Land O' Lakes Baseball History

Martin C. Weber

The above memorial is mounted at Firemen's Park in Merton in memory of the founders of the Land O' Lakes Baseball League and Land O' Lakes Old Timers Association, Martin C Weber Sr. and his son, Martin Jr. (photo courtesy of Ellen Sizer, granddaughter of Martin Weber Sr.)
 

Merton News

LOL memorial

Through the efforts of the Land O’ Lakes Old Timers Association and the Weber family, a new memorial in memory of Martin C. Weber Sr. and Martin C. Weber Jr. has been erected at the entrance to the hardball field at Merton’s Firemen’s Park. The public is invited to a dedication at noon Saturday, Sept. 20.

Martin C. Weber Sr. was a lifelong resident of the Village of Merton and was the founder of Land O’ Lakes sports in 1922. He was the director until 1952.  LOL Constitution and Bylaws

Martin C. Weber Jr. was also a lifelong resident and postmaster for many years. He was the co-founder of the Land O’ Lakes Old Timers Association and an officer of the association from 1954 to 1988. He played Land O’ Lakes ball for many years as the Merton Amvets catcher and was inducted into the LOL Hall of Fame  in 1973.

Webers memorial dedication set

A dedication ceremony for the memorial in honor of two Land O' Lakes architects will take place at noon Saturday, Sept. 20, at Firemen's Park in the Village of Merton.

A dedication ceremony for the memorial in honor of two Land O’ Lakes architects will take place at noon Saturday, Sept. 20, at Firemen’s Park in the Village of Merton.

The memorial commemorates Martin C. Weber Sr., founder and director of Land O’ Lakes sports, and Martin C. Weber Jr., co-founder and officer of Land O’ Lakes Old Timers Association, as well as a former player.

The public is invited to the dedication.


Martin C. Weber 1897 - 1967

Source: Merton-Lake Keesus Area - A History in Story and Text, by the Lake Keesus Woman's Club, 1976

(From Weber records)

Seldom does history afford any community the memorable heritage of its citizens' unselfish efforts to serve his fellow man. Today, more than a half century later; recognized "home-talent" sports continue to flourish in many communities thanks to an idea and the man who instrumented it.

Merton has such a man; his name is Martin C. Weber, the younger of two sons born to Mathew and Katherine Weber on November 29, 1897. His parents were among the first German settlers in the small dairy farming community of Merton, located in southeastern Wisconsin.

Martin Weber was one of less than a dozen boys attending Hartland High School in 1914. His black stallion was his five mile transportation and could always be seen tied outside the school. The school coach thought his five foot seven inch frame was too small to play on their basketball team, so Weber organized his own squad of local farm boys from Merton. They won several games that year including a game with Hartland. The following year he returned to play, and captained Hartland's team to some impressive victories over schools such as Waukesha, West Allis, and Wauwatosa. His baseball efforts were equally good. Such schools as Marquette academy, Oconomowoc, Columbus, and Watertown all became victims of the Hartland squad which were well represented by those Merton farm boys.

It was with this growing atmosphere of sports activities, that Martin Weber got the idea that each community should have their own teams with their own local talent participating. Thus the Land O' Lakes League was born in 1922. The six original teams, Hartland, Sussex, Monches, Pewaukee, Lannon, and Menomonee Falls, grew into four leagues which blanketed three counties.

Before this outstanding growth of the Land O' Lakes League, however, there were some stormy early years which endangered the infant league. The Merton Farmer threatened to quit this new league unless the semi-pro influence was stopped. Players had been demanding money to perform and heavy betting was hurting local sponsors who could not afford to lose player support. Weber knew that his home-talent idea was in complete opposition to these semi-pro activities.

A few weeks after the Land O' Lakes had ended its first season a group of men from the neighboring towns met in Weber's kitchen. They persuaded the young dairy farmer to continue his battle against semi-pro influence. They knew that his shrewd understanding of the need for small town sports was the real asset in nurturing his home-talent dream. Further, they all agreed that most communities couldn't afford semi-pro fees for players or league entries.

The result was a new tough set of home-talent rules, which included a five-mile limit from which any community could use a player; this limit was later changed to 10 miles in some areas or definite boundaries were established so each player and team knew the exact rules of eligibility.

One of the main reasons that the home-talent league grew and successfully spread its organization over nearly one third of Wisconsin could be credited to Weber himself. He was constantly looking for new methods through which his league could become a better one. Martin Weber was a patient and understanding man and when teams or players decided to quit his league, he never held any grudges, but hoped they soon would return; many did, because the lure of semi-pro pay quickly died in many communities that could not afford this expensive way of playing the game.

Many towns enjoyed watching several members of the same family participate in both baseball and basketball. Among some of the most popular were the Stapletons and Klinks from North Lake, the Pfeifers from Hartland, the Reimers from Lannon, and, of course, the Webers from Merton. None of Weber's four sons were born when he started the Land O' Lakes , but as the years slipped by and the boys grew up, suddenly seven of them including three cousins thrilled Weber by winning Merton's first Land O' Lakes championship in 1952.

Another highlight in the Land O' Lakes League started in the mid-thirties when Weber became associated with Russell G. Lynch who later became the sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal. Lynch immediately recognized the strong future possibilities of this young home-talent league and encouraged Weber by giving his teams lots of publicity in the paper. This was a real personal satisfaction that Martin Weber appreciated. Each Sunday night the whole family would gather around the kitchen table and carefully print out all the box scores that the umpires and referees would bring in after the games. Weber was known for accuracy; he not only knew all of his players, coaches, and team promoters, no one could ever recall seeing a name misspelled in any report that he submitted to the paper. Often game officials were several hours late in bringing reports to Weber's home; yet he and his family would work until they were all complete and ready for for early morning delivery to the Milwaukee Journal. This publicity was invaluable to the league's growth; it brought peoples, communities, and counties together in harmony and true friendship.

After World War II, many returning service men quickly re-entered the expanding Land O' Lakes League which was now in full swing in three counties, Waukesha, Washington , and Jefferson. With new growth came new problems. One of the most serious problems that Weber had to solve was player injuries. On a particular day while Sussex was playing Merton, one of the rival players broke his leg sliding into third base. The generous and unselfish help by team promoters and other towns people helped take care of many of the expenses. Weber knew, however, that these problems of injured ball players would continue; so, in 1939 he organized the accident benefit fund for his baseball, basketball, and now his boxing league too. This particular program is today used throughout the entire nation. The fund started out with a $1,000 coverage and later included x-ray and dental work. Each season saw thousands of dollars spent from this fund to take care of player injuries. All-star games and other special benefits funded this coverage cost.

Another link in the chain of success that the Land O' Lakes Leagues enjoyed was added in the early 1940's. Newly formed divisions of the Land O' Rivers, then the Land O' Valleys came into being. These new leagues offered young men whose talent and experience weren't good enough for Lakes ball, a chance to play. It helped sharpen competition, too, particularly if a younger team beat a veteran club.

Then on the heels of these newly created divisions came the Land O' Brooks League, primarily for high school age competition. West Bend's beautiful professional like park was the annual scene of some tremendously exciting state baseball tournaments; the Land O' Brooks entries were nearly always in the thick of race. With these new but quickly successful divisions, "The Czar of Wisconsin Baseball", as his semi-pro rivals had nicknamed him, had well over half of the people in Wisconsin excited and happy over this new brand of home-talent sports entertainment.


Editor Note:

BUTLER GAME CANCELLED

A Land O' Brooks baseball contest scheduled between the Waukesha West Side A. O. and the Butler Legion team to be played Sunday at Butler has been cancelled after tragedy struck the Butler team when lightening killed two players and the manager, it was announced Friday by Martin Weber, director of the Land O'Lakes Athletic association.

The game will be played at a later date as the Butler team is currently tied for first place in the Eastern division of the Land O'Brooks league.

source: Waukesha Freeman August 3, 1945, page 7 of 8


Though Martin Weber was physically short compared to most men and his shiny bald head really stood out in a crowd, it was the impact of his character which really made its impression known. He could be tactfully firm, yet friendly in persuasion; never would he hesitate to defend the right he believed in, no matter what the odds were. His defense of those he believed in could never be exaggerated...just ask any of the many men who played in games or umpired or managed a club.

His umpires were his pride and joy as well as his headaches; officiating at any game was no picnic; especially if the game involved a close rivalry or a run for first place. Many decisions which involved serious results ended on Weber's shoulders. On one such occasion, Weber was tipped off that at the annual officials association meeting, at which time all assignments for the new season would be handed out, that an officials' strike was going to be called to force Weber along with club sponsors to pay more money for officiating. During the meeting Weber did not hand out the assignments; instead he walked to the back of the hall and opened the doors, inviting anyone who wished to leave to do so; he informed them that each club had already selected one volunteer to help at each game and that no assignments were going to be given. The strike never started. In fairness to both sides, Weber held joint meetings each year thereafter between the officials' association and club sponsors with one primary rule governing, that both sides bargain in good faith.

Martin Weber's premature retirement from the helm of the Land O' Lakes Leagues was caused by the poor health of his wife, Gretchen, who was more fondly known by most of Weber's "Boys" as "Sis". Sis' kitchen always smelled of delicious food and usually sounded like the baseball or basketball game itself; many meetings held in that spotless yellow and white room, decided important league problems and created new league rules. She was never one to refrain from speaking her own mind and when one of the men got out of line with abusive language during a heated debate, Sis would quickly remind him that this was more than just their place of sports business, it was Her's and Martin's Christian home, too.

With some of his youthful encounters still fresh in his memory, Weber decided to add the final link to the chain of success in his Land O' Lakes League. Weber formed the youngest of all divisions, the Land O' Puddles (but later included the Raindrops). These pint-sized leagues, the Land O' Puddles [Editor - first mentioned Waukesha Daily Freeman April 8, 1948, page 14 of 16] and Land O' Raindrop included any age up to 15 years old; many new boys were allowed to participate. These new divisions numbered forty teams within three years and became the largest group within the entire Land O' Lakes.

Baseball and Basketball were really alive all over Wisconsin; more important, the people within the communities were alive with new excitement for the love of the game, new friendships and loyalty for their teams. Local merchants as well as others who never showed any real interest before, now supported their teams enthusiastically. If a boy was a member of a team, he was as popular as the mayor; first names were all anyone used in conversation and even the newspapers were guilty of reporting on first name basis only.

Martin C. Weber's baseball and basketball domain extended from Brown Deer, Grafton, and Thiensville on the east to Watertown in the west, and from Union Grove in the south to the Plymouth Sheboygan areas in the North. When he retired in 1953 and officially terminated the Land O' Lakes, Inc, many of his long time friends and players still received his directive help so that the league would continue to flourish.

Early in 1953 [see Waukesha Daily Freeman February 11, 1953, page 11 of 18], a testimonial dinner was held at the Nightingale ballroom in Menomonee Falls for Martin Weber. Nearly a thousand people from all over the state attended this appreciation night for Weber. Many of the original ball clubs' members were represented; dignitaries such as Charlie Grimm, then manager of the Boston Braves and Red Smith, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers both agreed that all sports lost a true friend and a great leader in Martin Weber. Milwaukee civic leader, Frederick Miller stated that Weber was truly a gentleman who did much for sports. Representative, Glen Davis called Martin Weber a darn good man that everyone will sadly miss, while the Rev. E. J. O'Donnell, S. J. , President of Marquette University, claimed he knew of no one who gave so much of himself and his time to others.

Martin C. Weber died on March 1, 1967. Over two thousand people signed the register at his wake. People from all over the state expressed their sympathy when they learned this great sports leader was gone.

In June of 1969 a monument was dedicated in Weber's honor at the Merton State Graded School, where he had been a member of the school board for eighteen years. Congressman, Glen Davis summed up his eulogy by stating..."Martin Weber was a man of action to the point of inspiration and accomplishment; a man of God to the point of true reverence."

In October of that same year, Weber was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame by the Old Time Ball Players' Association. The bronze plaque which is now enshrined in the Milwaukee Arena to commemorate his memory, simply reads..." They extended a helping hand through their administration of recreation,"

Today, most of the communities where Martin Weber's home-talent ideas were first born have changed; many have grown much larger,; some have beautiful parks where once cattle grazed in pasture; others have beautiful new plant like buildings which provide room for all kinds of sports that can be played year around. Many players now, are the sons of players that Weber enjoyed watching during those earlier years of the Land O' Lakes. Each time a whistle blows or an umpire yells "play ball" someone will say a silent prayer of thanks that a man like Martin C. Weber came our way; for this we will be forever grateful."


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Land O’ Legends Series

Merton the birthplace of Land O'Lakes baseball

Members of the Merton Land O’Lakes baseball team watch from the bench during a game in 1979.

This is the first in a series of articles about the Land O'Lakes Western Division baseball greats from Merton, Monches, North Lake, Hartland and Pewaukee.

It was way back in 1922 when Martin C. Weber of Merton had an idea to form several local baseball leagues that featured hometown talent. That league would be called the Land O'Lakes.

Weber's idea turned out to be a stroke of genius, and now the LOL is arguably the most successful amateur baseball league in Wisconsin. And of course, where else but in Weber's hometown would it be a great idea to field a team?

While Merton has struggled in recent years to put a winning team on the field, last year's Merton team broke a 33-year losing streak when it finished LOL West play with an 11-9 mark and advanced to the postseason playoffs.

However, losing games on a regular basis wasn't always the case for Merton. In the 1940s and 50s, Merton was a perennial contender for the LOL West crown with Hartland and North Lake.

The last time Merton qualified for the prestigious LOL Grand Championships was in 1956. That year, both Hartland and Merton advanced to the finals after Merton had defeated North Lake when the three teams tied for the Western Division title. In 1957, the Amvets also tied with North Lake for the West championship but lost a playoff with the Lakers. North Lake went on to win the Grand Championship that season.

The team has played at Firemen's Park in downtown Merton since the LOL program began. Six players from Merton are currently in the LOL Old Timers Association's Hall of Fame: Marty Weber, James M. Weber, Dave Weber, Jack Murphy, Ernie Audley and Otto Weisjahn.

Merton's best players

While many outstanding players have put on the Merton uniform over the years, here's a look at an 11-player all-time team.

Two pitchers made the team along with a designated hitter.

After talking to several old timers and former LOL observers, it was decided that Jim M. Weber is the best player ever to play for the Amvets.

Pitcher - Jim M. Weber - Weber not only was an outstanding pitcher but also was one of the best outfielders ever to play at Merton. Weber possessed a good fastball and outstanding control. He was the ace of the staff for many seasons. Not only he could he pitch and play defense, Weber was one of the best hitters in the league in his era.

Pitcher - Dick Dvorak - The hard throwing right-hander came out of Arrowhead to lead the Merton pitching staff. In his career with the Amvets, he was dominating, throwing a pair of no-hitters.

First Base - Larry Donkle - The left-handed slugger probably hit more home runs for Merton than any other player in franchise history. He won or tied for the home run championship five times. In one five-year stretch, he batted a combined .343.

Infield - Ernie Audley - Audley had a long and successful career playing in his hometown. He was an excellent second baseman who also was a great contact hitter. He played a key role in the success of the 1956 and 1957 teams.

Infield - John Audley - Ernie's son John is arguably the best hitter in Merton history. The left-hander batted a combined .387 over a period of six consecutive seasons. He played several infield positions.

Infield - Otto Weisjahn - Weisjahn was Dvorak's teammate at Arrowhead and was an outstanding player on the two winning teams in 1956 and 1957. Weisjahn played shortstop for the Amvets and anchored one of the best infields ever at Merton. He was also an excellent hitter.

Catcher - Tom Buettner - Buettner, while he didn't play that long for Merton, was a brilliant catcher and outstanding hitter. Buettner had a big arm behind the plate and batted over .400 twice for the Amvets.

Outfield - Jack Murphy - Murphy was a longtime leadoff hitter for Merton and one of the toughest outs in the league for more than 10 years. In his era, he was arguably the best center fielder in the league.

Outfield - Gary Paige - The left-handed hitting Paige batted .343 for five straight seasons for Merton and owned a big throwing arm and great speed on the bases.

Outfield - Bob Marquardt - The hard hitting outfielder hit numerous home runs for Merton and was a solid outfielder. Marquardt was one of the toughest guys to strike out in his days in Merton.

DH - Dave Weber - The left-handed hitting infielder had brilliant bat control and could hit the ball to all fields. He was a great contact hitter that hardly ever struck out. In his time he was one of the toughest outs in the league.

Keep reading the Lake Country Reporter for additional entrants in the series.