Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Walt Linden's 1948 jersey

As we continue to look ahead to the Brewers' Turn Back the Clock to 1948 game this week in Minneapolis, let's look at the artifact that made it possible.

This beautiful Brewers jersey was sold at auction about a year ago. It illustrates a team in transition from longtime independent operator to the top level of the Boston Braves' farm system.

Heritage Auctions

Heritage Auctions
The auction catalogue states:
1948 Walt Linden Game Worn Milwaukee Brewers Jersey.   Home white flannel was worn by catcher Linden as a member of the Boston Braves affiliate Milwaukee Brewers (Triple-A, American Association). Functional zipper front bisects "Brewers" in red and black felt on chest. Number "28" on verso has some seam separation but remains firmly affixed. "Linden" embroidered swatch appears beneath "Wilson [size] 42" tagging at interior collar. Solid wear throughout.
It's a gorgeous jersey, in amazing shape for being sixty-five years old. The catalog description captures it well, even if the trim is actually midnight navy, not black.

Although this particular jersey is from 1948, the design dates to the previous season and represents a stepping stone between eras in the team history. The "Brewers" script itself was introduced in 1942, part of a re-branding from new owners Bill Veeck and Charlie Grimm. That design lasted until 1946. Veeck had sold the club to Chicago attorney Oscar Salenger in October of 1945, but Salenger was unable to fund the transactions needed for the club to stay independent. After fielding interest from the White Sox, among others, Salenger sold the team to Lou Perini, owner of the Boston Braves, near the end of the 1946 season.

Beginning with the following Opening Day, in April of 1947, the Brews started looking a little more like the Braves. The Brewers' dark royal blue was replaced by Braves navy, the single-color thick blue soutache with the Braves' thin and distinctive navy/red/navy piping. The Brewers did keep their elegant 1942 script, if in the new color scheme, for the first several seasons they were in Boston's chain.

It's unclear as to how much a resemblance to the Braves was really intended in 1947; when the club's new uniforms arrived the day before their first game, the Brewers discovered that they had mistakenly been sent a shipment of Boston Braves jerseys, complete with Indian-head patch on the sleeve. The Milwaukee Sentinel's Lloyd Larson reported it this way in his column:

Fortunately for the Brewers, a snowstorm pushed the opening back one day, giving them time to correct the mistake. They made "a hurry call to a local sporting goods house"—possibly Burghardt, which had been supplying the Brewers at least since the early 1930s and would have been familiar with their chest script—and the new jerseys were stripped of their Boston iconography and repurposed for the Brews.

This jersey needed no such alteration; this style, intentional or otherwise, was retained for a second season and arrived from the manufacturer with the Brewers name laid over the Braves-style piping. The design would continue to evolve, culminating in the near-clone of the Braves' uniforms they would adopt by 1952.

As for the man who wore our exemplar in 1948, Walt Linden was a catcher who spent eight years in the minors, most of it in the Braves' farm system, playing at Borchert Field for parts of the 1947, '48 and '50 seasons. In 1948, he started with the Brewers but only played in five games before being shipped to the Braves' lower-level club in Hartford, Connecticut. He persisted with the organization and finally broke into the big club's roster with a three-game cup of coffee in 1950.

Linden's entry in the 1948 edition of Who's Who in the American Association mentions that he was signed to his first pro contract by Red Smith, who was a longtime Brewer coach and personnel man but in 1948 was coaching for the Cubs.

That entry also highlights a uniform development that was new for '48: a white block "M" on the caps to match the parent club's "B". In 1947, the Brewers were wearing navy caps with red bills and "M"s.

I doubt that we would see our National League Brewers in 1948 uniforms had this particular example not recently come to light. I also can't help but notice that the two jerseys available for sale on MLB's online shop utilize digits from the distinctive number set on the back of this jersey.

This jersey is an important piece of Milwaukee's baseball history, preserved through the years and now passed down, via the Minnesota Twins, to an entirely new generation of Brewer fans.

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