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Wright Street Grounds (Milwaukee)

This article was written by Jim Nitz.

Between 1879 and 1883, Milwaukee did not have a professional team, major or minor league. The Northwestern League included Milwaukee in its 1884 minor league schedule, and a new ballpark, the Wright Street Grounds, was erected early that year to house the new club. Often called Milwaukee Baseball Park or Wright Street Park, the facility was located in a near-north side residential neighborhood. 

The Grounds were bounded by West Wright Street on the south, empty land bordered by West Clarke Street on the north, and North 11th and 12th Streets. The property had been open land purchased by the club for $11,592 in February of 1884. The club never sought any other location because two street car lines had promised to extend their routes to the Grounds by opening day. Construction began immediately after the land purchase. 

The Northwestern League Milwaukees (or Grays) opened the Wright Street Grounds on May 1, 1884, and used the facility until late that season when Milwaukee was awarded a major league franchise in the Union Association. This team, which went by the same names, finished 8-4 (all home games) in its short tenure from September 27 to October 12. The Milwaukees never played a big-league contest again as the Union Association was disbanded before the 1885 season. 

The Wright Street Grounds had a capacity of 5,300 in its first year, and the UA team was said to have drawn 4,000-4,000 to its last games. The main grandstand behind home plate was 20 feet tall with a composition roof. It was tucked into the southwest corner (12th and Wright) of the lot and served as the entrance for fans. A two-inch wire mesh screen was placed in front of the grandstand in June of 1884 to protect “ladies” from foul balls. Uncovered 16-foot-high stands flanked the grandstand. In addition, a 12-foot-high uncovered stand was connected to the southeast 16-footer and extend to 11th Street. Much of the property was protected from “gymnastic youngsters” by a 10-foot-high board fence with barbed wire. Dressing rooms were located underneath the stands. The scorer sat with the fans, and because there is no mention of a press box, reporters likely also sat in the grandstand.

The exact configuration of the diamond in relation to the stands is unknown. Accordingly, the dimensions to the fences are unknown. However, by examining the only known depiction of the Wright Street Grounds, an 1888 Rascher Fire Atlas, it is logical to assume that home plate was in the southwest corner. By placing home in front of the covered grandstand, the right-field foul line may have been only 200 feet long. This, plus the very small 300’ by 400’ lot size, would explain the frequent ground-rule doubles and home runs to right field.

The Wright Street Grounds was home to only two more major league games. On September 4 and 25 of 1885, the Chicago White Stockings of the National League played regular season games in Milwaukee. Local baseball executives were hopeful that the crowds of 2,000 and 2,500 would impress major league operators enough to grant Milwaukee a franchise. This did not happen; thus, the Wright Street Grounds remained home to minor league clubs through 1887.

Even though new benches replaced many of the chairs in an 1887 upgrade, the Wright Street Grounds was considered small in both seating capacity and playing field dimensions. Also, ballpark comfort and accessibility to newer street car lines were inadequate for the city’s more discerning fans. In addition, the Milwaukee club desired ownership of its facility. When the 1888 rent was raised without corresponding improvements by the Grounds’ owners, the Kipp brothers, the team decided to build its own park that could also be used year-round as a general athletic grounds. 

During 1888, the Wright Street Grounds was employed by local baseball leagues such as YMCA circuits, along with tennis, cycling, and running enthusiasts. After that, the property fell into disuse and a controversial alley ran directly through it by 1895. Eventually, houses and stables were built on the site and, to this day, the block remains filled with homes.

Sources

 Anderson, Harry H. “The Ancient Origins of Baseball in Milwaukee.” Milwaukee History, 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1983), 42-57.

Evening Wisconsin, 1 and 2 May; 27 and 29 September; and 13 October 1884.

Evening Wisconsin, 4, 5, and 26 September 1885.

Evening Wisconsin, 14 May 1888.

Insurance Maps of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Vol. 4, New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co., 1894.

Milwaukee County Historical Society. Photo files and microfilm reels.

Milwaukee Daily Journal, 2 May; 29 September; and 11 and 13 October 1884.

Milwaukee Daily Journal, 4 September 1885.

Milwaukee Journal, 27 February 1895 and 8 April 1953.

Milwaukee Sentinel, 15 February; 31 March; 2, 13, and 14 May; 13, 24, 25, and 27 June; 17 September; and 4, 13, and 15 October 1884.

Milwaukee Sentinel, 5, 25, and 26 September 1885.

Milwaukee Sentinel, 10 and 17 April, 21 November; and 26 December 1887.

Milwaukee Sentinel, 9 January; 15 February; 16 April; and 14 and 19 May 1888.

Rascher’s Fire Insurance Atlas of the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Vol. 3. Chicago: Chas. Rascher, 1888.

Thorn, John, and Pete Palmer, eds. Total Baseball. Second ed. New York: Warner, 1991.

Zuckerman, Lauren. Letters from author. 13 and 24 April 1993.

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