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The Brewers wore the blue-and-cream Milwaukee Bears uniforms again Saturday. Those uniforms are sweet. I prefer those to the black-and-white ones they wore originally in tribute to the Bears. The blue seems closer to Milwaukee colors in general, plus the cream sort of says ‘Cream City’. The Milwaukee Bears were a team in the Negro National League in 1923. That was it, not even a full season. They were made up of members of the defunct Pittsburgh Keystones and a southern league team called the New Orleans Crescent Stars, and according to a historical marker erected in 2008 about four blocks from where they played, they folded before they could even finish their one and only season in existence. They finished 12-41 in the NNL for a .226 winning percentage.
The Bears were a bad team that didn’t draw well. They had to share Borchert Field (formerly Athletic Park) with the American Association Milwaukee Brewers, who were much more popular and dominated the newspaper coverage. The Bears would have likely vanished from history for the most part if not for the efforts of many different people who have done a lot of research and writing and other things to preserve the Bears’ history for those interested in the full picture of Milwaukee baseball. Most importantly, the homage to the Bears reminds us of and energizes the effort to remember the players and personnel who had to play in separate leagues due to racial segregation.
The Brewers have been wearing the throwbacks since 2006. In the years since, I’ve purchased the ‘away’ Bears hat online (blue with an orange background on patch logo), as well as the current ‘home’ one (white background on patch logo) at Miller Park. I like to sport the Bears logo because it looks cool. It’s very simple and it’s an alternate to my many Brewers lids. But most of all, I wear it in support of the history of the segregated leagues and all the great players and colorful characters who were forced to play in leagues that resided in the margins of mainstream American society. Hall of Famer Pete Hill was the player-manager for the Bears, and did so at the request of Rube Foster, who set up the Negro National League and helped it become a stable league for over ten years.
The Bears were terrible, but in some ways I find an affinity with them as a result of their poor performance. The Brewers have been pretty terrible for most of their existence as well, so the fact that Milwaukee’s short-lived representative in the Negro National League was also a bad team is sort of fitting. I think it’s pretty cool that Milwaukee had a team in the NNL, even if for less than a full season, and I want as many people to know about them as possible. All Brewers fans should be aware of the Bears, and the Brewers have done a great job elevating awareness of the Bears and the Negro Leagues in general. Players like Rickie Weeks have visited the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, which is an awesome place to learn more about the many, many African-American baseball greats as well as baseball history in general. I highly recommend it. Make sure to take a look at Borchertfield.com sometime, too.