For months now I’ve been running contributions from sporting goods maven Terry Proctor, who worked in the biz for decades and probably knows more that industry than the rest of us put together. I interviewed him way back in November but it’s taken me until now to get around to transcribing the tape. With apologies to Terry for the lengthy wait, here’s his long-delayed Uni Watch Profiles moment.
Uni Watch: You live in the Rochester area, right?
Terry Proctor: Yes, just below Rochester, just west of the Finger Lakes.
UW: Did you grow up in that area as well?
TP: Yeah, I did. My family lived here in Livonia for well over 200 years. We came over from New England in the late 1790s. We’re still trying to research and figure out exactly when.
UW: How did you end up working in the sporting goods business?
TP: Well, I graduated from college in ’67…
UW: Where’d you go to college?
TP: Rochester Business Institute. It’s a two-year school — I got an associate’s degree in accounting. And I went and interviewed with Eastman-Kodak, Xerox, all the major companies around here. But none of them were hiring. And of course that was right at the height of Viet Nam, so a lot of companies didn’t want to take a chance on younger guys, because they could get drafted. So anyway, I was working part-time at the local hardware store and I got a call from a friend of mine who ran Ruby’s Sporting Goods in Rochester. One of the employees there had had a heart attack and couldn’t work, so he asked me if I wanted the job. I said yeah, and that became my life’s work for the next 23 years.
UW: Were you already a big sports fan at that time?
TP: Oh, yeah. I got hooked on sports when I was about 10 years old. The first World Series I followed was the Braves and Yankees in ’57. And I got hooked on hockey, too, because they’d show Saturday-afternoon games from Madison Square Garden on TV. And we’d get Celtics games on Sunday afternoon, and for football we’d get Giants and Cleveland Browns games. Everyone around here picked one or the other — I picked Cleveland.
UW: So you were happy to get a job in sporting goods.
TP: Definitely. Believe it or not, beginning around 11 years old I was doodling little drawings of uniforms. I wasn’t as good as Ricko, and I didn’t keep any of them, but I’d mark all the subtle changes in the uniforms and all that.
UW: So you were a uniform aficonado from way back.
TP: Yup. In fact, way before there were these online uniform-builder things that you see now, I used to draw things up for potential customers at Ruby’s, so they could see how a certain design would look in their colors, and then my boss or I would present it to them. We got a lot of orders that way! I wish I had these digital tools back then — would’ve made my job a lot easier. But I enjoyed doing it, as a hobby and for my work.
UW: What kind of store was Ruby’s? Can you describe it?
TP: It started out as a full-service sporting goods store. We sold a lot of skiing equipment, in addition to team sports gear. The different stores in Rochester sold different lines — we had Spalding, MacGregor, Russell Athletic. But if you wanted Wilson or Rawlings uniforms, you’d go to one of the other stores. Each store protected their own lines. Now every hardware store and five-and-dime has the same stuff.
UW: So in your 23 years there, did you become a part-owner or manager?
TP: I was the manager toward the end. Then I had a stroke in January of ’88 and was on sick leave. I was getting ready to go back to work in May, but then I had a bigger stroke, the big one, and went on full disability after that. But I never lost my interest in sporting goods. So when my friend Tom started a health club and athletic center in the mid-1990s, he got a lot of calls for uniforms, because he had a full basketball court and soccer field down there. I still had the contacts, so we started a uniform operation. The athletic center’s closed now, but we still have the uniform division, and we make more money now than we ever did with the athletic center.
UW: So you’re still doing that today?
UW: What’s the business called?
TP: Livingston Athletics Gear.
UW: You obviously know your uniforms. Do you have a similarly encyclopedic knowledge of other aspects of sporting goods, or are you mainly a uniform guy?
TP: I know a lot — we’d sell football helmets, baseball bats, baseball gloves — but uniforms were always my area of expertise. Whenever a new catalog came in at Ruby’s, I’d grab it and start reading it like other people would read a magazine. That’s why I’m so interested in these old catalogs that you post on the site — brings back some really good memories.
UW: You’ve told me that you primarily worked with local school teams, but you also outfitted the local hockey team, the Rochester Americans.
TP: Ruby’s did the Amerks from the 1957-58 season through 1969-70. ’Course, I was still a little kid for the beginning of that. The team’s first season was 1956-57, and they got their uniforms from Champion Sporting Goods in Rochester. And then the next season they moved over to Ruby. Leo Ruby, who founded the company, and who was just the nicest man — you talk about an encyclopedic knowledge! He taught me how to string tennis rackets. Anyway, at first he got the Amerks’ jerseys from a place called Hardin Knitwear in New York City. And then in 1959, when they started wearing the jersey with the crest on the front, similar to what they wear today, they got those from King-O’Shea of Chicago — a Wilson subsidiary. Then they switched to General Athletic out of Greenville, Ohio, for the 1965-66 season.
UW: Does Ruby’s still exist?
TP: No, it closed up in 1990, two years after I stopped working there.
UW: They couldn’t survive without you!
TP: I don’t know about that, but my boss sold the business because he was getting up in years. The guys he sold it to, they ruined it, kind of pissed it away.
UW: How would you describe your tastes in terms of uniforms?
TP: Pretty conservative. I don’t like these new Nike and Reebok templates, they look so crappy. Everyone looks the same! There’s no originality. And of course I can’t stand the way the guys wear the uniforms today. The football uniforms don’t even look like football uniforms — I wish they’d bring back the sleeves and get rid of all the stupid inserts. Advances in equipment are great, increasing protection for the players is great, but it doesn’t look like football anymore — it looks like that movie, what do you call it, uh, Rollerball. And basketball uniforms are too big and baggy, baseball pants, I can’t stand those ugly pants the way they wear ’em today. I’m like you, I love it when you can see the striped socks.
UW: So when you’re outfitting a team, do you try to influence what they’ll wear based on your own tastes, or do you leave it completely up to them?
TP: I try to keep things distinctive and classy, not too outlandish. A lot of teams now go with a stock template and fill in the blanks, sort of like color-by-numbers. We always try to get something different in there, some sort of distinctive detail.
UW: Nowadays, uniform outfitting is controlled by a few big corporations. But back in your day there were lots of little companies competing for attention, right?
TP: Oh, yeah. Of course the majors were Spanjian (they were bought out by DeLong, who closed the uniform plant this past year), Powers, MacGregor. Then you had Russell Athletic, which was a little less expensive but still good-quality stuff. Sold a lot of Russell football stuff over the years — they made great football jerseys. You could never kill ’em, man, they wore forever. Anyways, yeah, then you had your little cut-and-sew houses in New York City, like Felco, Post, Empire. There were a couple in Philadelphia too, like Oliver Brothers.
UW: So what would all these companies do to curry favor with a retailer like yourself?
TP: Nothing, really. It was all about the tastes of the market. There’s probably 120 high schools in the Rochester area, so you pretty much had something for everyone, depending on how much money they had to spend or what their tastes were. Pittsford, which was a very exclusive suburb of Rochester, they’d go with Powers, because that was basically the Cadillac of uniforms….
UW: But the different companies, wouldn’t they try to wine you and dine you or anything like that? And would they just mail their catalogs to you, or would a sales rep show up and present the line to you in person?
TP: Yes, we got to know some of the sales reps very, very well. Freddie Clark was our sales rep for Russell — in fact, we toured the Russell plant with him in the ’70s. We flew down to Atlanta, drove to Alexander City, Alabama, went through the plant. We were sitting in the office with the plant’s general manager when a kid runs in with a pair of pants for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the pants had a 28-inch waist but were 32 inches around the thighs. It was some little running back who had legs like tree trunks. They had to make a special pattern to make them. Anyways, the companies all treated you well. Unfortunately, they all made you stock a lot of football stuff, because down South the schools would get new football uniforms every year. In Rochester, football was popular, but not as popular as basketball or baseball, so we always ended up eating a lot of football inventory. So we’d call up the city school district guys, take ’em out, get ’em drunk, and then afterward, when they were half liquored up, we’d take ’em back to the store and get them to buy ’em for the local high schools.
UW: Would you ever end up with sample sets or prototypes?
TP: Yes. Remember when they added the horns to the Rams’ jerseys, on the shoulders? We saw that ahead of time. And a lot of times they’d sell you sample sets for maybe half off. I wish I’d kept some of those — I had a full set of the ABA’s Los Angeles Stars uniforms. The socks were great, you would’ve loved them. Anyway, at the end of the year we’d sell off all the samples — we’d set up a little table outside our store, sort of like our own flea market. People in the neighborhood would come by, pick ’em up for two or three dollars. If I only knew, I could’ve made some money on eBay from all this stuff. Some of them were beautiful, too.
UW: What do you think of the changes in fabrics over the years?
TP: Most have been very good. I was always a leader with that, trying to get teams to change fabrics. A lot of high school basketball teams still wear dazzle — it’s so heavy and absorbent when you sweat. So we encourage teams to go with flat-back mesh, which is like what the NBA uses. I was a big proponent of pro mesh back when that came out in the 1970s, although the whites turned a bit gray after a few washings. But the colors held up really well, and the fabric was very durable, almost indestructible. Yeah, I like the fabrics they’ve got today. Although some of the Lycra stuff, I don’t care for how it makes the football pants look like leotards. Those are too lousy. But by and large, they’ve done a good job
UW: Have you saved a lot of uniform-related memorabilia over the years?
TP: I wish I did. I had so much of it, but when I sold my house and moved, a lot of it just got tossed. I really regret that.
Nicely done, Terry. Thanks for sharing your stories and expertise.
Incidentally, Terry was pretty serious when he said he was a Browns fan. Here’s what he wrote to me after the Super Bowl: “The damn Steelers sucked one out Sunday. Being a lifelong Browns fan the Steelers are still and will always be a joke to me. And may the Baltimore Crows NEVER win the Super Bowl again as long as that lying SOB Fast Artie Modell owns them!” Good to see Terry isn’t slowing down in his old age.
We’ll have an ad from Singer Sewing Machines any day now: Greg Riffenburg checked in with a DIY-ish story yesterday, although it’s really more about uniform modification, not making a uniform from scratch:
When I started playing JV football in high school, I was moved from the offensive line to tight end. As an avid football fan, I started noticing that skill position players were wearing their jerseys tight (especially at the sleeves), to minimize what the defenders had to grab.
Since our jerseys were the basic baggy, big-holed mesh, I knew I had to do something to them. So I had my mom take me to the local sewing shop to pick up some elastic to put in the jersey’s sleeve and bottom hem. She set up the sewing machine but had me do the actual sewing. It turned out looking like this (I insisted on having number 86 but there was no white jersey in that number, so I had to improvise and cut up a friend’s freshman practice jersey of a friend in order to make an 88 into 86). A handful of my teammates saw what I had done to my jersey and either had me or their moms do it to theirs.
By the time my class reached the varsity squad, we were excited to be getting some real, good-looking football jerseys, but they gave us these baggy jokes. As a backup in my junior year, I didn’t do much about it other than roll up my sleeves. But as the season wore on, I decided to do something about it. So I took my jersey, turned it inside out and sewed a new gusset/underarm seam line down the length of each side of the jersey. This gave it a much tighter silhouette and less for the defenders to grab. We wore the same jerseys during my senior year, and many of the juniors on the team asked me to do the same thing to their jerseys. I ended up modifying about a dozen of my teammates’ jerseys to various degrees.
There’s a really important lesson here. To wit:
If you learn a useful skill, everyone will just sponge off of you, so don’t bother. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to watch sports on TV, because they end up imitating the worst aspects of what they see.
Raffle Results: The winner of the Sports Propaganda raffle is Mike Menner (and if he chooses this design, I will personally go to his house and fix the apostrophe with a Magic Marker). More raffles coming in the next two weeks, providing everyone with more chances to not win, wheee!
Uni Watch News Ticker: We all know about this famous typo. Now someone is selling an intentionally misspelled Gretzky jersey — from the Kings, not the Rangers, which makes no sense — on eBay (with thanks to Greg Wyshynski). … Interesting intellectual property issues addressed here and here. … Here’s another long-sleeved basketball player: Maria Moore of Texas Tech. Thanks to her high socks and low shorts, she looks solid white when she isn’t running (with thanks to Matt Mitchell). … RNOB. Ben Traxel took that shot at Tuesday’s UNC/Maryland game. Then he went to the UNC basketball museum, where he saw this and this. … MLB has confirmed for me that the all teams will once again be wearing the “portion of the proceeds” caps on July 4th, along with the recently announced ALS-awareness patch. As previously reported, the patch will read, “4_ALS,” but the actual design isn’t being made public yet. … Yesterday I mentioned that this helmet logo seemed stenciled on. As it turns out, reader Jason Taylor won that very helmet at auction and has some details to share: “The logo is indeed stenciled. In fact, one of the first things that struck me about the helmet when I was looking at the auction listing was that the logo didn’t look like an ABC job. (ABC’s the company that made MLB’s helmets back then, as you know.) In fact, the paint didn’t look original either. I had a hunch that Charles Finley’s rep as the cheapest owner in baseball factored in here somehow. Long(er) story short, I’m pretty certain that this was once an old KC A’s helmet from ’67 that was repainted by the team in ’68 or ’69. You can see its original green color where parts of the yellow paint’s been chipped away. [Dave] Duncan [whose name is inside the helmet] was with the team each of those years.” … So much to like in this photo. Those are the Rochester Royals in the striped shorts (with thanks to Brad Keppler). … When the light is just right, you can see that the Oklahoma women’s hoops uniforms have really ugly spots (Matt Mitchell again). … My friend Steven Tatar sells vintage sweaters. Check out the cool graphics he used for his latest ad. … Tremendous article plus slideshow on Marquette basketball’s uniform history. … Drew VanNess says Gonzaga will be wearing black jerseys against Memphis tomorrow. … Tim Lincecum dropped the ceremonial first puck at last night’s Sharks/Hurricanes game and was given a Sharks jersey for the occasion. “The sleeves were cut short, just below the stripes, turning them into 3/4 sleeves,” reports Brendan Tarpey. “Combined with his silly hat, the fact that he looks like he’s 15, and his collared shirt under the jersey (always a bad look, and even more so with laces), he looked downright comical. The pictures don’t do his outfit justice.” … Here’s a close look at one of the No. 44 jerseys that the Globetrotters wore on Inauguration Day. … Andy Altemus notes that Mike McKenna was called up by the Lightning the other day and started against the Penguins on Wednesday night wearing his Norfolk Admirals pads and mask. … Jon Lester showed up at spring training in an old World Series shirt (with thanks to Tom Adjemian). … As you know, Santonio Holmes’s gloves were named the Super Bowl’s MVP, and now they’re being auctioned off for charity. … Has there ever been a more appropriate NOB? … According to a small item buried within this Q&A, the Diamondbacks have no uniform changes in the works (thanks, Phil). … Also from Phil: More ski-cross uniform controversy.