Friday, October 15, 2010

True Blue

This photo was published in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday, February 1, 1942:

Mickey Heath Tries On the New Brewer Uniform

The new baseball uniforms for the Brewers arrived last week and Mickey Heath (left), back with the club as coach, tried on the home suit. He and Rudy Schaffer, club secretary, are holding up a shirt of the road uniform. Home uniforms are of white jersey and the road suits are dark blue. At present the most important date on the Brewers' calendar is the one shown in the picture—Apr. 16, opening day.
This marked a sea change for the Brewers, the first time their working-man nickname was featured on the jerseys.

There's more to notice in the photo. I'm particularly fond of the socks - three red rings on navy. And in the background, over Mickey's shoulder, you can see a framed photo of the 1926 Brewer club, famous for its 21-game winning streak.

Then there's the jacket lying at Mickey's feet. A solid-color satin dugout jacket, with thin white stripes at the collar and cuffs, and this gorgeous patch on the chest:

To my knowledge, this jacket (and a wool late-season version with tan leather sleeves) was the first and only appearance of Owgust, the beer barrel man, on the club's gear.

But an all-navy blue road uniform? I had never heard of the Brews wearing such a thing. Stunning.

The uniforms appear to have inspired some taunting from opponents. The Milwaukee Journal reported that Minneapolis Millers coach Roy Kolp found some small joy while watching the Brewers steamroller his club in both halves of a double-header 8-3 and 10-3:

The Brewers continued to wear the blues regardless of the ribbing, as seen in this Toledo Blade clipping from September 14, 1942, as the Mud Hens were on their way to knocking the second-place Brewers out of the American Association playoffs. The Brewers in the field are easily distinguishable by their navy union suits, even in this blurry photo:

The blue experiment was short-lived, however. By 1943, the Brewers had returned to wearing traditional gray flannels on the road, as seen in this photo from Nicollet Park in Minneapolis:

And, of course, we have our own exemplar of a 1943 road jersey from Paul Tenpenny's collection:

I can't help but wonder, though. The complete absence of blue on those 1943 gray road uniforms has long puzzled me. Blue defined the Brews for their entire existence, except for this one blip. Red lettering with white outlines, just like Heath's 1942 blue roads.

Is it possible that a cost-conscious ballclub simply removed the wordmarks, trim and numbers from the blue uniforms and sewed them on the new road grays? It would explain the lack of one of the Brewers' signature colors.

Although Veeck's road uniform experiment was short-lived in Milwaukee, Sport Shirt Bill would return to the all-navy road uniform in 1976, introducing one as part of his 1976-81 retro-style White Sox uniforms, most famous for the short-lived Bermuda shorts option. Once again, Milwaukee was the incubator for many of the gags which Veeck would take to the majors.

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