Chiefs give Brannock Devices their due

Syracuse salutes ubiquitous but anonymous foot-measuring tool

As part of their "Season of Central New York" theme, the Syracuse Chiefs paid tribute to the foot-measuring Brannock Device.

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | June 4, 2018 12:30 PM ET

You may have never heard of the Brannock Device, but you've almost certainly used one. 

The Syracuse Chiefs suited up as the Devices on May 31st, in honor of the iconic foot-measuring tool. Invented in Syracuse by Dr. Charles Brannock in 1927, thie Brannock Device is an oblong, metallic object that allows its users to easily and accurately determine their shoe size. 

The Chiefs' Thursday evening celebration of the Brannock Device was part of their "Season of Central New York" promotional campaign, designed to pay tribute to the people and products native to their region. The Brannock Device was manufactured in Syracuse until 1997, when company headquarters was moved to nearby Liverpool, New York.

"Based on the success of the Salt Potatoes [alternate identity], we felt that going all-in on local unique elements to our community would be fun," Chiefs general manager Jason Smorol wrote in an email. "The Wizard of Oz [author Frank Baum was born in nearby Chittenango], the Brannock Device, the upside down traffic light and the return of the Salt Potatoes are some of the bigger Season of CNY nights we have planned." 

The Chiefs' salute to the Brannock Device was quite a promotional "feet." The team took the field wearing black jerseys featuring "Devices" in red-accented metallic font, while their hats featured an anthropomorphic Brannock Device named Chuck wearing what one can only assume to be a perfectly fitting pair of sneakers. (The jerseys were designed by OT Sports, while the "Chuck" logo was created in-house by Chiefs manager of social media and graphics Danny Tripodi). The Chiefs initially didn't plan to wear "Devices" uniforms, however. The impetus to do so was provided by ESPN's Paul Lukas, a Brannock Device aficionado.


Preliminary sketches of "Chuck," an anthropomorphic Brannock Device. (Image provided by the Syracuse Chiefs)

"In talking with Paul it just kind of became an organic idea to try it on a smaller scale than the Salt Potatoes," wrote Smorol. "We had to get ownership on board....We had to get approval from the Brannock Device company and we had to work with [Minor League Baseball] to sure we cleared all trademark requirements. And then we went to work." 

Lukas, whose daily Uni Watch column is dedicated to "the obsessive study of athletics aesthetics," is perhaps the only person in the world with a Brannock Device tattoo, He was a special guest at Syracuse's NBT Bank Stadium on Thursday, throwing out a first pitch and distributing temporary Brannock Device tattoos similar to his permanent one. In June 1's Uni Watch column, he described his time in Syracuse as a "geekfest of epic proportions." 

Tweet from @SyracuseChiefs: Glad you could make it out tonight @UniWatch! pic.twitter.com/FBMDETtwRJ

In the bottom of the third inning, Lukas joined Chiefs broadcaster Eric Gallanty for an interview in which he elaborated on his love for the Brannock Device. 

"It's my very favorite object," he said. "There is literally not a single person here [at the ballpark] whose foot hasn't been in a Brannock Device at some point. So everybody knows what it is, but nobody knows what it's called. So that's a very powerful combination of ubiquity and anonymity.

"I love the Brannock Device because it combines that sense of hiding in plain sight and beautiful design," he continued. "It's a gorgeous object, it's made right here in central New York and it's an underappreciated, gorgeous thing that's a universal touchstone in our culture." 

At one point during their interview, Gallanty mentioned the Brannock Device's role in ensuring that American soldiers were equipped with properly-fitting shoes during World War II.

"If you're saying that Charles Brannock helped to defeat fascism, I would agree!" responded Lukas. 


On May 31, the Chiefs welcomed fans to "Device City" in honor of the Brannock Device

Dr. Stephanie Hook, a podiatrist, extolled the virtues of the Brannock Device in more pragmatic terms. Hook, representing Devices Night sponsor Syracuse Othopedic Specialists, also joined Gallanty for an on-air interview. 

"It's really important to have [your shoes] fitted appropriately," she said. "Not having the arch in the appropriate place can certainly lead to a lof of heel pain and deformity. ... Fitting your shoes appropriately can help you avoid surgery. We definitely want to make sure we get resized because our feet absolutely change size as we age."  

The Brannock Device was featured throughout the evening in more unorthodox ways. Brannock Devices replaced baseball bats during the night's "Water Balloon Smash" contest, and other between-inning games included a foot measuring contest and the "shoe scramble." Meanwhile, the team played Married With Children clips on the videoboard featuring Al Bundy working at a shoe store. 

"Visiting player headshots were [the player's] face inside a foot," wrote Smorol. "A left foot if they were a lefty and a right foot if they were a righty." 


Toledo's Jason Krizan is a left-handed batter, as evidenced by his face being placed on the bottom of a left foot. 

 At the end of the evening, the Devices jerseys were auctioned off and the proceeds donated to Operation Walk (an organization that "seeks to enhance the orthopedic surgical options for patients and orthopedic surgeons in developing countries").

Smorol said that while there are no plan to stage another "Devices" promotion, the team has trademarked the name and logo "just in case." If the Devices do make a return appearance, it seems likely that Lukas will once again make the pilgrimage to Syracuse. 

"[The Brannock Device] was my North Star," he said. "It's the symbol of what I like to write about and the way I like to look at the world."  

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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