North Lake Sports and the Reign of the Stapletons
by Martin Weber and Joe Daley, 1960
Transcribed by Michael R. Reilly, July 24, 2017 with notes added
In the late twenties and thirties, the line-ups for baseball and basketball were jam-packed with the Stapletons. For many years the basketball team was made up entirely of Stapletons.
The first time that the name Stapleton appeared in the lineup was the baseball team of 1892. Jim was the hard hitting first baseman and Joe played short stop. The battery (a term used to denote the pitcher/catcher combination -ed) was tom Sims, pitching and Bill Smith catching. Fred Funk, Hank Westover, and Jack Stapleton also played on this team. The first team played on the clearing just west of the Kilbourne mansion.
Frank Jackson, a Black man, played with North Lake. He was discovered one afternoon while pitching with Waukesha. He was an easy winner that day. The next time North Lake swamped the Waukesha team. It was after this second game that North Lake negotiated with him and secured his services for five dollars a Sunday.
In a game with Oconomowoc, Jackson charged into the plate from third, his head down, then plowed into their catcher, throwing him ten feet. A row started that almost ended in a riot.
Frank Purtell and Charlie Flynn later formed the battery. Another Stapleton entered the team – Ed. The Stapleton brothers comprised the infield while Jim Ward, Bob Burke, and Bill Flynn made up the outfield.
About 1914, the diamond was located south of Sims in the Charles Peterson field. Peterson charged five dollars a game to play there. The going price for admission was 10 cents for men, with ladies and children admitted free. The average take was $65.
On Joe O’Neil’s wedding day, the North Lake club played in Germantown. The bride made the groom wear his wedding suit, thinking that he would not be able to play. That did not stop him. He tied a red handkerchief around his neck, and played in his long underwear. His accomplishment that day was a home run.
The Stapletons of the next generation followed in their dad’s and uncle’s footsteps. Jim’s family as they appeared in the line-up were Lloyd (Stape), first base; Donald (Spitz), catcher; Woodrow Chuck), second; Neil (Red or Tillie), centerfield; Robert (Hack), infield; Tom, outfield; William (Bill), outfield; Earl (Poncho), pitcher; Edwin (Ed), third base; Winfred (Windy), right field; Austine (Tag), pitcher; and Glenway (Ginny), shortstop.
The battery combination of Poncho and Spitz proved to be a winner. The six year record from ’28 to ’31 and ’34 and ’35 was 63 won and 29 lost. For only one year his strike outs were less than 100 and that was his final year, 1935, when he did his trick 91 times. His top season was 1931 with 166.
Earl was a heavy hitter and helped his cause along. His first year in the league was his lowest batting average, .351. His top year was 1936, when he was batting champion of the league with .481.
It was said, that when Don and Earl formed the battery, the famous signal for the pick-off play was “spit”.
The 17 inning victory over Lannon in 1935 tied the league record.
On Wednesday, June 13, 1935, the famous Milwaukee Journal writer Richard S. Davis, in his column in the Green Sheet, entitled his story, “It Runs in the Family”. This was the Stapleton baseball story.
Another 1935 feature was a double double header. Poncho pitched a twin bill against Genesee, winning 10 to 8 and 7 to 3. The following Sunday, August 4th, he pitched a double win against West Bend, 6 to 2, and 5 to 4.
In 1937, Earl’s brother Tag stepped in from high school and made an excellent start by blanking Cooney 4 to 0, allowing only 3 hits.
The Stapletons were serious players and took each game with the “It must be won” spirit. On occasions, however, the spirit of fun ruled. North Lake never filed a protest according to Martin Weber, league director. They learned well from Charlie Flynn that “you win the ball game on the filed”.
When the team played on the field where the North Lake Lions club trap shoots were held, the fielders went back for fly balls, and the other players nearby signaled the fielder, for the river was the fence!
One particular Sunday, Art Enders was the center fielder. A long fly ball was hit his way. Red was encouraging Art onward, signaling him a clear filed, until Art splashed into the river. [Note: Lannon had a similar problem but instead of a river it was a quarry.]
In 1936, the Land O’ Lakes All Star game was played in the Brewer Park, Milwaukee. Chuck, Red, and Moke Coffey were from the North Lake team. The bases were full, and Red came to bat, and hit a triple with the bases full. Nothing counted, for he forgot to touch first base.
A remarkable feat was that the 1952 grand champs won the last two games away from home defeating the former grand champion Lannon and then East Troy.
The Grand Championship team of the Land O’ Lakes League was spear-headed on by another Stapleton, James (Pete). George Reuteler was manager.
This fete was again accomplished in 1957 with Joe Spicuzza as manager. The pitchers include another Stapleton, Terry, who was Pete’s brother. Again, the key game in the 1957 pennant drive was the team’s victory over Waukesha, which was a heavy favorite.
Jim Smith coming back from service gave the team a big lift along with his three brothers, Johnny, pat, and Austin.
In 1960, every opponent in the league tasted defeat from the North Lake club.