Twenty-odd years ago, before he reinvented himself as the indie-rock act called Smog, Bill Callahan published a cool little fanzine called Disaster. In 1986, while reviewing an LP by the British punk band the Membranes, he noted disapprovingly that one of them wore a tie. “The tie is universal,” he wrote. “It fairly screams: I’VE GOT A PIECE OF CLOTH AROUND MY NECK. I AM A DINK.”
I think of that line every time I wear a tie (which isn’t very often these days, thanks to the whole work-at-home thing). I also thought of it the other day when I was clicking through some old-timey baseball photos and came across something I’d never seen before: a ballplayer wearing a bow tie. The player in question is Cal McVey, who played for Boston of the National Association from 1871-75, so that’s how old the photo is.
Coaches notwithstanding, neckties in the sports world are uncommon but not unheard of. Early golfers and tennis players usually wore ties, reflecting the more genteel, formal era in which they played, and women’s teams in many sports wore cravats (a protocol preserved today in the world of granny basketball). Then there are horse racing jockeys, who often have little faux bow ties sewn into their silks — not quite the same as genuine neckwear, but close enough for our purposes.
But the people most likely to be wearing ties are the officials — not surprising, since more formal clothing usually implies greater power and authority. In baseball’s early days, umpires often wore a top hat and tails, and big league umps were still wearing ties as recently as 1969. Hockey officials used to be tie-clad too, and early NFL officials wore bow ties. I haven’t been able to find any photos of that, although I do have this early college football photo where you can see the refs wearing hats, jackets, and ties. Although the officials in these sports now dress more casually, ties can still be found on many boxing refs and tennis chair umpires (and, at Wimbledon, the linesmen).
There are probably other examples I’m missing — let’s have ’em. And if you’re wearing a tie while reading this, my sympathies.
Research Request: With all the recent chatter about players wearing No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, I want to compile as big a list as possible of players who wear particular uni numbers for particular reasons, whether due to superstition, as a memorial gesture, or whatever. Jason Giambi wears 25 because it adds up to 7 (Mickey Mantle’s number), for example, and Gilbert Arenas wears zero because that’s the number of minutes he was told he’d get to play at Arizona — that sort of thing.
All sports are fair game. Ideally, I’d like to come up with at least one example for every number 00 to 99; the upper part of that range will definitely be more challenging, so high-numbered contributions are particularly welcome. Send all your suggestions here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Baseball-related cartoons in The New Yorker almost always show the players wearing stirrups (note that the ones worn by the pitcher are backwards — the higher opening should be in the back, not the front). … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Moderately interesting piece here about how the Astros’ equipment manager had to scramble to get a full set of 42 jerseys for April 15th. … Reader Tim Donovan has pointed me toward a really great video series about Chicago-area football — look here. Of particular interest is the “Public League” (i.e., high school) segment, which features the largest helmet-borne uni number I’ve ever seen. … The English Premier League has a new lettering and numbering application guide (with thanks to longtime contributor Dominic Litten). … The Nationals were rained out on Sunday, so they did their Jackie Robinson routine last night. … So did the Giants. … The Sharks’ “WAS” memorial logo for deceased goalie coach Warren Arthur Strelow, which was originally worn as a helmet decal in Game 2 of their playoff series, has now been repurposed as a shoulder patch (additional views here and here). … John Romero notes that the Diamondbacks logo was missing from switch-hitter Albert Callaspo’s right-handed batting helmet on Saturday night (but his left-handed helmet was fine).