Saturday, May 31, 2014

Today in 1944: "Charge of the 'Light' Brigade"

Given modern baseball scheduling, it's sometimes hard to remember that night baseball games used to be something of a novelty. This cartoon from cartoonist Lou Grant, published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on May 31, 1944, announces that season's first night games at Borchert Field.

It's worth remembering that "ye olde Borchert Field" didn't even have floodlights until 1935. Most of the fans at the Orchard would have remembered a day when every single game was played under the sun. This year, of the Brewers' 55 weekday games at Miller Park, only nine are day games.

Baseball might be the most traditional of all American sports, but it's always fun to see how those traditions began.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Turning Back the Clock to 1937. Ish.

Rob Wooten #47 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the eighth inning on May 18, 2014 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Yesterday in Chicago, as part of a season-long commemoration of Wrigley Field's 100th birthday, the Brewers donned "1937-inpired" uniforms, giving baseball fans another window into Milwaukee's baseball history.

We didn't know until a few minutes before the start of the game what the Brewers were going to wear; it turned out to be more 1936 than 1937, with one element from even farther back in the club's history.

Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura left, tags out Chicago Cubs' Junior Lake (21), at second base after Lake tried to steal second during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Chicago won 4-2. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
That cap might look familiar; it's the same one the Brewers wore with their 1913 throwbacks last season:

Navy cap, cream-colored block "M" logo on the front. The logo is distinctive with its "sword-tip" notch on the top, something the American Association Brewers dropped after the 1913 season.

The Brewers had intended to pair their 1913 throwback jerseys with white caps, but the caps supplied by New Era were too white and clashed with Majestic's cream-colored jerseys. The white caps were pulled at the last minute and replaced with navy caps with cream logo. That meant that New Era only had time to supply enough for the players themselves, and the navy version never made it as far as retail. Perhaps this is an attempt to finally cash in and recoup something on the design; I fully expect to see these caps for sale soon.

At bat, the Brewers kept their standard navy helmets but removed their contemporary logo. That would have been appropriate for either the 1913 or 1937 clubs, as each wore plain navy blue caps.

Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun watches his double during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Chicago won 4-2. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
The spacing of the letters across the chest is very odd - they carefully avoid the placket piping, which leaves the middle "A" sitting all alone with too much space around it:

Milwaukee Brewers starter Marco Estrada delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Look at the custom work on Estrada's jersey, with the extra material added to each sleeve (and the rough edges where the piping was cut to accomodate it). You can also see how the squared-off placket piping was made.

The kerning problem was standard for all players, though:

Milwaukee Brewers' Rickie Weeks celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a two run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Chicago won 4-2. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
In the original uniforms I think these are supposed to be modeled after, the plaquet was slightly thinner, and the letters overlapped the piping, creating no such problem.

The photo at right is Brewer third baseman (and local Milwaukee boy) Ken Keltner, taken during Spring Training in 1937. That is, I believe, the previous season's road uniform, as it was common in this period to issue new uniforms immediately before Opening Day, having played Spring Training and exhibition games in year-old uniforms.

Compare it with this jersey worn by pitcher Rollie Stiles circa 1932-1934. Although slightly earlier, it uses the same lettering style with better spacing. They spaced the letters perfectly on the right side of the placket, only having a gap where the two halves of the jersey come together.

I suspect this gap issue was created by Ebbets Field Flannels, who have supplied lettering for these throwback jerseys in the past, and who sell a "1936" jersey with the same kerning problem.

The gap might not be as pronounced as it was yesterday, but it's there. And it's something I've only seen on reproductions from Ebbets Field.

Which raises the question: who manufactured these jerseys? We know that Majestic, the big leagues' regular supplier, has right of first refusal when throwbacks come around. Last year Majestic supplied the 1913 and 1948 jerseys for the Brewers' two Turn Back the Clock events, but not this one. While the Majestic logo graced the sleeves of the Cubs' throwbacks, the Brewers' left sleeve was completely blank.

Perhaps Ebbets Field did have a hand in these. We'll have to wait until game-used versions surface; unfortunately Majestic declining to make the on-field jerseys also means that MLB won't make them available for general sale. So we won't see a repeat of last season's retail Brew bonanza.

The backs of the jerseys featured red numbers trimmed in navy. No names, of course, but the numbers (as is so often the case) were placed in their regular position leaving space for names, which made them far too low on players' backs. In the absence of a name, the numbers should have been higher.

Take a look at this screenshot from the game; contrasting the Brewers' numbers with those on the Cubs' Majestic jersey:

The Cubs' numbers are raised between the players' shoulder blades, as they should be. The Brewers' mystery manufacturer has put theirs too low.

Logan Schafer #1 of the Milwaukee Brewers makes a catch on Junior Lake (not pictured) of the Chicago Cubs during the third inning on May 18, 2014 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
I also think it's a little odd that the Brewers wore plain gray pants with no piping. I'd be shocked if that decision had any historical basis at all. The Brewers' regular pants would have stood out, but surely a quick strip of that same navy/red/navy piping could have been sewn to the outseams. Even borrowing some Atlanta Braves pants, if not perfect with their extra belt loop trim, would have been closer to the mark.

Jean Segura of the Milwaukee Brewers dives back safely on a pick off attempt as Anthony Rizzo takes the throw. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
I'd never seen that oven-mitt-thing Segura is wearing on his left hand; turns out other players have been experimenting with the idea since at least last season to protect their fingers on the basepaths.

No retro logos on the bases, either; just the standard Wrigley Field Centennial dress.

The Cubs, unfortunately, looked fantastic. I love their 1937 uniform, so clearly an upgrade from their regular look.

Chicago Cubs' Welington Castillo (right) celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after hitting a two-run homer.
I love the brighter blue against cream and the thick piping. Simple and elegant. Puts the Brewers' drab regular navy uniforms to shame.

Chicago Cubs closing pitcher Hector Rondon right, celebrates with catcher Welington Castillo left, after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 during a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
So a bit of a disappointment yesterday. Not just in the 4-2 loss, or the Brewers' continuing offensive struggles, but the throwback uniforms themselves. After such a strong 2013, the lack of pants stripes, recycled cap and odd letter placement bother me. A bit muddled.

Any opportunity to remember the American Association Brewers is a good one, but this wasn't their best effort. Since Turn Back the Clock uniforms are arranged by the home team, I'm happy to blame the Cubs for this one. Hopefully it's not the last one we see this year.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

1937 Throwbacks Revealed!

Just moments before the start of today's Brewers/Cubs game at Wrigley, we got our first good look at the throwbacks the Brewers will be using. 

Interesting - that's the "1913" cap the Brewers wore last year. It came too late to be made available for sale, perhaps that will be different this year.

The jerseys themselves look like the 1936 versions which have been commercially available for the past few years. 

More in-depth coverage tomorrow!

Friday, May 16, 2014

1937, "Their New Home Uniforms of White"

Well, we still don't know what the Brewers' throwback "1937-inspired" road uniforms will look like, but here's a good view of the home uniforms that were introduced that season. This picture was published in the Milwaukee Journal on April 15, 1937, the day of their home opener:

Brewers' Opening Day Battery Gets Acquainted

ALL dressed up in their brand new home uniforms of white, Bill Brenzel (left) and AL Milnar, new southpaw pitcher, posed for this opening day battery picture at Borchert field Thursday. Milnar, who arrived here Wednesday night, has been training with the Cleveland Indians. He will pitch against St. Paul Friday afternoon.
We've seen this jersey before, solid white with what appears to be navy piping. That was, as the caption states, new for 1937; in their pennant-winning 1936 season they wore uniforms with red and blue trim.

We'll see what Major League Baseball has to say about the 1937 Brews this weekend. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

1937 Throwbacks Confirmed! Sort Of.

The Chicago Cubs have officially announced what we've suspected for months (and which I first heard rumblings about last November): the Milwaukee Brewers will indeed be wearing 1937 throwbacks for their Turn Back the Clock game at Wrigley Field this Sunday.

This little tidbit appeared on the Cubs' site today:
Throwback Uniforms:

On Sunday, May 18, the Cubs will wear a throwback uniform from 1937, the year during which Wrigley Field's iconic scoreboard was installed and the ivy was planted on the newly-constructed bleacher wall. The 1937 jersey features a zip-up front and the uniform marks the first year the team switched from a navy blue to a royal blue color on its uniforms.

The visiting Milwaukee Brewers will wear a 1937-inspired retro uniform as well.
Okay. That's confirmation. Maybe. No pictures yet, no details.

If only we knew what "a 1937-inspired retro uniform" meant. Do they mean a modern cut, or do they mean that the uniform itself isn't really faithful to the Brewers' original 1937 togs? I laid out some possibles in my earlier post, but perhaps they're doing something entirely different, like the "1920s-ish but not actually what the Brewers wore in the 1920s" throwbacks from 1993.

We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Hello, Casey!

Here's another look at new Brewer manager Casey Stengel being introduced to the Milwaukee faithful, from the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday, May 7th, 1944:

—Journal Staff
The Brewers' new manager, Casey Stengel (left), tries on a Milwaukee cap Saturday in the clubhouse at Borchert field as Coach Red Smith holds a mirror and Charley Grimm looks on. Grimm, who resigned Friday, will take over his new post as manager of the Chicago Cubs Sunday, the same day Stengel becomes boss of the Brewers.
As I said when we first looked at this photo a couple years ago, I love the composition, especially the twinkle in Casey's eye as he dons the Brewers' classic dark blue cap with red "M", looking directly into the lens via the mirror. Not even the dulling effect of newspaper reproduction — and cheap computer scanning decades after that — can dim the twinkle in the Perfessor's eye. His famous sense of humor shines through.

Original copies of press photos surface from time to time. This one's right at the top of my wish list.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Today in 1944: "Casey Stengel at the Bat"

Seventy years ago today, Milwaukee Sentinel cartoonist Lou Grant gave his take on the Brewers' managerial shift:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Today in 1944: Casey Takes Charge

On this day seventy years ago, new Brewer manager Casey Stengel put on his uniform, stepped into the Borchert Field dugout and managed his first game with the club. Games, actually, a double-header with the Toledo Mud Hens.

Of course, the Milwaukee Journal's cameras were there to catch it all, and the following afternoon readers of the paper were treated to this photo series:

And what games those were.

In the opener, the Brewers presented their manager with an easy win, spotting the visiting Mud Hens two runs in the first inning. The Brews then countered with three in the bottom of the first and never looked back, scoring another at the bottom of the second and fifth and another three in the sixth. Toledo managed a face-saving run in their half of the ninth, but the game was even more lopsided than that 8-4 score would indicate.

The second game looked to be a repeat of the first, as the Brewers plated five runs in the third inning. They then let the Mud Hens back into the game, surrendering four in the next inning and one more in each of the fifth and sixth. Down 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh, the Brewers tied it up and took that tie to the bottom of the ninth. And then the Brewers' championship spirit shone through.

Centerfielder Hershel Martin came to the plate with two out and the bases empty. He singled, and moved to third on second baseman Tommy Nelson's double. Jim Pruett, Brewer catcher, came to the plate next. He was intentionally walked to get to the pitcher, Jack Farmer. That let Casey Stengel get into the act. The new Brewer skipper sat his pitcher down in favor of pinch-hitter Frank Secory. With the bases loaded, Secory worked the count and forced a walk to bring the winning run home.

Let's look more closely at the photos in the series:

(left to right) Casey says hello to Milwaukee / He talks on bench before game / He bows to a home run hitter

I wish we knew what Casey was saying, but none of the local papers recounted the text of his address to the Borchert Field crowd.

(left to right) Watching five run lead vanish /
Body English on double play

That last one is interesting, with its view of the back of Casey's uniform. Number 30 had been previously worn by Charlie Grimm. Casey did more than step into his shoes; he put on Jolly Cholly's jersey, too.

The Journal had this to say about the new manager's day:
Before Charley Grimm left here Saturday night to take over the Chicago Cubs, he told Casey Stengel, his successor at the helm of the league leading Brewers: "You've got a smart bunch of fellows. Let them do their own thinking at bat. That's what I've done and it has been very successful."

Late Sunday afternoon, after he had made an auspicious bow as Grimm's successor with a double triumph over Columbus, 8-4 and 7-6, to sweep the six-game series, Stengel remarked, "Grimm was right. This gang doesn't need any master minding on my part. They do right well on their own."
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Grimm began his own new job with a double-header of his own.

The fans welcomed Grimm with open arms, the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates somewhat less so. Grimm watched his new charges fall in both games, 6-5 and 3-2 in extra innings (14 and 11, respectively). The losing streak that had cost the previous Cubs' manager his job was extended to twelve games. I wonder if there was any time during that Sunday afternoon when Charlie Grimm thought of the powerhouse ballclub he had left behind in Milwaukee?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Today in 1944, "Jolly Cholly" Steps Down, the "Old Perfessor" Steps Up

Today was a momentous day in 1944, as popular Brewer manager Charlie Grimm officially stepped down from his post in the Borchert Field dugout to take the vacated Chicago Cubs managerial job.

But never fear, Brewer fans, Jolly Cholly wouldn't leave without a carefully-chosen successor in place. Grimm chose Casey Stengel to take over.

Stengel is well-known to modern baseball fans; he led the New York Yankees to seven World Championships between 1949 and 1958, gave the expansion New York Mets instant credibility, and had his number #37 retired by both clubs. After retiring from managing after the 1965 season, Stengel was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is widely considered one of the greatest managers the game has ever produced.

But that was all in his future. In 1944, Casey Stengel was seen as washed-up, a has-been coming off two failed managerial stints. He had been skipper of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves for a total of eleven seasons, never finishing higher than fifth place with either club (this in eight-team leagues). Hardly the big name Milwaukee fans wanted to see take over their first-place Brewers.

Grimm recognized something in Stengel, though, and chose him to safeguard Grimm's investment in Milwaukee. How well the Old Perfessor would do with it, well, we'll see soon enough.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Back in 1944: Bill Veeck Returns to Borchert Field

...Well, kind of. The Brewer boss was still serving his country in the South Pacific, but the men he left behind were ensuring that he wasn't forgotten.

When the Brewers come home next Saturday, fans who go to the games at Borchert field will see President Bill Veeck as big as life. An enlarged photograph has been placed over the grandstand entrance. The picture shows Ed Kretlow, groundskeeper, putting it up before the team left last week, with General Manager Rudy Schaffer holding the ladder and Manager Charley Grimm supervising the job. The picture was taken at the railroad station when Veeck waved farewelll as he left to become a marine. He is in the south Pacific now.
I love this photo, not only for how the Brewers were remembering Veeck but also the rare glimpse at the interior of Borchert Field itself.