Long before Milwaukee received their beloved American League team via Seattle, the Brewers were a ballclub in the wild days of independent minor league baseball. The Brewers held an American Association franchise in five consecutive decades, eventually landing an affiliation with the Boston Braves that resulted in one of baseball’s most important westward leaps. The 1940s were a transitional period for minor league baseball, thanks in large part to the aggressive farming techniques of Branch Rickey. In that decade, the Brewers saw a cast of characters from Bill Veeck to Casey Stengel at Borchert Field, as well as a few notable players that never made the big leagues.
As we’re preparing for the first vote of our Disciples of Uecker Hall of Greatness, encompassing the Milwaukee Braves decade, I would like to take a look back at some of the last minor league pioneers to play in Milwaukee. These players are interesting not only because they produced some notable seasons without cracking the majors (which isn’t necessarily rare during the independent days of minor league baseball), but because they produced notable seasons during the transition from minor league independence to affiliation with big league clubs. In this case, the Brewers’ affiliation with the Braves organization corresponded with their strongest years in Boston, as well as their transition to less competitive clubs following their 1948 pennant. Given the needs of the 1949-1952 Braves clubs, as well as the circumstances of wartime baseball prior to that, it is a wonder that these Brewers remained lifetime minor leaguers.
Woody Abernathy (1940): 506 AB, 142 H, 49 XBH, .281 AVG, .425 SLG
Woody Abernathy hit 126 home runs during four seasons with the independent Baltimore Orioles, before heading to Knoxville and Milwaukee. In 1940, he split 135 games between St. Paul and Milwaukee, finishing a long and successful minor league career. Over 13 years, Abernathy hit at least 200 home runs and at least 340 doubles, batting .315 overall.
Raymond Campbell (1941): 9 G, 5 GS, 3 GF, 48 IP, 3.19 ERA
Working as a Cubs farmhand, Raymond Campbell was in the twilight of his career by age 21 — when he spent a season as the Brewers’ best reliever/swingman. Although relievers were arguably less important in Campbell’s era, he worked 48 strong innings for the Brewers, and went undefeated on a 55-98 ball club. 1941 would be his last season of note, as he played 12 more games in Milwaukee in 1942, before working between the St. Louis Browns and Red Sox systems in 1944.
Harry Griswold (1942): 287 PA, 74 H, 7 XBH, 16 BB, .282/.326/.347
Harry Griswold spent parts of 14 seasons — interrupted by service during World War II — working in the minors, both as a player and a manager. While touring the heartland as a ballplayer, Griswold made three different stops in Milwaukee (with three different affiliations or working agreements). 1942 was his best season in Milwaukee, as Griswold produced like a pure contact/discipline hitter. In at least 2831 career PA, Griswold batted approximately .280, collecting approximately 153 extra base hits in his 785 career hits.
Ted Norbert (1943): 613 PA, 150 H, 50 XBH, 78 BB, .293/.400/.494
By the time Ted Norbert reached Milwaukee, he had 13 minor league seasons under his belt. At 35 years old he was past his prime seasons in Pacific Coast League San Francisco and Portland, but he remained a strong slugger. Norbert collected more than 4400 AB in the PCL from 1935 through 1942, slugging more than .500 during those seasons. Milwaukee was simply a one-year stop for Norbert, en route to one final trip along the Pacific Coast.
Julio Acosta (1943-1945): 74 G, 53 GS, 19 GF, 31 W (.596%), 438 IP, 3.70 ERA
Julio Acosta split his 1943 campaign between the independent Richmond and Milwaukee franchises, and he would stay in Milwaukee for two more years. By age 24, Acosta had produced some strong minor league seasons, but his time in Milwaukee would feature his best set of consecutive seasons. Working as a jack-of-all-trades on the mound, Acosta produced a winning percentage near .600 from the bullpen and starting spots. While his pitching career may have ended by 1950, Acosta remained in baseball through the 1953 season, transitioning to a doubles and triples hitter in the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League in 1952.
Charles Biggs (1944-1946): at least 739+ PA, 189 H, 32 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 82 BB
By the mid-1940s, the independent Milwaukee Brewers were consistent winners, moving along with a cast of characters from owner Bill Veeck to manager Casey Stengel. By the time Charles Biggs showed up in Milwaukee, he was 35 years old and playing for his third American Association club. However, Biggs stayed in Milwaukee for a couple of years, playing solely for the Brewers in 1945 (before splitting 1946 between Oakland and Milwaukee). Biggs allegedly played stints in the minors as early as age 15, and he played into his 40s, which shows that by the time he reached Milwaukee, he was just getting started. Biggs hit approximately .286 over more than 8400 career plate appearances.
Eugene Nance (1945-1947): 1301 PA, 1130 AB, 324 H, 141 BB+HBP, 486 TB; .287/.357/.430
In 1945, the Brewers won 93 games during their last season of independence before the White Sox and Braves made working agreements with the organization (Chicago in 1946, Boston in 1947 and beyond). Eugene Nance joined Biggs as a hard-hitting Brewers batter in the mid-1940s, solidifying the line up with two solid lifetime minor leaguers. Nance played on-and-off stints in baseball in his early 20s, mid 20s, and 30s, and he reached Milwaukee at age 31 after playing a season in the Browns’ organization. Playing at the hot corner, Nance slugged 28 homers and 54 doubles for the Brewers, before moving on to the Pacific Coast League.
Jim Cookson (1946):
The Brewers landed a working agreement with the Chicago White Sox for the 1946 season, just in time for Jim Cookson to stop in Milwaukee during a three organization tour in 1946. The Giants, Cubs, and White Sox organizations each looked at Cookson’s talents in 1946, beginning the outfielder’s brief second stint in the minor leagues (he previously spent parts of seven seasons as a farmhand for the Cardinals and Pirates).
Joseph Bestudik (1947):
One could fit a great number of career minor leaguers in a book with the title “Ten Cities, Ten Seasons.” If we’re honoring these minor league lifers for their accomplishments, we also ought to honor them for their tenacity, as even a trip through a few different MLB organizations probably meant playing in twice as many cities while within each particular farm.
After serving in the military, Bestudik returned to baseball in 1946, spending his 1941, 1942, and ‘46 campaigns in Indianapolis (oddly enough, with two different organizational affiliations, and one independent season). After leaving Indianapolis, Bestudik played 115 games between St. Paul and Milwaukee in 1947, spending time in the Braves and Dodgers organizations.
The disciplined-contact hitters of that era were something else; Bestudik batted .281 with a bit of power, but he also drew 58 walks in 430 plate appearances (against only 41 strike outs). As a result, he got on base 38% of the time between Milwaukee and St. Paul. Despite that discipline, Bestudik didn’t get a chance in the big leagues, and he finished his career after playing two more years (in the Dodgers and Tigers organizations).
Bill Sinton (1948):
It must have been rough to work in the Boston Braves’ farm system in the late 1940s. The big league club experienced a series of winning seasons (culminating with a National League pennant in 1948), before four relatively difficult seasons. Sinton stopped in Milwaukee for 24 of his 108 games in 1948, another disciplined bat with a bit of power. Returning to baseball in 1946 after military service, Sinton played in nine minor league cities in the span of six years (including five different MLB affiliations or agreements). Sinton walked approximately 58 times in more than 350 plate appearances throughout his 1948 campaign.
Alvin Aucoin (1949): 405 PA, 109 H, 13 2B, 6 HR, 36 BB, .302/.370/.393
There must be a plaque for Alvin Aucoin somewhere in the Braves’ organization. Aucoin was a Braves organization lifer, first crossing paths with the organization during his 1948 season in Hartford. There, he batted .282 in 422 PA, boasting 24 doubles at age 23. His next jump was to AAA Milwaukee in 1949, where he showed discipline, some power, and a rather strong average with the Brewers. It’s a wonder that Aucoin didn’t receive a chance to play with the big league Braves at this point in his career — the Braves followed their World Series appearance with a losing season, and their outfielders weren’t particularly notable. A well-rounded bat like Aucoin could have helped the big league Braves. But, Aucoin continued to tour future MLB cities, moving to Atlanta after his campaign in Milwaukee. He remained affiliated with the Braves’ organization after they moved from Boston, but unfortunately he never made it back to Milwaukee to play ball.
Henry Perry (1949-1950): 16-16, 39 G, 208 IP, 4.28 ERA
Henry Perry worked 527 innings through age 21, boasting serviceable ERAs but poor W-L records in the Eastern Texas, Southeastern, and Texas Leagues. Perry served in World War II, and returned to baseball in 1946 — this time, with better records and better ERAs, too. Perry spent nearly three seasons in the Tigers’ organization, but never cracked the big leagues despite a 3.90 ERA in 482 IP for Dallas and Buffalo. Perry was a .500 pitcher in the Braves’ organization, closing his career with more than 200 IP with the Brewers. Despite a big league club that needed pitching, the Braves never picked up Perry from their Milwaukee farm.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.
Google. Google News Archives.
SABR. SABR Encyclopedia.
Note: Some of these players may have served in the military in some capacity during World War II without me directly mentioning that service. I only specifically mentioned service where I found confirmation about that service. If I have failed to directly mention or honor one of these players’ service for their country, I apologize.
Borchert Field: http://www.ballparktour.com/Former_Milwaukee.html