Milwaukee Brewers fans and residents of Wisconsin in general are no doubt familiar with the cartoon Beer Barrel Man, who became an official symbol of the modern Brewers when the franchise arrived in town in 1970. The new, major league Brewers of that time needed some branding, a logo, something to represent the team and connect with locals. That’s when Bud Selig reached back for a familiar and beloved character from the mythology and reality of Milwaukee’s past. Owgust (pronounced Awgoost), the Barrel Man, was a major component of the marketing and logos of the American Association Milwaukee Brewers, starting in the early 1940s.
A character of an anthropomorphic beer barrel appeared many decades earlier, however, around 1901, in anticipation of the arrival of those Brewers. The Barrel Man is a very pure symbol for Milwaukee baseball; he embodies a powerhouse industry and drinking tradition in the city, and combines that with the fighting spirit and athleticism of a baseball player. The images of the Barrel Man and even Barrel Men riding a keg are familiar and still present on fans’ gear and on memorabilia today. I have a hat of the latter scene, which is available at Miller Park and online. But the history of Owgust (whether you prefer to call him that or not is up to you, but I like it) is really quite fascinating and the many different representations of the character are incredible.
The original representations of the Barrel Man were very jokey (click the link above to see where his spigot is; it almost resembles this), but in the 1940s the Barrel Man became a truly versatile character, shown playing all around the diamond and appearing like a super hero in many images. He’s shown fielding the ball, hacking at pitches or following through on a hard-hit ball, running the bases, and even delivering presents as Santa Claus. Chance Michaels of BorchertField.com has gathered some awesome photos of some 1940s promotional materials featuring Owgust, including a program, schedule and ticket stubs.
The American Association Brewers played in town from 1902-1952; in 1953 the Braves arrived from Boston and displaced them. The very successful AA Brewers played at Borchert Field, located near the intersection of I-43 and Locust Street. Borchert was the site of a lot of great baseball and baseball history, and was where the team that’s now the major league Baltimore Orioles played before it was moved to St. Louis and became the Browns. Borchert Field also hosted the first Milwaukee game for the Green Bay Packers, as well as games of the NFL Milwaukee Badgers and Negro League Milwaukee Bears. The Barrel Man was a key figure in the AA Brewers’ public identity, but when the Braves took over the newly built Milwaukee County Stadium, the Barrel Man no longer had a place in Milwaukee baseball because the Brewers team moved to Toledo, Ohio. The AA Brewers’ name changed upon their move to Ohio, but they continued to be a farm club for the major league Braves in the ensuing years, spanning many different cities.
When Bud Selig formed a group to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left, he brought in the old Owgust logo and the name of the team he had grown up watching at Borchert Field. In fact, the Barrel Man was used for a new, major league Milwaukee Brewers franchise before the team even existed. When Selig was successful in moving the one-and-done Seattle Pilots to Brew City, the haste in which they were moved prevented them from adopting the traditional red and blue colors of the AA Brewers. So, they assumed the Pilots’ blue and gold colors now firmly associated with the major league Brewers. Owgust had graduated to the major leagues. His barrel became gold, and he was the primary logo for the Brewers from 1970-77. Oddly enough, the Barrel Man wasn’t really featured on the team’s uniforms. They wore the block ‘M’ that the AA Brewers and Milwaukee Braves had, only it was gold instead of blue or white. The Barrel Man was featured on the ‘Turn Ahead the Clock’ uniforms in 1999, to decidedly mixed effect. Owgust was also on the hats for those ‘futuristic’ uniforms, and to me, the cap is pretty cool; it’s much better than the jersey.
Hopefully the Barrel Man will be welcomed back into greater prominence in the future for the Brewers. They gave away a superb bobblehead of the character in 2008, and that was one gracious bobble giveaway I made sure to be present to accept. The Milwaukee Admirals also played with the Barrel Man concept, and the Brewers’ 40th-anniversary logo was reminiscent of the Barrel Man. With the dominance of the ball-and-glove logo (sure, the team wore that during their ‘golden’ years) and the new style (more success), the Barrel Man gets lost in the mix somewhat. But surely he’s far superior to the 1990s Brewers logos, and there’s something about the character that is so homemade and likeable; plus, he brings all that history of Milwaukee’s AA Brewers along with him. I’d like to see the team put Owgust on the sleeve of the uniforms, instead of the rather blotchy new-style ‘M’ logo covering the image of the state of Wisconsin. I like that state logo, but I prefer the older versions that weren’t so robust. Perhaps the Barrel Man could occupy the other sleeve, or something….anything. The Barrel Man deserves respect and homage as a true original.
Sources and Shout-outs: Chance Michaels, BorchertField.com, http://ericapp.weebly.com/barrel-man.html, http://www.angelfire.com/blues/new_yorker/beerbarrelman_history.html, Wikipedia