“Branding us as if we were a Band of Convicts”

1 Aug

When the directors of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) met in Los Angeles in January of 1912, The Los Angeles Examiner said the league would be introducing a new innovation:

“President (Allan) Baum said each player will be given a uniform bearing upon the left arm a number he will wear throughout the season.  On all score cards sold at games every man of each team will be named in consecutive order.”

The plan wasn’t immediately embraced.  The Portland Oregonian said several players on the Portland Beavers were against the idea, pitcher Frederick “Spec” Harkness said:

“Of course, I don’t like this branding us as if we were a band of convicts…Hap Hogan (Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray, manager of the Vernon Tigers) must have been the man who got this freaky legislation past the magnates at Los Angeles for the numbers go nicely with Vernon’s convict suits.”

Frederick "Spec" Harkness

Frederick “Spec” Harkness

The idea was actually the inspiration of Oakland Oaks president Edward Walters.

Major League players and executives also objected to the idea, Tigers president Frank Navin was quoted in The Detroit Times:

“It is a 10-1 bet that the players would rather suffer salary cuts all along the line than be labeled like a bunch of horses.”

Despite early objections, PCL players eventually accepted the inevitable, even Harkness who caused a stir among superstitious teammates when he requested number thirteen.

Roscoe Fawcett, sportswriter of The Portland Oregonian said:

“(Harkness) has put superstition to rout by sending in a request for number 13 under the new Pacific Coast League system of placarding players.”

By March the numbering idea gained some acceptance, and the desire for number 13 had caught on; there was a competition for the number among the Portland Beavers.  The Oregonian said Harkness “now finds his claim disputed by Benny Henderson, Walter Doan and others.”

In the end Harkness (who was born on December 13) received the number.  Given the rampant superstitions of early 20th Century players, most teams simply didn’t issue number 13 to any player.  The only other player in the PCL reported to have worn the number was Oakland pitcher Harry Ables.

Harry Ables

Harry Ables

The PCL’s experiment in uniform numbers was largely unsuccessful.  The Oregonian said the armbands were too small and “cannot be read from 90 feet away.”

By the end of the season, Vernon manager Hogan and Portland manager Walter “Judge” McCredie both of whom enthusiastically supported the numbers, were of the opinion that “the present trial has been a fizzle.”

The biggest criticism of the experiment was the failure of the system to achieve its chief goal, “numbering the men did not help out the sale of scorecards.”

Numbers were eliminated before the 1913 season and the PCL did not use uniform numbers again until the early 1930s.

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2 Responses to ““Branding us as if we were a Band of Convicts””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “The Longest Hit in the World” | Baseball History Daily - October 10, 2013

    […] Walter “Judge” McCredie, longtime Portland Beavers player, manager and president said the longest home run he ever saw was hit by Otis L. “Ote” Johnson when Johnson played for him: […]

  2. The Color Line and the PCL | Baseball History Daily - January 22, 2014

    […] Allan T. Baum, entering his third season as the PCL’s president said he was against the games, but was powerless to act because the games were played outside of the league’s regular season: […]

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