Jolly Cholly Grimm, Milwaukee Braves First Manager

When the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953, the team brought with it the manager, Charlie Grimm.  He managed the Braves in Milwaukee through 1956.  Grimm was an experienced manager by then, having also managed the Cubs for two stretches from 1932 - 1938 and 1944 – 1949.  In 1932 he took over the team on August 2.  In a book, My Greatest Day in Baseball (A.S. Barnes & Company; New York, NY, 1945 Grimm recalled his greatest day in baseball was in a game down the stretch run of his first year as a manager.

It was a game during which as manager he made what is normally a fatal error of judgment.  Against the feared New York Giants managed by Bill Terry, it had started to rain as the Giants scored 4 runs in the top of the 10th inning to take a commanding 9 to 5 lead.  In the bottom of the tenth, with two out and one run in due to a home run by the number 8 hitter, a substitute catcher who had come into the game in the 8th inning after a pinch hitter for regular catcher Gabby Hartnett, thought it was his turn to bat, and batted out of turn instead of lead-off hitter Billy Herman. 

Grimm recalled it this way, “For some reason – I’ll never know why – Taylor went up to bat when it was Herman’s turn.  And instead of waiting until he had done something and then protesting a man batting out of turn – which they should have done – Terry and the Giants rushed to the plate and argued that he was in the wrong place.  Umpire Magerkurth heard ‘em out, and then ruled that Taylor could bat.  And he singled.  Then again they should have argued.  But maybe because it was raining or something, the Giants figured their lead was safe and they wanted to get it over, so they said nothing.  Herman singled.  Somebody yelled at Gibson (their pitcher):  ‘You’d better get this over before Cuyler comes up.’  You see (“Kiki”) Cuyler used to hit him liked he owned him – he just couldn’t get him out.  Well, English singled, Taylor scored – and there was Cuyler at the plate.  Everybody on the bench was up now.  ‘Hey, Gibson,’ they yelled. ‘Here’s Cuyler.  What are you going to do with him!”  Well, Gibson pitched; and the ball started out toward right center in the rain.  Farther and farther it went!  Higher and higher!  Lindstrom climbed the fence.  He reached for it, but it dropped over his head and into the bleachers for a home run.  We had spotted ‘em four runs in the 10th, and then scored five ourselves to win.  And we went into the clubhouse, a happy bunch of guys, soaking wet. 

And just to keep the record clear – Taylor did bat out of turn – and I as manager of the ball club, didn’t know it, either.”

By October the 1932 Cubs were facing the Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  Of course, that World Series is the one in which Babe Ruth called his shot in the third game in Wrigley Field.  (See web site archives:  “Trash Talking in Major League Baseball.”)   Overall, Grimms’ Cubs teams appeared in three World Series, including the most recent Cubs World Series appearance in 1945 against the Tigers.  He was known as a tolerant manager who could coax career-best performances from mediocre players and gave free rein to his stars.

But coming with the Braves to Milwaukee was not “Jolly Cholly’s” first stop in Milwaukee as a baseball manager.  This is because when a young Chicago baseball entrepreneur, Bill Veeck, Jr. (“Veeck” as in “wreck”) first ventured into owning a baseball team, using the money from about four different banks, he purchased in 1941 the minor league Milwaukee Brewers and its ballpark, Borchardt Field.  The field was located at 9th and Chambers, now the site of the expressway.  Veeck brought Charlie Grimm with him from the Cubs to be his manager.   He managed the Milwaukee Brewers for three successful seasons ultimately winning the minor league “little world series” for Milwaukee.  He later described those three seasons as the most fun he ever had in baseball!

When Grimm came here with the major league Braves, he was well known to Milwaukeeans.  It should be no surprise a bronze plaque in the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame at 4th and Kilbourn Avenue (on the east wall of the U.S. Cellular Arena) is dedicated to him.

He was a fun-loving player who played twenty seasons of major league baseball beginning in 1916 for the A’s, Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs.  He may have been the best fielding glove man at first base during his two decades of play, winning nine fielding titles using the small mitt of the day, but ranging far from the bag.  His idea was for first baseman to play as far as possible from first base, yet still be able to get to the bag in time to catch a quick throw on a hard grounder hit to the third baseman.  He first broke in as a regular for the Pirates in 1920.  He was also known for his left-handed play of the banjo, his trademark being a song he appropriated from the Vaudeville Team of Gallagher and Shean, according to a book of baseball player biographies, The Ballplayers (Arbor House William Morrow; New York, NY, 1993.)

In Pittsburgh he teamed with veteran shortstop Rabbit Maranville.  As a pair they were known together according to Bill Veeck, Jr., “. . . to have watched the top of the sun break the horizon” after many a long night out on the town.  Their practical jokes and pranks were unparalleled.  For example, on one notable occasion on a road trip they observed that the hotel at which they were staying had a vendor in the lobby selling popcorn.  A brilliant idea occurred to them as to how to use the popcorn.  Convincing a young player to join them, a Native American pitcher with exceptionally long arms, they bought a bag of it.  Ascending in the elevator together, they got off on the floor where their manager had his suite.  Persuading the maid to let them in the room on a ruse that they needed to convey an important message, the three proceeded to a window of the room.  Opening it, they used the popcorn to entice the pigeons resting on the ledge close enough to where the Indian player could grab it.  After placing about a dozen or so pigeons in their manager’s clothes closet, they left the room.  Imagine the chagrin when manager returned to his room?  Hearing the clatter of the birds he no doubt went to his closet, only to be greeted by the flock he freed upon opening it.  Imagine the damage to his suits occasioned by birds?  No doubt there was a big bill for the dry cleaner that day they had to pay too for their fun!  That was life in the big leagues then.

In 1923 Grimm had a 23 game hitting streak.  However, after the 1924 season, the fed –up Pittsburgh owner, Barney Dreyfuss, traded both Maranville and Grimm to the Cubs who desired a more veteran presence in the locker room.  According to Bill Veeck, the Pirates received from the Cubs in return, “two dead confederate soldiers.”  Although Maranville was dropped by the Cubs in 1926 because of his hard drinking habits, Grimm – a nondrinker – stayed, eventually becoming player manager after Rogers Hornsby disciplined regime in 1931 failed miserably.

Charlie Grimm had one last fling as manager of the Cubs in 1960, but in an interesting switch after 17 games he swapped jobs with the Cubs radio broadcaster, Lou Boudreau, who became the field manager.  After his death, his widow was allowed to scatter his ashes over Wrigley Field, but his bronze plaque in the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame shows he was well beloved in Milwaukee too.

*The 4th in a series honoring athletes enshrined in the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame