When I first started thinking I’d like to write a book about the Milwaukee Brewers franchise moving from Seattle in 1970, I kept coming back to a simple question: Who were the players, coaches, executives, and stadium workers? Not just their names, but who were they personally and what did they experience when the Brewers were in their infancy. I started by looking at names and faces on the 1970 team photo card and decided to pursue as many of these guys as possible. This decision has led me down some interesting paths and I have been fortunate to gain a lot of information for my book. Many of the interviews have been turned into player profiles that were posted to the blog. About a year ago I was fortunate to speak separately with batboy Pat McBride and ballboy Rick Napholz. Both original 1970 team employees and had fascinating insight on working for the team in the early years, so let’s get to it…
Pat McBride came to the team first in 1969, but it wasn’t a very conventional route. First off, Bud Selig was trying to prove that Milwaukee could support a major league franchise after the Braves departed in late 1965. He had been bringing the Chicago White Sox to County Stadium for select “home games” in the late 60’s. In 1969, the Brewers held a batboy/ballboy 25 word essay contest for anyone between 13 and 17 years of age. Pat said, “I wrote, ‘I would like to be a bat boy because I would be doing a small part toward bringing baseball back to Milwaukee. I would hope the spirit I would show would be contagious.’ I knew this would resonate with the whole team and what Bud Selig was trying to do. So I won the contest and was one of the bat boys for the 14 games.”
It turned out that Pat’s job would lead into a lot of different responsibilities when the Brewers arrived the following year. He said, “I saw there was so much to do in a locker room – putting out all the uniforms, doing the laundry, cleaning the locker room, cooking food, polishing all the shoes, carrying things up and down, and loading up the truck with all the equipment when the team leaves. I offered to help them out and none of the other ballboys or batboys really did that. Then I got a call from Jim Ksicinski when the team moved to Milwaukee asking if I’d like to be the ba boy for the visiting team and work in the club house. I said sure, and that’s how I got my job as batboy for the visiting locker room. So in 1970 I was working as batboy for all the visiting teams. The guy in the home locker room, Bob Sullivan, was the Equipment Manager for the Brewers. He asked if I had any friends that would like to work in the home locker room. I told him yes, and called Rick Napholz who was a good friend of mine, and got him the job on the Brewers side.”
Rick told me that he was 15 years old in 1970 and the Brewers were one ballboy short for Opening Day. He said, “I went to the game and my friend Pat McBride who was the batboy for the visiting team ended up getting me an interview before the second game. I went down and got hired, so I wound up there for the season – a total of 80 games behind the net as the ballboy. Back then they’d put the ball boy right behind the net.”
The hours were long according to both Rick and Pat, but very fulfilling and the experience was invaluable. Rick said, “We put a lot of hours in. I’d get done with school at 3:30 p.m. and be to County Stadium by 4:00 p.m. I wouldn’t leave until midnight. After the game got over I’d have to clean the clubhouse and get ready for the next day. The next day I’d have to be up around 6:30 a.m. to go to school. Somewhere in there I’d have to find time to do my homework. In the summer it was not as big of a deal, but tougher during April, May and September when school was in session.”
Pat described a typical day for a batboy or clubhouse guy as an early afternoon arrival, such as around 1:00-200 p.m. for a night game. He said, “I usually rode my bike or a motorcycle to the stadium. When I was in school I’d rearrange my school schedule to make the afternoon open. We’d get there and start doing laundry – drying stuff and hanging things up. Then we’d move on to running errands and start getting food ready. Sometimes I’d have to drive a car to different stores to pick up things. Then we’d start getting the dugout ready – putting the bats and helmets down. We’d have to get equipment sometimes for players. Sometimes we’d have to go over to the home clubhouse because a visiting player needed an extra pair of underwear or a jock strap. Maybe they broke a bat in the last game in another city, so we’d try to find their style bat. We’d take tickets out to the ticket Will Call, so we’d be running all over the place. We might have to run up to the front office or to the announcer’s booth for various errands.”
He continued, “Then batting practice would start and we’d be down there picking up bats and running back and forth, maybe shagging some fly balls or playing catch. Then we’d clean up the dugout and get it reorganized. Then we’d have to run back up to the clubhouse and the players would shed all the clothes they wore in batting practice. The clothes were all sweaty, so we’d have to get them cleaned, dried and hung up again. Players would take off the spikes they wore in batting practice and we’d have to get all those cleaned up and polished. Then we’d run back to the dugout for the game and handle the game.
After the game we’d have to do all the laundry and shoes again, then clean up all the dishes from the food. We’d be there usually until midnight or later because we were essentially the janitors, cleaning up the whole locker room. We’d clean the shower and toilets, mop the floor, then make sure the uniforms were hung up for the next day. It was a very long day and I got paid ten bucks a game. It was about ten hours for ten bucks! But it was great work as I met every visiting player on every visiting team. Guys like Frank and Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter – all the greats. My autograph book is filled with signatures from a lot of those guys. Ted Williams was manager of the Washington Senators back then and Joe DiMaggio was a coach for the Oakland Athletics. It was really quite spectacular.”
About the work, Rick said, “We worked both games of a doubleheader, but when you’re a kid and love baseball – you don’t really care about the money. You’d do it for free and don’t care about the hours. You’re out there having fun because you love baseball. But I think we got about two dollars an hour pay as a ballboy. Then we’d get tips from the players for doing different things. Now I’d imagine they’re getting at least minimum wage.”
Both Pat and Rick moved into other things during their time with the team. Pat also worked for the Milwaukee Bucks as a ballboy after calling them in the summer of 1969 to ask for an interview. He said, “I knew they were going to draft Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), so I asked how I could get a job as a ball boy. They said, ‘Wow, your timing is amazing – we’re interviewing tomorrow.’”
Meanwhile Rick was promoted to Head Clubhouse Manager in 1971. He recalls, “From 1972-77 I was the Head Equipment Manager. In 1973 I started traveling with the team to Spring Training and did that for five years. I also did various road trips – a few there and there. Back then they were not for money, they were more for fun. Bob Sullivan the Head Equipment Manager was the one to travel with the team during the season. Every once in a while they’d ask me if I wanted to come on a West Coast road trip – so I got to go along to places like Minnesota, Kansas City, and Oakland. They would take me around and I got the chance to see every American League ballpark.”
By the time Pat and Rick left the Brewers, each had the opportunity to see many players come and go, plus attendance at County Stadium become respectable. Early players like Danny Walton, Tommy Harper, Lew Krausse, and Phil Roof gave way to Hank Aaron, Jerry Augustine, Robin Yount, Gorman Thomas, and Bill Travers.
Pat concluded, “It took some of the fans quite a bit of time to warm back up to baseball being in Milwaukee, but I think a lot of those players like Tommy Harper and Danny Walton brought them back. I also think Bud Selig did a great job bringing some of the Braves players back for old timers games, plus when Hank Aaron came back many of the fans that were still mad at baseball came out to the park.”
Rick added, “In 1975-76 I spent time with Hank Aaron. I wound up being basically his right-hand man. Bob Sullivan was the Equipment Manager then and Tommy Ferguson was the Travelling Secretary. They were both my bosses, and told me to take care of Hank and whatever he wanted. So I got to know him pretty well and just catered to him. Of course he was very big in Milwaukee, so I picked him up for speaking events and drove him around as needed. I took care of him in Spring Training too.”
Despite their experiences, both guys eventually made the decision to leave the team. Pat had moved up into a Clubhouse Assistant position after three years with the team until 1976 when he went to medical school. He said, “I had sort of an epiphany when I was an athletic trainer at UW-Milwaukee in college. At that point I had kind of gotten my fill of sports. Pro athletes have plenty of people around them – trainers, a lot of doctors – they’re quite pampered. Nice people, but they aren’t in the underserved part of the population medically. So I felt when I went to medical school there was people who needed medical care a lot more than athletes, and I had worked for them for seven years so I had my fill of locker rooms.”
Rick found himself blocked from potential advancement and had even talked to Pat’s boss Jim Ksicinski (the Visiting Clubhouse Manager), but found out “he was going to be staying there pretty much forever.” Then Rick talked to his boss Bob Sullivan and he said about the same thing – he wasn’t going to be giving up the job.
Rick commented, “I didn’t really want to go anywhere else and try the same thing with another team. My Dad had a construction company and I worked for him part time besides attending UWM. Later I became a real estate broker and a few of the Brewers were into buying and selling property, so I learned a few things from them. I was probably 23-24 years old at the time and my career started moving, plus my family was here, so I stayed put.”
They moved on to successful careers – Pat in medicine and Rick in financial planning. Both still own keepsakes and of course a lot of great memories from their Brewers days.
Rick summed it up like this: “I learned a lot about the game being around those guys. I also realized being around those guys how tough it really is to make it in pro ball. I have a lot of Hank Aaron collectables – he gave me a lot of stuff that I still have today. I have a lot of other things from my time with the team and that memorabilia brings back good memories. I do treasure all those moments and it truly was a great experience.”
Pat said, “There’s a life inside baseball, inside the clubhouse that I think is really special. It was fun to be part of it. There’s kind of an ephemeral experience when you’re a kid. You put on the uniform and you’re in the dugout, making our own pine tar and rosin bags. Then you run out to the on deck circle and you’re standing next to all these great players. There’s Reggie Jackson swinging a bat with a metal ring on it and there you are, just a few feet away from him. You run up and get his bat when he cracks a homer, or high five a Brewer player like Tommy Harper when he hits a homer.”
I wish to thank Pat and Rick for their time and memories – and what I posted today is just the tip of the iceberg. Much of what they told me has been very instrumental in shaping my research for my Brewers book. I know Pat has talked about writing a book about his experiences in previous interviews, and I hope to see it happen someday.