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Wittenberg Grays Baseball Uniform

Baseball uniform worn by William Gates, second baseman for the Wittenberg Grays in the early 1920s.
(Museum object #1975.90A-B)

In the late nineteenth century, many small Wisconsin towns fielded baseball teams to compete with those of surrounding communities for fun and local bragging rights. After World War I, these competitions became more formalized. The uniform shown at left dates from the period when Shawano County baseball began to organize itself.

Though J. William Gates (1881-1969), a local businessman, had played on town teams for years, no official team existed in Wittenberg in 1921. In early 1922, local residents formed the Wittenberg Athletic Association to remedy this situation. On May 4 of that year the Wittenberg Enterprise reported, "A team of the old time kind is being put in the field for Wittenberg this year, with Bill Gates very likely holding down first or second." Even at age 40, Gates (pictured in middle photo at left) was still considered one of the better players in town.

The Grays went 15-7 in 1922 against teams from Aniwa, Burnamwood, Clintonville, Crandon, Gresham, Keshena, Leopolis, Marion, Mattoon, Shawano, plus Green Bay and Eagle River. They even lost to the Illinois Giants, a barnstorming Negro team, 7-3. As the team's regular second baseman, Gates batted .289 in 1922 and saved the season for the Grays.

Playing Bowler in the county semi-finals at the Shawano County Fair Grounds, Wittenberg blew a 7-1 lead. With the Grays still clinging to a 8-7 lead in the ninth inning, Bowler had a man on third with only one out.

"Right there is where everybody must have prayed for Wittenberg, for Bohm [the Bowler batter] picked out the first one and sent it screeching for the outfield, but Gates rushed out and speared it just on the ground and threw to third, catching Klassen by a fraction of a foot, winning the game for Wittenberg." (Wittenberg Enterprise, September 14, 1922)

Although the final game against Shawano was rained out, Wittenberg was acknowledged county champion, having defeated them earlier in the season.

The following spring, Wittenberg became a founding member of the Wolf River Valley League. The Grays continued to play non-league games against neighboring towns in 1923, but henceforward, the league schedule took precedence.

Gates ended his career after the 1923 season. In reporting the 1924 opener, the Wittenberg Enterprise noted, "The team did not look quite right with several of the old-timers missing from the line-up. Will Gates, for a long time a heady, dependable player and one of the main cogs in the Wittenberg baseball machine, did not play at second base and is not likely to play any more." (Wittenberg Enterprise, May 8, 1924)

Although the exact age of this uniform is unknown, it may date from 1922. The Wisconsin Historical Society has two photographs of the Wittenberg Grays. One, which includes Gates, shows a team wearing unmarked uniforms of several styles and states of completeness (the museumís uniform appears to be of this generic design). In the other photo, taken in a studio, the Grays sport new uniforms featuring black caps and a "W" on the left breast.

Because neither photograph is dated, we cannot be sure when the uniform change took place. However, it is plausible that the team adopted its new uniforms when it joined a league, and that the uniform in the Museum's collection was from the more rag-tag 1922 season.


Posted on March 03, 2005

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