Monday, June 27, 2011

The Return Of The Old Colors

The St. Louis Club will this season play in a handsome suit of white, with brown belts and stockings. The uniform will be the most tasteful ever shown in St. Louis, and the return of the old colors will doubtless be enthusiastically greeted by the admirers of the team.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 3, 1884

Well, this certainly raises a few questions. The quote from the Globe is clear about what the Browns uniforms looked like: white shirt and pants, brown belt and brown stockings. However, the photo that I've posted above is supposedly the 1884 St. Louis Browns and they sure aren't wearing white shirts and pants. Now, I also have photos that were identified as the 1883 and the 1885 Browns and both those clubs were wearing white.

I think there are a couple of possibilities here. First, the Globe could be wrong about the uniforms. Second, the photos are misidentified. The Globe mentions a return to "the old colors" which implies that the club wore white in the past, didn't wear white in 1883 and then returned to white uniforms in 1884. I have three photos, for three consecutive years, when the club wore white, then a dark uniform and then returned to white. It's possible that the team photos I have are for 1882, 1883 and 1884 rather than 1883, 1884 and 1885. The final possibility is that the club in the photo above is not the Browns at all.

I'm not exactly sure what the problem is here but something is amiss. Maybe someone with better eyes than me can take a look at the above photo and help us identify it. But at the moment, I don't feel that I can identify the early Browns' team photos with any accuracy.

Update: Both David Ball and David Nemec were kind enough to take a look at the above photograph and it is there opinion, which I share based on my confidence in their knowledge, that it's a picture of the 1887 Cleveland Blues and, therefore, not a picture of the 1884 St. Louis Browns. My thanks to both of those gentlemen for their help.


Richard Hershberger said...

I remember seeing an item in The Sporting Life from this era commenting on some team abandoning its traditional stocking color. I couldn't give you an exact cite, or even confirm which team it was.

This does raise a curious point that the National League teams in the 1880s and 1890s had (from our perspective) amazingly little sense of tradition. Hence the opportunity for the American League teams to take over these traditional names.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

This version of the Browns was only a couple of years old (starting in 1881 or 1882, depending on how you want to look at it) so there really wasn't any tradition to abandon. They could have come out wearing pink and yellow and it wouldn't have been too great of a break with the past. I guess you could say that the tradition of the name and colors stretched back to 1875 but, even then, wear only talking about a decade.

The real problem here is the (most likely) misidentification of the team photo. I had posted it some time ago, said that it was the 1884 Browns and commmented on what a bad idea it was to wear dark uniforms during the StL summer. But at this point, I don't think that's a picture of the Browns. It's almost certainly not a picture of the 1884 Browns and I don't believe it's the 1883 club either.

But this picture is identified at two websites (at least) as the 1884 Browns and we need to nip that in the bud if it turns out not to be true. To make things worse, it's bringing into question the identification of all the Browns' team photos that I have, especially the 1883-1885 photos.

David Ball said...

Chicago's identification with the white stockings was probably the most famous in baseball, with the possible exception of Cincinnati with red, but they gave it up around 1886 or 1887 and you can occasionally see them referred to as Black Stockings in the press, although it never caught on.

It does seem strange, but Fashions in uniforms tend to gravitate between conservative and experimental. The 1880's fit the latter mold, which may be one reason teams sometimes felt free to ignore tradition. I can tell you, though, that as early as the fall of 1881 red stockings with white uniforms were described as "traditional colors" for Cincinnati teams, and they almost never departed from that program, although after 1870 there wasn't a great deal of history to be particularly proud of. Of course, relatively speaking, they did go back a lot longer than the Browns and when Cincinnati had been successful, they had been very, very successful.

By the way, from what I've read it was common, if not universal to have two sets of uniforms, but they weren't differentiated on the basis of home and road usage, at least not a great deal. Often when two sets are described, there's no explanation of what they were used for, but I have seen some reports which mention that the white set were for cooler weather. The use of darker colors on the road may have originated (I'm not making this up, and I do have some evidence to back this up) with the fact that laundry facilities were less convenient on the road and dark colors didn't show the dirt.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I considered the possibility of two seats of uniforms, as well as the idea that the Globe was wrong or that the Browns changed their mind about their uniform colors at some point prior to the 1884 season. My biggest sticking point with this photo is that I can't identify any of the guys in the picture. I would think that I could pick a few of the guys from the 1884 Browns out of a picture. It's frustrating but I just don't think that this is the 1884 Browns.

I've heard stories about how nasty the uniforms would get on the road and that was one of the reasons that they went with dark road uniforms. But I'd imagine that a lot of the problems that a player would experience with regards to cleaning his uniform would apply at home as well as on the road. It's not like they had access to a laundromat at home or on the road.