Matthew Killilea

From BR Bullpen

Matthew Robert Killilea

Biographical Information[edit]

Matthew Killilea, the younger brother of Henry Killilea, was the major force in making the Milwaukee Brewers original members of the American League.

Like his brother, Matthew graduated form the University of Wisconsin Law School and soon afterwards, in 1891, joined the law firm in which Henry was a partner. In 1894, he ran for Congress as the Democratic candidate in Wisconsin's 7th District but lost. In 1893, he had been elected of the newly-formed Milwaukee Brewers of the Western League, having been an amateur player in his youth.

The team was in financial difficulty its first couple of years because it had to pay an exorbitant rent for the use of Athletic Park, where it played its home games. In 1895, Killilea remedied this by building another park, named Milwaukee Park. While the team finished under .500 that season, they managed to turn a profit. At the time, he also served on the League's Board of Directors, alongside Ban Johnson, an important position because in those days of frequent franchise movement and leagues going out of business, it was important for a league to ensure it had a sufficient number of financially solid teams to operate. He became sole owner of the club after the 1895 season and was re-elected team president by the new board of directors. He was now in a position to spend money to make the team competitive on the field.

However, in spite of extra spending on player salaries, the Brewers started the 1896 season slowly, leading to the firing of manager Larry Twitchell after 60 games. In 1897 he hired a very talented former catcher named Connie Mack as his manager, leading to a record of 85-50, followed by another winning season in 1898. That November, Killilea was elected to the Wisconsin State Legislature. After a losing season in 1899, Western league President Ban Johnson, counselled by Killilea, took a momentous decision, which was to take on the National League in a direct war. The senior circuit had just contracted four teams, freeing some interesting markets. The first move was to rename the circuit the "American League", to indicate its national ambitions, and to move to place franchises in Cleveland, OH, which had just lost its team, and in Chicago, IL. That was a much bolder move, as the new team would be in direct conflict with the Chicago Colts (the future Cubs) of the NL.

The new Chicago team, led by Charles Comiskey, a close friend of Killilea and Johnson, won the inaugural American League pennant in 1900, but Milwaukee finished second. After the season, the American League declared itself a major league. Connie Mack left the team to become owner/manager of the new Philadelphia Athletics franchise, and he was replaced by NL hitting star Hugh Duffy. Milwaukee was thus a major league city in 1901, but they finished in last place in the AL with a record of 48-89, and attendance was poor. After the season, the franchise was transferred to St. Louis, MO where the became the St. Louis Browns. This was Johnson's plan all along, but he had been convinced by Killilea to keep the team in Milwaukee in 1901; however, that season had demonstrated that the city was still too small and outlying to support a major league team. Killilea had protested that he wanted to keep the franchise in town in spite of these disadvantages, but he became ill towards the end of the season, sapping his fighting spirit.

After the franchise's transfer to St. Louis in December 1901, Killilea was still its owner, but as health failed to improve, he sold the team to local owners in January. But that was not the end of the game for Matthew. Soon after, he joined forces with his brother Henry to purchase the Boston franchise in the league from Charles Somers, who also owned the Cleveland club. However, by then, Matthew was too ill to take an active part in club affairs. He died of tuberculosis a few months later at his country home, just months after the birth of his niece, Florence Killilea, who would also one day own the Brewers. He was only 40 years old.

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