Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spring, 1944: Julio Acosta Tosses One In

This gorgeous 8x10 photo features Julio Acosta, the Brewers' Cuban pitcher, showing off a little follow-through.

Acosta was central to one of president Bill Veeck's best gags; in late August 1943 Veeck secretly bought the left-handed hurler's contract and had Acosta jump out of a cake during an on-field birthday party for manager Charlie Grimm.

So can we date this photograph? In addition to stamps indicating "Milwaukee Journal Library", there is a stamp on the reverse indicates that the picture was filed on Monday, June 12, 1944. At that point, Acosta had been on the team less than a year, so the window is fairly narrow as these things go.

This uniform design predates the Veeck administration; a solid uniform with thick, dark royal blue piping and a red block "M" on the chest. Sport Shirt Bill introduced his own design starting with the 1942 season, his first full season in charge.

The patch on his left sleeve is even more telling; it was introduced to commemorate the "100th birthday of baseball", and was worn by all professional clubs during the 1939 season. The Brewers were no exception; here we can see it on the gray flannel road jersey of then-player/manager Minor "Mickey" Heath:

Look at how long Heath's sleeves are in that picture! In the early 1940s, baseball fashion was changing. Sleeves were shorter, and this jersey had its sleeves crudely chopped off above the blue piping to make them fit the period's preferred style.

So Acosta is wearing a jersey that is at least four years old. It's therefore most likely that the photo was taken at Spring Training in 1944. Even today it's still common for clubs to re-use old uniforms in spring and exhibition games. If that's the case, the location is Waukesha in the outer Milwaukee suburbs. Wartime travel restrictions caused the Brewers to move their Spring Training camp to a closer location.

There's another tantalizing detail, although a bit out-of-focus. There's an unidentified right-handed player wearing a team jacket.

Although it's not clear in this photo, that jacket features a patch of team mascot Owgust, and it is one of my personal Grails. I don't know if any still exist, but we can certainly hope.

In 1943, or at least the nine appearances he made in a Milwaukee uniform, Acosta went 3-1 with an ERA of 3.89. He finished 1944 with the exact same ERA, this time with a 13-10 record from 36 appearances. He bettered all those numbers in 1945, a 15-10 record and 3.44 ERA. Those good times were not to last; in 1946 Acosta struggled in Spring Training and was provisionally sold to the Little Rock Travelers. His struggles continued in Arkansas, and they returned him to Milwaukee in June. Unable to get him back to his old form, the Brewers released him outright that month.

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