How they came to be called the Brewers

December 1st, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- You might miss the historical marker if you are not looking for it. It is on a brick column along N. Old World 3rd St. in downtown Milwaukee, just a few steps north of Kilbourn Ave. and directly across the street from the Milwaukee County Historical Society.


And, essentially, the birthplace of the Major League version of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The origin of that nickname is rather obvious in a city with a rich beer brewing history. After a wave of immigration to the Milwaukee area from Germany in the mid-1800s, the city became America’s brewing capital, with Pabst, Miller, Schlitz and Blatz all founded here during the 1840s and ‘50s and growing into brewing behemoths. At about the same time, baseball appeared in Milwaukee. John Gurda, the city’s preeminent historian, dates the first organized game to 1859, and The Cream City Club, named for the light-colored brick used to build many of the city’s structures, gained popularity in the 1860s. Milwaukee's first professional team, the Grays, played in 1878 as a brief member of the National League.

The nickname “Brewers” was loosely affiliated with baseball teams in the area almost from the start. But according to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s online Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, the first use of that name in the Milwaukee Sentinel did not come until 1888, when a Milwaukee club managed by future Hall of Famer Connie Mack was playing in the Western League.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the name “Milwaukee Brewers” was associated with Major League Baseball. Which brings us to that historical marker on 3rd St.

In 1900, the Milwaukee Brewers were one of the eight charter members of the American League, which was founded in Milwaukee at the Republican House Hotel. The plaque at that site reads, “On the night of March 5, 1900, Connie Mack, Byron “Ban” Johnson and Charles Comiskey gathered in Room 185. In defiance of the existing National League, Comiskey’s Chicago White Stockings (later Sox) were incorporated, and the league’s eight-team alignment was completed.”

The alignment didn’t last. After the 1900 season, the league reorganized and finally attained Major League status. Milwaukee, however, did not get to enjoy that elevated standing. The Brewers franchise moved to St. Louis, where it played as the Browns for 53 years before relocating again, this time to Baltimore to become the Orioles.

In that team’s place came another “Milwaukee Brewers” -- and this one would prove more enduring. The club began play in 1902 as a Minor League team in the American Association and eventually made a home at Borchert Field along Chambers St. on Milwaukee’s north side. The team won young fans like Bob Uecker -- who lived just a few streets away -- and future Brewers owner and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and future Milwaukee Bucks owner and U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who were neighbors in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood.

For Selig, it was his mother, Marie, who instilled his love of baseball and the team known as the Brewers.

“I was only three years old when my mother started taking me to see them play,” Selig wrote in his memoir “For The Good Of The Game.” “It was quite a stadium, notable for not having any seats where a fan could see both foul poles. That sounds like an impossibility, I know, but it was true.”

Selig’s fondness for the Brewers, with their navy and red uniforms and “Barrelman” logo, endured even as Milwaukee went big league again with the arrival of the National League’s Braves in 1953 at newly constructed County Stadium. Selig loved the Braves and was devastated when that franchise departed for Atlanta, so he formed a group of civic leaders intent on bringing Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee. He founded TEAMS, Inc. (To Encourage All Milwaukee Sports) and eventually reincorporated to a name Selig decided was just perfect.

The Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club.

“I’ll admit that move didn’t get banner headlines in The Milwaukee Journal,” Selig wrote. “We were a company without a baseball team, Major or Minor League. But for me, it was a method of making something happen, of moving the chains, which, as a lifelong Packers fan, I’ve always understood.”

It was not until April 1, 1970, six days before Opening Day of that season, that the latest incarnation of the Milwaukee Brewers became a reality. A federal bankruptcy judge ruled the Seattle Pilots could be sold to Selig and his group, and the team opened at home on April 7. The Brewers were back.