(Photo courtesy of Jerry Reuss)
A few months ago I began getting e-mails from a guy named Jerry Reuss. To my surprise, he turned out to be, you know, that Jerry Reuss — the former big league pitcher who won 220 games over the course of 22 seasons.
Jerry has turned out to be an extremely interesting guy. He maintains a snappy-looking web site, has his own Flickr account, and generally seems more engaged with the world than most athletes I’ve known. He may also be the only athlete of his generation — or at least the only one I’m aware of — who routinely interacts with bloggers. Back in January, he left a comment on a baseball card site, which led to this interview on another card site. And he’s also been in touch with our own Jerry Wolper to assist in Jerry’s Buc Tracker project, which will attempt to document the Pirates’ bumblebee era. All this is even more remarkable when you consider that Jerry’s a broadcaster, and most broadcasters look upon bloggers with suspicion at best, disdain at worst.
Of course, it also helps that Jerry’s interested in uniforms. Even better, he’s become a regular Uni Watch reader. Back in June he agreed to do an interview with me, which turned into a wide-ranging hour-plus discussion (one reason I haven’t published it until now is that it took so long to transcribe). It’s a bit of a monster, length-wise, so I’m splitting it into two parts. Today’s entry will cover some general background and the early phases of Jerry’s career; later in the week we’ll get to the latter portion of his career and some very interesting anecdotes. OK? OK — here we go.
Uni Watch: Before we talk about uniform stuff, I was looking thru your photos on Flickr, and it looks like you were clearly trying to document certain ballparks and were also going for a fairly artistic approach. Have you always been a photography buff?
Jerry Reuss: Yeah, but I didn’t always act on it. In fact, one of the regrets that I have — and I have very few regarding my career — is that when I signed my first contract, I didn’t do the things I tell kids to do when they sign theirs. And that is: Buy a camera, the best that you can afford, and you can record every place you’ve been, everything you’ve done, and teammates who you may never see again.
I didn’t do that in the beginning of my career, and that’s what I was thinking in 1988, when I signed on with the White Sox. I was working out one day, and I thought, “If I play this year…” — because it wasn’t certain — “…I’m going to take a camera with me and I’m going to record wherever I play and the people that are with me.” I figured better late than never.
UW: So would you be walking around the stadium with a camera before a game?
JR: Well before the game. See, the American League was still somewhat new to me. By taking the camera with me, I’d get excited about going to the ballpark right after lunch — an hour or two earlier than what I’d been accustomed to. A lot of the groundskeepers and stadium officials and such, they know you’re a ballplayer, and if you get there early enough, they’re happy to talk to you and show you around the various parts of the ballpark. So you see new things, you make new friends. And then after I took my pictures, then it was time to work out.
I didn’t know what I was going to do with the photos. But then later, Flickr came along, and I read as much as I could about that, and I said, “With a little bit of imagination and a little bit of time, I can preserve all of my baseball memories for future generations, for my grandkids, and for anyone else who’s interested.” So it’s all there in one place, with captions describing all of it. And what really drove it all home was when my parents passed, Mom and Dad saved stacks of pictures, but they didn’t write anything on the backs, so we really had to guess a lot regarding when and where the pictures were from, who was in them. So I took some time to do that with the captions to my pictures on Flickr.
UW: It’s satisfying to catalog your life like that, isn’t it?
JR: Yeah, it was like taking a trip back in time.
UW: Were you unusual in that regard? I mean, were other ballplayers doing this as well, or were sort of an oddball in terms of your photography?
JR: At first I was an oddball. But as guys saw what I was doing, they’d ask me about it. By 1990, my last year in the big leagues, I had guys coming with me to take pictures. They’d say, “Are you taking photos today?” And I’d say, “Yeah, come meet me for lunch and then we’ll go.”
UW: OK, now let’s talk about uniforms, including the ones you’ve worn. I want to start with your 1969 Tulsa Oilers photo, which shows you wearing the baseball centennial sleeve patch. All big league players wore that patch in 1969, but I hadn’t realized that minor leaguers wore it as well until I saw your photo. Do you recall if it was used by all minor league teams, or just by some of them?
JR: What I’d like to do, if it’s OK with you, is hold the discussion, just set it aside for a moment, and let me make a general statement about unforms.
UW: Oh, sure. Go ahead.
JR: First of all — and this really hit home for me after reading your blog — uniforms really hold a place in everybody’s life. Whether it’s military uniforms, policemen, doctors — people who serve a greater purpose than athletes. But it’s the athletes who seem to get the highest regard and greatest notice for wearing the uniform. But it still comes down to the same thing — it’s about respect. And every uniform I ever wore, I was proud to wear all of them. Mainly because it represented a dream that I had which was Major League Baseball. Also, it represented the city for which I was playing — the fans, the organization, all of that was represented in the uniform. So I never took that for granted, and there was always a certain amount of appreciation and respect. When I wore the uniform, I wore it with pride.
So there are people who read your blog and have a real passion and respect for uniforms. So as I give my opinions, they’re just that: my opinions, which are no better than anyone else’s. What I plan to do in our conversation today is give a different perspective, as someone who wore the uniform. This is what I’m offering to give to you. I’m not here to offend or defend — I’m just offering one man’s point of view.
UW: That’s fine. I value your opinion — that’s why we’re talking right now.
JR: OK. Now about Tulsa Oilers photo, I think that photo was taking by a newspaper photographer. It’s one of the many faux-pitching poses I did during my career. As far as the patch, do I remember whether other teams wore it? No. But I was surprised to see it there when I scanned the picture.
UW: You came up to the majors right at the tail end of the flannel era. And you were in your second full season in 1971, when the Cardinals switched from flannels to polyester double-knits. And that’s when they also switched from a button-front jersey to a pullover, and from belted pants to the elastic waistband. What did players think of the new style of uniform, and what did you think?
JR: What I remember about the flannel uniforms is that they could really get hot. You’d see players changing shirts, or even the entire uniform. Now, those flannels were a much lighter weight than the heavy wool you see from Mitchell & Ness, but they were still hot. They’d also shrink and discolor during the season as they were washed.
UW: So when the Cardinals made that switch in ’71, where you and other players see it as an improvement?
JR: Yes, but the double-knit material they were using then was quite a bit different than the evolution of the fabric today. The uniform I wore this past spring at the Pirates’ fantasy camp was years apart from those first double-knits. They didn’t stretch a whole lot, they didn’t give a whole lot, and back then the players wore the uniform a lot tighter. Eventually they’d wear out.
What was different for me was that we had the buttons, the belts, and then we went to the pullover and the waistband. It was just the time — if you look at pictures from that era, you’ll see every team was doing that, with the exception of the Dodgers, the Yankees, and there might be one or two other teams. And then you’d see the neckband, the wider striping down the sides…
UW: The racing stripes, we call them.
JR: Right. And it fit real well with the stirrups of that era, because guys were still showing a lot of stirrup back then, although they got thinner and thinner as time went on. What I saw as the biggest advantage to the pullovers was that teams like the Cardinals, who had wonderful embroidery on the front, at least all of it stood together, with no break or gap. But what it took away was this: Players are usually in a vertical position, unless they’re sliding or diving for a ball, and the buttons provided a nice vertical element.
But overall, I think players liked it. But there were some who, you might say, didn’t have the best physique. And it seemed to accent the fact that some players were shorter than others. And if you had a bulge or two, it certainly showed.
UW: That was never a problem for you, obviously. Now, you were with the Pirates when they introduced the mix-and-match bumblebee uniforms in 1977. Those uniforms were pretty radical — what did you and your teammates think of them at the time?
JR: Yeah, it was radical. But it wasn’t the first time this had been done — I saw a picture on your site of the Orioles’ four starting pitchers wearing orange uniforms with black piping.
UW: That was something designed and manufactured by Brooks Robinson — he owned a sporting goods company at the time. But they only wore that design for about three games, and it was just a self-contained design. In other words, they weren’t mixing and matching the orange jersey and pants with their other uniform elements like the Pirates were doing. I mean, you guys were wearing pinstriped jerseys with black pants, black jerseys with yellow pants, just about any possible combination. Do you recall thinking, “Hmmm, this is pretty out there”?
JR: I remember what happened with Cleveland in 1975, when they wore the solid-red uniforms, and I thought “Wow, I don’t know about this,” because there was so much going on. And lo and behold, when the regime of Danny Murtaugh and Joe Brown retired, the new regime of Harding Peterson came on board and they wanted to leave their mark. Now, Harding Peterson — everyone called him Pete — he wanted a lot more pizzazz to the game. He felt the Pirates were too laid-back, and he thought more people would come to the ballpark, which had been built mainly with the Steelers in mind. Of the 55,000 seats, less than 20,000 were really good for baseball.
Anyway, Peterson felt he had to do something to jazz up the ballclub. He once came to me and said, “You know how Tug McGraw comes off the field tapping his glove on his leg? I like that. Can you do that?” And I said, “I could do that. But when Tug’s doing it, I think it’s genuine. If I did it, I don’t think it would look right, because that’s just not who I am. I’m the kind of player who goes on the field, does his work, and comes off.” He said, “I need more. I need something else.” So that’s what he was looking for, and he was partly responsible for those new uniforms. I can’t remember who else was involved.
Now, there were 10 combinations, if you include all the accessories — the black hat, the black stirrups, and the black sleeves, as well as the yellow set. I don’t know how long this lasted — I only wore them for parts of two years.
UW: It went on from 1977 through 1984.
JR: And of course they had the stovepipe hats, which had come in a year before, in ’76. Apparently the hat was a big seller in Pittsburgh, so they kept it…
UW: I don’t mean to push you, but it kinda seems like you’re dodging the question here. What did you and other players think of these uniforms? Or did the players not really care about this kind of stuff?
JR: Oh no, I’m gonna get there. But there’s some background here that nobody ever knew but that I remember. One thing I remember is that when we got the uniforms, they were Japanese-made, and a union that made uniforms sent a telegram to Willie Stargell asking him to encourage the players not to wear these, because they weren’t made in America. [I heard pretty much the same thing when researching my recent ESPN column about the Pirates’ 1970 uniforms. — PL] But Willie said, “Look, I’m a baseball player. I’m not a union representative. So let’s go play.” So that was that.
For Opening Day in 1977, we played at home. We wore our traditional uniforms from 1976 for batting practice. The new uniforms were hush-hush. When we came in after batting practice, we took off the old uniforms and then they brought out the new ones and said, “This is what we’re wearing today.” That’s the first time, to my knowledge, that the players saw all three sets. Then they explained to us how this was going to evolve, how it was going to happen, and what their plans were regarding these uniforms.
Now, guys looked at ’em. And when you compared them to what we’d been wearing, you’d think, “Wow, this is pretty radical.” But guys put ’em on and they felt pretty comfortable. Because they were made just a little bit different, and they fit pretty well. They were still an eyeful. But guys put ’em on and looked in the mirror and said, “You know, that’s OK.” I think that first day we were wearing the yellow pinstripes with the black accents. And we went out there and I guess the reaction was pretty positive.
When we got to the yellows and the blacks, I said, “Hmmm, I’m not sure about these.” It was so different, it just didn’t seem like a baseball uniform.
UW: And did that make you feel weird on the mound? Like, if you’re wearing something that doesn’t look like a baseball uniform, does that make you feel less like a baseball player?
JR: It affected me before the ballgame. But when I started thinking about the game, I was more concerned with that. Once the game began and the strike zone and everything else was still the same, you pretty much forgot about the uniform. You got used to the idea that this is the color we’re wearing today and that’s that. But before the game, the reactions to the uniforms and the questions people had about them, we’d deal with that. But pretty soon it became old hat.
UW: With so many uniform combinations available, who decided what you’d wear each day?
JR: I think it was someone in the front office. If I remember correctly, it was the assistant general manager, Joe O’Toole, maybe..? This is just what I remember. I’m not sure on this.
UW: It must have been murder on your equipment manager, just keeping track of all the gear.
JR: Yeah, it was. I think what they did every so often, whether it was every week or whatever, they sent him a list and said, “This is what we’ll be wearing.” Monday, this. Tuesday, this. But they reserved the right to make some modifications. And there were two modifications they had to make. One occurred after a night game while we were on the road wearing the black-on-black uniform setup, and it was televised back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates got a lot of calls that day saying people couldn’t see the players, especially the darker-skinned players. They said, “We can’t see ’em on our TVs, so something’s gotta be done about this.” So they held a quick meeting and said, “Well, we don’t have too many games televised on the road, and when we do, we’ll make sure we don’t wear that combination.”
The other problem was that the pinstripes weren’t universally accepted on the road, and the home team would sometimes say, “Wait a minute, you can’t come in here wearing white with pinstripes — they look like home uniforms.” So they made some adjustments there too. I do have some photos of me wearing the pinstripes on the road, but you’ll probably notice after a while that the pinstriped pants were OK with either the yellow or the black top, but not the jersey.
UW: Did you have either a favorite or least-favorite combination?
JR: The ones that I thought looked best were the pinstripes. But still, saying that, they were never a favorite of mine in terms of uniforms.
UW: Just the best of that particular batch.
JR: Yes. And I also liked the black, as well as the highlights with the yellow.
UW: And what did you guys think of the pillbox caps?
JR: Some guys liked ’em. They were a little cumbersome when they were worn under a helmet.
UW: Right, that was gonna be my next question. That was still very common in those days, although nobody does it today except Juan Pierre.
JR: Yeah, Willie always did that. But Willie, he never complained about anything. With Willie, when he came back to the dugout, you couldn’t tell if he’d hit a home run to win the ballgame or if he’d struck out with the bases loaded. That was just his temperament.
UW: You were still on the Pirates in 1978, when he started awarding the Stargell Stars. Do you remember how he got started with that?
JR: He never made a big deal out of it. If you had a big hit or made a good play, he’d walk by your locker after the game with the star and say, “I’ve got your hit right here” or “I’ve got your defensive play” or whatever, and then he’d put it on the hat. Guys thought it was kind of strange, but pretty soon it was like notches in a gun. And guys started parading around with those stars with a great deal of pride. That’s where those stovepipe hats really came in handy, because they aligned perfectly.
UW: Did you win a few of those?
JR: You know, I probably did, but to be honest with you, I didn’t really embrace the hats. I didn’t mind the colors, but the hats — I still have a couple of ’em — but I just didn’t have a feel for ’em.
That’s it for today’s installment. I’ll run the rest of the interview soon.
What’s the matter with
Kansas Utah?: Maybe everyone else already knew this, but I’ve just now discovered that the state of Utah in the late 1990s had eight different pro sports teams whose names ended in “zz.” Yes, I know it’s the Beehive State and all (bzzzzzzz…), but still. If anyone from Utah can shed some light on how this trope developed and what people thought of it at the time, I’d very much like to hear from you. Thanks.
Giveaway Reminder: I’m currently giving away two copies of a cool book and two cool T-shirts. Details here.
US Presswire Update: Ek has added five more team pages to our US Presswire photo archive section (including a Vikings page, which includes this shot of Chuck Foreman wearing the 1978 memorial armband for assistant coach Jack Nelson). See the listing in the right sidebar to access the individual team pages. We’ll continue to add more teams every few days throughout this month.
Meat the Mets, continued: A few of you NYC folks have e-mailed to say that the Brooklyn Kitchen was sold out of Meats tees. I dropped off another batch yesterday, so they should be restocked, plus the tees are also available at Spuyten Duyvil Grocery, and of course you can always get them directly from me.
Membership Update: Several new designs have been added to the membership card gallery (including Adam Shane’s Williams College rugby design, shown at right). As always, you can get in on the fun by signing up here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I like the Montana Officiating Association logo patch — or at least that’s what I’m assuming it is — on this old zebra jersey. … Does anyone remember Bill Madlock wearing this massive NickNOB on his batting helmet? I don’t think I’d ever seen it until Mako Mameli sent me that photo yesterday. Photo is dated 1977, when Madlock was with the Giants. … Two Uni Watch-associated talents recently collaborated, as Rob Ullman produced a full-page comic strip for Teebz‘s Hockey Blog in Canada. Click on the thumbnail comic to get the full-size version. … A little tough to see, but it turns out Michigan had a stars/stripes block-M helmet decal last Saturday, and Notre Dame had a stars/stripes “ND” logo on their neck bumper (as noted by Jay Winkler and Kyle Campbell, respectively). … Words to live by? Maybe, but I’d go with this (thanks, Kirsten). … New mask design for Martin Biron (with thanks to John Muir). … This may be common knowledge to the serious tennis fans out there, but I hadn’t been aware that Rafael Nadal always bites his trophies (until Brinke told me, that is). … FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger wears a jacket and tie, not Adidas’s sideline gear. But take a look at his necktie (as noted by Jonathon Binet). … A while back I did an entry about MLB players possibly wearing shinguards under their pant legs. The consensus seemed to be that they didn’t do it, and that any visual evidence to the contrary was an optical illusion or some such. But now Joe Owen has come up with this 1991 SI piece, which includes the following passage: “I talk for a bit with Barry Larkin, the shortstop, who is writing his number on the back of some shin pads that he will wear during the season. He is hoping they will protect him from being spiked on those take-out slides at second base.” A-ha — proof! … Latest edition of Equipped with Joe Skiba now available here. … Several readers have noted that Andy Reid wore a throwback polo but a non-throwback cap on Sunday. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Here’s an early look at the NHL All-Star Game patch. … Also from yesterday: For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Matt Hasselbeck had two green dots on his helmet for part of Sunday’s game. The top one apparently disappeared after halftime (excellent work by Mickel Yantz). … My buddy Bill Scanga recently tipped me wise to a Brooklyn pork store with some seriously excellent butcher paper. … You can barely see the Pens’ new shoulder patch in this shot. Here’s a better view of what it looks like. … Alan Kreit sent along a link to a guy who does custom mask and helmet designs. He apparently has a good Facebook page, too. … New home hoops jersey for Missouri. Road and alt supposedly to follow soon (with thanks to Dan Flynn). … Was Brandon Jennings screwed out of a USA Basketball roster spot by Nike? Eh, probably not, but it’s a fun conspiracy theory. … Did a consulting firm in Harrisburg rip off the Nats’ logo? Eh, probably not, but it’s a fun conspiracy theory (with thanks to Jonathan Bishop). … Good stuff from Dan Cichalski, who writes: “While recently walking through the library at Notre Dame, I glanced over at the special collections room and saw the exhibit ‘Words on Play: Baseball Literature Before 1900,’ so we stopped in to look through it. There were about 12-20 various books, leaflets and other items, and I took a few shots of some of the best.” Some of those catalog pages are sensational — definitely click on the thumbnails for a better look. … Logo creep douchebaggery reached a new low on Monday, when the national champion South Carolina baseball team visited the White House — the White House, for shit’s sake — and all players were apparently required to wear utterly repellant Under Armour lapel pins. Could the asteroid kindly plow into the Earth now, please? … Mark Brunell had a misspelled NOB on Monday night (big thanks to Jay Li). … The remaining 25 illustrations from Mark Penxa‘s latest Stealing Signs series are currently available for $100 apiece. … Let’s hope these gals never fell down (thanks, Kirsten). … Hmmm, does this qualify as logo creep, or just a creepy logo? … I attended last night’s game at Shea with a Murderer’s Row of Mets-centric editorial talent. From left to right, that’s me; Mets author Matt Silverman; Mets by the Numbers blogger Jon Springer; and Mark Weinstein of Skyhorse Publishing, which puts out lots of Mets-ish books. Maple Street Press editor Greg Spira was on hand too, but he was MIA when the stadium photographer stopped by. … During the game, incidentally, Springer pointed out something I’d never noticed before: The Pirates have a lot of players with abnormally high uni numbers. I mean, I know it’s September and all, but three players in the 70s and one in the 80s? A catcher wearing 41? An outfielder wearing 46? I said, “Well, they basically play like a spring training B-game squad, so it makes sense,” but Springer insisted that the Bucs have always tended toward high numbers. He’s promised to guest-write an entry on this topic, and I plan to hold him to it. … Oh baby, how sweet would it be to have one of the jerseys from this Schlitz baseball team? (Awesome discovery by Jim Lonetti.) … A few days ago I mentioned that some of the Seahawks appeared to have some sort of patch — or at least some sort of stitching — just above their nameplates. Now Robert Schott has informed me that the Seahawks have little bar codes sewn into their jerseys, which may explain the stitching. Not sure what the bar codes are for — maybe authentication, like MLB’s hologram..? … Another follow-up from a few days ago: I had mentioned that Okkonen showed the ’32 Cubs wearing a red-filled script C, but that the C looked white-filled, not red, in this photo. That prompted the following note from Miles Cliatt, who used to do graphics for Distant Replays: “Okkonen is incorrect on that one. Here’s a picture of me wearing the Mitchell & Ness repro of said jersey, from back when M&N was awesome. I distinctly remember askingM&N owner Peter Capolino about the lettering when I purchased it. He said it was designed from an original, and the C definitely is filled in with white. What you can’t make out so well in the photo is the red chain-stitch outline between the white and the blue. Absolutely gorgeous lettering.” … Britt Jackson sent in two of those great stadium-centric cartoons, this time for Shea and the Polo Grounds. … Rumor floating around about Auburn possibly wearing blue pants this weekend (with thanks to Chris Wright). … I still haven’t adjusted to the sound of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” being played at ballparks. But that’s nothing compared to what happened last night when Eric Schneiderman won the Democratic primary for New York attorney general and claimed victory by saying, “I am honored, I am humbled, I am revved up and ready to go.” Wonder if he even realized what he was quoting. … Happy birthday to Baseball Hall of Fame curator and longtime Uni Watch pal Tom Shieber.
Because you always knew I was a left-leaning voter: As you may have heard, NYC finally joined the modern world yesterday and had its first election with fancy-shmancy optical-scanning machines, instead of the old lever machines we’d been using since the Stone Age. I miss the ka-chunk! of the lever machines and found the new system profoundly unsatisfying, but I understand that progress marches on, the old machines didn’t provide a paper trail, blah-blah-blah.
My only real issue is this: When I went to the little privacy booth to fill in the circles on my ballot, the two pens on the booth’s desk/platform/etc. were both tethered to the upper-right corner of the desk surface. Since I’m left-handed, this meant I had to drag the tether cord across my ballot in order to use the pen, which obscured the rest of the ballot and was generally unwieldy. Would it have been so hard for them to tether one pen on each side of the desk surface, so that lefties and righties would be equally accommodated?
Since almost everyone else already uses optical-scan ballots, I’m wondering how other jurisdictions handle this. If you’re left-handed and you vote by this type of system, care to enlighten us?
Meanwhile, my goal is to obtain one of the old lever machines and set it up around the toilet in my bathroom. Coolest stall ever!