New ESPN column today — here’s the link.
Meanwhile: One of the highlights of my recent trip to San Francisco was seeing my good friends and Uni Watch ukulele masters Christine and Greg Freeman (shown here flanking the equally estimable Mr. Tim Cook), who are two of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. At one point while we were hanging out, Christine asked, “So have you written yet about Dock Ellis wearing hair curlers?”
Adopting the tone of a sage elder dealing with an enthusiastic but inexperienced youth, I patiently explained to Christine that Dock Ellis was the guy who tossed a no-hitter while tripping on acid, not the guy who wore curlers. “In fact,” I concluded, full of the wisdom and intelligence that come with years on the uni beat, “I’m not aware of any big league player who’s worn curlers. But whoever you’re thinking of, it certainly wasn’t Dock Ellis.” Somehow resisting the urge to give her an understanding pat on the head, I sat back in my chair and smiled, secure in the knowledge that another misconception had been set aright.
Two days later I awoke to the following e-mail from Christine: “I couldn’t wait to finish work today so I could find you a picture of Dock Ellis in curlers. But there’s more — he gave the Baseball Reliquary his curlers. Turns out he didn’t wear them in games, just in pregame warm-ups.”
Well, dang — I sure missed the boat on this one. Christine, to her credit, was too polite to say, “I told you so” (or, perhaps more appropriately, “Boy, Paul, could you possibly have been more of a condescending jerk?”). Not only that, but she graciously offered to transcribe the curlers-centric portion of Ellis’s biography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball — an offer I readily accepted.
The book, which is still available (see link at right), was written by Donald Hall and published in 1976, when Ellis was still pitching in the majors. Here’s the part that concerns us:
 was also the year of the curlers. Dock has always paid as much attention to his hair as to his clothes. When he was in high school his Quo Vadis haircut earned him the nickname of Peanut, soon shortened to Nut. He has straightened his hair, cornrolled his hair, plaited his hair, let his hair grow out to a bushy Afro, and clipped it tight. He has even shaved his head. Ebony ran a feature on Dock’s various hair-styles.
So when he started wearing curlers to the ball park, in 1973, Dock-watchers should not have been surprised. In August of that year, someone photographed Dock hanging around the bullpen, before the game, with a special size nine baseball cap over his curlers, but with curlers clearly visible beside his ears.
Dock wore them only during practice. Yet word came down, from on high, that when he wore curlers he was “out of uniform.” He was to cease and desist.
He did, but not before he spoke his mind. “I know the orders came from [MLB commissioner] Bowie Kuhn,” Dock told [NL president] Charlie Feeney. “I don’t like it.” Look around. There are fellows who wear white shoes in practice. Some wear jackets. Others don’t wear hats. I wasn’t going to say anything, but since they seem to be aiming in my direction, I’m going to say things.
“Only a few years ago, ballplayers weren’t allowed to wear mustaches or goatees, long hair or sideburns. Now all that is okay. Baseball caught up with the times. Now they’re getting behind again There are many black men who wear curlers to help their hair. I didn’t hear anybody put out any orders about Joe Pepitone when he wore a hairpiece that went down to his shoulders.”
I find myself curious about the curlers, as if there were more to the story than meets the eye. For one thing, although I spend a good deal of time with Dock, I never see him wearing curlers around the house. I wonder why he wore them just before games. I ask him.
“That’s when I was throwing spitballs. When I had the curlers, my hair would be straight. Down the back. On the ends would be nothing but balls of sweat.”
“Spitballs!” I say. That was one pitch Dock hadn’t told me about. “So you wore curlers for the sake of pitching?”
“Oh yes! Just one touch at a time. It was something I experimented with. I do well with them.”
So there you have it. Anyone know of any other athletes who’ve worn curlers on the field (even if only during pregame warm-ups)?
Research Request: Yesterday’s comments included a report that Peyton Manning changed his Super Bowl uniform during halftime, for luck. I know of several other examples of uni-related superstitions (Joe Montana wearing the same jersey in Super Bowl XXIII that he’d worn in Super Bowl XIX; a team sticking with a particular uni design during a winning streak; rally caps; etc.), but I’m looking for more. Know of any? Do tell.
Just to clarify, I’m not looking for something like Wayne Gretzky hiking up one side of his jersey hem, or John Franco honoring his father by wearing a New York Sanitation Dept. T-shirt — those are signature styles, but they’re not superstitions per se. I’m looking for things specifically done for luck, or to break a streak of bad luck, or for some similar reason. OK? OK. Big thanks in advance for any and all suggestions.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The Hornets and Sixers both wore their new red uniforms last night. … I’ve written in the past about Cowboys who’ve tied down their jerseys to their shoulder pads, thanks to a little reinforced eyelet patch that’s added to the jerseys (some ex-Cowboys do this, too). Now Nicholas Hernandez has provided the best views yet of how this is done. He writes: “The auction house I work for recently got a shipment of game-worn Cowboys unis, and sure enough, several of them had the alteration done to them. It’s just a small piece of tackle twill with a hole punched in it [here’s a closer view]. The player has the option of punching it through to the jersey. All it does is prohibit the jersey from continuing to tear once the hole is made. Terry Glenn’s is unpunched [front, back]. And here’s a shot of Demarcus Ware’s gamer with the knot of the shoelace still attached.” … Manny Delcarmen and Jon Lester of the Red Sox are changing their numbers, reports Alec Long. Delcarmen’s switching from 57 to 17, and Lester from 62 to 31. … Faaaaaascinating note from Jared Hartung of the Arizona Daily News-Sun: “I was talking to the Texas Rangers’ equipment manager about the new BP jerseys and he said that it’s been a hassle getting used to the new material. He said that he and fellow equipment managers have to learn how to use a heat press again because the jersey tops can’t handle the heavy numbers and stitching it takes to apply them. ‘It’s been years since any of us have used a heat press,’ he said. ‘It’s going to take some time to get used to.’ ” I can hear Joe Hilseberg laughing all the way from Baltimore. … NHL players usually write their uni number on the tape at the top of their sticks, but Alex Ovechkin, who wears No. 8, has been turning his 8s into little illustrations. There’s a mention of it here, which led to a fuller treatment of it here (with thanks to Kim Kolb). … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: The Cubs are going to put Under Armour ads on Wrigley Field’s outfield doors. … “There are some pics floating around of the upcoming George Clooney movie Leatherheads,” writes Mike Fiala. “I love the striped jersey, although the hosiery really lacks something.”