Researching the M.A.C. uniforms at the turn of the last century
On this day in Mountain Athletic Club history (May 11, 1897), the Poughkeepsie Evening Enterprise (as originally reported in the Kingston Leader) printed the details of a letter from the team's founder, Julius Fleischmann to Granville Whitaker, his star catcher from Kingston, New York. The excerpt contains some interesting developments in the establishment of his team in the Catskill Mountains. Among them was the first description of the M.A.C.'s colors which we now know to be blue and red.
Later accounts in local newspapers put the ballfield's construction and founding of the team in 1895, but the letter to Whitaker suggests that further improvements were added to the M.A.C. Grounds prior to '97. The upgrades included a bicycle track ("second to none in the State") surrounding the ballfield and a bandstand where the "Fleischmann band will render music at every game". The players were also to be furnished with new equipment for the upcoming season and "beautiful new blue uniforms with maroon trimmings had been secured."
When the M.A.C. was revitalized in 2007 to play 1895 rules base ball at Fleischmanns Park, Todd Pascarella and other founders of the twenty-first century incarnation of the M.A.C. had only a couple of black and white or sepia tone photographs to create a historically-accurate representation of the original Club.
One of them was the oldest photo to date of the M.A.C. from the late postmaster of Fleischmanns, John Kelly that appeared in the Catskill Mountain News on March 14, 1963. But the reprint was of such poor quality that (save for the large "M" on their large-collared fall sweaters) any lettering on the jerseys was indiscernible and color determination impossible. Further problems with the photo are that it claimed to have been from 1895 and included the great Honus Wagner and other professionals such as Andy Coakley. Recent research into this matter with the SABR pictorial history research committee and Tara Krieger, Coakley's biographer at the SABR BioProject have led me to accept that not Honus nor Coakley are in the photo (see earlier blog, "Will the Real Honus please stand up?") However, Kelly's photo does have some promising clues, but more on that later...
Like most research goes in accepting the best information you have to work with at the time, Pascarella (currently nicknamed "Moonshine for his co-founding of Union Grove Distillery) opted to base the team's uniform design on the other image of the M.A.C found in the Fleischmanns Museum of Memories. I later discovered that this team photo was likely taken around 1904-05 when local-star-turned-pro, Jay Kirke played for the M.A.C.
The "Brooklyn style" cap I'm wearing in the 2007 photo features the short brim, six panel, "M" embroidered on the front. This closely resembles what the M.A.C. was sporting in 1900 as shown in the photo here from the Cincinnati Enquirer - July 8, 1900 on a barnstorming trip through greater Cincinnati.
I later discovered an article from around that same trip to the Queen City that provided a vivid description of the teams threads stating that, "No National League team sports such a gorgeous uniform."
Honestly, I never thought much about why we wore what we did back then. It looked old and that was good enough for me at the time. But when I went about "putting the band back together" after a six-year hiatus following the floods in 2011, I recalled how difficult it was to keep a white jersey and pants clean throughout a season sliding around in Catskills dirt.
I also had learned that ballplayers in 1895 often wore a padded pant (also called "quilted knickers") to provide extra protection of the legs and buttocks. They also sometimes wore a "Chicago" style, pill box cap (also shown on the heads of the M.A.C. in the 1905 image). These options were the impetus for the decision to retire the uniform of the 2007-2011 M.A.C. and usher in our current uniform.
Back to the 1900 image of the M.A.C...Why Doc isn't wearing the "blazer of red broadcloth" with pearl buttons in June is left up for discussion. But, I was glad that the photo could faintly reveal the word "MOUNTAIN" underneath, offering me another clue when I later received a crisper copy of the image from the grand-daughter of John Kelly.
When I saw "the Kelly photo" in clearer form, the word "MOUNTAIN" on the chest of Julius in the center literally jumped off the page at me. Looking closer, one can also see a pocket across the left breast of Julius. As a ballplayer myself, I can think of a dozen reasons why it would be a distraction or a hindrance to on-field play and it doesn't surprise me that it didn't become a staple of the modern uniform.
Also given that the photo back matched a few of the names with the 1897 letter from Julius Fleischmann (namely, Pete Cregan, Ed Winter, and the aforementioned Gran Whittaker), I simply made the leap that this was a photo from 1897.
It was then that I started in earnest, the process of rallying up support for the Club's purchase of new (old) jerseys. What I discovered as I pressed on, was that the M.A.C. uniforms in 1897 were likely the predecessor to what the Cincinnati Reds began to wear on road games from 1900 through 1903 (1902 being the first year of Julius and Max Fleischmann's tenure of ownership in the Reds). For more research on uniforms visit the Baseball Hall of Fame's interactive exhibit Dressed to the Nines: A History of the Baseball Uniform.
I'm often asked questions, such as "Where do you get a "vintage" baseball uniform?" and "How much do they cost?" The pre-eminent vendor for the former question is K&P Weaver, LLC in Orange, Connecticut. Paula Weaver and her husband Ken hit it out of the park in terms of historically accurate portrayal of the nineteenth century game. They were the go-to for costuming on "A League of Their Own" (thinking of the pop-star Madonna in a Rockford Peach uniform). They've consulted and prepared custom tailoring for countless Civil War related films and if you've been to any vintage baseball games in the United States, they probably had something to do with the uniforms you see players wearing.
When I wanted to re-create the 1897 M.A.C. uniforms, I was torn about whether "maroon" on blue was going to work. I asked Paula questions, like "What shade of blue do you think they wore back in the day?" And highly important stuff like, "Do you think maroon is better than burgundy?" Like a nineteenth century rules baseball game, the whole thing was highly nuanced. But since an outfit of their quality can run upwards of $250 per player, I wanted to get it right.
Despite my many questions in the pursuit of historical accuracy, Paula guided me to the decision point and with a shot in the arm (COVID-humor) of funds from our friends at the Great Catskill Mountain BBQ Festival that took place on the M.A.C. Grounds for several years that the M.A.C. was disbanded, and funds from A.B. Mauri North America (present-day stewards of the Fleischmanns Yeast brand) and the O'Connor Foundation, we are now ready to kick off 2021 with a debut of the new iteration of old uniforms of the 1897 Mountain Athletic Club. I think you'll like 'em.