Bobby Maduro and the Miami Amigos

Caracas, Maracaibo, Miami, Panama, San Juan, Santo Domingo. Collectively, these cities resonate in the world of Caribbean baseball in the way that a listing of “New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo” resonates in the world of high fashion. The only Caribbean baseball city clearly absent from that list is Havana.

Bobby Maduro was born in Havana in 1916. In 1954, he would become the owner and driving force behind the minor league Havana Sugar Kings, an International League club that played at the Havana ballpark now known as Estadio Latinoamericano, the largest and most famed park in Cuba. For Maduro, the Triple-A Sugar Kings seemed to be a stepping stone to his bigger dream, which was to bring a Major League club to Havana. But in 1960, after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and nationalized the economy, the wealthy Maduro was forced to emigrate to Miami––though, ironically, not before an exhibition game was played between his Sugar Kings and the “Barbudos” team led by Castro and fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.

Maduro_-_Exterior_From_Right_V2T

Miami Stadium (later Bobby Maduro Stadium)

In the late 1970s, the Cold War and the resulting isolation of a Soviet-backed Cuba were in full effect when Maduro set out to a realize a new dream, creating an elite professional baseball league in the Caribbean to play in the summer, a key challenge and distinction from the usual Caribbean winter leagues. Working with people in Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, Maduro found owners, stadiums, and coaches, laying the framework for what would become the Inter-American Baseball League.

Miami_Amigos_1979_Ballcap

The Miami Amigos played at Miami Stadium. Cap available here.

In 1979, the league was finally set to begin play between its founding clubs: the Caracas Metropolitanos, the Maracaibo Petroleros, the Panama Banqueros, the San Juan Boricuas, the Santo Domingo Tiburones, and the pillar of the league, its American entry, the Miami Amigos, who were managed by 4-time Major League All Star, Davey Johnson.

The league’s inaugural game was played on April 11, 1979, before 10,000 fans at Panama’s Estadio Arosemena, between the home Banqueros and the Miami Amigos, a game which the Banqueros won, 6-5, thanks to an unexpected two-out rally in the bottom of the 9th.

In June of that year, the San Juan and Panama clubs folded, a few weeks later the rest of the league’s clubs followed suit. Maduro’s dream had lasted for little more than three months.

Shortly after Maduro’s 1986 death, the city of Miami renamed the ballpark that had housed the Miami Amigos, among other local Minor League clubs, Bobby Maduro Stadium. The vote in favor was unanimous.

Guest blogger, Joe Swide

Not Even A Cup Of Coffee…

A few years ago, I did a blog post about veteran minor leaguer Cosmo Cotelle, who played for over twenty teams in a twenty year career without ever tasting even a cup of coffee in the majors.  Cotelle played for ten different major league organizations and five levels of minor league ball from 1919 to 1940. Despite a lifetime aggregate batting average of .320 in the minors, Cotelle never got the call. He reached the highest level of minor leagues several times, but never made it that last step. This was not so unusual at the time, as there were only sixteen major league clubs, so about 400 total jobs. Once a player reached the majors he did anything to stay there, including playing hurt. With up to 300 teams in the minors, that meant as many as 7500 players competing for a handful cherished slots in the bigs.

Cosmo Cotelle, no doubt wondering what it will take to get to the majors.

Cosmo Cotelle, no doubt wondering what it will take to get to the majors.

In Cotelle’s case, it was a typical situation of a very good player perhaps not having that something extra to earn a look in the big leagues.

The pitcher Bill Sisler holds the record for most teams played for at an astounding fifty. But what is more interesting is that he seems to have been a lousy player whose main talent was talking himself into jobs. He never lasted more than a few games with any club, yet he continued to talk his way into new contracts. Sisler’s best record was 8-10 with the 1942 Staunton Presidents of the Class C Virginia League. It would be great fun to do an entire collection of the fifty caps worn by Sisler, though I’m not sure how big a market there would be. For more on Sisler check out Tim Hagerty’s column at The Sporting News.

Bill Sisler with the Trenton Giants, one of 50 teams he played for.

Bill Sisler with the Trenton Senators, one of 50 teams he played for.

Yogi

“It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”…and now it’s over. One of the strange things about operating a historical apparel business is how many obituaries I end up reading. What can be said about Yogi Berra that hasn’t already been said by others, or by Yogi himself? In 2008, we were hired by the New York Yankees to make the uniforms for the living Yankee greats from the flannel era. This illustrious list included Mel Stottlemyre, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, and of course, the great Yankee catcher. Obviously this was a very high-profile and important project. As often happens, we were barely given enough time to produce the uniforms, but we managed to barely make the deadline. The game was scheduled for September 21st, and the Yankees graciously flew me out to New York and put me up at the Sheraton (the only time a team has ever done that for a project we’ve done, so thanks, Yankees!). My nerves were already frayed at this point, and being in New York while the global financial system was melting down didn’t help. A day or two before the game I received a call from a Yankee official. He was concerned that the flannel uniforms appeared too “creamy”, and was especially worried that Yogi, in particular, would not like them. The idea that Yogi Berra might not approve our Yogi Berra uniform filled me with dread, but I realized that was as likely a “cover my ass” moment for a panicky staffer and that Yogi himself had likely not actually seen the uniform yet. I patiently explained that flannel uniforms were supposed to be “creamy” compared to the white polyester uniforms of the modern era – Yogi would be fine. Everything went well on the day, and when Yogi’s name was announced and #8 trotted out to his position at home plate and I breathed a sigh of relief.

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With a legend as big as Berra’s, it’s easy to sometimes overlook what a great player he was. He came to the Yankees with no fixed position and uncertain prospects in 1946, after the hometown Cardinals and Browns passed on him, but the Yankees saw something in the youngster that those teams did not, and Casey Stengel, who had a genius for getting the most of his favored players, helped turn Berra into a star. Yogi was not only one the game’s greatest catchers, he was three-time American League MVP, an all-star fifteen consecutive years, the first player to hit a pinch hit home run in the World Series, and the first catcher (and only) catcher to call a perfect game in the Series. He also managed both the Yankees and Mets to pennants. He showed dignity and class, even when treated shabbily by more than one Yankee owner. So, let’s pop open a Yoo-Hoo and salute one of baseball’s best players, as well as greatest characters.

Goodbye, Mr. Coffee

Quick. Which brand revolutionized the way Americans drink their coffee? No, not that one. Earlier. Anyone who had a television from the late 1960s through the next couple of decades is familiar with the commercials featuring none other than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio as Mr. Coffee’s pitchman. The real Mr. Coffee title, however, should go to its inventor, one Vincent Marotta Sr. Marotta was drafted by the NFL’s New York Football Giants and the upstart AAFC’s Cleveland Browns. He chose Cleveland, but does not appear to have earned any playing time on a Browns roster loaded with talent. Well after he hung up his cleats, Marotta went into commercial real estate, but his true genius was in finding an alternative in 1968 to the old household coffee percolator – a tried and true but imperfect method of home-brewing. The only option available at the time was instant – no option at all if you liked good coffee. How to get a cup of home brew that rivaled restaurant drip makers in quality? The answer (with the help of a couple of former Westinghouse engineers) was the Mr. Coffee machine. His second brilliant idea was in convincing Joe DiMaggio to serve as Mr. Coffee pitchman. As an entrepreneur myself, I had to smile when I read of Marotta’s obsession with his invention. “I was so involved with the thing…it was like Michelangelo when he was making his Moses.” A little hyperbolic perhaps, but that is exactly how one feels in the throes of creation (I remember a similar obsession with re-creating the wool flannel baseball jersey nearly three decades ago).

Marotta with his invention in 1978.

Marotta with his invention in 1978.

Mr. Coffee is still with us, but we lost its creator on Saturday at the age of 91. And what did DiMaggio actually think of Mr. Coffee? He avoided the beverage because of his ulcers. Here’s one of the famous Mr. Coffee TV spots featuring the slugger-turned appliance salesman.

The Outrage In Charleston

I had a nice snarky post prepared about the re-branding of the Los Angeles Clippers, and we will run that post later, but there are times when events require us to use our soapbox – however humble – in a different manner, and this is one of those times.

If we as a company have an “origin story”, it is the role that Jackie Robinson played in changing hearts and minds in the world of baseball, but more importantly, in the larger society. This was the story told to me by my father before I ever saw a ballgame. It is as much part of my DNA as the color of my eyes. Later in life, it was my inspiration for starting this company. If it is only a nice story we tell to help sell baseball shirts, if it has no deeper meaning, then we are not worthy of Robinson’s legacy, and I am not worthy of my father’s.

It would be a mistake to think of this as a political post. We have always thought of Ebbets Field Flannels as a community. This community is open to all. A love of baseball and history is the glue that binds us together, and the only prerequisites of being a member. We have never told anyone how they should vote, how they should feel on issues, what they should believe politically. But when a man can walk into a house of God under the guise of wanting to join a prayer group, gain the trust of good people, then abuse that trust in order to commit the most horrible and hateful act imaginable, it requires that we speak out.

It is very tempting to see race relations in this country as a linear progression: Lincoln freed the slaves, Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech, LBJ pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress, and we all lived happily ever after. But of course the reality is more complicated, and more disturbing. It is clear that there is a minority in this country who because of fear, ignorance, or their own personal demons, cannot reconcile themselves to the vision of King, and for whom the story of Robinson means nothing. Charleston is not an isolated event. It must be seen in the context of many events and realities that are unfortunately not in the distant past, but part of our everyday American landscape in 2015. For example, the unmitigated hatred directed at this president by some, not because of what he’s done or any policy he advocates, but because of who he is. The gunning down and harassment of black citizens by police in many communities across this country. The different standards of justice for non-violent offenders of different racial and economic backgrounds, and the disproportionate imprisonment of black men in our justice system. There is a darkness in the heart of too many people despite decades of education, evolution, and much true progress on racial issues. First we need to acknowledge that this darkness exists, something too many people for various reasons are unwilling to do. Only then can we deal with it.

There is also the issue of guns, or rather the availability of guns and the ease of the wrong people obtaining them. Now, I respect people’s right to hunt, to shoot for sport, to protect their homes and property. While we can argue about the nuances of the Second Amendment, we do have one and it must be respected. But no constitutional amendment is unlimited. I simply don’t understand, for example, people who feel the need to carry an AK-47 into a restaurant or a school, as so-called “open carry” advocates have been doing recently in some places. More importantly, when the Constitution is used as cover by an industry that reaps unlimited profits by continued gun production and sales, we need to ask some important questions about that industry’s motives and responsibilities. All countries have mentally imbalanced or hateful people, but we need to ask ourselves why in the United States we have such extremes of gun violence which are unmatched in other developed countries. Is this simply the price we must accept for the freedom to exercise our Constitutional rights? I don’t think so.

As I said, it would be a mistake to think of this as a political post. You cannot legislate an end to hatred, and I am not even sure with the amount of guns already circulating that more laws regulating them will help. I am not telling you what the solutions are or even suggesting that I know what they are. I do think, however, that on both of these issues, which tragically came together in a historic church in Charleston, that it’s high time we ask ourselves some important questions as a people and a society. Only then can any progress be made. We have another presidential election cycle beginning now. Will these candidates and the media address these issues and have a serious discussion about them? Or will the focus be – as it almost always is – on trivialities and the “horse race”, who’s up and who’s down?

I deliberately avoided using the word “tragedy” in my post title because that word has been used too much for these type of events that it has been almost stripped of all meaning, and cannot possibly convey the anger that I feel about this event. “Outrage” expresses it better. Maybe when enough of us feel enough outrage to say “enough is enough, no more” the process of change will finally begin.

Jerry Cohen, Founder, EFF

Tangled Up In Blue (Flannel)

When we recently opened the first roll of 1970-vintage powder blue baseball uniform wool flannel it brought a smile to my face. Some of the first jerseys we made back in the 80s were reproductions of the 1969 Seattle Pilots road unis, personally dyed by me in my bathtub. The Bartells drug store in my Seattle neighborhood carried a shade of Rit dye that when applied to travel gray flannel arrived at the perfect baby blue used on uniforms in the late 1960s. (If you have one of those 1987-era bootleg Pilots jerseys you have a real collectors item).

The first powder-blue MLB jersey, 1964.

The first powder-blue MLB jersey, 1964.

Most of the flannel era was admittedly fairly monochromatic – white for home and road for gray becoming standardized by the late 19th Century. There were a few exceptions, but most of the graphic thrills (such as they were) came about from lettering and trim designs, rather than fabric color.

Inevitably that decade of change – the 1960s – also brought some much-needed eye candy to the sedate world of baseball uniforms. No doubt television was a major factor, as well as expansion, which we will see. Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley (innovator or crackpot, he was called both) unsurprisingly led the way. Unlike his idea for orange baseballs, this concept actually made it onto the field. The A’s burst into rival American League parks and living rooms across the country in1963 attired in striking gold vest-style jerseys and pants (the white shoes were added three years later). Curiously, the gold duds were only worn on the road, and the A’s stuck with home whites for the remainder of the flannel era.

Sox67The very next season the Chicago White Sox, perennial uniform experimenters, introduced the first powder blue uniform as an alternative to the traditional gray. The first jersey was rather unambitious, with a simple block “CHICAGO” arched across the chest, but in 1967 the club appeared with a sharply angled script “Chicago” across the chest and the words “WHITE SOX” inside the tail – still one of the classiest lettering designs of all time, in my opinion.

Ironically the Sox reverted to gray in 1969, just as the fun was beginning. Two expansion teams led the way. If the doomed Seattle Pilots had put as much effort into their finances and stadium issues as had gone into their uniforms, things might have worked out differently, and a certain car dealer from Milwaukee might not have acquired the bankrupt Seattle club and gone on to greater things. The Pilots pulled out all the stops: Powder blue uniforms with military style trim, a pilot wing patch on the front of the jersey (the 100th Anniversary patch occupied the left sleeve of all clubs that year), “scrambled eggs” on the visor of the hat, and four bold gold stripes on their blue socks. When the Pilots were suddenly shifted to Milwaukee before the 1970 season, there was not enough time to design and make new uniforms, so the lettering and patch were torn off and replaced with an attractive “BREWERS” in gold and blue. (Curiously the old Pilots uniforms were retained for an additional season).

Seattle Pilots 1969 road.

Seattle Pilots 1969 road.

Over the northern border, the Montreal Expos (R.I.P.) were thinking similarly bold thoughts. They too chose the road blues and added their own innovation: The first multi-colored cap crown, a style which would catch on across baseball a few years later.

Larry Jaster's '69 road Expos jersey.

Larry Jaster’s ’69 road Expos jersey.

The Japanese professional leagues got into the game as well. You can see our Nishitetsu Lions and Chunichi Dragons blue flannels here, as well as our Winnipeg and Evansville minor league jerseys. (And anyone who has a picture of a Newark Co-Pilots road flannel from 1969-71 needs to call me!).

After 1971 and the radical changes that came with polyester double knit uniforms all bets were off, and there was an explosion of color across the professional baseball landscape. But I find the end of the flannel era to be far more interesting because the experiments and innovations still happened in the context of the traditional baseball uniform.

Our Winnipeg Whips 1970 jersey.

Our Winnipeg Whips 1970 jersey.

Our 1971 Nisitetu Lions jersey.

Our 1971 Nisitetu Lions jersey.

Pride of the Yankees?

One thing that can almost ruin even a good baseball movie for me is if the uniforms are not done accurately. I happened to catch “Pride of the Yankees” on TV the other day, arguably one of the best baseball films ever made, and was immediately struck by how far off the road “NEW YORK” uniform lettering was, more precisely how low on the chest it was placed. As this was (and is) possibly the most famous baseball uniform in the world, and there were ample references available to the costumers, it is difficult to understand why more effort was not expended on accurately replicating the jerseys. If you look closely at both jerseys, you can see that the button spacing on the movie version is farther apart than on the real uniform, however the lettering could still have been moved up to more closely match the originals. After all, this is one of the most recognizable athletic uniforms in the world, so not that tough to get right. Another interesting story regarding the uniforms in this film: Since Gehrig was left-handed and Cooper was right-handed, a number of scenes were shot wearing a backwards-lettered uniform. This way, Cooper could “bat” right-handed, but the film could be turned around and he could be shown batting left-handed with the letters and Gehrig’s #4 still facing the right way!

Movie version with low lettering.

Movie version with low lettering.

Lou Gehrig in Yankee road flannel. Note placement of "Y".

Lou Gehrig in Yankee road flannel. Note height and arc of lettering.