SABR

Milwaukee Park (Milwaukee)

This article was written by Dennis Pajot.

The amateur West End club of Milwaukee was formed in 1875 and played its games at North 19th and Sycamore (now West Michigan) Streets. Becoming semi-professional in 1876, the club built its own park at North 28th and Wells. For the 1877 season the West End club became fully professional, joining the League Alliance. A new, and bigger, park was built for this club, located at North 34th and State Streets. The West Ends had a successful 1877 season, compiling a 33-25-3 record for all games played, including two wins against National League clubs.

At a meeting of the Board of Directors on November 30, 1877, the West End Club joined the National League. Later, when the former Louisville manager, John Chapman, was hired as the Milwaukee manager the team fell heir to the nickname Grays.

Shortly after Milwaukee joined the National League, it was decided to build a new ball park west of the center of the city at 10th and Clybourn.[1] The park was completed in mid-April. (There apparently was a park of some type at this location already, but it cannot be determined exactly what this park consisted of. It was reported that club director William Rogers had undertaken the removal of the stands and buildings, but it is unclear if these were buildings at the new site, or from the old park at 34th and State. The Daily Milwaukee News reported in January 1878 that the grandstand and the fence were already completed and the seating capacity enlarged, which could lead to the assumption a park had already been at this Clybourn Street location. As early as September 1875 it had been reported baseball games were played at this location, and the Milwaukee Cricket club played here in 1877. However, a statement in the Milwaukee Sentinel of April 8, 1878 that "for the first time in many years the Milwaukee cricketers will have, this season, a fine enclosed ground already laid out...", [2] makes it appear no enclosed park stood at this spot before the spring of 1878.)

According to the Sentinel of January 18, 1878, the grandstand of the new park was located at the northeast end with the diamond immediately in front. Thus the field apparently spread out to the southwest from home plate. The Sentinel later reported "the diamond is one of the finest in the country, although grounds are not as deep as at some other points. Ground rules, similar to those in force in Chicago, will be established"[3] -- meaning the right field fence was close enough to home plate that balls hit over it on the fly were ground rule doubles.[4] The report in the January 18 Sentinel also stated "great seating capacity has been given in the free-seats department [?], which extends the entire length of the northeast end of the grounds."[5]

The seating capacity of the park was about 4,000 with 500 grandstand seats, and was said to be the equal of any other in the country. The grounds were 400 feet square and "the whole of the north side [was] protected from the rays of the sun by a double row of shade trees."[6] But the park had its flaws. It was not perfectly level in all spots. The players helped with this, as in their 'spring training' held in Milwaukee, they had "the pleasant amusement of manipulating the 500 pound roller on the grounds"[7]. Other improvements were needed. The Sentinel thought "the backstop ought to be fixed so that balls will not skew over towards the south" and "the facing of the grandstand, that ornamental board arrangement, ought to be shortened, as it intercepts the view of the high flies by persons on the top seats."[8] To get a little feel for the inside of the park, we know bids were received before the season started for advertising on the fence.

The grounds were only a 10 to 15 minute walk from the center of town, so the savings of horse cars or bus fare was hoped would bring in more fans. The 3:30 p.m. starting time also helped businessmen come to the park after work. Admission to all games was 50 cents, and 25 cents extra for reserved seating. The management of the Milwaukee Baseball club announced a limited amount of season tickets could be purchased--$15 for 40 admissions, including reserved seating--at George Morton's at the Plankinton House [2nd Street and Wisconsin Avenue] and at Harry Phillips' in the Miller Block [at present day East Wisconsin and North Broadway]. This was a bargain, as in Indianapolis 40 ticket packages were being sold for $25. The Sentinel reported the practice of "clubbing"--two or more persons purchasing and splitting the tickets--was "being extensively practiced."[9]

Opening day at Milwaukee Park on May 14, 1878, drew 1,500 fans. A week later one of the best crowds of the season attended the park to see Indianapolis and its star pitcher, Edward 'The Only' Nolan. "The grand stand was well filled, something like a thousand people occupied the tiers of benches outside, all the roofs and other commanding points in the neighborhood were crowded with hundreds upon hundreds of men and boys, and every crack in the fence about the ground was made the point of observation through which some enthusiastic observer saw as much as he could, what was going on in the--to him--enchanted ground within."[10] Nolan pitched well enough to win 6 to 5, even though "the rest of the Hoosiers played a slouchy game in the field."[11]

The amateur Maple Leafs Baseball club also called Milwaukee Park its home in 1878. A game with a Chicago club in June was attended by 1,500 spectators, outdrawing the lackluster Grays. The Maple Leafs charged 10 cents for general admission, and an extra nickel for a grand stand seat. When the Athletics of Chicago came to town this was raised to 15 and 25 cents, to cover the added expenses, but ladies were admitted free. Sunday ball playing at the park caused some problems, as is learned from this article in the September 19 Milwaukee Sentinel:

Residents in the neighborhood of the Baseball park on Clybourn Street have petitioned the Chief of Police to suspend ball playing there on Sundays. The authorities are of the opinion that neither they nor the Common Council can forbid games there since the property is private property properly enclosed. An appeal to the Christian gentlemen of the Milwaukee Club by the citizens may rid them of the annoyance they are subjected to.[12]

The Milwaukee Grays finished last in the 1878 National League with a 15 and 45 record. In December the club was expelled from the National League for some unpaid claims.[13] The 1878 Milwaukee Grays story ends with a short note under 'The Brevities' in the February 14, 1879 Milwaukee Sentinel: "Sheriff Van Vechten sold the grand stand, fences, seats etc. of the Milwaukee Baseball Club yesterday afternoon to satisfy a judgment in favor of Giles H. Spear for $135.61. Mr. Spear bid in the 'farm' and the Sheriff issued a certificate of transfer to Mr. Kneeland's lease of the grounds."[14]

Sharing Milwaukee Park in 1878 with the National League Grays and amateur Maple Leafs was the Milwaukee Cricket Club. The president of the Cricket Club, the Reverend Edward R. Ward, was also the vice-president of the Milwaukee Base Ball Association, so it seems this arrangement was a natural. Inside the park were a beautiful sodded pitch and a practice ground. It was reported the Cricket Club paid $50 for the year to use the park. The following year, the cricketers--now reformed and named the Willows--again used the grounds on 10th and Clybourn.

The amateur Maple Leafs used Milwaukee Park again in 1879, then moving to a park on North Farwell Avenue for the 1880 season. In an 1883 report the park at 10th and Clybourn still was in use by amateur clubs, as it was to be used again by the Maple Leafs until their new park was completed in late May in Cold Spring Driving Park on West McKinley Avenue.

Today the area of 10th and Clybourn is underneath the Marquette interchange of interstate I-94.

Sources

Information was gathered from the local newspapers (Milwaukee Sentinel, Evening Wisconsin, and Daily Milwaukee News). Only quotes from these newspapers have been end-noted. Information derived from other sources is noted below. For complete date sources from Milwaukee newspapers contact the author for his research notes in the (as yet unpublished) manuscript "Milwaukee's 19th Century Baseball Parks".

[1] There are a few issues with the exact location of the park at 10th and Clybourn. It is commonly written the park was located between North 10th and 11th Streets, West Clybourn and West Sycamore (today's Michigan Avenue). This is the park's location on a map in the Milwaukee Journal of May 1, 1897. This makes the ballpark running northwest from 10th and Clybourn. However, City of Milwaukee Directories of 1878 and 1879 gave the park's location on the south side of Clybourn Street between North 10th and Clermont Streets. Clermont was approximately where North 12th Street is today, starting about three blocks south of Clybourn, and dead-ending at Clybourn. From this it could be conjectured the park ran southwest from 10th and Clybourn Streets. This is discussed in detail in an appendix in the author's manuscript mentioned above.

[2] Milwaukee Sentinel, April 8, 1878

[3] Milwaukee Sentinel, April 6, 1878

[4] Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1878; Green Cathedrals, Philips J. Lowry, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1992.

[5] Milwaukee Sentinel, January 18, 1878. Could this refer to spectators outside the park area?

[6] Milwaukee Sentinel, January 18, 1878. This statement is hard to visualize. Assuming it was the bleachers on the north side of the park that were protected by these trees, the trees would had to have been between the playing area and the bleachers to protect anyone from the sun in the southern part of the sky.

[7] Daily Milwaukee News, April 13, 1878

[8] Milwaukee Sentinel, April 15, 1878

[9] Milwaukee Sentinel, April 17, 1878

[10] Daily Milwaukee News, May 22, 1878

[11] Milwaukee Sentinel, May 22, 1878

[12] Milwaukee Sentinel, September 19, 1878

[13] New York Clipper, December 14, 1878

[14] Milwaukee Sentinel, February 14, 1879

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