If asked for the name of the man responsible for bringing the Milwaukee Brewers into the American League, most would no doubt answer Bud Selig—and that answer would not be wrong. But 70 years before the 1970 Brewers first played at Milwaukee County Stadium, the city had a team in the American League, and Matthew Killilea was a major part of the original Brewers.
Matthew Robert Killilea was born to Irish immigrants Matthew and Mary Murray Killilea in the town of Poygan, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, on November 7, 1861. His primary education was in the district school before taking a course at Daggett’s Business College in Oskosh. Matthew then entered the college of law in the University of Wisconsin. Considered one of the brightest law students, he graduated in June 1891 with high honors, also having been chosen class president that year. The following month Killilea was admitted to the bar, joining the Milwaukee law firm Fiebing & Killilea (the Killilea being Matthew’s older brother, Henry J.)
Killilea was a promising, capable young lawyer, and in December 1892 Milwaukee District Attorney-elect Leopold Hammel announced that he would appoint Killilea as his assistant. However, the law mandated that this position could be filled only by a lawyer who had been admitted to the bar for at least two years, and Killilea was disqualified from this appointment. Hammel showed his confidence in the young lawyer by telling the press he was looking for an assistant who would be willing to resign the following July 1, so that Killilea could be appointed when he was qualified. But Killilea never served in the post.
In 1894 Killilea was the unanimous choice of the Democratic Party to run for Congress in Wisconsin’s 7th District (comprising Milwaukee’s 2nd and 4th Wards). During the October/November campaign Killilea made numerous speeches, often with David Rose, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 4th District. Interestingly, Killilea attacked his principal opponent, Republican Edward C. Notbohm, on the grounds that Notbohm was not a German-American and had extreme views on the then hot-button liquor question. Notbohm answered that he certainly was a German-American citizen and had never refused to help any German immigrant. The Republican also said he was liberal on his views toward temperance. A large Populist vote in the November election carried Notbohm to victory with 1,865 votes to Killilea’s 1,283 and People’s Party candidate Louis Wieman’s 724.
Killilea was still busy practicing law in the Fiebing & Killilea firm, but took on a new position in the fall of 1893. Milwaukee investors were organizing a baseball club in the new Western League, and Killilea—“a man of very kindly impulses and cordial ways”—was elected president of the club. He had been a baseball player “of considerable distinction” in his younger days. He and his brother Henry formed one of the strongest amateur batteries in the state, the Winneconne team having been considered invincible when they teamed up. The 1894 Brewers did not do so well in the field, ending up in last place with a 51-65 record. Killilea said the club netted $800 for the season. But Harry Quin, who owned Athletic Park, where the Brewers played in 1894, asserted that he was told the team had lost up to $10,400. Western League President Ban Johnson said Milwaukee was the only team in the league to lose money.
As an owner Killilea appeared to be fair to players. He said his club’s expenses were the highest in the Western League, one reason being that he put his players up at the best hotels and obtained the best railroad accommodations for them. While playing exhibition games in April 1894, former player Bill Widner attached Milwaukee’s $123 share of the receipts from a game in Cincinnati, claiming his salary from 1892 had not been paid in full. Even though that club, which played in an earlier incarnation of the Western League, was now out of existence, Killilea promised Widner he would look into the matter. In June player John Luby left the team, charging that the manager, Charles Cushman, misused the players, and that he had not received additional salary he had been promised if he pitched. Killilea initially suspended Luby, but within days reinstated him, promising the player he would get his money. A few years later, when Cincinnati owner John T. Brush proposed a rule that any players “who are not able to bridle their tongues” be blacklisted, Killilea stepped in and said that would be “absolutely contrary to law.” He added, “No man has a right to deprive another person of the means by which that person makes a livelihood. The law would never support a manager in putting a man out of a game for the balance of his life merely because he used indecent language on the diamond, upon one or two occasions. … For, should a man once be blacklisted, he would never be able to play the game again. …. I am not countenancing rowdyism, or the use of vile language. It must be checked. But the reform must be a legitimate one, and one that will be upheld by the law.” Killilea was fair to all, also saying he was strongly opposed to the constant umpire-baiting and thought some rule could be adapted to check “baby-like kicking and to prevent the players from indulging in personalities during the game.” The Brewers’ president even went into the courtroom for one of his players. In 1897 pitcher Fred Barnes was arrested for riding his bicycle on the sidewalks. Killilea appeared for Barnes in the police court the next day and said Barnes had not resided in the city long enough to know there was a bicycle ordinance. The judge suspended the sentence.
The 1895 season proved interesting for Killilea and his club. As a member of the Western League board of directors, he was busy helping find a replacement city for Sioux City. At home there was talk of a new American Association forming to compete with the National League, with Harry Quin, the owner of the Brewers’ home field, putting a team in Milwaukee. When the Brewers’ lease expired on October 15, 1894, Quin decided not to renew it for 1895. Killilea believed the talk of a new American Association team in Milwaukee was Quin’s way to get more rent money out of the Brewers. Indeed Quin did offer the park to the Brewers for $3,000 yearly rent, an increase of $500 over the previous year. Killilea said the Brewers would have nothing to do with Quin in a business way anymore. A battle of rumor, propaganda, blacklisting, and talk of franchise shifts ensued between the National League and new American Association that fall and early winter. However, before Christmas 1894 the American Association was stillborn.
The Brewers decided to build a new ball park, leasing grounds at 11th and Wright Streets. Work began on the 10,000-seat-capacity park, with an estimated cost of $8,000, in February 1895. Soon the Public Board of Works gave the Brewers notice that work had to stop. The board was acting on an opinion from the city attorney that it was illegal to obstruct or close a public highway without a public petition or verdict of a jury. An alley had been platted in midblock between 11th and 12th, but had never been put in. The Brewers were certain that Quin was behind the move.
Within days the club found a large property at 16th and Lloyd Streets, which it rented. The plans for the Wright Street Park were adapted to this new location, except that the new park would have a seating capacity of about 7,000 instead of 10,000. Named Milwaukee Park, with the name painted in bold letters along the rear of the grandstand, it was finished by opening day, at a cost of about $8,000.
As for the 1895 playing season, Killilea hired a new manager, Larry Twitchell, who was given full charge of the team, financially and in matters of obtaining and releasing players. However, Killilea still worked at looking for players, as his midseason trip to the South to look for players in the Southern League showed. The Brewers finished the 1895 season in sixth place, with a 57-67 record. Again the club did better in the ledger books than on the field, as Killilea reported the club netted $11,000 for the season.
After the season Killilea was again active in Western League affairs. He was named to a committee to look for two replacement cities in the league. After much time and work, only Columbus replaced Terre Haute. He was also instrumental in new draft rules set up with the National League. One change Killilea pushed would have had the money paid by the National League for a drafted player go to the the Western League rather than to the team that lost the player. Killilea didn’t get this, but in a compromise, $200 of the draft payment would go to the league.
Meanwhile, there was much turmoil in Milwaukee. At the winter meeting Killilea was given sole ownership of the club. This allowed him to oust a couple of stockholders who were opposed to spending money on needed players. In November Killilea was re-elected team president and a new board or directors, more to his liking, put in place.
Killilea, the new board of directors, and manager Twitchell were committed to building a new team, and spending money to do it. However, some players wanted too much money to suit them. After the Brewers acquired the rights to George Speer, a catcher with Lincoln of the Western Association, and offered him a $100 raise over his 1895 salary, the player wanted more. The Brewers president responded: “It is possible that [Speer] may want a portion of the gross receipts, section of the grandstand, or a four carat diamond as an inducement for him to play with Milwaukee next year. We have offered him a good salary and if he does not desire to accept that, he will not play ball at all.” In March Speer did sign with the Brewers.
As is found many times throughout baseball history, spending money on players does not guarantee a winner. As the 1896 Brewers stumbled to a 27-33 record, Larry Twitchell resigned and Robert Glenalvin was hired to manage the team. Killilea vowed to “X-ray the baseball world” to find players to fill the weak spots.
In August 1896, Killilea took a break from the baseball world, leaving for a trip to Europe, spending time in Ireland (where he planned to visit relatives and see the former home of his parents), England, Scotland, and France. When Killilea returned in mid-September he said he was in much improved health and spirits. He said he had not kept very close track of the Brewers while away, as he not been able to find a newspaper carrying information on the team. However, he was satisfied that team had done the best it could.
The Brewers wound up the 1896 season again in sixth place, with a 62-78 record. Although the club said it broke even monetarily, this is doubtful, as about 10 days before the season ended the Milwaukee Sentinel, citing information given by an unidentified director of the club, said that the club would lose about $2,500. It was rumored that the club was for sale, with offers said to be between $9,000 and $12,000. However, Killilea said the club was not for sale at any price.
Killilea enjoyed a number of other sporting activities. He was a bowler, and held a place on the Chickasaw bowling team. He owned a crack pacer horse named J.H.L., which “promised to do some of the best work of the  season and to finish close up in the first in every race.” Sporting journals reported his accompanying Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey, owner of the St. Paul Saints, on fishing trips “in the wilds of Minnesota.” Sporting Life of January 16, 1897, said Killilea, Johnson, Comiskey, and Columbus manager Tom Loftus planned a rabbit-hunting trip to Dubuque, Iowa. Johnson and Comiskey met Loftus in Dubuque, but Killilea got only as far as Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and was robbed. “Rather than allow his friends to learn about his adventure he returned to Milwaukee and hid himself in his room at the Republican house,” Sporting Life reported.
Western League affairs in the offseason again proved most interesting. Indianapolis owner John T. Brush had a plan to “reorganize” the league: His club and Minneapolis would leave the league, then the remaining Western League clubs would be disbanded and the players would be “transferred” to the National League. (Brush also owned the National League Cincinnati Reds). The players would then be returned to the Western League, with the franchises given new owners. Brush pegged Harry D. Quin as the Milwaukee magnate. The day after this plan was submitted to the Board of Arbitration, a National League committee that decided disputes between the major and minor leagues. Western League President Ban Johnson and Detroit owner George van der Beck came to Milwaukee to discuss the situation with Killilea. After that, Killilea and Johnson appear to have gone to Chicago to talk with James Hart, owner of the National League Chicago Colts. Then Killilea issued a statement in which he vowed to fight Brush’s effort to “annul the franchises held by us.” In October Brush’s petition was turned down by the Board of Arbitration.
Killilea, described by a sportswriter as “a big, jovial, warm-hearted Irishman,” was becoming more and more respected in baseball circles, and in its February 27, 1897, issue Sporting Life commented that he “is now looked up to as the legal advisor of the Western League magnates.” After his death The Sporting News wrote of Killilea: “He was the brains of the American League, having advised Ban Johnson in all his moves before and after the war started with the National League. Even the genius, John T. Brush, with all his base ball experience, failed to cope successfully with the Milwaukee magnate, although the latter was new to the game compared to the Cincinnati man. Charlie Comiskey and other well known magnates, have said that Matt Killilea had all the other leaders beaten by a mile when it came to base ball law.”
Killilea, Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey were drawing closer. In 1896 it was Killilea who proposed successfully that Johnson become the full-time president of the Western League, and that Johnson's salary be raised from $1,500 to $2,500. As a full-time president, Johnson could better see how each club in the league operated and make better decisions, Killilea reasoned. Johnson and Comiskey both were reported to visit Killilea in Milwaukee frequently, and the Milwaukee magnate was reported to be in Chicago often in the company of Johnson or Comiskey. In March 1897 the three took a trip to West Baden, Indiana, where there was a spring that was reputed to possess “wonderful curative powers.” In September 1898, when rumors were about that Milwaukee would go into the National League the next season, Killilea told the Milwaukee Sentinel that he “not only has no desire to shine in the big league, but will stand by the Western until hades is converted into a skating rink.”
After the disastrous 1896 season Killilea at first said he would step down as president of the Brewers, but he reconsidered and was re-elected in November. Connie Mack, who had been released as manager in Pittsburgh toward the end of the 1896 season, was signed to manage the 1897 Brewers. Mack was given a $3,000 contract, the highest ever given a manager in Milwaukee, plus a 20 percent share in the club. (Other local sources gave his contract figure at $2,500 and $1,500). Mack was given free rein to build a winning team. President Killilea told the press: “It takes money to do it, but we will have nothing but the best [players].” Many talented players were looked at, and a good team signed. Good enough that the Brewers’ staying within the Western League’s salary limit of $2,200 a month was questioned. The Sporting News commented: “A look at the payroll of the Milwaukee club would be interesting, and President Killilea, who is a strong advocate of the policy, would have a hard time to explain the figures.”
The 1897 Brewers finished with 85 wins and 50 losses, but this .630 winning percentage was only good for fourth place. In September it was reported the club would make a $20,000 profit, although at the later Western League meeting the club claimed to have cleared only $5,000. The Milwaukee Journal attempted to figure the Brewers’ true financial picture, and came up with a net profit of $22,100.
Although Milwaukee had a good financial year in 1897, most other clubs in the Western League did not. The offseason again proved interesting for the league, and Killilea’s friend Ban Johnson was given unheard of powers over franchises, discipline of players, and salaries – even given the authority to examine clubs’ financial books—in addition to being in charge of umpires and railroad transportation for the entire league. A rift between the Western League and the National League was beginning. Commenting in April 1897 on the National Board of Arbitration's decision to award pitcher Frank Hahn of the Mobile club to the Detroit club of the Western League, Killilea said: “The National Board is composed of a judicial set of men, and all their actions have been free from prejudice.” But now the Western wanted more say in baseball matters, and Killilea took aim at the National Board of Arbitration in April 1898.
When the case of catcher Mike Kahoe was ruled in favor of Cincinnati owner John T. Brush, Killilea said: “It is utterly impossible for the minor leagues to get justice from the National Board of Arbitration, which is in the nature of a judge sitting on the bench trying a case affecting his own interests,” Killilea said. “If a judicial body were selected as the Board of Discipline has been, disputes between the National League and the minors could be satisfactorily adjusted, but there never will be a National Board of Arbitration of a judicial character, fair and impartial in its dealings, until all the minor leagues have a voice in the selection of its members, and the men who compose it are not identified with some National League Club.”
Back in Milwaukee, Connie Mack stayed with the Brewers, even though he said he had offers from National League teams that exceeded his Milwaukee salary by $2,000. Killilea was again re-elected president. Mack and Killilea scouted and signed players to put a winning club on the field again for 1898. Killilea, however, was worried that the impending war with Spain might impel some of the players to enlist in the armed forces. Mack eased him by saying, “They would prefer $200 a month to hardtack and $13 per month.”
The Brewers again played well in 1898, finishing in third place with an 82-57 record, six games behind first place Kansas City. The Milwaukee Sentinel wrote that the Milwaukee club was “financially located at the junction of Velvet Avenue and East Boulevard,” with profits of about $20,000 for the season.
Killilea still had time to practice law in 1898. At least two of his cases made the news that year. In April he represented a baker named Somers who alleged that a doctor and his son assaulted him after he turned off their water because the doctor had not paid his water bill. After hearing the facts, the court dismissed the case. In September Killilea appeared on behalf of L.J. Ryan before the Committee on Licenses of the Common Council to obtain a license to conduct a saloon on Fourth Street. The license was granted.
In November 1898 Killilea won the Second District Assembly seat in the state legislature by a 400-vote plurality over Edward Notbohm, his victorious opponent in1894, and another candidate. Killilea, a Democrat, took the seat of retiring Republican Charles Polacheck, also a director of the Milwaukee Baseball club.
With Killilea as president and Connie Mack as manager, the Brewers entered 1899 with the usual problems: Mack with players, and Killilea with Western League ownership problems, in particular John Brush. However, Killilea was becoming quite a power in the Western League. In November the Milwaukee Journal wrote that he and Ban Johnson had full authority to negotiate with several cities and to close deals to complete the circuit. Some owners thought entering Chicago would be a good idea, but the Brewers president thought it would be “suicidal” because the Western League would lose its protection under the National Agreement. Killilea was originally in favor of admitting Toronto to the Western League, and pushed hard to have each club donate $500 toward purchasing the Toronto franchise and turning it over to Tom Loftus. This plan fell through and Killilea then turned to Buffalo, which eventually was taken into the league.
While representing his district in the Wisconsin Assembly—a duty he found “agreeable” -- and running a baseball club, Killilea still had time to practice law. In March 1899 he represented a man suing the owner of a dog that bit him. In April Killilea appeared on behalf of a matrimonial bureau employee charged with fraudulent use of the mails and attempting to bribe federal officials. (Killilea had disposed of his livery stables at auction the previous year, perhaps freeing up some time.)
The Brewers disappointed on the field in 1899, winning only 55 games and losing 68. Losing brings criticism, and with the first losing year since Connie Mack came to town, the Milwaukee correspondent of The Sporting News heaped criticism on the Brewers’ brass, saying, “Of course, base ball is a business; still the public want something in return for their money and the moment the directors of the club make it evident to the public that they are in it for the coin regardless of the position of the team then that is the time the public sours on them. … The popular idea is that the Brewers are run on a very cheap basis.” No doubt the Brewers lost money, but no public statements were made on the club’s financial condition.
The march of the Western League towards transformation into a major league took a major step after the 1899 season. Already during the season dispatches from New York had reported that that Milwaukee would be one of the teams in a new version of the American Association that would compete with the National League. Killilea said his Brewers had no intention of leaving the Western League. It was soon discovered that the American Association was planning to put a second club in Milwaukee, with Harry Quin as its head. Killilea and Connie Mack thought the time was right for another major league, but did not think much of the American Association idea.
Western League directors, with Ban Johnson’s backing, saw this National League-American Association war as a chance to improve their situation. The Western League first asked for a higher draft price for its players and later decided to move into Chicago and Cleveland. Another bold move was to change the Western League’s name to the American League. Killilea was originally against this change, but when he saw that he stood alone he went with the new name. Eventually, for this one year at least, war between the National League and other leagues was avoided. The American Association idea died.
Killilea was re-elected the Brewers president in November 1899, now going into his seventh year in the position, and Connie Mack was back as manager. A very good team was put on the field in 1900, finishing in second place behind Chicago, with a 79-58 record. After the season Killilea would not give the financial results of the club, saying, “The public is no more interested in that than it is in the day’s sales of one of the large dry good houses. …The public doesn’t care so long as we give them good baseball.” The local press estimated that the club had netted about $8,000.
For the 1901 season the American League took its final step to major-league status. The Brewers filed an amendment to their articles of incorporation, increasing the capital stock from $10,000 to $25,000. Killilea, Fred Gross, and Connie Mack were the principal stockholders. But soon Mack was setting up in Philadelphia, and Killilea hired Hugh Duffy, the former National League hitting star, as his manager.
As early as February 2, 1901, The Sporting News reported that the American League was ready to transfer the Milwaukee franchise to St. Louis, but this was denied by Killilea. And yet again, an American Association threat was making the rounds, with Milwaukee again a city mentioned (with Harry Quin as head of the franchise). This threat quickly died.
Killilea and Duffey were not particularly successful in signing major talent, and finished 1901 in last place, with a 48-89 record. Milwaukee’s home attendance was the second lowest in the American League, and the team probably lost about $5,000.
After the 1901 season the Milwaukee franchise was transferred to St. Louis. This probably would have happened before the 1901 season if not for Matthew Killilea. It was reported that Ban Johnson and several other American League owners wanted to move the club to St. Louis, but according to The Sporting News of September 21, 1901, Killilea "declined to accede to the request … with protestations of civic pride.” During the season Killilea worked to keep the franchise in Milwaukee, with a plan to move the Cleveland team to St. Louis. At the end of July the Brewers president told the Milwaukee Sentinel he would personally vouch for Milwaukee staying in the American League, and said he had just turned down a $30,000 offer for the Brewers from St. Louis people. Again in August it was reported that Killilea had turned down an offer for the club, this one for $42,000.
However, by mid-September reliable sources were declaring that the Brewers would be transferred to St. Louis. By this time Killilea was again ill, and his brother Henry was now the directing head of the Brewers. Henry denied these stories. Matthew said he would retire from baseball if the Brewers were moved to St. Louis. But soon a report came out of Philadelphia that Ban Johnson had brokered a deal for the Milwaukee owners to receive $25,000 for 40 percent of their stock from a St. Louis brewer, and Matthew Killilea would be made president of the club after the transfer. In early October it was reported that Henry Killilea had gone to St. Louis to negotiate the deal and had come back reporting that the Brewers would indeed transfer to St. Louis. Ban Johnson denied this. More rumors of a transfer were printed and denied, causing the Milwaukee correspondent for The Sporting News to write that these were only “one of the thousand little and big things which prove how much confidence may be placed in the announcements of the base ball magnates these days. They had adopted a policy of denying and claiming everything, so that when a piece of news that is authentic is dug up, it must be supported by oaths and pledges”
At the December American League meetings the Milwaukee-St. Louis situation was to be cleared up. Killilea told newsmen at the meetings that “the owners of the Milwaukee club are opposed to the transfer to St. Louis and the American League cannot make a change without the consent of the owners.”
However, word was around that Milwaukee wanted $48,000 for the franchise. On December 3 a deal was made. Matthew Killilea bought out the interests of his brother Henry, who did not want Matthew in baseball because of his failing health. Matthew then transferred the club to St. Louis. Matthew was the president and principal owner of the St. Louis franchise, and named Jim McAleer as the manager.
The Milwaukee press, which had been very kind to Killilea in the past, was not now. The Milwaukee Journal wrote, “It is a very clever trick of the American League bunch in keeping Killilea … on their staff with ground awaiting them in Milwaukee in case St. Louis should go to the bead,” or fail. The Daily News said Killilea and his associate Fred Gross “had pink tea in their veins instead of sporting blood” for not taking a chance on Milwaukee. However the Sentinel was more understanding, stating that it was a business proposition, and as Milwaukee could not adequately support the expensive team the owners had secured, they had to leave the city.
Some doubted that Killilea was really behind the St. Louis club, thinking Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey were looking after its finances. This is possible. Because of his failing health, Killilea spent the winter in Texas, leaving George Munson, he St. Louis Browns’ secretary, to run the club. In January Killilea sold out to a St. Louis syndicate for a reported $40,000. He and his brother Henry then bought into the American League Boston club.
However, Matthew had been very ill for some time. As early as July 1899 it was reported that he was confined to his room at the Republican House, ill with pleurisy. In early August Matthew left Milwaukee to recuperate in Winneconne, in central Wisconsin. from “his long siege of sickness.” However, he returned to Milwaukee later in the month to be hospitalized at St. Joseph hospital. In mid-October it was reported that he was in better health and had gained nearly 40 pounds since he had left the hospital in September. In February 1900 the Brewers president spent two weeks at West Baden, Indiana, and returned to Milwaukee “much improved in health.” In 1900 Killilea also declined renomination for the State Assembly seat due to his health. When the American League met in March 1901 for final preparations, Killilea had a bad case of bronchitis and missed the meeting, as he had traveled to Arizona. He spent the winter of 1901-02 in Texas with the hope of improving his health. However, his health got no better and in early summer he returned with difficulty to his mother’s home in Poygan, Wisconsin, where his health continued to grow worse. A report from The Sporting News dated July 16, 1902, said that Killilea was dying at his country home in Winneconne, The report said, “It is a pity to look at him, for he is nothing but skin and bones and can hardly speak above a whisper.” The week before this, Ban Johnson had visited Killilea at his home. Johnson found his brain as clear as ever, as the two talked baseball. In a touching account, Sporting Life wrote: “When Johnson entered his room, the curtain was rung up to the top, so that the sunshine could get full sway. Johnson asked him if he should pull it down, but Matt replied, ‘No, I want to look on that beautiful sun and clear air, for I have but a few more days to enjoy it.’ Johnson promised him that he would make another call.” But Killilea died of tuberculosis on July 27, 1902, with his mother, two brothers, and two sisters at his bedside. He was 40 years old.
What might have been in Matthew Killilea’s life is worth thinking about. He perhaps would have had a bright future in state or national politics. The Detroit Free Press in April 1899 wrote, “President M.R. Killilea of the Milwaukee Baseball club is an attorney. He is also a member of the Wisconsin legislature and is at present serving his first term. As well as being an able attorney and lawmaker, he is a true sportsman and a man that will go to the limit any time in behalf of the rights of those who are interested in any particular branch of sport. He believes that might does not make right, and thinks all lines of sport—of a legitimate nature—should have one end in view and work together for mutual protection. The wheelmen are becoming prominent in politics of cities and states, and the recent action of Representative Killilea [in defeating a bill against bicyclists’ rights] may be the stepping stone that leads to some other office of more prominence than the one he now so ably holds.”
Had he lived longer, Matthew Killilea no doubt would have made a huge difference in the baseball world. He appeared not only to be well respected in baseball circles, but had a history of getting agendas accomplished. The Milwaukee Sentinel on July 28, 1902, wrote that it was reported “at the annual meetings of the [Western League] his solution of different problems was always accepted and his genial nature softened many an acrimonious debate.” By December 1898 he was being applauded by the Eastern press for stating that baseball should be conducted as any other business, without treating the public to “buncombe.” In 1901 The Sporting News, in an article on Killilea headlined “American League’s Lawyer,” called the Brewers’ president “one of the shrewdest magnates in the business,” and said, “No move has been made by the [American League] magnates without first consulting the Milwaukee man.” Killilea had the respect and friendship of American League President Ban Johnson, and the powerful Chicago owner Charles Comiskey for many years. Being close to both, Killilea might have been the link between them that could have stopped a disastrous outcome over the Black Sox Scandal in later years. Reportedly his influence brought the two together in 1901 after a period of estrangement, so perhaps it would have worked again.
Whatever might have been his future, one thing known about Killilea was his generosity and sincere caring about his fellow man. This story, told by a Milwaukee lawyer, perhaps best tells us about Matthew Killilea:
“One Saturday afternoon we were trying a case before a justice on the Port WashingtonRoad and got through about 5 o’clock. As we were driving back to town we overtook a laborer trudging along the same way. Killilea knew him and offered him a ride. The man had been drinking and told Killilea that he had spent his week’s wages and was ashamed to go home. Without any argument Killilea turned his horse and drove the man to his home half a mile away and left with his wife an amount of money equal to that spent by him.”
The Milwaukee Sentinel summed Killilea up more concisely but better than anyone could hope for: “He was admired and esteemed by a wide circle of friends, and was idolized by his family.”
Men of Progress, Wisconsin; edited by Andrew J. Aikens and Lewis A. Proctor, published 1897 by Evening Wisconsin Co.
Rise of Milwaukee Baseball; Dennis Pajot, published 2009 by McFarland & Co.
Evening Wisconsin various issues 1895 to 1901
Milwaukee Daily News various issues 1895 to 1901
Milwaukee Journal various issues 1891 to 1902
Milwaukee Sentinel various issues 1891 to 1902
Sporting Life various issues 1895 to 1902
The Sporting News various issues 1895-1902
Milwaukee Sentinel July 28, 1902