pitch painted the inside beautifully, the Kid thought, but the umpire ruled it another ball. 2-0. He would bring one in now. Patiently, he waited for the first strike. Another fastball which hit the same spot and, finally, the first strike.

Olsen took a deep breath and glanced at the Milwaukeeans who followed the game. Mostly workers with their kids, he noticed. And most workers had a beer with them. Probably some kids, too. Isn’t it a beautiful game, he thought.

Dell tossed the ball. The Kid could read the ball, and it seemed that everything happened in slow-motion. Olsen swung at the ball and knocked it hard to center. The wind drove it slightly to leftfield. No outfielder would reach it. It bounced once, twice, and it hit the Bulge.

The centerfielder almost got to it, but the ball now sprang back to centerfield. Hershel was already rounding third base, and Olsen just touched second when the centerfielder slipped. The rightfielder, who barely moved in this play, dashed towards the ball. By the time he picked it up, Hershel picked up Olsen’s bat, and Olsen easily beat the throw at the home plate.

As the Kid jogged back towards the bench, he noticed people battling just behind the Mad Hats dugout. “What happened?” John Dahlem looked at him, then at the crowd, and answered, “Minor leagues, man. Someone said something about us, one of our followers said something about them, and then the fight began.” Olsen sat down on the bench. People behind the dugout began hammering on the wooden boards dividing the players and the crowd. Insults over insults. Isn’t it a beautiful game, he thought.

Brewing a new baseball club

A new chance?

January 3rd, 1889, Philadelphia, Germantown

Knock, knock, knock. What is this? Knock, knock, knock!
Walther “Walt” Boeselager rolled over and tried to ignore the disturbance.

“Walt! Waaaalt!” A familiar voice. A dream? “Verdammt, Walther, du Trottel! Mach auf!”

Now don’t be insulting, young man. But as soon as he finished his thought, he sat up in his bed. Only one person would talk to him in German. Immediately, he raised and ran to the window which he opened, just to shiver as the freezing air invaded his cozy bedroom.

Downstairs he saw Karl Boeselager, his twin brother. He wore his heavy dark blue coat and held his black bowler hat with his left hand, so he could furiously slam his fist against the wooden door.

“What is it?” Walt and Karl both speak German but converse in English, except when one of them has to curse or if both discretely talk about things.

“Mensch, lass mich rein! It is cold!” It is not the first time Karl appeared in the early morning. Therefore, Walt always kept a spare key near the window he was staying at this very moment.

The second last time Karl hammered this furiously against the door was when their brewery signed a contract in 1883 supplying the Philadelphia Athletics with their Boeselager Lager beer. And the last time was in 1888 ago when the American Association folded, and the Athletics ceased to exist.

Although the Boeselager brothers brewed the finest beer in Germantown and losing the Athletics contract meant a colossal blow. The National League didn’t allow alcohol, so the Philadelphia Quakers were no help. Using sports to advertise beer in Philadelphia came to a sudden end. They just bought a brewery in Baltimore, where selling beer was slightly easier than in Pensylvania. The facility still needed some adjustments, but in a few more months, operations would begin.

“What is it, Karl?” Walt slowly walked down the stairs from where he could look into the kitchen. Karl just took off his coat. “You won’t believe this. The National League folded! No more Quakers!” Walt shook his head in disbelief. “Why would that happen? The league was going strong and was also the strongest out there.”

“I don’t know what really happened, but I believe Spalding mismanaged his league and pissed off the players. I’ll see what my friends in Pittsburgh and Washington can tell me about it. Until then, we need to keep our ears and eyes open. I received a telegraph from Baltimore. Remember Willy Smith? The Bavarian fellow who preferred the English version of his name instead of the German. Just imagine we would do the same. Walt Evil Sto…”, Karl stopped, obviously not knowing how to translate their last name. “Anyways, he heard that some rich guys are teaming up to form a new league. In a week, they’ll meet at the Chesapeake Hotel to talk business. You should go and get us a team.”

“Don’t you think that someone from Philadelphia will go? A team is expensive. We need to negotiate the stadium lease.” Karl didn’t believe that someone is going to miss out on this opportunity. “So far, I haven’t heard anything,” Karl responded. “I have my connections in the city hall. Leave that to me. You should go. Now.”

“The meeting is in a week, Karl. I’ll have to check if we can even afford a team. I mean, we probably have enough reserves to pay players, but we’ll have to work on a plan.” Karl leaned over and lowered his voice as someone could sit in the next room and listen to their conversation. “To play it safe. Let me fiddle with the numbers. Meet Willy, find out who is attending, and make sure you get your seat at the table.”

To Baltimore

Walt left three days later. It felt unreal. A baseball team? Since he came to Amerika, he loved this sport. In Prussia, gymnastics dominated the athletic landscape. A lot was better than in Prussia. Although America had its own problems with the Civil War, Prussia was involved in two wars in 1864 and 1866. The Boeselager twins were too young to fight, but Wilhelm Boeselager, the father of Karl and Walt, sensed that there would be another conflict brewing up. In 1868, just after the military reforms came into law and just before his sons hit conscription age, Wilhelm, his wife, Katharina, and their sons left Prussia to find peace in the United States.

Wilhelm quickly found work as a gifted engineer, but in 1875 he acquired a brewery. This was the birth of the Boeselager brewery which was one of the first to implement pasteurization.

In 1880, Wilhelm passed away. Four years later, Katharina followed their father. Both sons inherited equal parts of the brewery and their parents’ wealth. The amount surprised Karl and Walt, and in 1888 the brothers bought a brewery in Baltimore to widen their market.

Now he would come to Baltimore again. But for sports. The 39-year-old thought about his own experiments with the bat and the ball. He wasn’t as talented as Karl. Karl even tried out at the Athletics, but his career came to a quick end when he fell off a ladder while conducting maintenance in their factory. He never fully recovered from the injuries. Both still loved baseball and visited the games when they had spare time.

Willy Smith lived just two blocks away from the hotel. Actually, his name was Wilhelm Schmitt. Willy was only 30 years old and a very educated pacifist whose political activity forced him to the US. He was too young to fight in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, but he was old enough to witness the direction the German Empire was heading to. In 1884, Germany acquired its first colonies. Schmitt was critical of the acquisitions and a year later he and his fiancee shipped out of Hamburg, but only Willy survived the voyage over the Atlantic. Heartbroken, Willy arrived at the Garden Castle Emigration Center. But he stuck to his plan and became a journalist. His criticism of the German Empire grew stronger and ended in finally giving up his German name.

“Willy, what do you have for me?” Walt asked Willy as they departed the station in Baltimore in the evening hours.
“Bad news, Walt. The meeting happened already, and Tim McCabe will be the president of the Philadelphia Athletics.”
”What?!” Walt couldn’t believe this. “I thought this was supposed to happen in a week? And another Athletics team? What the hell?”
“I’m as surprised as you are. As soon as I received word that you are coming to Baltimore, I checked the schedule at the station, and there I saw him strolling to the Chesapeake Hotel. Apparently, this Monroe guy from Richmond who is rumored to provide funds for the upcoming league found his first president in New York two days ago. That’s why those rich guys met here to talk about joining the league, should it happen.”

Walt couldn’t believe Willy’s words. Tim McCabe was a businessman from Philadelphia. An aggressive businessman and an abstainer. Walt had to deal with McCabe on multiple occasions as he owned a property next to the brewery. When the Boeselager brewery needed more ground to set up new storage, McCabe sold it to them for an absurdly high price. McCabe also tried to prevent the brewery acquisition in Baltimore but failed.

“Well, shit” was Walts brief reaction. “I’ll have to sleep over this situation.” Both men talked a few more minutes about the latest happenings in Philadelphia and Baltimore before they wished each other good night and parted ways.

Walt climbed the stairs, entered the hotel, and just before he reached the reception, he peaked to the left and saw a room which was filled with the warm light of a fireplace. Sitting on a wing chair was his nemesis, Tim McCabe.

Walt didn’t notice that he abruptly stopped and stared at McCabe. The thoughts that came to his mind kept him occupied. “Well, well, well. Mr. Boeselager, you should join me. It’s quite cozy in here.” Walt shook off his thoughts and realized that McCabe was talking to him. As if an invisible hand led him to the second winged chair, Walt sat down. “I think we have to talk, Mr. McCabe. I want to talk about business.”

“What a shame. I was hoping we could converse about philosophy or something else.”
“No, I’m not here for this. I heard you want to participate in a possible new baseball league.”
“You’re well informed.” McCabe looked surprised. “Indeed, I will be the president of the new Philadelphia Athletics. The gentlemen from Baltimore and Washington D.C., who will participate, will support my bid. Now we only have to meet with Mr. Monroe.”
“Will my brother and I be able to sell our beer at the games?”
“You’re very direct, my friend. But, of course not. I detest alcohol, and I will make it clear to that Richmond fellow that I expect a strict no-alcohol policy for the league.”
“What will you do if he won’t agree?”
“Then, I will not run the club, and I will make sure that baseball won’t have a future in Philadelphia.”
The two looked at each other. Walt was annoyed by McCabe’s arrogance. He knew how vital beer sales at the ballparks are for breweries. And the game was important for Walt and Karl.
“What if I buy the club from you?” The moment he said it, he knew that it was a bad idea.
“You will not be able to afford it. Even if…”
“Our Baltimore operations.”

This caught McCabe off guard. The arrogance disappeared off his face, and he looked at the fireplace. His purple waist coast raised as he breathed in deeply. Half a minute passed, and McCabe took a sip of his tea.

“Are you willing to give me the brewery building, too?”
“That’s something I need to discuss with my brother.”
“You’re offering to give up Baltimore, but have to ask your brother to hand over the building?” There was that smile again. “I need a decision now. Baltimore will be off-limits for Boeselager beer, your brewery building in Baltimore will become my property, and in return, you can do whatever you like with your club and the council will support the Athletics.”

Walther Boeselager remembered the view at Fort Henry. The fort defended the Baltimore harbor in 1814 and being able to look at the fortification from the other side of the riverbank was just marvelous. Because it was located in the port, loading ships with the precious golden drink would come in handy to serve many towns on the coast.

If this Monroe millionaire from Richmond can make it happen…

“Deal. But only if the league is happening.”

The Brewers

A day later, Walther took the first train back to Philadelphia. He didn’t head to his house but walked over to his brother’s.

He knocked on the door, and after the second knock, he added, “Karl!”

“You’re back? What happened?” Karl opened the window in the top floor of his house and was clearly shocked that Walt was back already. Karl saw Walt lifting his head and the tired face.

“We lost the Baltimore brewery, but we have the Philadelphia Brewers.”

“Tell me all about it, brother.”