Saturday, July 14, 2018

Uni Watch: "Bucs and Crew Throw It Back For Negro League Tribute"

This morning Uni Watch published an article I wrote on the Brewers' most recent Negro League throwbacks. I'll re-print it here as my review of the annual Turn Back the Clock event, but please be sure to check it out on the Uni Watch site.
Bucs and Crew Throw It Back For Negro League Tribute

Brewers & Pirates Negro League Tribute
By Chance Michaels

Last night, the PIttsburgh Pirates held an African-American Heritage Night at PNC Park, including a "Turn Back the Clock" game with the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. As a longtime student of Milwaukee baseball history, I had a keen interest in this game.

You may recall that I first wrote about the Milwaukee Brewers' Negro League throwbacks for Uni Watch back in 2013. The Brew Crew had been honoring their city's one-year Negro National League club, the 1923 Milwaukee Bears, for a while at that point without really knowing what the Bears had actually worn.

To recap: the Brewers' first Negro League throwback was in 2001, against the Tigers in Detroit. The Brewers wore one-off gray uniforms with blue pinstripes and sleeves and the full name "MILWAUKEE BEARS" in blue letters across the chest.

In 2006, they decided to hold their own annual Negro League tribute games, and that's where the Bears got a little fuzzy-wuzzy. Blame the poor contemporaneous coverage of the league in the mainstream (read: white) press, blame the short life of the ballclub, but it quickly became apparent that the Brewers weren't actually quite sure what a Bears throwback should look like. They started with new white uniforms with black pinstripes and caps to match. After a couple seasons, the black-and-whites were replaced with a new throwback, solid white uniforms with royal blue sleeves and piping, and great-looking caps with a cool diamond logo. Three totally different designs supposedly representing the same one-year club.

In 2013, when I last wrote about them, the Brewers had settled (back) on the pinstriped white-and-blacks, and they've worn them ever since. And they've looked pretty good in them. Most of the time. It's a good look, although some details changed over time; sometimes they wore custom black helmets, sometimes their standard navy blue with the decals removed. Along the line, the squatchee went from its original black in 2006 to a more modern-style white, but that seems more like a New Era goof than anything. And finally, earlier this year, we got our first public look at the 1923 photo that convinced the Brewers that they were on the right track back in 2006 after all.

But with all that variation over the years, what we haven't seen is a road version. Well, once. They had a one-off road version in gray with a black cap in Kansas City on June 26, 2006. But not again. Not until last night.

We had our first clue earlier this week, when Lids introduced a new retail Brewers cap, the same as the pinstriped white but in gray. That leak told us that the Brewers were planning something new. A quick look at their opponents' promotional schedules, and it all fell into place.

And so, last night, we had the return of the roads. These new gray throwbacks are pretty sharp. Although these new throwbacks don't have the MLB Batterman logo on the back of the cap or jersey, they do have Majestic and New Era logo creep on the side. Of course, given all the history it wouldn't feel right without just a hint of speculation or guesswork, and the Brewers obliged us. The throwback cap, black in its original appearance, was now gray. And shame about the gray squatchee. Which is historically accurate? We may never know, until the next rare photo surfaces. I don't want to ignore the home team, though; they looked great. I'm a sucker for contrasting pocket flaps.

The Pirates have a long and glorious history of Negro League throwbacks. Of course, it also helps that Pittsburgh also had a long and glorious history of Negro League baseball.

The Pirates have thrown back to the Homestead Grays at least eleven times since 1997, and worn Crawfords unis almost as often.

When they wear Crawfords uniforms, it's more likely to be a pinstriped uniform, but these particular uniforms resemble those worn by the Pirates on June 28, 2014 against the Mets.

And while the Brewers wore their black helmets with white "M"s from previous years, the Pirates opted to sport their customary black-and-gold lids. Shame.

Congrats to the Pirates for organizing this great-looking game. Shame about the final score, but I'm willing to overlook that for the rare privilege of seeing these beautiful road grays in action.
Uni Watch Deputy Editor Phil Hecken also posted some video of the uniforms in action.

Thanks again to Phil and to Paul Lukas for including me. It's always a pleasure.

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