The Jerseys of Jackie Robinson, Part 3

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Robinson’s first Dodger home uniform.

In the two previous posts we discussed the uniforms worn by Jackie Robinson in his Negro league and minor league careers. From 1947 until his final season of 1956, his uniforms are of course synonymous with the uniforms of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although the primary elements of the  Dodger uniforms (particularly at home) have remained almost unchanged from Robinson’s first season up through today, there were several minor changes between 1947 and 1956. First, it must be said that I think it’s sad that Robinson never actually wore a uniform with “Brooklyn” on it. The last flannel road uniforms to say “Brooklyn” were worn in 1945, with the city name not being returned to the road shirts until 1958, when the Bums were on the opposite coast. Jackie started out his rookie season in a zipper-front raglan sleeved jersey with the familiar “Dodgers” in royal blue script emblazoned across the front. There was no trim on the jersey, and the script font was slightly more angular than the later version. Note that the lettering splits between the “d” and “g”. The split between “o” and “d” began in 1950, and has remained in force through today.

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Jackie Robinson’s 1950 Home Jersey

The road jerseys were button-front with narrow blue trim (called “soutache” in our trade).  In 1950 the letters moved to their familiar position on the jersey, and in 1951 a patch commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National League was added to the left sleeve (as it was on all NL clubs). The final big change to the Dodger uniforms was in 1952, when a large red number was added to the front of the jersey, below the lettering. It is interesting that the Dodgers chose a red number, because no red had been a Dodgers uniform since 1936. There are several theories about the origin of the red numbers, and most people assign credit to principal owner Walter O’Malley for the innovation. It is likely that the numbers were added with television in mind, a new phenomenon is sports which would have wide implications in uniform design. One story suggests that O’Malley added the numbers for the 1951 World Series, a series that of course the Dodgers would never play in due to unexpected events at the Polo Grounds that October. Whatever the reason, the red numbers were here to stay, though they wouldn’t be added to the road uniforms until the club moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

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Red numbers were added in 1952. Home jersey only.

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Last Brooklyn road jersey, note trim.

Let’s talk jackets. The Dodgers wore a plethora of jackets in different fabrics during the Robinson era. There were all-wool styles, wool with leather sleeves, and fur-lined “Skinner satin” jackets (a high quality rayon satin fabric), similar to the one we made for the Bert Shotten character in the film “42”.

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1955 Skinner Satin jacket

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All-wool jacket made by Butwin of Minnesota.

 

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Leather sleeve jacket with matching gold trim.

The Jerseys of Jackie Robinson, Part 2

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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.

 

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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.

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

 

 

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

 

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Royals’ regular season home flannel.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

A Time Machine – Tropical Stadium in Havana

Imagine walking around upper Manhattan and stumbling into the Polo Grounds – decayed, but intact. That’s the feeling I had a few days ago in Havana when I visited what is now called Pedro Marrero Stadium, but which began life as Gran Stadium Cerveza Tropical. I had been aware of the history of the place for quite some time: it was home to the Cuban League from 1930 until 1946, and the Brooklyn Dodgers – with Jackie Robinson in tow – trained there in 1947 to avoid the Jim Crow laws of Florida. One happy aspect of the Cuban government’s lack of resources (for history buffs, anyway), is that buildings are either used or re-purposed instead of being torn down. Tropical (er, Pedro Marrero) is now Cuba’s national soccer stadium, but it had changed very little since giants of Cuban, Negro league, and major league baseball roamed its expanses. (The park also hosted the Bacardi Bowl football game, which was played sporadically from 1910 to 1946). The main grandstand remains, as do the press box, light standards, and much of the building that once must have held team or league offices. There are several plaques commemorating the park’s place in baseball history, which is somewhat unusual for Cuba, as many people seem to have a sort of self-imposed amnesia about anything that happened before Fidel Castro ended the Cuban League and created the current amateur system in 1961. On the day I visited there was a youth track meet, so the stands even had cheering spectators and I saw the odd snack vendor going through the stands. One can see the remains of the third base dugout, and the old smokestack of the Cerveceria Tropical brewery is still visible beyond what used to be right field. I even located a set of decrepit concrete stairs that took me up to the roof. To some, this may just look like an old, decrepit stadium. To me it was to suddenly find the past had come alive, and to mingle with ghosts with names like Robinson, Gibson, Luque, and Marrero. I could almost hear them…

Check out all the photos here.

La Tropical today.

La Tropical today.