Many of you know Philly-based Bill Henderson as the man behind the essential MLB Game-Worn Jerseys of the Double Knit Era reference guide (which, if you don’t already own it, you should really purchase right now). But he’s also a world traveler who has spread the gospel of uniforms via his collection. Here’s a great story he recently shared with me:
My family and I lived in Japan in 2002-03. While there, I was invited to play baseball in a men’s league. I was so flattered; they saw me taking batting practice at a Tokyo batting cage (real slick — projectors with movies of real pitchers on the screen ahead of you, so the pitcher winds up and deliver and the pitch comes at you like magic right out of his hand). I was puffed up with pride that they admired my Spalding Guide swing.
Anyway, I went to practice and was shocked to discover that half the players were U.S. Military personnel — guys who could put the ball on the roof of the warehouse across the street. Me, once I hit a ball that hit the wall on two bounces. These men were just giant, a different breed from me. But they let me play! It took me three weeks to figure out that they invited me to join because they found out I had a car — a minivan at that, a rarity in Japan because of the cost and difficulty getting a driver’s license. But because I had a car, I could drive several of their best players to and from the games, which were at a field far outside metro Tokyo. To find any open space there, you have to drive 30 miles, which costs a good $20 in tolls plus gas, all of which I paid for.
I was not proud. I kept my secret to myself and played first base and got a bunch of singles and tried to make as few errors as possible.
ANYWAY … The Japanese teams we played all had fancy tailored professional uniforms. We didn’t. Not only that, we made no effort whatsoever to dress alike. There was every combination of softball garb, sweats, and cutoffs.
After a few weeks of this I couldn’t stand it any more. Like any other addict, I had brought a sizeable part of my game-worn uniform collection with me to Japan (no addict can stray far from his stash). I probably have about 20 unis with pants, so after about the third game, I began to arrive for the games dressed in FULL MLB game-worn uniforms (that’s a 2002 throwback uniform I bought from the Pirates).
Nobody on my team ever said a damn thing. But here I was, showing up every week in full 1970s Oakland A’s white (sorry, I had to wear black shoes), as an L.A. Dodger, a 1990 Texas Ranger, a 1979 Oriole with Scotty Ericson’s orange game jersey, a mid-1980s baby blue Phillies road uniform, or even as a 1986 Astro. Yes, that’s a real ’80s rainbow jersey, not a replica. I don’t have 1980s Astros pants, however, so those are Orioles pants from the 1980s. No one seemed to notice. The Japanese just stared at me — I don’t think they knew what to say.
The Rays/Yankees 2003 season opener took place in Japan while I was living there. I went in full Devil Rays regalia and attracted a lot of attention. As you can imagine, everyone there was wearing Yankees stuff … except me. Don Zimmer laughed when he saw me — he was a Rays coach that year. I danced with the Rays mascot (whatever the hell he/she/it is), got on the big TV, embarrassed my kids.
I have many more photos from this period, like me wearing MLB uniforms at every tourist site in Japan. Everyone stared at me. So I stared back.
Bill sent me that dispatch last week. Then, a day or two ago, he sent me a note on another matter, which concluded with the following: “P.S. I have been re-reading, entry for entry, EVERY SINGLE column and blog entry you have published from Jan. 2007 to present. You are one prolific dude. Good lord there is a lot of stuff there.” Despite this blatant brown-nosing, Bill gets points for putting his uni where his mouth is (or something like that) while on foreign soil. Well done, sir.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Some nice footage from the 1961 World Series here. … “I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia this past week and went to the Pier 21 museum (like Ellis Island but for Canada),” writes Trevor Ulmer. “I had just missed this exhibit on an early-1900s Vancouver baseball team consisting of Japanese immigrants. The league folded during WWII, as most Japanese immigrants were forced into camps at that time. I didn’t have my camera, so I googled it today and found this. I did get to see this uniform. Hard to tell from the photo, but the fabric is very heavy, like a thicker, softer canvas-type material.” … Wanna paint your body in your school’s colors? You can’t if you go to Grassfield High in Virginia. Details here (with thanks to Tris Wykes). … The Oilers released their alternate jersey yesterday — another straight throwback. … The Browns will be wearing throwbacks this Monday against the Giants. According to this article: “[T]he only real change will be on the helmet, where the two brown stripes down the middle have been removed, leaving only a single white one. In addition, the players’ jersey numbers appear on both sides of their helmets” (with thanks to Ross Hazlett). … This rugby jersey is causing quite a stir. … Latest System of Dress team: Memphis (with thanks to Chris Yarbrough). … Hosiery note from Dan Bingham-Pankratz, who writes: “A high school coach in Racine, Wisconsin, got everyone on the team the same type of black socks, which were previously not part of the uniform, as a tribute to an injured player.” … Lots of you have been asking for a good photo of Riddell’s Revolution Speed helmet. Here’s a good view of it, as worn by Oklahoma’s Travis Lewis (thanks to Darrell Hatfield). … Michigan’s new Adidas hoops uniforms have been unveiled. … The mighty Fleer Sticker Project has posted a four-page spread from 1960, showing a bunch of early NFL youth merchandising (the full entry is here). “I hadn’t realized the NFL was merchandising its teams so aggressively as early as 1960,” says webmaster JC Helf. “I guess with the AFL coming on board that year, NFL Enterprises (which would later become NFL Properties) realized it was time to start heavily marketing the league.” … JC’s also being going thru the Sports Illustrated vault and came up with some interesting stuff, including the Blackhawks’ barber pole design, great striped sleeves being worn by Princeton and Slippery Rock (note the black-stockinged official, too), the Rams’ yellow jerseys, and some gorgeous pics of Notre Dame. … Great work by Ryan Hossner and his shutterbug galpal Bonnie Noble, who attended last night’s Blazers/Kings preseason game and noticed that Donte Green’s “2” was upside-down. “We made sure to catch him next to Shelden Williams, so you can see the difference,” says Ryan.