The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What happened?

Twenty years ago, ground was being broken at the corner of North Fourth and West State Streets in downtown Milwaukee on a building that was supposed to make the future of sports in the city bright.

The Bradley Center was essentially donated to the city by Lloyd Pettit and his wife, Jane Bradley-Pettit, for the purpose of keeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the city. However, there was an additional purpose, one that was unstated but overwhelmingly obvious when you considered the layout of the arena.

The place was built to be the home of an NHL hockey team.

Twenty years later, it seems almost absurd that anyone thought the NHL could actually make it to Milwaukee and succeed. But, at the time, it looked like everything was in place for it to happen.

In doing some research on other topics, I came across the whole series of articles from the Milwaukee Journal about the attempts of Admirals owner Lloyd Pettit to secure a team. I was surprised at some of the things that were done and said, and actually saw the reasons why there is no team from Milwaukee in the NHL right now.

The first reason is simple, and is the one most obviously talked about having changed the NHL in the 1990's: Wayne Gretzky's trade in August of 1988 to the Los Angeles Kings. The decision to put the greatest player in the NHL in a "non-traditional" hockey market made the decision to do so in other markets - Tampa, Miami, Atlanta, Raleigh, Nashville - that much easier. If the Great One goes anywhere other than LA - New York, for example - there's no impetus to put teams in the Southern US.

In 1990, though, when the winds of expansion were starting to blow in the NHL, the "rebirth" of hockey in SoCal had yet to happen. Howard Baldwin was pushing to get an expansion team in the Bay Area, concentrating mostly on a new Oakland Coliseum arena (which never happened, by the way). Meanwhile, up the ways a bit on I-94 in Bloomington, Minnesota, the Gund brothers were tearing their hair out over their lousy arena deal at the Met Center. They were bleeding money, and wanted out of the "state of hockey" as soon as possible.

The NHL, though, didn't want the North Stars to move and leave Minnesota without a team. So, in a very sly bit of negotiation, the Gunds convinced Baldwin, the former owner of the Hartford Whalers, that he'd be able to get a hockey team in a stable market if he took the Stars off their hands. The Gunds could then walk into the untested Northern California market and be the "guinea pig" of the NHL. Of course, the Gunds probably already knew about the deal for a new arena in San Jose, which ended up putting them square in the middle of Silicon Valley. Baldwin didn't know about Silicon Valley, though, and decided to make the trade - the Bay Area expansion team (which would eventually be known as the San Jose Sharks) for the Minnesota North Stars (which would eventually move to Dallas).

That "trade", by itself, didn't have an effect on Milwaukee getting a team, though. It was what happened after the "trade" was announced in May of 1990 that threw the chances awry. John Ziegler and the NHL announced that the Sharks would get to choose half of the players in the Stars system, while the Stars would keep the rest; both teams would then get to choose players provided from the rest of the NHL's rosters in an expansion draft.

When you think of it, that is one heck of a sweetheart setup. The Sharks get to choose the best prospects from the Stars organization, and some of their best players, and then they get to choose some castoffs from other teams in the league. What made this bad for Milwaukee was the knowledge that any future NHL expansion teams would get only half this deal - the castoffs from other teams.

After Lloyd Pettit went to New York in late September of 1990, and realized the NHL was dead set on putting a team in Florida, he realized that he'd be losing money hand-over-fist for the next several years. Jane realized that, too - and they decided together in early October not to pursue an expansion team.

There was some hope after that that the city could convince an existing team to move to Milwaukee, but that went out the window after the NHL saw the money that Compuware's Jim Rutherford and the Blockbuster/trash baron Wayne Huizenga were willing to throw around. And, of course, there was that silly movie that Disney made about hockey that got the company's CEO, Mike Eisner, all excited about putting a hockey team in Anaheim.

The final nail in the coffin of the hopes of an NHL team in the Brew City came from an unexpected source: the very league for which the Pettits' team was playing. The International Hockey League made a statement of sorts when they decided to put teams in the NHL's back yards - literally. The Chicago Wolves' inaugural season in 1994, along with the IHL's proclamation that they would try to expand every year through 2000, got new NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors upset.

That was when the NHL decided to gradually put the IHL out of business by requiring teams with IHL affiliates to consider placing their players with AHL teams - or in traditional AHL markets (read: the Northeastern US). And, as Lloyd Pettit was a staunch supporter of the IHL, the Admirals were destined to go down with the ship - which is what happened in June of 2001.

It's strange, now that we look back: Milwaukee isn't considered a "hockey town", the IHL overexpanded and was hurt by the NHL's expansions, and the Admirals - now in a different league under different ownership - are a minor-league affiliate of a team based in Dixie.

So much can change in twenty years. This is simply proof.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Deconstructing The Admirals New Logo (and Uniform)

It's been a few months now since the Admirals have unleashed their new uniforms on the public (and I'm still waiting for my customized jersey that I ordered). Now that we're past the knee-jerk reactions to the logo and uniform – most of them negative, of course – I figure it's time for a good long look at the combination, and do an honest critique of the whole ensemble.

First of all, there is an obvious method to the madness that is the logo change. The last time the Admirals changed ownership (when the Petits bought the team in the 1970's) was when the skatin' sailor design first came into being. When the logo was updated in 1998, it was a changing of the guard from the IHL independent team to the primary affiliate of the Predators. It wasn't surprising that the new ownership would want to put their own "stamp" on the team with a new logo.

Secondly, there's the color scheme. There is definitely nothing wrong with the black, white, grey and light blue color scheme. In fact, it's about time that the Admirals incorporated a water-like blue into their logo, and the use of grey brings out the image of a battleship. Black and white are basic as color schemes, but the other colors add to them.

Thirdly is the uniforms themselves. The design has a bit of a throwback to the 1980's, when teams like the Maple Leafs and Kings experimented with a solid stripe down the shoulders. The lettering and numbering have a "retro-modern" look to them; the font Techno (sadly, a Macintosh-only font) gives the uniforms that right combination of utility and elegance.

Unfortunately, that's where the problems start. It looks essentially like the team reversed the appropriate color schemes for the numbers on the shoulders and on the backs. The larger numbers should have been black with the light-blue outlines, which would have shown up on both the white and gray uniforms quite nicely. The smaller numbers should have been the light blue with either a white outline or a light gray outline. Anyone who has seen a game this year at the BC can tell you it's practically impossible to determine who's who when you're looking at them from the front.

The color scheme of the numbers make the vertical shoulder stripes look bad, unfortunately. You see the skeleton anchors on the shoulders, but not the numbers. In the long run, it's more important to know who's who on the ice instead of what team they're on. The only conclusion you can come to is that whoever decided on the black numbers with a light blue outline was not thinking.

And then there's the logo. No matter how hard they try to obfuscate and dodge and weave around it, the truth remains that it can be described in one word: pirates. They can foist the story of the "original logo" on the masses as much as they want – though it appears they've given this up, if a recent home game is any indication. When all is said and done, the logo looks like a skull with a sailor's cap, which to the casual observer looks like a pirate. The black and white colors of the uniforms just reinforce this notion.

So, short of ditching the whole thing and starting over – which is unlikely, since logos need to be out for at least four years or so to make any sort of money – is there anything the team can do to improve on things? The first thing that comes to mind is making the most obvious change of all: the numbers on the shoulders. Get the company making them to switch to either blue or white swatches, and go from there. Next thing would be to do the reverse for the numbers on the back – make them all-black, or black with the light-blue trim.

Here's some examples of what I'm talking about:

If the Admirals want to draw attention from the negative reaction to the skull logo, perhaps they should try putting the entire figure on a "third" jersey. Instead of grey or white, make it the light-blue color scheme, and put black numbering on the back with white numbers on the shoulders. That would not only make for a nicer jersey, it'd increase sales of team merchandise – since everyone would want one of these "alternates".

An example of this third jersey:
Free Image Hosting at

I don't think that Harris Turer and the rest of the new management group of the Admirals understand is that there was an attachment to the old "skatin' sailor" logo. It's somewhat ironic, since the team wears the old Brewers logo on their front shoulders – a logo that was around for about as long as the sailor, and was as popular among baseball fans as the sailor is to hockey fans in the area. Ideally, in a year or two, the Ads might toy with bringing the "adult" sailor back, using the same color scheme as today. It could be done and explained very nicely – the "meaner" look of the colors and of the haggard sailor.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Martin Mathias Secor


Businessman, Democrat, Freethinker
and Friend to the Working Class

PHOTO: Martin M. Secor (right), sitting next to then-mayor Alex Horlick, prior to a parade in Racine in 1909. (Photo from Burckel, 1977)

Martin M. Secor was a two-term mayor of the city of Racine, Wisconsin during the late 19th century, at a time when the city was beginning to grow as a manufacturing hub. Secor, born as Matej Zika in Strakonice, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in February of 1841, came to the United States with his parents, Mathias (1807-1897) and Josephine (1813-1889), around 1851. His family consisted of his younger brother, Peter (born in 1850, before they came to the US), and his sister, Theresa (who married a man named Delamont).

Secor and his family settled in the lakefront city of Racine, where he took up the harness making business. In the 1850's, he married Frances H. "Fanny" Hayek, who was the sister of a friend and business partner. In 1861, Secor and the Hayeks (Joseph and Anthony) started the Northwestern Trunk and Traveling Bag Manufactory, producing distinct wall trunks for use while traveling great distances. The trunks had a distinct "hip roof" style, similar to the barns you would see in rural Wisconsin.

In 1877, the company's name was changed to M.M. Secor & Company, but within a year Secor regained sole proprietorship of the business, known now as Secor Trunk.

Secor was a tall, well built man, with a "six-foot frame and booming voice." His homesite at 1014 Milwaukee Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) was called by him the "Park of China Asters", with an extensive flower and vegetable garden, an orchard, a vineyard, and a private zoo. According to reports, he maintained a monkey, two bears, six deer, seven peacocks, several parrots, mockingbirds, a coyote, rabbits and a goat. The grounds had flower-lined walkways, two conservatories and a five-basin water fountain with goldfish.

The home was large enough that Secor would allow immigrants who had just arrived from Bohemia to live there, hiring them to work in his factory. The legend is that immigrants getting off the boat from Europe would ask, "Where's Secor? I want a job."

Before taking them in, though, Secor would have them bathe at the Medical Baths in the Bohemian National Bank (known also as the Bohemian Workingman's Building and Loan Association) building at 245 Main Street. The bank was started, according to Buenker in his chapter titled "The Immigrant Heritage" in Racine: Growth and change in a Wisconsin county (1977, Burckel ed.), due to the reluctance of banks to loan money to immigrants.

Once they were cleaned up and in his employ, they would work for Secor Trunk, helping to produce over 80,000 trunks and 9,000 satchels a year.

Secor was a noted Freethinker, rejecting organized religion that tried to impose moral views on others. Secor was part of a liberal intellectual group from Bohemia that included Karel Jonas. Secor took up the political cause in the 1880's, mostly over the issues of street paving and improved sewers for the city. The three main streets in the city – State, Main and Washington – were alleged to be nothing more than mudholes and in worse shape than many country roads, according to Murin (1977). The issue turned into a classic industry-versus-the-working-class battle, with Secor taking the working class side as a Democrat. Secor lost his first run for the mayor's office in 1883 by about 250 votes to Titus G. Fish, but easily won the following year by a slightly smaller margin over Republican challenger G.A. Rickeman.

When a tornado killed many in 1883, Secor paid for the funerals of many poor and indigent people in the city, even allowing services to be performed in his home. Secor also provided vegetables from his gardens to the local hospitals in the city.

Mayorial terms did not last longer than one year until 1891, so Secor did not remain on the job beyond his first term. However, his first term did see the paving of streets in the city, including the streets in front of his factory and his house.

Secor was very vocal in his opinions about the Temperance movement – and about wild dogs that had attacked and killed some of the exotic pets he kept at his estate. He actually threatened in print to shoot all of the dogs in the city's Fifth Ward (near his home) after a pack of animals killed seven peacocks belonging to him.

His controversial and eccentric nature led to an unusal instance of an assassination attempt while he was mayor. A bomb was placed under his carriage, but it did not detonate. The would-be assassin was intent on starting a rival trunk company, explaining the motive to some extent.

Secor survived the attempt and ran for mayor again in 1888. His stand against the Temperance movement helped him defeat Republican challenger J.G. Meachem, Jr. and Prohibition candidate J.P. Corse. Secor was insistent that prohibition and temperance against beer and alcohol was bad for the city, causing hundreds of thousands of lost revenues from licensing for the city. His stand had him pegged by some as a drunkard – an accusation levelled at him by the mayor of Chicago, whom he successfully sued for libel.

Secor continued to run his business and stay active in politics after his second term, printing broadsides (pamphlets) about various topics such as the hypocritical "bible-thumpers" that said one thing in the pulpit and another in practice.

Secor ran for mayor again in 1895, but lost to Republican David G. Janes by over 350 votes. The see-sawing between the pro-business GOP and the working-class Democrats would be evident for most of the rest of the years prior to World War I. In a bit of irony, most of the city block where Secor's home and gardens were located were bought by the city and converted to a school building – named for Janes.

Secor did have one indirect but lasting effect on the city of Racine, as the building where his Turkish baths and Bohemian National Bank were housed became the home of the first public library in the city in 1897. Seven years later, a new library building was constructed at the corner of Seventh and main, now the home to the Racine County Historical Museum.

Secor's final bid for mayor was in 1907, as he turned 68 years of age. His opponent was Alex J. Horlick, son of the malted milk manufacturer William H. Horlick. By 1907, Secor was seen as someone who was less desireable as a leader and more of an eccentric character. He lost the election by 472 votes to Horlick.

Also by this time, Secor's trunk company was facing competition from several other firms in the city. There were actually five companies making trunks and valises in the city in 1900, according to U.S. Census figures.

In July of 1909, there was a reunion of sorts of the various men who were, at one time, mayors of the city of Racine. Secor was part of the parade honoring the men, wearing a tall silk hat, a fresh flower in his label and a periwinkle blue silk vest.

Secor died in January of 1911, and even in death he remained controversial. A large $2,500 granite monument was placed over his gravesite, engraved with the following inscription:




When the monument was erected, some of the "bible thumpers" of the city sought to have it removed. The city council actually voted on the issue, and chose to keep the monument as it is.

Secor's home remained a boarding house of sorts for many years, becoming in recent years a shelter for the homeless. The Homeward Bound program was centered in the old house, providing services as a women's shelter.

In 2005, HALO announced that they were moving the Homeward Bound project to an old warehouse elsewhere in the city, and that the old Secor residence would be razed. Though there was some complaint about the decision, the size and age of the facility made it a simple decision.

Over a century and a half after his arrival in the city, M.M. Secor's only lasting legacy is his monument in Mound Cemetery, where his family is laid to rest in the shadow of his controversial monument.

The story of M.M. Secor is not just a historical footnote to the city of Racine – at least not to the author. Secor's brother, Peter, not only worked alongside him at his trunk factory but raised his own family in Racine. His oldest daughter, Antoinette, was a beautiful young lady who charmed the heart of one Joseph M. Mertens, son of a German immigrant who had settled on the banks of the Root River just to the northwest of the city proper. The two were married in 1905, and had a son in May of 1906.

It's not known if Martin Secor ever saw or held his niece's son, nor is it known if he attended her wedding. It is not likely, since they were married at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Racine, and Martin's world view did not jibe with that of the Papal supporters. It is also unknown if he attended her funeral in December of 1909 – approximately one year before his own passing in 1911.

His niece's oldest son, also named Joseph, would move on to have his own family, meeting a lovely petite lady named Harriet James in 1933 and marrying her a year later. They had two daughters, one in 1936 and one in 1938. The youngest, Maryann, had a series of health problems, stemming from congenital heart disease that caused her to have a heart attack at 22 months of age.

Though she was never completely healthy, she managed to live to see her high school graduation and a career as a school teacher. In her college studies, she met up with a young man who was seeking a teaching degree of his own at Dominican College in Racine. They were married in 1963, and after having their first child die stillborn a year later, they finally had a son in October of 1967.

That son, named for his grandfather, did not know about his famous ancestor until recently. However, he has made up for lost time by writing this brief biography of the man.


–––. "Family Businesses". Chapter in The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties. Chicago, 1879: unknown publisher.

–––. Racine Walking Tour Guide. Pamphlet, published 1994; article submitted by Deborah Crowell.

Brettuns Village Trunk Shop website.

Buenker, John D. "The Immigrant Heritage". Chapter in Burckel, Nicholas C. (ed.). Racine: Growth and change in a Wisconsin county. Racine, 1977: Racine County Board of Supervisors.

Keehn, Richard H. "Industry and Business". Chapter in Burckel, Nicholas C. (ed.). Racine: Growth and change in a Wisconsin county. Racine, 1977: Racine County Board of Supervisors.

Murin, William J. "Politics and Government 1836-1920". Chapter in Burckel, Nicholas C. (ed.). Racine: Growth and change in a Wisconsin county. Racine, 1977: Racine County Board of Supervisors.

Reeves, Thomas C. "Education and Culture". Chapter in Burckel, Nicholas C. (ed.). Racine: Growth and change in a Wisconsin county. Racine, 1977: Racine County Board of Supervisors.

Sides, Phyllis. "Woman's wish to join family members granted in death". Racine Journal-Times, June 7, 2005.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Day and Sports

Election Day in the US is very much like the Super Bowl in pro football. It's the day when the game of politics determines its ultimate winners and losers, and no one (usually) disputes the final score. But it's actually more like a few other major sporting events than that. In fact, you can find similarities between American elections and several other major sport championships.

The most obvious is the Olympic games, especially in the two major areas that are similar to politics: intervals between their occurrence and number of contests to be won. In a way, the Olympics are an even better metaphor, because the competitor usually has to qualify by winning an Olympic time trial or pre-tournament, just to get to the games themselves.

The game of politics and lawmaking, however, has similarities to other sports. The actual day-in, day-out drudgery of legislation is a lot like baseball – a long season, a lot of winning and losing streaks, coupled with some individual bad moments that can have a lingering effect on the final result. The politician is a lot like the NBA, where a relatively small group of people play a very strange game for what they perceive is a majority of the people. Most of it, though, is made-up glamour and self importance.

The electorate is even similar to a major sport: hockey. Every so often, there's a lot of people who actually care about what is going on to go and vote – but not as many as those who don't. It also tends to be regionally skewed, one way or another – like higher voter turnouts in particular parts of a state or even the entire country.

In the end, the game is a difficult one to master – somewhat like hockey. It can be physically demanding, like football. It can also be a long, drawn out process – like baseball. I won't go into the "special abilities" similarity to basketball, because that's too easy of a shot.

The sports analogy helps a bit when your "side" is defeated soundly in an election, as you realize that there's always another contest coming up in the next few years. And, the party that lost the previous election has plenty of time to poke holes in the performance of the other side by the next election.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

New Month, New Views

No, I didn't fall off the end of the world. I just haven't been around enough to blog.

A few things to ponder and whine about: