by Troy Sparks
At Clinton Rose Park in Milwaukee’s inner city behind the left field softball fence, you will see a monument of a famous Negro Leaguer who played for the Milwaukee Bears.
He was on the 1923 team, the only year there was a Negro League team here.
If you read the plaque and look seven lines down in the second paragraph, you will know that this famous Negro League player was Joseph Preston “Pete” Hill.
But here’s the problem: That is the wrong name on the plaque, which was dedicated in August 2008. The Milwaukee Historical Society failed to pay attention to detail, or they didn’t bother to double check to see if that was the right name on the plaque. The correct name, according to Ron Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, should be John Preston “Pete” Hill.
“I called the Historical Society, and the first thing they said was, ‘We don’t know how we can change it because we don’t have any money,’ ” said Ron Hill by phone.
Ron Hill probably has never been to Milwaukee. With the help of some family members, he did research and found that John Preston “Pete” Hill was his great uncle.
When it was discovered that John Preston “Pete” Hill’s first name was wrong, Ron Hill got on the phone to try to correct the error.
“At first, the people at the Historical Society were acting kind of stupid, saying, ‘We don’t know where we’re gonna get this money at and blah, blah, blah.’ So I said, ‘Forget about it.’ ”
He made a call to Journal-Sentinel reporter Don Walker, who reported on his blog about the error on the plaque. Hill called Tyler Barnes, the Brewers’ Vice President of Communications and contacted the office of the Milwaukee Community Journal newspaper. Someone from the Brewers office returned Hill’s call, assuring him that if he “gives us a chance, we’ll correct that.”
So who dropped the ball, the Brewers or the Historical Society? I’ll call the kettle black by blaming the Historical Society, since they were responsible for the inscription of every word that went on that plaque.
Look at the other historical markers in our city. I believe that all the information on those markers is correct.
Said Hill, “My only thing was, then why would you have a plaque of a great baseball player that people see all the time?”
There’s no picture on the plaque, but the Historical Society could have added one of John Preston “Pete” Hill so people could see what he looked like. I would think that on an important historical marker, there would be a picture with the text.
Why was the plaque placed at Clinton Rose field? It was near the place where the Bears played their games. Some people were lucky enough to see John Preston “Pete” Hill play the outfield and manage the Bears at Athletic Field (later renamed Borchert Field), which was located a few blocks west between N. 7th and 8th and W. Chambers Sts.
Did Dennis Biddle know about the error on the plaque? If he didn’t before, and if he reads this story, he will know now. Since Biddle is one of the remaining living Negro League legends who live here, he should check it out. After all, he was known as the man who beat the man who beat the man.
By the way, I contacted Barnes by e-mail, and he said that the correction will be made. Hill hopes that the revision will be made and presented on the field before the Brewers’ Negro League Tribute Game on Saturday, July 9, against the Cincinnati Reds. Barnes said that the revision and presentation won’t be tied to that game.
The same mistake was made at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The name Joseph Preston “Pete” Hill was also on that plaque. When the error was addressed, the Hall of Fame immediately corrected it.
John Preston “Pete” Hill was born in Virginia in 1882. Some say that he was born in Pittsburgh, but he wasn’t. In 1899, at age 17, Preston “Pete” Hill began his baseball career with the Pittsburgh Keystones. He later played with the Philadelphia Giants, Lelend Giants, Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars, Milwaukee On three of the teams Preston “Pete” Hill played for, he was their best player.
John Preston Hill adopted the name “Pete” to avoid confusion with an infielder with the same name. He was called one of the most consistent hitters of all time and once hit safely in over 110 straight games.
As Preston “Pete” Hill’s career was winding down, he became a player/manager with the Stars and the Bears. The Bears had trouble scheduling games at Borchert Field because the minor league Milwaukee Brewers had first dibs to the field.
A losing record, money problems, small crowds and lack of newspaper coverage resulted in the Bears splitting up before the end of the 1923 season. He retired from baseball in 1925.
John Preston “Pete” Hill was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 by the Negro Leagues Committee. Ron Hill wants his great uncle, who died in 1951 at age 69, to have a place in our hearts here.
“I want the black folks and white folks from Milwaukee to know who that man was because it’s good for our black humans to see that this man is in the Hall of Fame,” said Ron Hill.
by Troy Sparks