By Phil Hecken
If there is one thing the Milwaukee Brewers are famous for this season, it’s keeping the fans entertained with a dizzying array of uniforms and jerseys. In fact, today, the Brewers will be hosting one of my favorite events, their eighth annual Negro Leagues Tribute, and the top they wear will mark the twelfth different one this season. Uni designer and historian Todd Radom actually wrote about this phenomenon the other day.
And while the two navy, the Cerveceros, the Piwowarzy and the
urine beer-colored jerseys are more about marketing, the uniform they’ll wear today (the Milwaukee Bears) is a nice tip of the cap to Negro League baseball.
If you’ve been reading Uni Watch for any period of time, you know that no one knows more about Milwaukee baseball history than today’s featured guest — Chance Michaels. We recently did a column (linked in Chance’s portion, below) on another Milwaukee throwback, and today, Chance is back to look at the uniform the Brewers will be wearing today.
I’ve said enough already, so I will just simply turn the remainder of the lede over to Chance, who will now ask you to…
“Grin and Bear it”
By Chance Michaels
Today, the Milwaukee Brewers are hosting the Miami Marlins in Miller Park’s 8th Annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game. As in the past, the Brewers will don throwback uniforms honoring Milwaukee’s very brief entry in the Negro Leagues, the Milwaukee Bears.
The Bears were formed in 1923 to replace another team that had dropped out of the Negro National League. Manager (and future Hall of Famer) Pete Hill cobbled together a roster. Under-finanaced, the team struggled to a last-place finish and disbanded after that one single season.
That team was largely forgotten until 2001, when the Brewers made a trip to Detroit and participated in the Tigers’ annual celebration of their city’s NL history. The Tigers wore Detroit Stars uniforms, and the Brewers were outfitted with gray jerseys with blue raglan sleeves, blue pinstripes and the words “MILWAUKEE BEARS” in two rows of serifed blue block letters. These jerseys, commissioned by the Tigers, were manufactured by AIS.
In 2006, the Brewers inaugurated their own annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game and with it, a new Bears uniform (introduced in the same press release as the then-new Cerveceros jerseys). This throwback uniform was white with black pinstripes, a black cadet collar and the name “MILWAUKEE” in black letters arced across the chest. The cap was similarly pinstriped with a black bill, squatchee and block “M”. Unlike many teams, the Brewers even ordered new batting helmets, black with a contrasting white letter.
A road version in gray was worn on a road trip to Kansas City that season.
The Brewers continued to wear these uniforms once per year for the next two seasons. For the 2009 game, the throwback uniform was completely re-designed. The new official Milwaukee Bears Turn Back the Clock uniforms were cream with royal blue raglan sleeves and placket piping. Across the chest, “BEARS” in sans-serif block. As with the earlier throwbacks, these came complete with custom helmets. As late as 2010, these special uniforms were still being manufactured by AIS.
The best part of this new uniform, to my eye, was the cap. The logo featured an “M” within a diamond; classic, simple yet distinctive. I could see the Brewers adopting something like it today.
So that meant three very distinct uniforms attributed to the Milwaukee Bears. I remarked at the time that it seemed somewhat excessive for a club which barely made it through a single season. No explanation was ever given for the change in uniforms. I’m not actually aware of any acknowledgement that there was a change; the Brewers just moved seamlessly from black to blue. I presumed that this resulted from new research; information about the Bears is extremely rare, resulting from a combination of the single season with the establishment media’s tendency at the time to ignore the Negro Leagues. The 2009 uniforms also bore a distinct resemblance to jerseys and caps that were being merchandised by independent companies as early as 2004.
And so the Annual Negro Leagues Tribute Games have continued to be held every year.
This season, the Brewers had announced that it would be held on July 20th against the Miami Marlins. We had no reason to believe there would be anything different about this year’s game, until one of my blog’s readers sent in a tip: black and white pinstriped caps had just been added to the shelves of a Milwaukee-area Lids store.
I did some checking, and sure enough, they had also surfaced online. This indicated a return to the pinstriped throwbacks worn from 2006-2008. The change was confirmed to me by a representative of the Brewers, and then made official on Thursday, July 18, just two days before the game (using the promotional photo taken in 2009, you may notice).
As with 2009, there hasn’t been an acknowledgement that the throwback uniforms have changed, much less an exploration of why the change was made.
I contacted Tyler Barnes, Vice President – Communications for the Brewers (for whom I had consulted on this year’s 1913 throwbacks). He was able to confirm for me that yes, the pinstripes were returning, and they were brought back because the Brewers “believe it’s a more accurate representation of the uniform that was actually worn.” The Brewers have worked with Bob Kendrick of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and they were actually able to locate images of players from the 1923 Bears team.
I know from my own experience that Barnes’s commitment to baseball history is unquestionable, and I’m glad to see a fuller understanding of this period developing right before our eyes. Even if I do miss that blue M-diamond.
Thanks Chance! It’s always a pleasure and a privilege to hear from our own Milwaukee baseball (and football) uniform historian. Those uniforms sure look great, and hopefully (fingers & toes crossed), all players will play along with properly bloused pants/visual socks. It will also be nice if the Marlins are outfitted in something befitting a Negro League Tribute. My knowledge of the Negro Leagues is, regrettably, scant, but I do know there was a brief period of time when Miami did have a Negro League team called “The Miami Ethiopian Clowns” who played for a short period of time in the early 1940s.
Back tomorrow with photos and a roundup of the game!
Update: Just as I was finished writing the last two grafs, the Marlins tweeted SOME good news:
Throwbacks! The Marlins will wear reproductions of uniforms from the 1956 Miami Marlins tomorrow at Miller Park against the Brewers.
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) July 19, 2013
Not quite the Negro League throwbacks I was hoping for, but still not their current monstrosities. So at least the game should have a throwbackish feel. There are a couple of possibilities for the Marlins, such as this throwback they wore against the Mets a few years ago. The home uniform for the 1956 Miami Marlins looked like this, and here is a photo of Satchel Paige in 1956 road unis (which should look somewhat like this in color). Looking forward to it!
Update 2: And as I’d suspected after the Marlins’ tweet, they released a photo of the cap and jersey they’ll be wearing, and it’s a BEAUT (click to enlarge):
Should be a mighty fine looking game!
We have another new set of tweaks, er…concepts today. After discussion with a number of readers, it’s probably more apropos to call most of the reader submissions “concepts” rather than tweaks. So that’s that.
So if you’ve concept for any sport, or just a tweak or wholesale revision, send them my way.
Please do try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per image — if you have three uniform concepts in one image, then obviously, you can go a little over, but no novels, OK? OK!. You guys have usually been good with keeping the descriptions pretty short, and I thank you for that.
Like the colorizations, I’m going to run these as inline pics — click on each one to enlarge.
And so, lets begin:
We begin today with Noah H., who has a pair of NBA concepts:
I have two NBA concepts (Wizards and Mavs) that I made with remarkably low-budget software. I hope they come out looking as I intended. Please excuse any asymmetry or the like; I did my best with what I had.
I hate the jerseys that my hometown Wizards are wearing right now, mostly because you can’t see the jersey numbers. This is because 1. They are done in an ugly, skinny font and 2. They blend into the stripe on the jersey. I gave them a much simpler design with an homage to the DC flag and a star motif that probably took it a little too far.
For the Mavs, I took an old uniform and designed over it, which is evidenced by the weird, sloppy, accidental two-tone look.
Next up is Chris Murphy, who reworked the Royals:
I saw Oliver Kodner’s St. Louis Cardinals designs over the weekend, and loved his template, and it inspired me to use his drawing as a base for some uniform tweaks to the Kansas City Royals uniforms. I think the Royals have really great uniforms, so I only make some minor adjustments, adding stripes to the sleeves as well as to the socks. Now if we could just get MLB to make stirrups and high socks MANDATORY.
Thanks for listening!
We close today with Brent Hatfield who has a bunch of Brew Crew changes:
About a year ago I had sent concepts involving a Bernie the Brewer hat, well a year later I have recreated these bad boys using an updated version of the American Association Brewers Barrelman logo.
And that’s it for today. Back with more next time.
Last weekend, I had a section on the 1902 Cleveland Broncho throwbacks worn by the Indians, and one of my lamentations was the lack of TV coverage.
In that blurb, I mentioned that the only ones who got to see those beautiful uniforms were the fans and the photographers, and it just so happens that one of our readers, Frank Jones, was one of those lucky ones.
He sent along a few photos and his take on the game, which I’m going to post below (click to enlarge all photos):
I was at the game. It looked gorgeous, and I’m including a few shots here (best I could do since all I had was a point and shoot). It stays light pretty late here and they actually got most of the game in before full dark. They also gave away replica throwbacks, which were pretty nice aside from the ugly sponsorship panel on the left sleeve and the “TM” under the C logo.
The replicas were 100% polyester, however, which brings me to the next point and might help explain why they played this game at night. It was approximately 85 degrees with about 70% humidity at game time, and it could not have been very comfortable to be running around under bright sunlight dressed head to toe in something that resembles, from a distance, a black body stocking. So that’s my guess, that heat-related concerns were the first order of thinking here. Now why it wasn’t televised, I have no idea…
If you will recall, about a month ago, I penned a special Fathers Day article featuring many of our dads, either living or no longer with us. It was very well received. One of those who submitted was Frank Bitzer (scroll down). The third photo featured Nick Shundich, pictured with his own son, Steve — Frank had sent that photo along because a few weeks prior, our own George Chilvers had colorized a photo of Nick during his playing days at Cincinnati.
Last Sunday, I received a very nice “Thank You” note from Frank, that I want to share with you:
This is not necessarily for publication. Just wanted to follow-up with you on the “colorize this” photos of Nick Shundich that you ran back in early June. (University of Cincinnati football).
Nick died Friday. His family has selected one of the colorized photos for the cover of the program for his services this coming Thursday (the less intense colored version – drawing a blank on who did it). According to his son Steve, Nick really liked that colorization a great deal.
So, thank you. And please share my gratitude on behalf of the Shundich family with the fellow who did that colorization. It brought happiness to a dying man and comfort to his grieving family.
Brinke Guthrie knew Nick and Steve very well as they were neighbors. Nick was Brinke’s first soccer coach growing up.
Thanks again to you and Paul and the entire Uni-Watch team. Sometimes, it’s about more than the aesthetics. And that’s where you and Paul really “get it”.
Thanks Frank for sharing, and please accept my condolences. And here, once again, and for posterity, is George’s colorized photo of Nick:
So thanks not only to Frank, but to George and the entire Uni Watch “family.”
As you good readers may (or may not) know, beginning this coming Thursday (July 25), I will begin my month-long run of handling the weekday duties here at Uni Watch, taking over while Paul goes on his annual summer hiatus (a well-deserved rest, to recharge for the coming football seasons). He actually never really takes a vacation, and may make a guest appearance if or as conditions warrant, and of course he’ll still be doing his usual ESPN columns.
While I have a few ideas and columns lined up (and have a few guest features in the works), I can always use a hand from you fine readers. If anyone has any ideas for a column and wants to pitch me, I’m all ears. Send me an Email at Phil.Hecken@gmail.com and let me know what you have in mind. Please put in the subject line “Uni Watch Article Idea”. Many of you already submit me your ideas, but I’m opening up the floor to all the readership. I can always use the help — you guys are great, and I’d love to feature some of the finer readers if you have ideas for a lede. OK? OK.
As in past summers, I’m pleased to let you know that Morris Levin will be back with four Friday articles (always a big favorite with the readership). Also, I have a new uniform design contest to announce (soon, soon) that I think you’ll like, so there’s that too.
I probably will not run too many of the usual weekend features (at least not on a daily basis), such as the concepts or colorizations, and there will probably be only a couple of “Stirrup” bits. I’ll try to keep the columns as close to that you expect from Paul. Shorter, leaner and meaner.
And who knows, there may be a surprise or two.
That’s jussssst about it for today, but a couple last things before the close.
• Real nice video/article entitled “30 Fans from 30 Cities” which was a video team who ventured to
Shea Citi Field “on a mission to meet at least one fan from every team, and see what stories they had to share.” Pretty interesting. Worth a quick look-see.
• Reader Nobo Gotu thought this might be interesting. He sent along this photo with his own caption: “At his own charity event. Hard to notice the sock stripes with those hideous orange shorts.”
Um, what shorts. Ahem. Seriously though, who wears socks like that (and at that height) anymore? I wore my socks like that in junior high (late 1970s-early 80s). Jim Vilk wore his socks like that back then (and even as a teen, with his first mustache). But now? Is that type of fashion statement making a comeback? Yecch.
• Then there’s this really nicely done piece called the “10 Most Talked About Sports Logos”, which does a great job well, talking about sports logos. It’s got some of the all-time classics in there. And, according to the article, the author “tracked down three of the top sports logo designers in the industry and design directors from major North American sports, and asked them all to weave in their opinion.” Another article definitely worth the read.
• Ok, this is pretty cool:
— KT (@Coach_KT) July 20, 2013
• Don’t forget kids, MLB Season Ticket is on free preview. So if your team sucks, you can watch a good one.
Alrighty then, that’s plenty for this fine Saturday — my last one until after the Labor Day weekend. I’ll have one more weekend extravaganza tomorrow, and then I start my weekday run on Thursday. Big thanks to Chance and to the concepters, plus Frank and Frank for their input/e-mails.
Have a great Saturday and I’ll catch you guys on the morrow.
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken.
“So glad Russell took WKU’s nice looking traditional uniforms, wadded them up and wiped their ass with them to produce this gimmicky piece of shit.”