February Featured Flannels: Negro Leagues Legends

By, Jerry Cohen

This is the first of what will be a regular series where we take a closer look at a few of the hundreds of authentic flannel jerseys on our site. Given that it is Black History Month, and with the welcome news that MLB will now consider Negro Leagues statistics as “major league”, I thought it would be appropriate to start this series with a look at a few of the jerseys worn by some of the greatest players to ever don a uniform. Some of these shirts have been in our lineup since the very beginning, but with so many flannel shirts on our website it’s possible that many of our customers hadn’t really taken a good look at these. I present them in chronological order:

 

Chicago American Giants 1919 Home, Rube Foster

Foster is a towering figure in Black Baseball. Pitcher, manager, and executive, he brought into being the first major organized Black league – the Negro National League. This jersey is unique because the American Giants in their last year as an independent club, wore this unusual crosshatch pinstripe fabric. We have only seen a couple of other teams make use of this fabric, including the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1916. No number on the back, as numbers were not commonly worn until the late 1920s or early 1930s.


Homestead Grays 1943 Home, Josh Gibson

Gibson, of course, is recognized as the “Black Babe Ruth” – the most dangerous slugger in Black baseball. He is most associated with the Homestead Grays out of Pittsburgh (but who also played many home games in Washington, DC). We offer several Grays jerseys, but this one includes the World War II era “Health” patch, which commemorates a fitness program promoted by the US government. This patch was worn throughout professional baseball beginning in 1942. Although one of the greatest players of all time, Gibson tragically missed out when the majors finally began accepting Black players. He died of a stroke in 1947 at only 35 years old, in the same year that the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first MLB club to integrate.

Homestead Grays 1943 Home, Josh Gibson

Gibson, of course, is recognized as the “Black Babe Ruth” – the most dangerous slugger in Black baseball. He is most associated with the Homestead Grays out of Pittsburgh (but who also played many home games in Washington, DC). We offer several Grays jerseys, but this one includes the World War II era “Health” patch, which commemorates a fitness program promoted by the US government. This patch was worn throughout professional baseball beginning in 1942. Although one of the greatest players of all time, Gibson tragically missed out when the majors finally began accepting Black players. He died of a stroke in 1947 at only 35 years old, in the same year that the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first MLB club to integrate.

 

 

Homestead Grays 1943 Home, Josh Gibson

Gibson, of course, is recognized as the “Black Babe Ruth” – the most dangerous slugger in Black baseball. He is most associated with the Homestead Grays out of Pittsburgh (but who also played many home games in Washington, DC). We offer several Grays jerseys, but this one includes the World War II era “Health” patch, which commemorates a fitness program promoted by the US government. This patch was worn throughout professional baseball beginning in 1942. Although one of the greatest players of all time, Gibson tragically missed out when the majors finally began accepting Black players. He died of a stroke in 1947 at only 35 years old, in the same year that the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first MLB club to integrate.


Kansas City Monarchs 1945 Road, Jackie Robinson

So much has been written about Jackie, that it’s hard to say anything new about his barrier breaking career. Robinson was an extraordinarily gifted athlete who played college and professional football, semi-pro basketball, and was a track start at UCLA, yet his opportunities to go pro in 1945 were limited by the racism of the time. Robinson signed a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs, a stellar club, which already included players like pitcher Hilton Smith and catcher Frank Duncan (Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs). As to the jersey itself, there are a couple of unique features. Although Kansas City’s traditional colors were red and navy blue, the road uniforms in 1945 featured a navy and gold color palette. (We have seen an original uniform from this same year). Our research also includes rosters from both home and road games, and we can confirm that the uniform numbers were completely different. Jackie wore #5 at home, but on the road (this jersey) he was #23.

Kansas City Monarchs 1945 Road, Jackie Robinson

So much has been written about Jackie, that it’s hard to say anything new about his barrier breaking career. Robinson was an extraordinarily gifted athlete who played college and professional football, semi-pro basketball, and was a track start at UCLA, yet his opportunities to go pro in 1945 were limited by the racism of the time. Robinson signed a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs, a stellar club, which already included players like pitcher Hilton Smith and catcher Frank Duncan (Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs). As to the jersey itself, there are a couple of unique features. Although Kansas City’s traditional colors were red and navy blue, the road uniforms in 1945 featured a navy and gold color palette. (We have seen an original uniform from this same year). Our research also includes rosters from both home and road games, and we can confirm that the uniform numbers were completely different. Jackie wore #5 at home, but on the road (this jersey) he was #23.

 

 

Kansas City Monarchs 1945 Road, Jackie Robinson

So much has been written about Jackie, that it’s hard to say anything new about his barrier breaking career. Robinson was an extraordinarily gifted athlete who played college and professional football, semi-pro basketball, and was a track start at UCLA, yet his opportunities to go pro in 1945 were limited by the racism of the time. Robinson signed a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs, a stellar club, which already included players like pitcher Hilton Smith and catcher Frank Duncan (Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs). As to the jersey itself, there are a couple of unique features. Although Kansas City’s traditional colors were red and navy blue, the road uniforms in 1945 featured a navy and gold color palette. (We have seen an original uniform from this same year). Our research also includes rosters from both home and road games, and we can confirm that the uniform numbers were completely different. Jackie wore #5 at home, but on the road (this jersey) he was #23.


Birmingham Black Barons 1948 Road, Willie Mays

The Say Hey Kid was a teenage prodigy whose talents were widely recognized at a very young age. His first professional baseball job in Black baseball was with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in 1948. The Black Barons signed the teenage Mays later in the year, and he helped them win the Negro American League pennant (Mays is shown here celebrating with his Birmingham teammates). Willie wore #8 for the Barons, and we love the “BBB” patch on the left sleeve.

Birmingham Black Barons 1948 Road, Willie Mays

The Say Hey Kid was a teenage prodigy whose talents were widely recognized at a very young age. His first professional baseball job in Black baseball was with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in 1948. The Black Barons signed the teenage Mays later in the year, and he helped them win the Negro American League pennant (Mays is shown here celebrating with his Birmingham teammates). Willie wore #8 for the Barons, and we love the “BBB” patch on the left sleeve.

 

 

Birmingham Black Barons 1948 Road, Willie Mays

The Say Hey Kid was a teenage prodigy whose talents were widely recognized at a very young age. His first professional baseball job in Black baseball was with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in 1948. The Black Barons signed the teenage Mays later in the year, and he helped them win the Negro American League pennant (Mays is shown here celebrating with his Birmingham teammates). Willie wore #8 for the Barons, and we love the “BBB” patch on the left sleeve.


Jacksonville Braves 1953 Home, Henry Aaron

We just lost Hammerin’ Hank, so it is appropriate that we include him in this selection of important jerseys. (In fact Hank had ordered two Jacksonville jerseys from us shortly before he passed away). It should be remembered that not only did Aaron break the most sacred record in baseball, Babe Ruth’s career home run mark, but that he started with Indianapolis in the Negro American League. After the Braves organization purchased his contract in 1952, he was assigned to their Class C affiliate Eau Claire.   After being promoted to Jacksonville, Hank had to endure being one of the first Black players in the Sally League. (It’s useful to note that integration did not take place across the organized baseball structure after Jackie Robinson’s debut with Brooklyn in 1947. In the South, particularly, and even among the rest of the majors, it took another full decade.)

 

 

Jacksonville Braves 1953 Home, Henry Aaron

We just lost Hammerin’ Hank, so it is appropriate that we include him in this selection of important jerseys. (In fact Hank had ordered two Jacksonville jerseys from us shortly before he passed away). It should be remembered that not only did Aaron break the most sacred record in baseball, Babe Ruth’s career home run mark, but that he started with Indianapolis in the Negro American League. After the Braves organization purchased his contract in 1952, he was assigned to their Class C affiliate Eau Claire.   After being promoted to Jacksonville, Hank had to endure being one of the first Black players in the Sally League. (It’s useful to note that integration did not take place across the organized baseball structure after Jackie Robinson’s debut with Brooklyn in 1947. In the South, particularly, and even among the rest of the majors, it took another full decade.)


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