This article was written by Dennis Pajot
No major Organized Baseball clubs played in Milwaukee from 1871 through 1874. In 1875 an amateur West End Club was formed and grounds found at 19th and Sycamore (today’s Michigan Avenue), covering south to Clybourn and east to 18th Street. Soon new grounds were found on the edge of the city, just west of North 27th Street, running west to approximately Queen Anna Place (today’s North 29th Street) and north to Cedar Street (today’s West Kilbourn). The club — its “sole manager” at first being prominent real-estate dealer William P. Rogers – went to “considerable expense” to fit the grounds up, enclosing it with an eight-foot-high fence and putting up seats to accommodate 500 people. The Milwaukee Sentinel said it believed the park was “one of the finest in the country.” Dimensions for the park are unknown, but it can be surmised that left field was a longer distance from home plate than right field, as the Sentinel, reporting on a game in its September 20, 1876, issue, stated that Cherokee Fisher hit two balls over the right-field fence, and that (Charles) Comiskey “did what had never been done before – hit clean over the left fence.” These grounds, known as the West End Park, were also convenient, as they were on the line of the West Side Street Railway. The Janesville Gazette estimated the cost of the park to be $1,000. Admission was set at 25 cents for amateur games and 50 cents when professional clubs appeared. Season tickets were sold by the West End Club, but on occasion holders were asked not to use them, “owing to the unusually heavy expense involved in securing” better out-of-state teams. Crowds of up to 2,000 were reported at the park during the 1876 season.
Milwaukee’s first look at National League teams was at West End Park. On June 21 the Chicago White Stockings beat the West Ends 11-1 before a crowd of 1,500 to 1,800. The White Stockings returned on September 28, beating the Milwaukee team 10-7 in 10 innings, and again on October 21 with an 11-10 win. In these games Milwaukee fans had a chance to see future Hall of Famers Adrian “Cap” Anson and Albert Spalding on the field. The National League pennant-winning White Stockings also played an exhibition game at West End Park on October 11 against the runner-up St. Louis Browns. Twelve hundred attended a “wretched game” in which the Browns made 11 errors in the first inning. The Daily Milwaukee News opined that “much of the indifferent playing was without doubt chargeable to the chilliness of the day.” Despite that terrible opening inning, the Browns ended up winning the game, 16-15. The Brown Stockings stayed in Milwaukee and beat the West End club the next day, 17-5.
A few other local baseball organizations used West End Park for their baseball games. In August the Fats and Leans of the city faced each other for the benefit of the Industrial School. The team uniforms must have been enough to make the 2,000 in attendance remember the day. The hefty team wore red flannel shirts, blue drilling pants, straw hats with long peaks, and particolored hose. The Lean ‘Uns took the field in tight white pants, red shirts, blue hose and gray caps. The Lean team won, 37-19, and all the players were treated to supper at the Plankinton House for their efforts. About two weeks later the South Side Turners beat the West Side Turners 22-11 at the baseball grounds to claim the Turner championship of Wisconsin.
Besides baseball games, the park was used for practice and matches by the Milwaukee Cricket Club, which had organized that July. A further use of the grounds was a wrestling match in July. One James McMann challenged any man in the state of Wisconsin to a match for $50 to $500. McMann claimed to have defeated every man he wrestled, and named men he beat, spanning the country from Atlanta to Los Angeles. William Miller, a 38-year-old resident of Madison who claimed to be able to throw any man in the country, put up his money within a week. On July 14 some 150 men and boys witnessed the “collar and elbow” match at West End Park. The 23-year-old, 5-foot-10-inch, 212-pound McMann beat his 178-pound older rival in two out of three matches, in what was described as a good contest.
For the 1877 season the West End Club became an all-out professional club, joining the League Alliance, a group of clubs under protection of the National League to prevent players’ contact jumping. A new park was built for this club. The new grounds were at North 34th and State Streets, bounded on the west by Western Avenue (today’s North 35th Street) and on the south by Cedar Street (today’s West Kilbourn Avenue). It was reported to be larger than old West End Park, being about 500 by 400 feet. The grounds were beginning to more closely resemble later parks by having features like a 90-foot space between home plate and the backstop, and a body of seats in a semicircle behind the backstop. But without any type of protective device in front of the seats, the spectators were in danger of being injured by a foul tip. The grandstand had cost more than $800, and more than $300 was put into the park for various improvements. The new park, with a three-year lease, was completed in time for the opening game with Fairbanks of Chicago in May. In July the management built a new tier of seats on the right-field side of the park, “adding materially to the accommodations for visitors.” Three thousand spectators jammed the new West End Park on July Fourth to see the West End Club play its arch-rival, the Janesville Mutuals. It was estimated that another thousand watched the game from the trees and the hill on the north side of the park. The assemblage was not disappointed, as the West Enders won, 7-0.
West End played 12 games against National League teams in 1877, losing nine, winning two and tying one. The first game was a loss to the St. Louis Browns in May. After some games with Cincinnati and the Chicago White Stockings (one with Chicago being the tie), the West End club beat the Hartford Dark Blues in July. The team’s other win was against the White Stockings in October.
The Milwaukee directors decided to join the National League for the 1878 season, and played in a more centrally located park at North 10th and West Clybourn Streets (Milwaukee Park), abandoning the park on West State Street.
Milwaukee Sentinel, various issues July 1, 1875, through October 26, 1877, and May 11, 1890.
Milwaukee Journal, May 1,1897.
Daily Milwaukee News, various issues May 30, 1875, through July 6, 1877.
Evening Wisconsin, September 20, 1876, July 5, 1877, March 2, 1895, April 21, 1900.