Wright Street Grounds (Milwaukee)

This article was written by Jim Nitz and Ron Selter

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 also called Milwaukee Baseball Park or Wright Street Park, the facility was located in a near-north side residential Milwaukee neighborhood.

The Wright Street Grounds were located on a site that was bounded by West Wright Street on the south, empty land then West Clarke Street on the north, North 11th Street on the east, and North 12th Street on the west. The property was purchased by the club for $11,592 in February 1884. The club never sought any other location because two streetcar lines had promised to extend their routes to the Grounds by opening day. Construction on the ballpark began immediately after the purchase of the land with Bradley Brothers of Rockford, Illinois, serving as architects.

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 12 were home games at the Wright Street Grounds) in its short tenure from September 27 to October 12. The Milwaukees never played a big-league contest again; the Union Association was disbanded before the 1885 season.

The Wright Street Grounds reportedly had a capacity of 5,300 in its first year, and the UA Milwaukee team was said to have drawn 4,000-5,000 to its last games. The main grandstand behind home plate was 20 feet high and 24 feet deep with a composition roof. It was tucked into the southwest corner (12th and Wright) of the park site and served as the entrance for fans. A two-inch wire mesh screen was placed in front of the grandstand in June 1884 to protect “ladies” from foul balls. Uncovered 16-foot-high stands flanked the grandstand on both the first and third base sides. In addition, a 12-foot-high uncovered stand was connected to the first base 16-footer and extended to 11th Street. Left and center fields and right-center field to the junction with the right-field stands was protected from “gymnastic youngsters” by a ten-foot-high wooden board fence topped with barbed wire. The wood fence in front of the right-field stands was only three feet high and extended from the junction with the 11th Street fence to the right-field foul line. 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 playing field is unknown. Home plate was known to have been located near the center section of the grandstand. A home plate-backstop distance of 70 feet was assumed consistent with the typical backstop distance in other 19th century major league ballparks. The Rascher’s Fire Insurance Atlas map of the Wright Street Grounds was used on which to draw a playing field diagram, with home plate located 70 feet to the northeast along a line perpendicular to the front of the center section of the grandstand. Because the park site was constrained in the E-W dimension (300 feet), the right-field line on the diagram was angled 13 degrees to the north of an E-W line to increase the right-field dimension from 150 to 200 feet. This alignment meant the left-field line was offset 13 degrees to the west from a north-south line and hit the perimeter fence in the left-field corner. The very small 300’ by 400’ park site would explain the frequent right-field ground-rule doubles and the over-the-fence home runs to right field. Assuming the 70 foot backstop distance, other dimensions can be reasonably estimated as follows: left field 303 feet, straightaway left field 295, left-center 305, center field 338, center-field corner 362, right-center 300, straightway right field 247, right field 228 (five degrees; at the junction of the 11th Street fence and the right-field stands), and right field 200.

The Wright Street Grounds was home to only two more major league games. On September 4 and 25, 1885, the Chicago White Stockings of the National League played neutral site regular season games in Milwaukee in which all six home runs were hit over the right-field fence. 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. 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 amateur 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.

 

Acknowledgments

This story was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.

 

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, 2nd ed. New York: Warner, 1991.

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