Things I know about the 1976 Memphis Blues:
— They played baseball, not the blues.
— They were the Houston Astros’ Triple-A farm team.
— Their general manager was Denny McClain. Yes, that Denny McClain.
— They were the final incarnation of the Blues. (Memphis took a year off from baseball in 1977, with the reborn Double-A Chicks starting in 1978.
— They wore Astros orange.
Things I don’t know about the 1976 Memphis Blues:
— If they wore this:
— And if they wore this:
I cut my baseball teeth on the sport in Memphis, specifically the minor league teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those teams were the Chicks, a longtime Montreal Expos affiliate who later became a farm team of the Kansas City Royals. (And San Diego, but that’s beside the point.) The Blues lived from 1968 — the year I turned 2 — until 1976, first as a member of the New York Mets system and later as an Expos’ farm team. They spent only one year, 1976, linked to the Astros.
I never saw the Blues play. Which isn’t the point.
I thought I knew all of the major stuff about Memphis baseball. (I’m obsessed with it, after all.) But when I saw that orange Astros-styled cap (from the Ebbets Field Flannels website) and Blues shooting-star jersey (from an online auction site) themed after the Astros’ iconic 1960s look, I was stumped. Were they real?
Well, I don’t know, but a few minutes of internet sleuthing have unearthed a few facts.
First, the 1976 Blues definitely wore orange. Author Clarence Watkins says so.
Second, one set of their uniforms included an orange pullover jersey with an all-caps “Memphis” diagonally across the chest, white, belt-less pants with orange and blue accents, blue stirrups and a cap featuring an orange front panel and bill, white back and a white “M” on the front. This is the uniform Watkins references in his book.
Third, at least two Astros farm teams in the 1970s wore what look like orange caps with a letter centered in the star — the Cocoa (Fla.) Astros and the Dubuque (Iowa) Packers.
That doesn’t mean the Blues didn’t wear the Astros-styled unis I’m interested in. And it doesn’t mean they did, either. It’s just interesting.
So, let’s turn to the newspaper photographs, where there is proof that the Blues wore the orange pullovers in games and not just for their baseball-card shoots.
This photo definitely shows the Blues wearing the same uniform as showcased in the Floyd Bannister baseball card pictured above.
This photo shows the same uniform — but Manager Jim Beauchamp seems to be wearing a single-color cap. Is it orange with a star and “M” on the front? Perhaps.
This photo is important because of what it doesn’t show. The Blues’ Rob Andrews is not wearing a dark-colored orange jersey. (The Rochester Red Wings are wearing a dark jersey, which illustrates the difference in the black-and-white newspaper clipping.) Logic says it’s a road gray jersey, but Andrews’ arm is covering the chest, so we can’t see its logos. Plus, it looks as if he’s wearing a solid-color cap, but it’s impossible to tell what’s on the front of the cap.
Then there’s this photo, in which the Blues definitely are not wearing an orange pullover. It again seems to be a gray road jersey. And if you look at the player in the on-deck circle, you get a faint glimpse of the logo. Does it say “Astros?” Does it say “Blues?” I’m not sure. But it leads me to believe that the Blues shooting-star jersey may be real.
And … there’s this. The Blues’ Art Gardner is again wearing what seems to be a gray road jersey. But look at his cap! Is that a star? Certainly looks like it, though you still can’t see if there’s an “M” in the star.
So, let’s recap.
The 1976 Memphis Blues wore orange as a primary color. They wore an orange jersey. They wore a gray jersey. And they may have worn jerseys and caps styled after the Astros. You wouldn’t be foolish to take that bet.