SABR

Anton Falch

This article was written by Dennis Pajot.

Anton Falch the baseball player is easy to overlook. Look him up in Total Baseball and your finger and eyes might easily pass over his 5 games in the 1884 Union Association. As with so many baseball players who filled in the gaps, Anton Falch’s life was more than just one line of stats in a very large book. Falch’s impact on Milwaukee was not on the baseball field, but at the most important intersection of 1890s Milwaukee.

Anton Falch was born in Milwaukee on December 4, 1860, to Bernhard, a harness maker by trade, and Margaretha Falch. In a city with numerous breweries, large and small, it is not surprising to find Anton's occupation in his early adult life was a cooper. Falch apparently had a bit of an unruly streak in him as a young man. The Milwaukee Sentinel of March 9, 1880, reported he was fined $10 and costs for a fight with four others in the Milwaukee Garden while a dance was in progress. In 1882 it was reported Falch was booked for resisting an officer when he tried to prevent a person from being arrested in a saloon. As Anton was reported to be "a giant, weighing 220 pounds and 6 feet 6 inches tall," these incidents were probably something to behold. But as we shall see, Tony turned out more than okay, someone Milwaukee could be proud of.

Anton Falch played with the local semiprofessional Arctic Baseball Club in 1882. It was reported in the press that he was the only player around still catching without the aid of gloves or a mask. In June 1883 it was reported Falch left to catch for the Peoria Reds for $125 and expenses paid. In July he was back in Milwaukee to again catch for the Arctics--the club that would claim the championship of Wisconsin for 1883. It is likely Falch was paid to catch for the Arctics, as a report in the Milwaukee Journal of June 30, 1883, reported the Arctics had engaged several professional players.

Falch reportedly signed with the Chicago Unions sometime after the 1883 season, but jumped his contract to sign with the Milwaukee Northwestern League club. He started the 1884 season on the Milwaukee Reserve team and signed with the regular team when the reserves disbanded in May.    Falch was described as "perhaps the most promising catcher in the country. He is fearless, stands ready to face any pitcher, is a fair batsman, and his throwing to bases is superb." He would primarily be the change catcher behind Cal Broughton, but also filled in the outfield and at third base. Anton showed improvement behind the plate and it was reported in late July he "now rarely drops the ball". Unfortunately, shortly afterward this he broke his finger and was out for a few weeks. His time out with the injury was not wasted, as Falch umpired games in the Northwestern League throughout the remainder of the season, being "very accurate in rendering judgment, there being no occasion for fault-finding by either nine."

The Northwestern League folded and Milwaukee joining the Union Association on September 13, 1884. Falch remained with the team, playing in five games and hitting .111, collecting only 2 hits. Anton was still primarily a catcher, although he appeared in more games in the outfield (2 games in left field, one in center and 2 behind the plate), due to the "lame arm" of the regular outfielder. In one game Anton "won applause for a fine throw to the plate from left field.” Falch even umpired in one game in the Union Association, filling in "creditably".

In addition to the Northwestern and Union clubs Falch played with at least two other teams in 1884. Before the Northwestern season and again after the Union Association season, he played some games with the local Arctics. Interestingly, on September 28 he and pitcher Charles “Lady” Baldwin were loaned to Dubuque for a game against the Tama City club. It was said the Tama Citys were the stronger of the two teams before the addition of the Milwaukee battery. Newspaper reports said up to $1,300 changed hands on the result of the game. The contest ended in a 3 to 1 victory for Dubuque, and a Dubuque paper complimented both Baldwin and Falch.

In November 1884 Falch signed a $600 contract for the upcoming season with the Milwaukee team, now in the Western League. He played poorly, having a hard time handling the swift pitching of the new pitcher. In a game against the St. Louis Browns, Falch was charged with nine passed balls. A new catcher went behind the plate and Falch saw action again in the outfield. In late May he was fined $100 and suspended for 30 days for missing a train. While he was serving this suspension the Milwaukee club disbanded. Falch stayed in Milwaukee and played for semiprofessional clubs, including the Golden Eagles, Whites, and Bay View club. In August 1885 the Detroit National League club came to Milwaukee to play an exhibition game against a local team of semiprofessionals, and Falch caught for the locals. Falch also umpired some games of the Bay View club this season.

Baseball wasn’t the only sport in which Anton Falch excelled. He was one of the best bowlers in the city. Bowling for the Aromatic Bowling Club he won three prizes at the Milwaukee Garden in December 1884. In January 1885 he rolled 768 in a match for Aromatic.

On September 2, 1885, Falch was appointed to the Milwaukee Police Department as a patrolman. On September 28 he married Bertha Knop and took up residence a block north of his parents at 299 15th Street (later the address was 1017 North 15 Street). The Anton Falchs moved to 326 15th in 1895, and then in 1900 to 300 North 21st (later 1018 North 21 Street), where Anton lived until he passed away 36 years later. Anton and Bertha had five children. (According to the 1905 Wisconsin state census the couple had five children living with them at the time: Ella, 19, Edwin, 16, Arthur, 14, Walter, 11, and Irene, 8).

Officer Falch's name appeared numerous times in the local newspapers’ police columns. One arrest in November 1886 stands out. Falch arrested two railroad men at the corner of Market and Oneida (today's West Wells Street) and while walking them to the police station was jumped by four of their companions, one dealing "a savage blow in the mouth, felling him to the sidewalk." On the ground--still holding his prisoners--Officer Falch was kicked in the forehead by an assailant with "such force as to knock the entire heel off his boot." Falch let go of his prisoners and took on the man who first assaulted him. "The officer dealt him a blow in the face which felled him to the sidewalk, with a stream of blood flowing from his nose. As he again showed resistance, Falch gave him another blow in the face, knocking him down, while the others, becoming alarmed, fled." Officer Falch took his man, whose head and clothes were covered with blood, to the police station, where he was charged with resisting an officer. It was reported Officer Falch's upper lip was cut and badly swollen and he had two large lumps on his forehead. Amusingly, a man appeared at the station to furnish bail for the prisoner. Falch recognized him as another of his assailants and this man was also locked up. Each man was fined $40 the next day. As they were unable to pay their fines the two were sent to the House of Correction for three months.

A far more serious incident was reported the next year. In the early morning of Sunday, September 26, 1887, Officer Falch was found unconscious at the foot of the stairway leading down to the barbershop at West Water Street (today's North Plankinton Ave.) and Grand Avenue (today's West Wisconsin Ave.). Falch was taken home and did not regain consciousness until late in the evening. He could not remember what happened, only that he had sat down on the railing to rest for a moment, and next found himself in his bed. It was thought he fell asleep for a moment and lost his balance. The fall was about 12 feet and the Milwaukee Sentinel reported "It was a miracle he was not killed." Falch had an ugly gash on the back of his head and a bruised face. After a week recovering from his injuries, he had a relapse and was reported in critical condition. However, within a short time Tony was back on the beat, arresting a clothing thief on 3rd and Grand Avenue in mid-October.

In spring 1891 Officer Falch "made a fine catch" by halting a team of horses attached to a load of brick on downtown's Third Street, but not before the bricks were scattered for six blocks. Tony was dragged quite a distance and had another narrow escape from death. Five years later Officer Falch grappled with a runaway team hauling a heavy truck wagon with one wheel off, barely missing a lot of people and grazing a streetcar. After he brought the team to a stop, two hundred pedestrians cheered "a most dangerous act and bestowed lavish praise on the policeman.”  

As with most police officers, Tony had heartbreaking cases. In August 1895 a 7-year-old boy playing ball on the dock of the Milwaukee River fell into the water and drowned. Patrolman Falch recovered the boy’s body and took it to the morgue.

Tony still loved baseball and attended games. In 1887 he was said to have "made a brilliant catch of a hard-hit ball" as a spectator.

In August 1890 the first of the Milwaukee Police-Fire baseball games was played at Athletic Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western Association. Anton Falch was captain and catcher for the Police team. The "Run-me-in's" lost to the "Water-squirters," 27 to 20, with Falch "thumping the ball for a home run."

In another Police vs. Fire game in 1897, Falch again captained the Police squad, this time taking over first base. Tony had sprained his foot a week before the game, but decided to play. He should not have, and "played a poor game with his lame foot.” His team lost to the firemen, 43 to 2, before about 4,000 people.

In 1894 a number of police officers equipped the drill hall in the Central Police Station on North Broadway as a gymnasium. At first there was no formal organization for the "brawny coppers" to punch the bag, spar, wrestle and "go through other forms of exercise," but in March 1895 the Milwaukee Police Athletic Association was formed and Anton Falch was a member of the Committee on Finance. This organization is still in existence today.

In an article in the November 3, 1895, Milwaukee Sentinel readers were informed of some police officers’ duties. The paper told its readers Officer Falch was in charge of the corner at Grand Avenue and West Water Street (today's West Wisconsin Avenue and North Plankinton Avenue), where he had stood "swinging his club, controlling the movements of teams and passengers alike" for eight years. This post also looked after the Grand Avenue Bridge and was reported to be the most important corner in the city. A perhaps less "officially" important duty at this post was giving "bashful young fellows" (many from Chicago) directions to the residence of Reverend Hunsberger, who performed numerous marriages. Other tasks were providing directions to the Pabst brewery, answering if there were free drinks there, and pointing out where the great Third Ward fire had started. Anton Falch was a rather popular officer, collecting over 1,000 votes in a contest for the most popular policeman held by the Milwaukee Journal in 1899--but far behind Officer C.R. Sullivan's 27,429 and south side Officer Thaddeus Wendzinski's 15,209 votes. In 1904 Anton Falch was promoted to sergeant, He remained at that rank until he retired in 1917. After his retirement he   worked for many years as a clerk for David Adler & Sons Co., a clothing store on Broadway and Buffalo Streets in Milwaukee's Third Ward.

Anton Falch died March 31, 1936. He was survived by his wife Bertha, who continued to live at 1018 North 21 Street, three children (one of his sons, Edwin, a Milwaukee fireman, had been killed fighting a fire in 1920) and one grandchild. Anton Falch is buried in Milwaukee's Union Cemetery.

Sources

Baseball-Reference.com

Cleveland Herald.   April 3, 1884

Milwaukee City Directories   1882 - 1936

Milwaukee County Birth Certificates

Milwaukee County Marriage Certificate Index

Milwaukee Journal, 1883 – 1899, 1920, 1936

Milwaukee Sentinel, 1880 - 1897

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 10, 1884, April 6, 1885

Syracuse Herald, April 13, 1884

Wisconsin State Census (1905)

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