Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Modest Proposal for the Chicks' 75th

Okay, it's time.

If we want the Brewers to host a Turn Back the Clock game next year honoring the Milwaukee Chicks/Schnitts, we all need to advocate. And now.

Why the Campaign?
This is our opportunity to celebrate Milwaukee's short-lived club in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. So much more than just the inspiration for the film A League of Their Own, the league represents an important chapter in American history, opening up the professional game to a whole new group of players.

The league started in 1943 with four franchises within driving distance of Chicago: the Rockford Peaches, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets, and Racine Belles. For its sophomore season, the league expanded to Milwaukee and Minneapolis, borrowing names from the local American Association clubs: the Minneapolis Millerettes and Milwaukee Brewettes.

Okay, So Who Were the Chicks? And Who Were the Schnitts?
The "Brewettes" name never caught on, and by the time the season started the papers had assigned them a pair of new names. Names were less official in the AAGPBL, as in the early days of the majors. The uniforms only ever said "Milwaukee", in the form of the city seal in a patch. In league materials such as this schedule, teams were principally identified only by their home cities. They wore city seals on their tunics, and city initials on their caps.

When simply "Milwaukee" wasn't enough, such as this newspaper ad promoting Opening Day in the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Chicks were referred to as "Our Milwaukee team".

This Opening Day ad from the Milwaukee Journal covers both bases, with "Milwaukee" and "Milwaukee's Own Team." Still no evidence of any nickname to be found.

Still, the papers needed to call them something. The Milwaukee Journal called them the "Schnitts", after the Bavarian term for a small glass of beer. The Milwaukee Sentinel dubbed them the "Chicks" after their manager, future Hall of Fame outfielder Max Carey. There had been a popular RKO movie several years before called "Mother Carey's Chickens", about a hardscrabble family at the turn of the century, adapted from a 1911 book of the same name. The pun must have been too tempting for the Sentinel's sportswriters to resist.

Why a Turn Back the Clock Game?
Turn Back the Clock Games are a common way to celebrate defunct clubs. The Brewers have been participating in Negro League TBTC events since 2001, and have been hosting an annual tribute to the one year Milwaukee Bears club since 2006.

This 75th Anniversary is a rare opportunity to commemorate an entirely different slice of Milwaukee baseball history.

What Would They Wear?
Ay, there's the rub!

No, we're not talking about putting our True Blue Brew Crew in the short-skirt tunics from A League of Their Own. There already exists a male version of the club's uniform, as worn by the manager. Think Tom Hanks as Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan.

In the case of the Chicks, we have a simple template to follow.

We start with solid white uniforms (or cream-colored, for that vintage feel). Add black socks and red belts. Just like the ones Carey, and the women, wore back in 1944.

The numbers on the back of the original uniforms were single-color felt in black. No outlines. The number font was the same one originally used by the Chicago Cubs in the 1930s, which should be unsurprising. The original AABPBL uniforms were designed by Otis Shepard, art director for all of William Wrigley's enterprises: first his gum company, then his National League baseball club, and finally his women's baseball league. Can't really blame Shepard for re-visiting some greatest hits, and these numbers are clean, legible, and stylish all at once.

The logo on the chest is the Seal of the City of Milwaukee, modified slightly in chain-stitch form.

The overall effect is simple but distinctive, as seen in this reproduction from Ebbets Field Flannels:

It's important to get the logo right. There have been three variations on the Milwaukee-seal chest patch. The original was black, red, and white with thick strokes to match its chain stitching. The AAGPBL recently released an "official" version in blue and red, with a too-detailed seal and modified font. Then there's the wildly inaccurate blue, red, and yellow one seen on reproduction uniforms of the 1990s (including the uniform currently on display at Miller Park).

Original game-worn 1944 logo patch2018 modern interpretation:
close but not quite
1990s interpretation: way, way off

On their heads, the Chicks wore black caps with a red brim and button. The cap logo was two-tone, a black sans-serif "M" within gold-and-black concentric circles.

Translated by New Era onto a modern cap template, it would look something like this:

And there we have it. A classic throwback look.

Who Would the Brewers Play?
Turn Back the Clock games are most fun when both teams participate.

Ideally, the Brewers could invite the Minnesota Twins to join in. If the name "Millerettes" is seen as too much, that club was later known as the "Orphans" after losing their stadium part way through the season. A Schnitts/Orphans matchup would be perfect.

If not the Twins (and the as-yet-unreleased schedule might not cooperate), either Chicago club could represent the Rockford Peaches.

What Else Would a TBTC Game Entail?
The Brewers could invite members of Wisconsin's own WWII Girls Baseball Living History League, who keep the AAGPBL alive by playing vintage games by 1943 rules in vintage uniforms.

They could screen A League of Their Own afterwards on the Miller Park scoreboard. Couple that with the standard TBTC events of trivia, vintage photos and film usually found on scoreboards at these events, it would be a good time for all.

There are no living Chicks players, but perhaps the Brewers could ask their daughters or granddaughters to throw out first pitches. Or Penny Marshall, Geena Davis, or another woman associated with A League of Their Own. Or all of the above!

For a giveaway, about a bobblehead?

How Can We Make This Happen?
Spread the word! Use social media, hashtag #ChicksTBTC, if you're a Brewers season ticket holder call your rep and let them know you want to see this next year. Follow the AAGPBL Players Association on social media and help us tell their story.

Together, we can bring this often-overlooked chapter of Milwaukee history to life once again. Even if only for one day.

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