ST. LOUIS • When the fan credited with christening the Cardinals did so, she was complimenting a color more than 116 years ago, not comparing the club to a flock of birds.
That came decades later after Branch Rickey's trip to Ferguson, Mo.
And now the Cardinals are going back.
This Sunday, several officials from the Cardinals, including club president Bill DeWitt III, will host an event at the birthplace of the modern "Birds on the Bat" logo. It was way back in 1921 that Rickey attended a gathering at The First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, and on his table were decorations that featured a solo cardinal, bright red like the team's colors, perched on a twig. Rickey saw it as a bat -- and a icon was born.
"Back to where it all began," DeWitt said Wednesday. "This is a chance to go back to Ferguson for what really will be a nostalgic presentation. It's a neat story, and we'll get a chance to go behind the logo we all know."
DeWitt will be joined by Gary Kodner, author of the new St. Louis Cardinals Uniforms & Logos: An Illustrated History, and two members of the team's Hall of Fame staff, Paula Homan and Brian Finch. The Hall of Fame has also published a book recently, Redbird Relics, that tells the stories behind the collection at the Ballpark Village-based museum. The purpose of the event in Ferguson will be to promote and discuss the books. The presenters intend to discuss how the meeting in Ferguson spawned the logo and the many changes the uniform has gone through since.
Free passes to the event have already been passed out and exhausted, the team confirmed late Thursday.
The undercurrent will be a clearer connection between the club and the suburban city just outside of St. Louis.
When riots and racial tension engulfed Ferguson several years ago, an email circulated through the Cardinals' offices reminded members of the organization of the team's historic tie to the area. The organization had officials volunteer in the area, helped employees organize events to do so, and expressed concern about the violence in Ferguson. But it made few public comments about the issues or reasons for the riots not too far from a place of importance to Cardinals' lore.
If not for a meeting in Ferguson, the Birds may not be on the Bat.
In February 1921, Rickey, then the Cardinals' general manager, attended a Men's Fellowship Club meeting at the church. Allie May Schmidt was asked to design centerpieces and table decorations for the event, and legend has it that she saw the bright red of a cardinal against a snow-covered field and was inspired. She drew, colored, and cut out 82 cardinals, complete with yellow beaks, for the event, and put each one on a strand of brown string. In a book I wrote several years ago that explored some of the stories behind Cardinals' history, I described how Miss Schmidt's father, Edward H. Schmidt, sat at the same table as Rickey and the two began discussing the birds on their twigs as a logo.
Schmidt headed an art department at a local printing company, and he was off -- presenting possible logos to Rickey soon after.
They had birds facing away from each other, birds facing toward each other, and some logo that Rickey referred to as "fighting birds." In 1922, the team debuted the logo that is so familiar now, and a photo of the new look announced that each logo cost $3.75 and 75 of them were made.
Two decades later, as a token of appreciation, the Cardinals presented Miss Schmidt with a gold pin that had the cardinal logo -- her logo -- on it.
Ninety-six years after her inspiration, the Cardinals are coming back.