Algoma Penguins baseball, 1957 nostalgia featured in new book
ALGOMA – Dennis Sell's new book is about more than just Algoma Penguins baseball. It's also a nostalgic look back at a momentous year in our state and country, as well as in rural Kewaunee County.
How momentous? It also covers the county's first commercially-available pizza.
The bulk of "Remembering Butch, Bruiser, Biney, Eddie, and the Rest of the 1957 Algoma Penguins and a Look Back at That Magical Year," however, is a history of the players and games of that year's team, which advanced to its league championship game.
Released this summer and covering almost 200 pages, the book's nine chapters, or nine "innings," include a look at preseason expectations for the "'57 'Guins" with stories on the origins of players' nicknames, recaps and box scores from each game that season, and a "Where Are They Now?" on each player.
But Sell also includes chapters on noteworthy events of 1957, with one chapter devoted to Algoma, one to Wisconsin and one to the nation. Another chapter covers Sell's memories of that summer as a 7-year-old local sports fan, and the final chapter features photos of Algoma from the 1950s.
The dovetailing of Sell's memories of 1957 with the newsworthy year it turned out to be wasn't in Sell's plan — rather something of a happy coincidence.
Sell was planning to write a book covering the first 100 years of Algoma's city baseball team. It would follow his first book, "The Glory Days of Algoma High School Boys' Basketball (1948-1968)," published in 2016.
But when his research on the Penguins brought Sell to '57, it stirred special memories.
"When I got to 1957, that was the first year my dad began taking me to the games," Sell said. "I was seven years old … My primary focus (for the book) is on my memories of going to those games. I think when you're seven years old, that's when your memories first become strong."
The nostalgia angle mattered to Sell. The Algoma native left for a college education at Marquette University in Milwaukee, then worked for several banks over 25 years and for 13 years as comptroller for United Way of Milwaukee before retiring in 2014. But although he was in Milwaukee, he didn't forget where he came from.
"Shortly before I retired, I became nostalgic for Algoma," Sell said. "Growing up, I was lucky to be there during the Baby Boom years. There were so many activities."
And the basketball book wasn't Sell's first writing effort. One of his summers while at Marquette was spent helping in the newsroom at the Algoma Record-Herald, and he since has written articles for the Marquette Tribune, the school newspaper, and the Milwaukee Brewers yearbook.
"Of all the summer jobs I had, that was the best one," Sell said. "I found that I enjoyed writing."
For Sell, there was a lot about 1957 to be nostalgic about. Nationally and around the world, the space race was getting underway and "American Bandstand" went from a local TV show in Philadelphia to a national broadcast with new host Dick Clark. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement in America was beginning to gain momentum and national attention.
Across Wisconsin, Ed Gein of Plainfield was arrested that year for his still-horrific crimes, and a three-time loser in the gubernatorial race sprung an upset in a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Joseph McCarthy; William Proxmire would go on to win re-election five times, serving a total of more than 31 years.
And in state sports, the Milwaukee Braves won their first World Series and the Green Bay Packers opened a brand-new stadium, now called Lambeau Field.
As for the pizza, that happened at Drab's Tavern in Kewaunee, turning it into Drab's Tavern and Pizza House.
"It was a very interesting year," Sell said.
Of course, the memories aren't all viewed through rose-colored glasses, and a few less-happy events are included among Sell's recollections.
Sell said he included the non-Penguins news to add to the nostalgia for the period.
"I guess it's more a case of context," Sell said. "From 1930 to 1957, there were only nine years we were free from war or economic hardship. I point out that the '50s are fondly recalled as a good time."
Also noteworthy about 1957 is that year's Penguins played in what was a new league for them, the 11-team Northeastern Wisconsin Cherry Baseball Association. That lasted all of one season.
They'd previously been in the Cherry League, but four of its teams (Algoma, Kewaunee, Casco, Kolberg) merged with six Green Bay-area teams in the Northeastern Wisconsin League and Morrison from the Manitowoc County League.
Algoma won the first half of the season and finished with a 17-6 record but lost to second-half titlist Duck Creek in the championship game, the circumstances of which caused Penguins general manager Edgar Nell to bring his team back to the Cherry League the next year.
"The championship game wasn't played until late September," Sell said. "Because of that, a number of key Algoma players had gone to college and couldn't return for the championship. Nell was so upset, he went back to the Cherry League in '58."
Sell said he thought it would be interesting to include information on how the players earned their old-school nicknames, such as "Bruiser." That was attached to Vernon Sibilsky, 4-foot-11 and 95 pounds as a high school senior, who ran onto the football field for practice in over-sized gear and had another player ironically yell, "Who's that big bruiser?" at him.
Like Sell's basketball book, this one was also published by HenschelHAUS Publishing in Milwaukee and is available through its website, although Sell said he can help people obtain a copy as well. He admitted he doesn't expect big sales but hopes those who want to learn more about or relive community baseball, the '50s or Algoma history will find something of interest.
"When I did the books, it wasn't to make money," Sell said. "I joke that some people spend their retirement money on vacations, I spend mine writing books … Hopefully, it will evoke memories of happy times. For people interested in local history, I hope it will evoke memories, too."
"I had so much fun working on both books."
"Remembering Butch, Bruiser, Biney, Eddie, and the Rest of the 1957 Algoma Penguins and a Look Back at That Magical Year" by Dennis Sell is available by visiting henschelhausbooks.com, clicking on the "Our Authors" tab and searching for Dennis Sell. Cost is $34.95. Those uncomfortable with online shopping also can call the author at 414-258-7931.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Algoma Penguins baseball, 1957 nostalgia featured in new book