Readers Mike Hersh, Paul Wiederecht, and Larry Wiederecht contributed some excellent wire service photos last week and pointed me toward some good sources for more of them, so I recently spent the better part of a day poring over nearly 7,000 images, culling out dozens of photos that I’ll be sharing with you over the course of several blog entries.
Some of these photos are simply interesting, but others are of major uni-historical significance. Those are the ones we’ll be looking at today. Here’s the scoop:
• As you all know by now, I’m mildly obsessed with documenting the evolution of the batting helmet earflap. Earl Battey appears to have worn the first improvised flap, in 1961, but when was the first premolded flap made available? The answer appears to be 1964. I had always heard that Tony Gonzalez was among the first flap-clad hitters, but this is the first evidence of it I’ve ever seen. But if real flaps were available in 1964, why was Jimmie Hall wearing a makeshift flap in the 1965 World Series? Based on a conversation I had two weekends ago with former Twins equipment manager Ray Crump, the answer may lie in a legal dispute between ABC Helmet and Wilson, who were both trying to bring a flapped lid to market around that time. The litigation between the two companies may have resulted in the premolded flaps being unavailable for a period of time. (As an aside: If you look at again at the Gonzalez photo, you’ll see that the helmet he’s holding has a raised logo appliqué, similar to what the Cubs still use today.)
• In still more head-protection news, it appears that the Reds required their players to wear plastic liners in 1954. Unfortunately, the caption doesn’t specify whether the liners were required only for batting or if they also had to be worn in the field. (Remember, the Pirates once required their players to wear helmets in the field, so a liner requirement isn’t so far-fetched.) Interestingly, the player in this photo, Roy McMillan, is the same guy who was shown examining that air-conditioned cap four years later.
• Last week I mentioned that reader Jim Lonetti wore this unusual Twins jersey to the Uni Watch party in Minneapolis. He pointed out the atypical version of the team’s script and said it the jersey was a salesman’s sample. But dig this: That script was apparently supposed to be used on the team’s inaugural uniform! That unveiling photo is from 1/16/61, but by the start of the season they’d already switched to their more familiar script (or at least I think they had — does anyone have any Opening Day photos from that season?). Other questions worth investigating: Which script did they wear for spring training that year? And why was the old script resuscitated for a sample jersey in the powder blue era?
• The Twins’ logo apparently underwent some last-minute changes too. Here’s the official logo unveiling shot. But instead of the two characters wearing the familiar “M” and “STP” (for Minneapolis and St. Paul, duh), they’re both wearing an “MT” mark that I’ve never seen before. Does anyone know if that “MT” logo and/or this version of the handshake logo were ever used in any official capacity?
• We all know the 1960 White Sox were the first team to use NOBs. And now we know when they unveiled them: January 22nd of that year.
• Did you know all of the WFL’s logos and uniforms were designed by one guy, or that this marked the first time a single designer created a league’s entire graphics program? I didn’t, but hey, live and learn. I hadn’t heard of the designer, Ray Engle, but he apparently still has his own design firm (although he must be fairly old by now). Unsurprisingly, there’s no mention of his WFL work on his web site. Gonna try to contact him for an interview later this week.
I’m genuinely excited over these photos, which I think represent as much serious historical documentation as we’ve ever featured in one day here on the site. And trust me, this is just the tip of the wire service iceberg.
The Proctor Files, Continued: I mentioned in yesterday’s Ticker that I failed to win this catalog but was nonetheless intrigued by the basketball shorts at top-left on this page. That prompted a characteristically thorough reply from sporting goods historian Terry Proctor, as follows:
Even I don’t remember that basketball pant style from Empire. But I am very familiar with the company. Empire was one of the small cut-and-sew companies that used to populate the sporting goods industry. Empire Sporting Goods Mfg. Co., Post Mfg. Co., and Felco Athletic Wear, all located in NYC, were the “Big Three” of this type of company.
Empire was run by the Rauch brothers, Frank and Nate, I believe. Frank Rauch was their Sales Manager and Sales Representative for New York State. Unfortunately, Frank stayed too long at the dance. Towards the end of his career in the late 1970s, he would come into Rochester, set up in a local hotel, and call the dealers to come in to see his wares. You went only as a courtesy to Frank, who was then in his 70s. It was a scene right out of “Death of a Salesman” with Frank as Willy Loman.
In those days the softball and baseball teams wanted the flashy styles from SandKnit and Rawlings, not Empire’s “stuck-in-1947” styles made out of rayon/durene or nylon/durene. Unfortunately, none of us had the heart to tell him the truth that his products were out of date, both material- and style-wise. We would just dance around the issue and end up buying some of his nylon pitcher’s windbreaker jackets or Little League socks. It was sad to see.
But Empire did have one last hurrah. Somehow they got the contract to make all of the baseball uniforms and jackets for Robert Redford’s movie “The Natural,” which was filmed in Buffalo. Empire actually did a pretty good job with the film. The uniforms weren’t all historically correct, but they were far superior to what appeared in most other sports movies. Empire had closed their doors by the early 1990s.
Jags jersey box giveaway, finally: Okay, let’s recap: Last spring, around the time that the Lions and Jags unveiled their new uniforms, I acquired this box. Inside was a new Lions jersey — a Calvin Johnson jersey, to be exact — along with assorted inspirational messages (some of them admittedly of dubious hype value).
I have also acquired a similar box for the Jaguars. It’s unopened — still in its original shrinkwrap, in fact — so I don’t know whose jersey is inside, what size it is, or anything else. (Yes, Maurice Jones-Drew is shown on the box, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything; the Lions box showed Kevin Smith.)
I’m going to give that box away to one lucky reader. To be eligible to win, send a blank e-mail with your name in the subject line to this address by this Friday, February 5th, 7pm eastern. Only one entry per person (remember, Uni Watch Membership Program enrollees can no longer send bonus entries). I’ll announce the winner on Monday.
Uni Watch News Ticker: A Swiss basketball player has been told not to wear her Muslim headscarf while playing (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … Lots of Redskins uni discussion here (with thanks to Nick Church). … Lots of interesting soccer-related stuff for sale, including lots of classic old jerseys, some retro-style tees,and Erol Yasin’s 1980 NASL championship ring (good finds by John Leftwich and Ed Dailey). … The Padres continue to leverage the military/patriotism thing to annoying lengths, this time with a new logo that’ll be used for military promotions. As you know, San Diego is the only city in America with a military base (unlike, say, Brooklyn). … The good folks at SoccerPro.com are running a contest with a fun prize: a free jersey per year for 10 years. Details here. … Here’s a new one: Xavier’s basketball shorts have been modified so the players can keep little play-calling cards in their waistbands (fascinating find by Ryan Dempsey). … The Notre Dame hockey team wore special jerseys to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project on Saturday (with thanks to Erik Bootsma). … Here’s a place I never expected to see the Expos’ logo: on a Dunny. Josh Brotheim says it’s because the toy’s designer, KidRobot, is from Montreal. … Zac Neubauer found some cool old photos in the Winnipeg Tribune‘s photo archive, including a pee-wee football team that wore hockey-style jerseys (was this common in Canada years ago?), the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ new baseball jerseys fresh off the factory line, and an early women’s hockey team. … “I was watching the KHL All–Star game on ESPN 360 and a guy on Team ‘Jagr’ didn’t have a number on his jersey,” says Jay Danbom. “Barry Melrose called it a practice jersey. They added that it was a possible late addition to the roster and gave the guy’s name but I don’t remember it.” … Mako Mameli has sent me some 1990 NFL screen shots showing that the Raiders and Vikings were wearing American flag decals for Desert Storm as far back as Week 16. Other notable data from that game: (1) On the logo creep front, the Vikings wore had the Wilson logo on the left sleeve but not the right (was that really the protocol at that time?), and Herschel Walker didn’t have it at all. And (2) Not often you see an NFL player with an acute accent on his NOB! … Mako also contributed a bunch of other 1990 screen shots, including views of the Dolphins’ Joe Robbie memorial armband and 25th-anniversary helmet decal; some inconsistent NOB stylings by the Raiders; Torin Dorn exhibiting a wristband fetish; and Rodney Peete with no sleeve stripes (shocking!). … Two interesting Raiders-related items were recently posted on the Chris Creamer board: a prototype alternate jersey (seems fishy to me, but someone paid $861 for it) and an extremely overpriced but nonetheless gorgeous Jim Otto sideline jacket. … As we all know, the Pro Bowl jerseys have the player’s team logo on the shoulder area. But the Browns don’t have a logo, so Browns players just have a Browns helmet icon on their Pro Bowl jerseys. But here’s the beauty part: J.C. Parks notes that the helmet icon on the jerseys has a white facemask, while the Browns’ real helmets have gray facemasks. Brilliant, brilliant catch. … Good article about Cavs merchandising (with thanks to Brian Jones). … Evgeni Malkin was one of several Pens players who were missing their collar laces last night (as noted by Stu Uhl). … Latest bit of greatness from the mighty Fleer Sticker Project: a set of Sunbeam Bread cloth patches and display albums. … Reprinted from last night’s comments: Tons of old USFL games available on DVD, for cheap, here.