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.

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