Sunday, June 9, 2019

On This Day - the Chicks Become the Chicks

On this day in 1944, something momentous happened to the Milwaukee Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League. That was the day the Chicks became the Chicks.

The question of what to call the team had been percolating for some time. The league itself just used "Milwaukee", in the style of the times. Nicknames were more casual in the first half of the twentieth centuries, more transient, and were often linked to moments in time. When Cleveland was managed by Napoleon Lajoie, they were known as the "Cleveland Naps." When four starting players got married in the off-season, the papers started referring to Brooklyn's National League club as the "Bridegrooms". The Brewers had been the Brewers for forty years, more or less, but hadn't put their nickname on uniforms until 1942. And since the AAGPBL didn't wear team names on their uniforms, only city and state, it would make sense that the nickname could arise organically.

The Milwaukee Journal settled on a nickname fairly early%mdash;the "Schnitts", after the Bavarian term for a half-glass of beer&Mdash;but the Sentinel took some time to find a name they liked. They started with "Brewerettes" and "Brewettes", used almost interchangeably, as seen in these clippings from June 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1944.

And then, on June 9th, something amazing happened. Buried on the sports page...

if you can find it...

was this off-handed reference, buried in the third paragraph of an article about the previous day's games.

Manager Max Carey of the Milwaukee Chicks announced he had signed Clara Cook, a pitcher from Elmira, N.Y. She formerly hurled for Kenosha.
And there you have it. The Sentinel had settled on a name.

Ostensibly, the name referred to a 1938 RKO Pictures film, well-known at the time and based upon a 1911 novel. "Mother Carey's Chickens" was a melodrama about a widow striving to provide for her four after her naval captain husband is killed in the Spanish-American war.

"Chicks" in the story referred to her whole brood, two boys and two girls. The term as slang for children in general is as old as Shakespeare. The etymology of "chick" as a term for a young woman specifically is unclear, but it was certainly in use by 1944. Not always with a positive connotation.

Someone at the Sentinel took note of manager Max Carey's name, and applied to the film title for a world-class pun. And that's the name that stuck. It would become the name the team would use, even if only casually. The newspaper ads would continue to use "Milwaukee" or "Our Milwaukee Team", but the name "Chicks" would become official soon. Perhaps "Schnitts" was too close to another rude term, and frankly the less said about either "Brewettes" or "Brewerettes" the better.

"Chicks" may seem dismissive to our modern ears, as both the book and RKO Radio Picture have faded into historical obscurity and we're left without context. But that's how the women referred to themselves, and it all started seventy-five years ago today.

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