Monday, February 18, 2013

"Such Respect for Bright Colors": the 1904 & 1905 Road Uniforms

By Dennis Pajot and Chance Michaels

Milwaukee Public Library

This handsome fellow with the impressive mustache is Brewer manager "Pongo Joe" Cantillon in his 1904 Brewer road uniform.

We tend to think of baseball in this era in either sepia tones or shades of gray; rarely do we have an opportunity to learn much about the teams' actual colors.

An article in the February 16, 1905 Milwaukee Journal talked of the Brewers' new 1905 uniforms, and gave us a rare color description not only of the new duds, but the outgoing color scheme as well:
The matter of uniforms is another of the hundreds of details of running a ball team which has been decided on, and in the matter of dress this year the Brewers promise to be just as many as any of the teams in the association. Their at-home uniforms, of course, will be white, the same as usual, with black trimmings and caps. When it comes to their traveling suits, there is to be a change. The black and yellow combination which has afforded opportunity to the fans of the home cities to make all sorts of comment, will be displaced by a neat Oxford grey, with maroon trimmings and cap. The Oxford grey was agreeable to both (team owner Charles) Havenor and Cantillon, but when it came to the trimmings there was a hitch. Dago Joe, as he is sometimes called by those who know him pretty well around the log cabin in Chicago, held that owing to the remarks made by some of his fellow countrymen in regards to the "yellow" of last season, they thought it was time that Cantillon was declaring himself, and so for a long time Joe argued that green was the proper color for the trimmings, and it was not until the census of the Milwaukee population had been shown him was he convinced that the green trimmings were not the proper thing for a Milwaukee team. It was a hard blow, but at last Joe consented, and so the Brewers' traveling uniform will be Oxford grey with maroon trimmings.
So there you have it. The suit "Pongo Joe" is wearing in the photo above is black, with a yellow "M". Clear to see how that combination might have inspired opposing fans "to make all sorts of comment" when these Brewers came to town (something similar would happen with Bill Veeck's first road uniforms nearly four decades later). Also interesting is the back-and-forth between Cantillon and team owner Charles Havenor as they each intended to put their own visual stamp on the club.

This is the home uniform that black-and-yellow road suit was paired with in 1904: white with black trimmings and an elegant "Milwaukee" script across the chest:

Milwaukee Public Library

And this is the 1905 home uniform, white with dark trim, that would replace it:


Is that maroon, as the article indicated Cantillon wanted? Or black, or possibly navy blue?

Cantillon had very strong ideas about baseball uniforms, and not just about their color schemes.
In 1906, the Toledo News-Bee reported that Cantillon had laid down guidelines on how the players should act while in uniform, specifically that they should refrain from profanity. The article also mentioned that Cantillon had exempted himself, as he would "attend to all the indelicate language" for the entire team.

Following the 1906 season, Cantillon was hired away from the Brewers to manage the American League club in Washington, DC. According to press reports of the time, he intended to bring his same "respect for bright colors" to the big leagues, with his 1907 Nationals wearing "something entirely original in that line."

As far as I can tell, it was not to be.

Looking at the Baseball Hall of Fame's online uniform database (which is based on Marc Okkonen’s book Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century), the Nats looked much the same after Pongo Joe took over as before.

Graphic courtesy of Marc Okkonen

Based on the limits of that database, it appears his major change was to replace navy blue with black on the home uniforms. Hardly the radical changes promised from a man with such a love for "bright colors". Perhaps Washington owner Thomas Noyes wasn't as progressive-minded as Milwaukee's Charles Havenor.

For the Brewers' part, they eventually settled on blue as the primary team color (no later than 1913), and Milwaukee ballclubs have been "true blue" ever since (sometimes more so than others). Today it seems inconceivable that our Brewers would wear black or green or maroon, or even that maroon trim would be considered a more "proper thing for a Milwaukee team" than green, but that was the fluid and experimental nature of baseball in the early days of the 20th century. The sport was finding its balance before rules and equipment, not to mention æsthetics, would settle into the tradition we now recognize.

We haven't yet been able to find a photo of the Brewers' 1905 road uniforms which, according to that Journal article, were going to be "Oxford grey with maroon trimmings." We will post a photo of the uniform if we come across one as we continue to research the 1905 team.

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