Monday, March 12, 2018

A Modest Proposal for 2019, Part II: What Would They Wear?

In a recent post, I suggested that the Brewers should hold a "Turn Back the Clock" event next year honoring the Milwaukee Chicks, who won the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League championship in 1944, their only year of existence.

I further suggested that our Brew Crew could naturally wear the men's version of the uniform, as seen on manager Max Carey at the right edge of that photo. But what exactly did those uniforms look like?

I don't yet have good photos of the uniforms, much less color photos, but we can start by reviewing what we know about the AAGPBL and its æsthetics.

The AAGPBL's uniforms were designed by Otis Shepard. Shepard had worked for Philip Wrigley in his family business, and went on to define the Cubs' look for decades. His upbeat, bright style is unmistakeable today.

Shepard worked with Chicago softball star Ann Harnett to develop the uniforms. He settled on a "tunic" approach, a combination double-breasted shirt and short skirt.

Photo credit: Northern Indiana Center for History Collection
The first four players signed to the AAGPBL in 1943:
Back,L-R: Clara Schillace, Ann Harnett and Edie Perlick. Front, seated: Shirley Jameson.
Each team would have its own signature-colored tunic. Each tunic which was decorated with a circular patch representing the home city. This design was often adapted from the city seal.

Photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame

As an aside, the costume designer for A League of Their Own made a small modification to those patches for the film; in reality, each club was identified by their city and state. The film costumes changed the state name to the name of the team.

In this particular example, "CITY OF RACINE • WISCONSIN" became "CITY OF RACINE • BELLES".

I don't know why this change was made. Perhaps it was an attempt to universalize the characters, get them out of their Midwest origins into a more "Anytown, America" feeling. But regardless of why it was done, remember this point; it's going to come up again soon.

So that's what the league's players wore. But what about the specific Milwaukee iteration?

Hometown Milwaukee players Sylvia Wronski (l) and Vivian Anderson (r) give us a glimpse of the uniforms.
The general consensus seems to be that the Chicks wore gray as their signature color.

And as for the symbol? Milwaukee's city seal is a four-lobed design around a central image, as seen in this gorgeous Works Progress Administration stained-glass window in City Hall.

Sure seems a match for Ms. Anderson's tunic.

K & P Weaver, LLC makes reprodutions of historical baseball uniforms, and their version of the Chicks' duds includes a gray tunic with black details.

That cap has its own issues, but we'll talk about those at a later date.

On their backs, the women wore single-color black numbers, in the same style Shepard had previously designed for Wrigley's Cubs.

Strong, graceful, and bold. I love this font.

There is a Milwaukee Chicks display at Miller Park, complete with a different reproduction tunic. But having looked at what we've seen so far, you'll understand why I have serious questions as to its authenticity.

The seal is the real giveaway.

That's Milwaukee's unmistakable city seal, all right. But the text? "CITY OF MILWAUKEE ★ THE CHICKS"? I don't think so.

The best reason to doubt that is that the Chicks weren't really the Chicks. Or rather they might have been, but they weren't always.

In those days, baseball nicknames were much less official than they are today. They were often informal, and changed frequently. Heck, even a stable team like the Brewers, which had been "the Brewers" for nearly all of its forty-year history to that point, had only put the nickname on uniforms in 1942, two seasons before.

Consider also how the club had marketed itself around town, such as this ad in the Milwaukee Sentinel advertising the first-ever game:

Not "the Chicks", but only "Our Milwaukee Team".

"Brewerettes" or "Brewettes" was floated as a possible name, playing off the established tenants at Borchert Field. This is what the league did in Minneapolis that same season with the "Millerettes". But the name didn't catch on in Milwaukee. Some sources, including the Sentinel in its coverage, called them the "Chicks" and that is the name that has stuck until today. Certainly the club used it at least occasionally, and made it official after they moved to Grand Rapids in 1945.

Photo credit: Flickr user islespunkfan
Grand Rapids Chicks pennant and cap in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But in Milwaukee? It was much less clear. The Milwaukee Journal eschewed both "Brewettes" and "Chicks" in favor of their own nickname, the "Schnitts".

Wives of ballplayers usually sit in the stand, but in the case shown above the situation was reversed Thursday night at Borchert field. Staff Sergt. Richard Keagle of the army air forces came from Lyke field, Phoenix, Ariz., to visit his wife, Merle, and attended the game between the Milwaukee Schnitts and Rockford. His wife, who plays right field for the Schnitts, got two hits and scored two runs to help win, 9-6. The Keagles were married a year ago.
The reference may be a little lost on many of us today, but in Bavaria a "schnitt" is a glass of beer filled quickly from a tap, resulting in it being filled somewhere around one-third to one-half with beer and the rest with foam. It's often intended to be a top-off at the end of a night, something to drink if you've finished before your friends. So this nickname was a kid-sister diminutive of the Brewers, or "Brews" as they were colloquially known.

Given all this, it seems very unlikely that players wore a team nickname on their tunics, be it "Brewerettes", "Chicks", "Schnitts" or something else entirely. I'm almost positive that the Miller Park recreation is an entirely modern creation, and shouldn't be considered a basis for any possible throwback uniform.

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