New ESPN column today (link here), but it’s a short one, so we’ll carry on here as usual.
So: I’ve frequently written about baseball players who’ve had facemasks attached to their helmets after suffering facial injuries, a roster that includes Ellis Valentine, Gary Roenicke, Kevin Seitzer, Charlie Hayes, Terry Steinbach, Terrence Long (here’s a side view), David Justice, and of course Dave Parker (who wore a hockey mask for one plate appearance before switching to a football-style mask, which was later sold at auction), among others.
But who was the first ballplayer to wear a mask attached to his helmet? Depending on how you want to define “mask,” I suppose you could say Earl Battey’s do-it-yourself earflap from 1963 might qualify. But reader Jere Smith may have found a significantly earlier example.
Check out this New York Times item, which ran on September 6th, 1959. It says Billy Martin, then with the Indians, would be wearing “a special helmet fitted with football-type face-guarding bars” after having being beaned a month earlier. But here’s the thing: Despite returning to the active roster, Martin never played again that season. As you can see here, his last game that season was on August 5th (the day he was beaned). So unless he wore the mask-equipped helmet the following season — which is unlikely, since most players who’ve worn the masks have only required them for a month or two — Martin may have been the first player to be outfitted with a mask-inclusive helmet, even though he never got to wear it in a game. Man, I’d love to see the rig they devised for him. My new holy grail.
As it turned out, the most direct effect of Martin’s beaning wasn’t on helmet history — it was on Jim Brewer’s face. Almost exactly a year to the day after Martin took that pitch to the face, Brewer buzzed one over his head, prompting a sequence of events that culminated in a one of history’s most notorious sucker punches. After the game, Martin (who by this time was playing for the Reds) explained that he’d no longer tolerate any pitches near his head after having been beaned the previous season.
Note that Martin was wearing a helmet as he punched Brewer, but no facemask. Maybe Brewer should have worn one instead.
Get Shorty, Continued: Yesterday I linked to this article about the 1975 Sacramento Solons, who wore shorts. The article mentioned that another minor league team, the Houston Buffaloes, had worn shorts way back in 1949, which was news to me. But sure enough, Paul Deaver has come up with this.
Only thing is, the caption says the Buffs wore the shorts in 1950, not ’49. Then again, if you scroll down to the April 1st, 1950 entry on this page, it says the Buffs wore the shorts in 1949, and other sources tell conflicting tales (Rob Neyer and I spent a good portion of last night trading research on this one). It’s a significant point to nail down, because 1950 was the year that the Hollywood Stars unveiled their shorts, so it’s not clear which team was the first to go shorts-clad. I will continue to investigate.
Research Query: I’m currently in the market for any and all photos that show Mets players wearing white cleats in an All-Star Game, especially during the Davey Johnson era. If anyone has Mets yearbooks from that era (no, I don’t have any myself — all my yearbooks are from the ’70s), could you see if the All-Star coverage includes any photos showing white-shod Mets? Thanks.
Uni Watch News Ticker: A source at MLB.com checked in yesterday with the following info about the star-spangled caps: “Just Sunday and Monday, they sold almost $250,000 worth of these hats JUST on the mlb.com online store. That doesn’t count sales at the game, sales at stores, or sales at other online sites. They have been the top-selling items all weekend. Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Phillies were the top four, in that order. They are far and away the best-selling item we had last week and one of the hottest-selling items this year.” All very nice, what with “a portion of the proceeds” going to charity. Still waiting to hear what the portion is and what portion, if any, MLB is pocketing. … MLB’s pants problem is nicely summarized in the last sentence of this item (with thanks to Bo Baize). … No photo, but according to this Q&A page, “When the  Packers were honored at the White House [after winning the Super Bowl], Jim McMahon wore a Bears jersey, enraging Green Bay fans. McMahon explained that he did it because the Bears never got a chance to visit the White House after winning Super Bowl XX. Their trip to Washington was canceled after the Challenger space shuttle blew up” (great find by Jesse Benack). … Got a note yesterday from one Jakob Kuriakose, who said he totally digs Uni Watch, except for one thing: “I have one huge objection to your site, and that is your love of stirrups.” Yes, and aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? … Here’s a puzzler: Phil Garner, circa 1977, wearing a Yosemite Sam sleeve patch! Robert DeCorte noticed the photo in the lower-right corner of the Pirates’ 1978 yearbook cover. “I’m assuming it had something to do with Phil’s bushy mustache, since no other Pirate seems to have that patch.” This is a new one to me — anyone know more? … The Pedro porthole is spreading. That’s Aaron Heilman, from Monday night’s game. … Partial roundup of Olympic outfits here (courtesy of James Yeh). … Very cool 1950s Bear Bryant jacket up for auction (with thanks to Chris Smith). … Uni Watch teamwork in action: Jen Boone told me that Ryan Spilborghs of the Rockies had come to bat with his fly wide open, and Kate Lyden Chavez provided the screen shots, as seen here and here. … Nice to Nike is getting into the American Gladiators scene. All kidding aside, the notion that high socks and arm sleeves can actually make a runner faster is interesting. Designers always like to say, “Less is more,” but in this case maybe more is less. … Manny Ramirez wears Nike cleats these days, but he’s about to cash a $10,000 check from Reebok. Why? Look here (with thanks to Jim Pericotti). … Remember when the Brewers were advertising their web site on the Miller Park mound? Now they’re campaigning for Corey Hart to be elected to the final All-Star spot in the dirt behind home plate. Can’t they leave this shit off the field of play? As most of you know, I love Milwaukee, but these are total Mickey Mouse moves that belong in the minor leagues (screen grab courtesy of John Okray). … Michael Beasley has both of the Nats’ logos tattooed on his arm (with thanks to Eric Arnold). … Several people have forwarded me the URL for this “10 Worst Sports Logos Ever” list. It’s poorly conceived and poorly executed (please, let’s not bother discussing all its shortcomings), so I wasn’t planning on linking to it. But there was lots of chatter in the comments yesterday about one of the items on the list: this secondary Jets logo. Several people said they’d never seen it before, and one went so far as to say he didn’t believe it was the real deal. Ah, but it is, and I have the proof. One of the more interesting items in the Uni Watch library is this Jets style guide (yes, it has an Astroturf cover), which I acquired a few years ago. Entitled Being Green, it lays out strict style guidelines for the team’s logo, typography, graphics, and — wait for it — the “Gameface” (which also makes a cameo appearance here). So yes, the Gameface logo was indeed an official part of the team’s graphic identity as of a few years ago, although I agree that it never seems to have been used in a public setting (and also agree that that’s probably for the best). The style guide — and maybe the Gameface icon itself — was produced by the superstar designer Michael Beirut of Pentagram, who also happens to be one of people with whom I’ll be sharing a lectern at that “Sports and Design” reading on the 22nd, so I’ll ask him about the Gameface then. Or you can show up and ask him yourself.