Fan, Family Man, Friend, Husband, Historian, Clubhouse Man, Food Connoisseur, Patriot, and Collector. Bill Topitzes was not defined by any one facet of his life’s passions, if you knew him; you realized that all of the above interests combined made him the man he was. Although we spoke of his many hobbies, his family was the most important thing in his life. Not one discussion went by without him mentioning his wife, daughter, son, grandkids or extended family.
Because of the love for his collection, I had the privilege to meet and get to know Bill Topitzes on a professional level. Because of his passion for life, I was able to make a friend. His personal collection was an assemblage of mementos that were directly related to Bill’s experiences in professional baseball. The programs, tickets, and letters were a reflection and time capsule of the players and the era and offered a very personal insight to the men that built the game we love today.
Bill was very proud of his Greek heritage and was a lifetime supporter of the local Orthodox Church. Not everybody knew his real name, as he was commonly referred to as “The Greek”. It was a nickname he was quite proud of. He told me stories about his ethnic family and growing up in Milwaukee.
As much as he loved baseball, he felt it was his duty to serve in the Army during the Korean War. After a 13 year career as a clubhouse attendant, Bill joined the Army in 1954, leaving his prestigious job after the inaugural season of the Milwaukee Braves (1953). His sense of duty was greater than his love of baseball. He also found that when he returned from the Army, his position with the club was filled and he never worked in professional baseball again.
He never dwelled on that, but instead, entered college on the G.I. Bill and earned his degree. Many of his baseball friends extolled the virtue of a college education in the letters they sent Bill. Out of respect, he took their advice. With the security of a new career, he married his sweetheart Maggie and soon started the family he adored.
When not working, Bill was a voracious reader and subscribed to numerous magazines, publications, and built a very large personal library of reference books that dealt with the hobby and many other subjects.
No matter the discussion- politics, cuisine, world history, local news, sports, or family, Bill was well versed and enjoyed a good conversation. Bill also loved to eat. He could not have been any taller than 5’6”, but he ate as much as a giant, and loved his food.
It has been an ongoing tradition for several local collectors to meet at the MEARS Museum on the night of the auction close. MEARS supplied beverages, appetizers, and lunch to those in attendance. At nearly 80 years old, Bill would show up 11:00 PM and stay until the 2:00 AM auction close. Over a three year period, he may have only missed 3 auction night closes.
His main job was to keep me company, but he would scour every lot and bid on items that had a local Milwaukee flavor or be associated with a player that he befriended. During those final hours of the auction, it was almost traditional to watch Bill help himself to 3 full plates of food. He was an eating machine. His stories about the items and the players were truly educational, and I learned much from Bill’s experience.
On August 28th, 2013, Milwaukee Collector extraordinaire, Bill Topitzes passed away at the age of 80.
Bill’s collection started in 1940, while he was a clubhouse attendant for the AAA Milwaukee Brewers who played at Borchert Field. In a trend that continued for the next 70 years, Bill saved dugout cards, bats, programs, scorecards, autographs, and cards.
Bill’s card collection was compiled the old fashioned way – card by card, one at a time. The collection was neatly organized numerically, each set housed in a binder, many with the early 8-9 pocket sheets that were first sold in the 1970s. The overall condition was nice, averaging EX in most cases. Many of the sets were completed, but others still had holes to fill. Since Bill never stopped collecting, he continued to work on his collection to the very end. The missing cards also showed that the hobby he loved was not an obsession, and while enjoying other facets of life, his collection could wait.
His team signed baseball collection serves as a time stamp of his life in baseball. Minor league teams such as the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Paul Saints, and Toledo Mudhens were all obtained during his clubhouse career during the 1940s. It was interesting to note that each ball was signed on the official minor league baseball of the league, carefully collected by Bill as tips for a clubhouse job well done.
A fan of statistics, Bill personally wrote to most major league clubs and requested the recent program or media guide. A subscription of team newsletters kept him connected to the big leagues. Yearbooks were gathered from the 1940s to present day.
While working for the Milwaukee Brewers during the 1948 season, Bill began building relationships that would help develop his growing collection. One example was the letter on Cleveland Indians Official team stationary which read,
I have received your letter of June 21, and I was indeed happy to hear from you again. Your fine comments about the team are appreciated and what you say about Feller is so true—everybody has a slump once in a while. Many thanks, and with all good wishes to you and luck to your Legion team, I am,
Very truly yours,
As part of the collection, a series of letters between the two Bills (Veeck and Topitzes) are included. One from Veeck was thanking Bill for the purchase of the team photos that are part of the upcoming MEARS Auction and feature Hank Greenberg, Satchel Paige, and Bob Feller.
With a 12 year minor league career as a clubhouse employee, often working with the visiting team, Bill Topitzes nurtured many lasting relationships. One special player that touched Bill’s life was Babe Martin. Born Boris Michael Martinovich, the Serbian immigrant bonded with the Greek clubhouse kid while Martin played in the AAA with the Toledo Mudhens. With Greek and Serbian cuisine being quite similar, it was most likely food that created this lifelong bond.
In 1944 with the Toledo Mud Hens, Babe Martin batted .350 in 114 games. The following season, he joined the major league Browns. He hit poorly and was sent back down to the minors. Martin retired in 1954. In 69 major league games, he had 2 home runs, 18 RBI, and a .214 batting average.
In later years, Martin still held a grudge against one-armed outfielder Pete Gray, who was a teammate in 1945. “The worst thing that happened to our ballclub in 1945, which we should have won the pennant, was Pete Gray,” he said. “And honestly I think if we hadn’t had Pete … we could have won the pennant in 1945.” Although Martin’s batting average that season was actually 18 points lower than Gray’s, Martin was referring to Pete Gray’s fielding ability. Because Gray only had one arm, his throws back into the infield were slowed because he had to remove his glove from his one hand, get the ball, and throw into the infield. This slowed him down and allowed runners to advance more easily than they otherwise would have.
Bill saved a letter from Babe Martin. On plain white paper meticulously hand written, Babe Martin wrote:
So very sorry for my delay in writing to you but have been quite busy prepping for the coming season. As you probably know Bill this is a big year for me one way or another & I must be on my toes from here on out.
I sincerely believe that this is the finest break I have gotten since I entered professional baseball and I fully intend to make the best of it.
As you know from your knowledge of baseball Bill the Boston Red Sox are a very fine team and I myself believe they are the greatest and finest in either league. I signed my contract in Boston, four weeks ago this past Monday and Mr. Joe Cronin treated me as though I were a member of the Red Sox for the last 10 years instead of just a member first coming up. It made me feel as though I were one of the fellows on the team & Bill believe me that was the warmest welcome I have ever received & I will never forget it. Well little Bill so much for myself.
Awfully sorry to hear about your broken hand Bill but I’m sure that it isn’t going to discourage your interest in sports. You are a wonderful little athlete and I’m looking forward to see you as a big man in the world of sports. One more thing I would like to point out to you Bill & that is your education. Education is about the biggest thing in a person’s life & I want you to study & be a good student & whether you choose sports as a career or choose the career of a professional man or whatever you undertake I’m sure you will be a success. Never be backward always have a bright outlook on things and be a good boy. You will have a few rainy days in your life some day Bill but just remember what I have said always look ahead.
Well Bill I believe I had better get myself ready to go down town to the YMCA for my workout so take good care of yourself and give my regards to your family. Best Wishes, Babe.”
Bill’s mentor Babe Martin just recently passed away on August 1st, 2013 at the age of 100.
Bill Topitzes also maintained many friendships with many other professional baseball players and would routinely correspond via hand written letters. One that was dear to Bill and remained in his collection was from Norwood Ozark. The hand written letter was postmarked from Pawtucket, RI dated May 28, 1949 read,
(On The New Windsor Hotel, Oneonta, New York stationary)
Gee I’m glad to hear that you are going to Greece with your folks. It certainly is a wonderful opportunity for you and I’m happy to hear that you took the opportunity when it presented itself. I also want to congratulate you on graduating from high school. You had better go to college or else I’ll be very disappointed with you for not doing so. Our team has been losing a lot of 1 run games and it seems like we can’t win the close games. But, I imagine our luck will have to change pretty soon because we can’t be getting such breaks all year. I have been doing pretty good and am hitting around .300 and have 4 homeruns so far. Well I’ll keep batting and see what happens. Have a good time for yourself and don’t forget college. As ever, Norwood Ozark. “
Norwood wrote Bill again, in an undated letter, it read,
I received your letter and was surprised to hear from you. Dan told me that he met you and that you talked a long time. He also told me you gave him some cigarettes and that he liked you a lot.
I’m glad to hear that you are visiting team batboy at the ballpark. I’ll bet you know all the players in the league by now. Well it is a lot better than sitting in the bull pen all night. Rained out for the past two days so we are getting a little wet. At the present time I am batting .330 and hope to stay up their. I have been hitting the ball good and haven’t been striking out so I do get some base hits.
The weather here has been unpredictable. It gets warm for a day and then gets cold the rest of the week. I sure hope that it gets warmer pretty soon.
I seen the Boston Braves play one game when I was up. I wee when the Brewers are really doing good. The should be up in first place before long if they keep up this pace and if nothing unforeseen happens.
Our club is in second place and two games out of first place. I think that we will be up their in a week or so. It seems we go all out and then have a letdown for a couple games which hurts us. Our team is pretty well balanced in the field and we have a pretty good pitching staff. We were in Boston and they beat Brooklyn. When we play there we stay in Boston so we can see the day game, either the Red Sox or Braves.
Well haven’t anything else to write for now so I’ll close. As Ever, Norm.
P.S., Say hello to Nick and the boys for me. “
The collections of letters are very insightful and chronicle Bill’s relationships and the day to day life of major league ball players.
Bill saved many items relating to his baseball career. One item of interest was his 1951 Withholding Statement. Housed in the original cellophane windowed National Baseball Club of Boston envelope, his W-2 form documented his salary for the season.
Typed per protocol was,
“William F. Topitzes
525 N. 34th Street
Milwaukee, WI ,
Total FICA WAGES: $662.50 for year
Employer: Milwaukee American Association, 32 Gaffney Street, Boston, MASS.”
Based on his love of the game and the stories he told me, I think Bill would have worked for the Milwaukee Brewers for free. His reputation as a first class clubhouse man made him the obvious choice to represent the Milwaukee Braves in the dugout during their 1953 Inaugural season in the major leagues. Being promoted from the Milwaukee Brewers and his responsibilities at Borchert Field, Bill Topitzes immediately made the Milwaukee Braves visiting clubhouse his own.
The Milwaukee Sentinel, August 9th, 1953, published a page 2 article about Bill’s time while working with the Milwaukee Braves during their first season. The headlines reads,”Bill the Greek, Roots for Braves While Dishing Out Help to Foes”. The article by Lou Chapman went on to state,
“He’s not exactly a fifth columnist, but Bill “The Greek” Topitzes feels at times like an enemy alien in his role as clubhouse attendant for rival teams of the Braves. It’s Bill’s job to hang up rival players’ clothing in their lockers, see that their shoes are shined, whip up their favorite sandwiches and keep their clubhouse looking spic and span.
Bill, 23, has been connected with baseball clubs for 13 years. He started out as a bat boy with the old Brewers, later handling clubhouse duties and working the scoreboard at ancient Borchert Field.
“But you can’t beat this big league life,” Topitzes exclaims. “This is really living. Not only do you get to meet your idols face to face, but the financial benefits are tremendous.”
“You can’t compare the tipping in the American Association, with the major leagues. This is really plush. Why only recently, Monte Kennedy of the Giants gave me a $10 tip.”
Who are the best tippers among the visiting club?
“Why the Dodgers, of course” is Bill’s answer. “They really live up to their championship rating and travel deluxe. From manager Charlie Dressen down, they’re the biggest tippers”.
Bill was asked, What about Superstitions? “There isn’t too much of that. When the Cubs were losing, each player kept a rabbits foot in their pockets. A few of the others carry some kind of charm or lucky coin.”
While attending to the big leaguers, Bill also attended Marquette University and was studying liberal arts.
With 14 years of exemplary clubhouse experience, Bill’s reputation quickly grew throughout the professional ranks. His hard work caught eye of New York Giant’s manager Leo Durocher. In a letter of recommendation typed on official Giants stationary, the Giants skipper wrote,
“To Whom It May Concern:
William Topitzes has been known to me personally as an honest, reliable and very capable clubhouse custodian while serving as the visiting team’s clubhouse custodian at the Milwaukee Braves baseball park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His duties consisted of taking care of each player’s equipment, supplying them with baseball equipment whenever they are in need of it, keeping their money and jewelry in a safe place during the time they are at the ball park for the game, and many other chores that go with being a clubhouse custodian. In all my years in baseball I have found very few men who could do the job as efficiently as William Topitzes.
I would not hesitate to recommend his to any organization.
Very Truly Yours,
Leo Durocher, Manager, New York Giants Baseball Ball Club”.
Bill also was friends with long time Chicago Cubs clubhouse legend Yosh Kawano. A typed letter dated December 7, 1954 was saved by Bill, it read in part,
How is it going Greek? Sure surprised to get your letter of 24 which was forwarded to me here at my folks. Well so you finally made the big city huh, expensive! Well you’ll make out as long as you can speak the mother tung, hell that’s the way them Greeks operated in my outfit.
I must say you have had some great assignments in the Army and to think there I was over there in the jungles of New Guinea. “jap infested jungles defending them F ball player to keep up the moral at home. Imagine me, little me, hell I couldn’t lick anybody.
Happy that you have found some place maybe we can take advantage of your quarters come next Spring by then I am assuming you can make a connection for me when we come to town. No I don’t know anyone in that town, don’t ask Logan he doesn’t know anything but I do .
…Well let me hear from you again, give my best to Logan, George there, Campy, Gordon or any others I may know. Wish you consider going to school after your discharge believe me you’ll not regret it, look at me, there is your windup. With your connections plus your education there is no end to your limitations, maybe in the front office. Take care of the Colonel. Sincerely, Yosh.”
This letter was a perfect example of the respect of Bill’s intellect and how others saw his future success.
Bill Topitzes was known for his stash of Johnston cookie cards. The remainder of the collection will be offered as one lot in the October auction. Once these are gone, that is it, the stock will be depleted.
A memo was found in his collection, on stationary from Herbert Ross, a hand written note read,
As per our telephone conversation a short while ago enclosed please find check of $550.00 to cover cost of 10 sets 1953 Johnston Cookie @ $55 per set. Best Herb”
It not known how many sets Bill had, but he was certainly the Johnston Cookies card king.
The following items were selected for no other reason than to highlight the diversity of the Bill Topitez Collection. If it dealt with baseball, Bill loved it. Thank you Greek, I enjoyed sharing the hobby with you.
Tickets & Passes
1952 Milwaukee Brewers AAA Working Pass Borchert Field
1975 Baseball All Star Game County Stadium Ticket Stubs (2)
1977 NBA All Star Game Ticket Stubs (2)
1960 World Series Phantom Full (5)
1972 World Series Phantom Full (5)
1964 Cincinnati Reds Phantom Full
1955 New York Yankees World Series Stub
1958 Milwaukee Braves World Series Stub
1982 ALCS Full Ticket Collection (9)
High Grade 1930s Babe Ruth New York Yankees Album Page
1977 NBA All Star Game Banquet program signed by almost the entire team
Complete run of 1953 National League Team Signed Baseballs
Collection of single signed baseballs including Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and many more HOFers
Original 1950s photo with vintage Gil Hodges and Duke Snider autographs
1953 Milwaukee Braves Inaugural Team Autographed Photo with vintage signatures
1947 Ted Williams in Civilian Clothes original snapshot with period signature
1953 Milwaukee Braves Program signed by entire team
1954 Johnston Cookies Signed with Aaron (4)
Mickey Mantle Autographed Baseball
3,000 Hit Club Signed Baseball
500 HR Club Signed Baseball
Mickey Mantle New York Yankees signed 5×7 photo
Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider Signed photo
Ted Williams Boston Red Sox signed 16×20
Minor League Collection
1944 All-Stars vs. Milwaukee Brewers Minor League Program
1948 Milwaukee Brewers Minor League AAA Borchert Field Pocket Schedules (6)
1950 Milwaukee Brewers Minor League AAA Borchert Field Pocket Schedules (7)
1951 NR MT Milwaukee Brewers Minor League AAA Borchert Field Pocket Schedule Collection (12)
1947 Milwaukee Brewers Minor League AAA Sketchbook
1940s PCL Program, many teams and years
1946 Utica Program
1947 Junior World Series Program
1948 Milwaukee Brewers AAA Borchert Field Program
1948 Seattle Rainers PCL Program
1951 Major League Baseball Jersey Patch
Rare 1970 Kareem Abdul Jabbar Village Inn Premium Photo with facsimile “Kareem”
1950s Marshall Merrell Milwaukee Braves Premium Photo Lot (17)
1934 circa Babe Ruth Quaker Puffed Wheat, 8×10
1936 Lou Gehrig New York Yankees “In Action” sequence Original Wire Photos, NR MT with paper caption tag
Pocket Schedules from the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Braves
Programs & Publications
1965 Milwaukee Braves Yearbook signed by Hank Aaron
First Three issues of Sports Illustrated, 1954
1961 World Series Yearbook
1982 World Series Programs (4)
Rare 1948 Boston Braves Bulletin
1955 World Series Program
1950’s Yearbook Collection, multi teams
1949-50 Cleveland Indians News Team Publications (12)
1949 Chicago Cubs News Team Publication
Rare 1980s Mickey Mantle New York Yankees Grand Avenue Mall Appearance Promotional Photo
1955 New York Yankees Sketchbook
1959 Chicago White Sox World Series Program
1957 Milwaukee Braves World Series Program w/ stub
1949 Babe Ruth As I Knew Him by Waite Hoyt Magazine
1950 New York Yankees Program
1947-50 Brooklyn Dodgers Program Collection
1948 Boston Braves Program
Rare Collection of the Trading Post Baseball Magazine
1953-65 Milwaukee Braves Assorted Programs
Baseball Card Collection
1953 Topps Baseball Complete Set (274/274)
1953 Topps Baseball Card Lot
1953 Bowman Color Baseball Complete Set (160/160)
1953 Bowman B&W Baseball Lot
1954 Topps Baseball Near Set (180/250) Most key cards including Aaron (rc), Banks (rc)
1954 Topps Baseball Lot
1954 Bowman Baseball Complete Set (224/224)
1954 Bowman Baseball Lot including Mantle
1955 Bowman Complete Set (320/320)
1956 Topps Baseball Complete Set (340/340)
1957 Topps Baseball Complete Set (572/572)
1959 Ted Williams Fleer Baseball Complete Card Set (80/80)
1964 Topps Baseball Complete Set (587/587)
1965 Topps Baseball Partial Set
1966 Topps Baseball Partial Set
1968 Topps Baseball Partial Set
1971 Topps Baseball Complete Set (752/752)
1973 Topps Baseball Complete Set
1975 Topps Mini Baseball Complete Set (660/660)
1976 Topps Baseball Complete Set
1977 Topps Baseball Complete Set
1971-72 Topps Basketball Set
1972-73 Topps Basketball Set
1973-74 Topps Basketball Set
1974-75 Topps Basketball Set
1977-78 Topps Basketball Set NR-MT
1971 Topps Football Set (262/263) Missing one common
1974 Topps Football Set (528/528)
1976 Topps Football Set (528/528)
1977 Topps Football Set (528/528)
Additionally, there are 400+ lots containing more standard issue cards, regional issue cards, autographs, signed team baseballs, publications, tickets, pocket schedules, programs, yearbooks, and much more.
400+ lots will be offered during the MEARS Online Auctions October 25th-November 2nd, 2013 sale.
The collection was assembled much in the same manner as Bill lived his life. He had access to everyone.
He met Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Hank Aaron, etc. He knew who the Super Star, Stars, and common players were. Bill was never star struck. He did not create friendships with the great players because they were super stars. He collected mementos of players that were good and decent human beings. How you lived your life was more important to Bill than your batting average.
Although I learned a lot about baseball cards from Bill, I learned even more about life and friendships. Those memories and friendships were what Bill cherished. Thank you for all you have given Milwaukee baseball, you will be missed. I am proud to call you a friend.
Questions can be directed to Troy R. Kinunen at (414)-828-9990 or email firstname.lastname@example.org