How the Cardinals’ ‘birds on the bat’ logo was born in Ferguson, Mo.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ iconic birds on the bat wasn’t created by a marketing firm. It didn’t undergo focus testing, and it wasn’t developed by a team of graphic designers.

Instead, the concept was created by a young woman in Ferguson, Missouri, as she prepared for a meeting of the local Men’s Fellowship organization to be held February 16, 1921, where Cardinals vice president Branch Rickey was scheduled to serve as the guest speaker.[1]

At the time, the team’s Cardinals nickname didn’t refer to the bird, but to the red shade of the interlocking “STL” the team wore on its sleeves and caps. According to legend, sportswriter Willie McHale of the St. Louis Republic overheard a fan praising the “lovely shade of Cardinal” and began referring to the team as the Cardinals. The nickname caught on.

However, in an era when teams were commonly named after colors (the Browns, Reds, Red Sox, White Sox, etc.), no one had tied the Cardinals’ name to the bird until Ms. Allie May Schmidt, a member of the Ferguson Presbyterian Church known for her singing talent, was assigned the task of decorating for the fifth annual Men’s Fellowship meeting.

As the St. Louis Star and Times reported in 1943, Ms. Schmidt was gazing out the window, considering her decorating options, when two red birds alighted on a tree branch outside her window.

“That’s it!” she declared. “Since the Cardinal team will be part of the discussion, why not use red birds for decorations?”[2]

Inspired, she began making cardboard cutouts of red birds and, using sticks and twigs, situated them so they appeared to be sitting on branches. She then placed the birds at each table against a white tablecloth.[3]

Rickey was so impressed by Ms. Schmidt’s design that he commissioned her father, Edward H. Schmidt, the head of Woodward and Tiernan’s Printing Company, to create a similar design for the Cardinals’ uniforms.[4] The resulting apparel created quite a stir when the design was ready to debut for the 1922 campaign.

“As one local fan put it, ‘they are the loudest ever,’” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.[5]

Ahead of the Cardinals’ season opener against the Pirates, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat described the new uniforms for fans who had yet to see the design:

“The Cardinals will be ‘birds’ this season when they get into their new uniforms, which have been completed by the Leacock Company. Right across the breast of the uniform is a black bat, on which are perched two Cardinal members of the feathered tribe. The bat and birds are embroidered in silk and make a striking combination. Especially on the white-at-home uniform, the Cardinal of the birds stands out in brilliant contrast.

“The design is a unique one and will attract attention all around the circuit. The at-home uniforms are of the usual white material, and besides the bat and birds, further coloring is supplied by a red piping around the collar and the cuff of the sleeves. The road uniforms are of blue-gray, with the decoration in red. Making the uniforms more striking this season will be the solid cardinal stockings, while the same color belts will be worn. The uniforms will be on exhibition beginning today in the window of the Leacock store at 921 Locust Street.”[6]

The Post-Dispatch added that, “Fans who gather at Sportsman’s Park for the spring series game tomorrow will receive an eye-shock when the new Cardinal uniforms dawn on them. … It will be by far the gaudiest bit of baseball heraldry that ever dazzled a fan’s eyes.”[7]

Before the Cardinals opened the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, L.C. Davis published a poem in the Post-Dispatch celebrating the debut of both the new season and the Cardinals’ new uniforms:

Hip, hip, hurrah, likewise hooray!

The season opens up today

With fancy fielding stunts and batting rallies.

We’ll smith the Pirates hip and flank

And make them toddle down the plank

And drown them in a tidal wave of tallies.

We’re set to have a banner year,

And if the day is warm and clear

Another record crowd will get together.

And so we hope the weather man

Will do the very best he can

To furnish us the proper brand of weather.

The Cardinals’ new uniform

Will take the populace by storm –

For they are sure a classy bunch of dressers.

They’ll set the pace, likewise the style,

And win the pennant by a mile

Unless the local fans are rotten guessers.[8]

Sporting their new duds, the Cardinals topped the Pirates 10-1 as Del Gainer drove in five runs and Rogers Hornsby added a solo homer. The following day, the Pittsburgh Press referred to the Cardinals as “Branch Rickey’s Red Birds, a new name for the Cardinals.”[9]

Since that game, the Cardinals have worn the birds on the bat with just two exceptions – 1927, when they used a single bird on the bat with the words “World Champions” to celebrate the franchise’s first World Series title in 1926, and 1956, when the birds on the bat were removed from the uniform entirely. That change lasted just one season before Allie May Schmidt’s creation returned to the Cardinals’ uniforms for good.

Miss Schmidt was singing in Cairo, Illinois, when she met Clarence L. Keaton and the two were married a few months later. When the Cardinals began conducting their spring training in Cairo in the 1940s, the Keatons found themselves within earshot of the team’s workouts. In recognition of her place in team history, the Cardinals recognized the former Miss Schmidt during a special celebration.[10]

“I was never an enthusiastic baseball fan until I became married, but now I never miss an opportunity to attend a game,” Mrs. Keaton said in 1943. “We’ve witnessed many a Cardinal contest in St. Louis and we have never missed a World Series game.”[11]

In 2017, the Cardinals returned to the First Presbyterian Church in Ferguson to celebrate the church’s role in creating the birds on the bat.

“So much of a part of our identity traces back to that moment,” Bill DeWitt III said. “So for us to come here, tell the story, get people familiar with it, and kind of celebrate Ferguson and what their contributions are to Cardinals history, I think is important as well.”[12]


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.


[1] “When the Cardinals Train In Cairo They’ll Meet Creator Of Their Red Bird Emblem,” St. Louis Star and Times, February 12, 1943.

[2] “When the Cardinals Train In Cairo They’ll Meet Creator Of Their Red Bird Emblem,” St. Louis Star and Times, February 12, 1943.

[3] “When the Cardinals Train In Cairo They’ll Meet Creator Of Their Red Bird Emblem,” St. Louis Star and Times, February 12, 1943.

[4] Todd Radom, “The Cardinals’ ‘Birds-On-Bat’ Logo Opened To Mixed Reviews In 1922,” ToddRadom.com, https://www.toddradom.com/blog/the-cardinals-birds-on-bat-logo-opened-to-mixed-reviews-in-1922.

[5] “Black Bat and Birds on Cardinal Uniforms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 28, 1922.

[6] “Cardinals To Change Uniforms This Year,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 28, 1922.

[7] “Here’s the Cards’ New Uniform as Heine Mueller Will Appear in It,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1922.

[8] L.C. Davis, “Sport Salad,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1922.

[9] “Gibson Lectures Pirates Before Second Game With Cardinals,” Pittsburgh Press, April 13, 1922.

[10] “When the Cardinals Train In Cairo They’ll Meet Creator Of Their Red Bird Emblem,” St. Louis Star and Times, February 12, 1943.

[11] “When the Cardinals Train In Cairo They’ll Meet Creator Of Their Red Bird Emblem,” St. Louis Star and Times, February 12, 1943.

[12] Nate Latsch, “Cards celebrate history of ‘birds on the bat’ logo,” MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/news/cardinals-celebrate-history-of-uniform-logo-c228937982.

 

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