The city of Milwaukee isn’t afraid of its German heritage. From the abundance of breweries and beer gardens in the city to the game of Beer Barrel Polka in round 7 of the Brewers games, it’s easy to see that this heritage has manifested itself through the celebration of beer.
German immigrants who settled in Milwaukee during the 1800s built dozens of breweries, including some of the largest in the country, and quickly put Milwaukee on the map as a notorious beer town. Around this time, Milwaukeeans from all cultural backgrounds developed another passion: professional baseball.
Why are Milwaukee Brewers called The Brewers? Here is a history of how the Brewers got their team name.
Early Milwaukee Teams
Milwaukee’s first professional baseball team formed in 1877 as the West End Club. Thanks in part to its devoted fan base, the team was promoted to the National League in 1878 and named the “Milwaukee Greys”. However, the team failed to impress in the big league and disbanded after the end of the season.
This seemed to be the main theme for Major League Baseball in Milwaukee. In subsequent seasons, a few short-lived major league teams entertained Milwaukee baseball fans in addition to several more successful minor league teams.
Much like European soccer teams today, professional baseball teams didn’t always have official nicknames in this era. On the contrary, fans and journalists came up with nicknames in a more colloquial way. For example, before becoming the Cubs, Chicago’s North Side team was once nicknamed the Orphans after losing the leadership of their beloved manager.
“Brewers” have entered the professional baseball lexicon the same way. As a tribute to Milwaukee’s famous industry, fans have called many local professional and amateur teams the Brewers. The nickname was cemented on August 4, 1888 when the Milwaukee Sentinel used it to refer to Western League brewers.
In 1891, the team was promoted to the American Association to finish the Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers season. At the time, the American Association was considered a major league, making this team the first major league “Milwaukee Brewers” team in the eyes of the local media. Despite their impressive 21-15 record, the team was demoted at the end of the season.
The Original American League Brewers
Another Milwaukee Brewers team played in the Western League after the 1891 team was promoted. In 1900, Western League officials met in Milwaukee and decided to rename themselves the League American – the same league we know today – in order to compete with the dominant National League.
The American League became a major league in 1901, making the Brewers a major league team. Like last time, however, that major league moment was cut short as the team was sent to St. Louis and renamed the Browns after a season they went 48-89. Interestingly enough, the Baltimore Orioles can trace their organizational history in Milwaukee through this line.
The American Brewers Association (1902-1952)
Other names such as “Cream’s”, “Cream City’s”, and even “Milwaukee’s” were also associated with Milwaukee baseball teams in the early days. But the team that made “Brewers” a synonym for Milwaukee baseball formed in 1902.
This iteration of the Brewers, which played in the minor league American Association, remained in Milwaukee until the end of the 1952 season. The team played at Borchert Field, a baseball stadium that fit into the block houses between 7th and 8th streets and Burleigh and Chambers.
It was watching this team on this field that many of today’s former Brewers fans fell in love with baseball. As Adam McCalvy notes, today’s Brewers organizational legends Bob Uecker and Bud Selig were among fans who had some of their earliest baseball experiences watching the Brewers at Borchert Field.
This team’s combination of on-court success and quirky ownership helped these brewers win the hearts of Milwaukeeans and secured their long tenure in the city. In the 1940s, the team and organization became known for their antics which included various theme parties and even a new pitcher jumping out of a cardboard cake at one point. This team was also responsible for creating Barrelman who returned to the current roster of Brewers mascots in 2015. Throughout their 50 years, these Milwaukee Brewers have won 8 American Association Championships.
Over time Borchert Field fell into disrepair and Milwaukee desired a major league team. So Milwaukee County Stadium was built in hopes that a major league team would move in. In 1953, the Braves happily agreed. It was for the best, but it left no room for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Today’s Milwaukee Brewers
However, after the Braves left after the 1965 season, former Brewers fan Bud Selig led a coalition to bring baseball back to Milwaukee. In 1970 the group bought the Seattle Pilots and Selig changed the name to match his favorite childhood team.
It was the perfect choice.
Despite all that has changed in Milwaukee, the name “Brewers” is just as apt for the city today as it was in the 1800s.