The Jerseys of Jackie Robinson, Part 2

Jackie_Robinson_no.30.jpg

 

Last week we took a look at the uniforms worn by Jackie Robinson during his brief time in the Negro leagues, as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League and the Kansas City Royals winter league team (not to be confused with the current MLB team of that name or the Montreal Royals, which was the Dodger affiliate Robinson played for before joining the Bums). It should be mentioned that Robinson in fact broke the organized baseball color barrier not in Brooklyn, but a year earlier in Montreal of the International League, and that he faced many of the same situations in cities like Baltimore and Syracuse that would become so familiar in his inaugural season with Brooklyn. (Fortunately, he was welcomed with open arms by Montreal’s rabid fans). Montreal was a farm team of Brooklyn, the farm system having been pioneered by Branch Rickey when he was general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, most minor league teams were independent entities who sold players to the highest big league bidder. Rickey, being a parsimonious type, wanted more control of minor league affiliates and player development, so came up with a system (universal today) wherein the major league club owned outright or at least controlled the fortunes of their minor league affiliates. This is relevant to our discussion here, because in 1946 the Dodgers brought together all their minor league prospects in Spring Training in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Here we must digress a bit and discuss the fad that several major league teams, most notably the Dodgers, indulged in for select night games: satin uniforms. Brooklyn first broke out the satin togs in 1944, and appear to have worn four different satin designs through the early 1950s, when they were discontinued. It appears that many of the satin 1944 uniforms made their way to Florida for use by minor league prospects. (For a great primer on the history of satin uniforms in baseball, go here). The Royals appear to have removed the Dodgers lettering and substituted “Royals” in cursive script (the lettering material was also satin, and the Royals matched the uniforms with a matching white satin cap). Robinson is first shown in such a uniform, with a #30 affixed to the back.

 

jackie-robinson-april-17-1946

Jackie Robinson, Spring Training 1946. Satin uniform.

Later on in Spring Training we see him in a regular season gray flannel Montreal road uniform with #9 on the back, the number he would use during the regular season, and this is the uniform Robinson wore when he broke in at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium on April 15th, 1946, creating a stir with his magnificent offensive performance. Curiously, the satin uniforms do not seem to have made an appearance during the regular season, the home uniform being a standard creme design with “Royals” in blue felt across the front, similar to what the parent Dodgers wore, but with added blue trim. One interesting fact is that two variations of the white felt “M” adorned the wool cap during the season.

JackieJC

Robinson crosses the plate on 4/18/46, the first official organized baseball game which included an African-American player.

 

 

DodgersSatin44

Circa 1944 Dodgers satin uniform. These were handed down to the Montreal farm club in 1946.

 

Jean-Pierre Roy and Hugh Casey

Royals’ regular season home flannel.

 

 

RoaylsSatinCap

1946 Montreal Royals Satin Cap

 

The Jerseys of Jackie Robinson, Part 1

With the upcoming Ken Burns Jackie Robinson film airing next week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the jerseys worn by him before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. This first post focuses on his brief period in the Negro leagues. It also illustrates some of the joys and challenges of our research process.

When Robinson was discharged from the Army in 1945, he was a college educated multi-sport star athlete, yet as an African-American his professional prospects were slim. He first returned to the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League, with whom he had played before the war. He then accepted a job as basketball coach at the historically black Sam Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University). It was while he as at Sam Huston that he received an offer from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. Although the Monarchs were the glamor team of black baseball, boasting Satchel Paige and other stars, the Negro leagues were still a dubious operation, and Robinson chafed at the gambling and lack of structure prevalent in Negro leagues baseball. Despite his misgivings, Robinson excelled during his time playing shortstop for  the Monarchs, batting .383 and playing in the East-West Game, black baseball’s annual all-star showcase in Chicago. Let’s take a look at the jerseys worn by Robinson in his brief time in the Negro leagues.

The Monarch uniforms of 1945 are very unusual for two reasons: First, there appears to have been a different color scheme worn at home and on the road. The home pinstripe uniforms were trimmed and lettered in the Monarchs’ usual red-and-navy combination. Jackie wore #5. We know this because fortunately for our purposes, the Monarch players wore a small number on the upper thigh of the pant on the home uniform. (I should point out here that researching Negro league player numbers is extremely difficult, because so few rosters exist with player numbers, and very few photographs show the back of the jersey). On the road uniform, however, the Monarchs substituted a navy-and-gold color scheme on the travel gray flannel. We only know this because an actual 1945 uniform came up for auction several years ago, otherwise we would have guessed from the black and white photos that the lettering scheme was the usual red-and-navy. We also located a 1945 roster from an away game (see below), and low and behold, Robinson is listed as #23, not #5. Now, we should point out that Jackie was not yet a star, and uniform numbers in those days did not have the significance they do today. It is quite possible that the clubhouse man simply handed out the uniforms and the numbers were more or less randomly assigned.

Robinson_paige_monarchs

Jackie Robinson in Monarchs home jersey, note #5 on pant.

After the regular season, Robinson also played for a Negro leagues California Winter League all-star team called the Kansas City Royals (no relation to the current world champs). If you were wondering how they played baseball in Kansas City in the winter, this league actually played all their games in Los Angeles. Robinson famously signed his contract with Brooklyn on October 23, 1945, so all eyes were on him when he played for the Royals at the end of the year. He did not disappoint, hitting .429 in the short season. He also endured a taste of what he would find when he made it to organized baseball. Although the Royals were a black squad, the league was integrated, and there were many doubters. Pitcher Bob Feller – who had faced Robinson before – remarked that Robinson didn’t have a chance to make it to the bigs, as “he couldn’t hit an inside pitch to save his life.” Fortunately for Feller, the American League Indians would not have to face Robinson when he finally came up in 1947.

KCRoyalsRobinson 001

Jackie Robinson’s 1946 Winter League Jersey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This roster for the visiting Kansas City Monarchs comes from the Philadelphia Tribune from June 23, 1945. Jackie Robinson is listed as shortstop, #23. Satchel Paige is #0, also different from his uniform number at home. The paper also carried an account of a Monarchs-New York Black Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in front of 22,000 fans.

KCroster1945 001

 

 

Flannels Of The Month

Returning to an old tradition here. At the end of nearly every month we add a new group of historic baseball jerseys to our website. At one time I used to do a blog post about one or more of them, then I got busy, or I got lazy, take your pick…Anyway, the point being we’d like to start doing that again. I like this month’s group, both for the graphic diversity (who doesn’t like a baseball shirt with a tree on it? Thank you 1956 Missoula Timberjacks), and the relevance to current events. With Cuba once again in the news, I thought it would be a nice time to introduce the 1956 Hershey Sports Club shirt to the world. And with Ken Burns’ Jackie Robinson film coming up in April, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Jackie’s 1945 home Kansas City Monarchs jersey, which we will take up in more detail in a couple of weeks. One of the oddest jerseys I have seen was this zip-up Hawaii Islanders flannel from 1970. It is rare to see vertical stacked lettering like this. As flannels were almost universally abandoned after 1971 for the dreaded double knits, this was likely Hawaii’s last road flannel.

HAI70R2

The State of Hawaii patch adorns the left sleeve, as on previous Hawaii uniforms. The Islanders were a California Angels affiliate in this period, and the basic uniform style and trim owed a lot to the parent club. They may have even been earlier Angel uniforms handed down to the affiliate team – a common money-saving practice at that time. The Islanders were the pride of the Coast League in 1970, with a club that boasted a 98-48 record (best in the league). Chuck Tanner was manager and the team drew 467,000 fans into Honolulu’s old “Termite Palace”, pretty great when you consider that the next-best drawing club was Tucson, who only attracted 35% as many fans. In fact, the Islanders are considered one of the 100 best minor league teams in history. The Aloha State’s love affair with their professional baseball club ended by 1987, when the team finished last, and only 116,000 fans showed up to bear witness. The Islanders packed up and left for Colorado Springs the following season.

Check out the rest of this month’s selections here. And hopefully, this will become more of a habit!

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.

The Washington Padres?

WashPadsDaveFreischelbenNow that our nation’s capital has a ballclub again (and a pretty good one), it’s interesting to look back at the very long period between the city losing the Senators for the second time in 1971, and the arrival of the former Expos in 2005. In 1973 the San Diego Padres, around for barely five seasons, announced they were giving up the ghost as well as changing coasts. Owner C. Arnholt Smith was being sued for $23 million by the IRS and wanted out (Smith was later convicted of tax fraud and embezzlement). The Washington Post confirmed the rumors on May 28th by trumpeting “Baseball Returns To D.C.”. Numerous problems quickly arose, among them concern for what was euphemistically called the “security” situation in D.C., the Padres existing stadium lease (which had 15 years to go), and the fact that in the previous decade and a half, not one, but two Washington Senators clubs had abandoned the capital for friendlier locales. Opposition also came from two influential National League owners, Walter O’Malley (yes, that Walter O’Malley) and the Cubs’ Phil Wrigley. Nevertheless, on December 21, 1973 the league unanimously voted to allow the Padres to do a sort of reverse Brooklyn Dodgers and move from West to East, provided certain “conditions” were met. Baseball cards were duly printed for the 1974 season denoting the team as “Washington National League”, and uniforms were designed and a publicity shot of Padre rookie pitcher Dave Freisleben in the new duds was published. The National League schedule for 1974 was printed showing Philadelphia opening at Washington on April 4th. (Not sure if the plan was to switch D.C. to the Eastern Division and which East team would have been moved West to compensate). As we all know, the move never happened. The city of San Diego threatened a $72 million lawsuit, and the whole thing began to unravel. The Washington “Stars” (see cap below), rather than taking up residence in RFK Stadium, became a curious “what if” footnote in baseball history.