When I was putting together the wire service photos for Tuesday’s entry, I was particularly intrigued by the shot you see above, which was part of a batch of photos brought to my attention by Paul Wiederecht (here’s a much larger view). When I first saw a thumbnail-size version of it, I thought, “Whoa, never seen pants striped like that before!” Then I saw the full-size photo and realized there was a corresponding stripe across the chest insignia.
Can you guess what those stripes were for? Take a second to think about it before reading the rest of the story.
My own line of thought went like this: “We’ll, he’s speaking at a microphone, so it must have been some sort of ceremony or event. Maybe it was a memorial ceremony, and the stripes were a really strong memorial gesture.”
I sent the photo to three guys who I figured might know more: uni designer Todd Radom, Hall of Fame curator Tom Shieber, and photo archivist Dave Eskenazi. Dave and Todd didn’t know anything about the stripes, but they quickly identified the team as the Fort Worth Cats, an old Texas League club that was once affiliated with the Dodgers (which makes sense, since the player in the photo, Tommy Tatum, played for the Dodgers). After they told me that, I spent the next hour or so fruitlessly googling terms like “fort worth cats memorial,” trying to find a connection between the team and the memorial stripes.
Then Tom Shieber wrote back. Turns out I’d been off on the wrong track — the stripes weren’t a memorial at all. So what were they for? Give yourself a pat on the back if you had already figured out that the stripes were designed to define the strike zone.
This, apparently, was baseball’s first “strike zone uniform.” According to a Sporting News clipping that Tom sent me, the uniform was worn exactly once, on Aug. 19, 1950, and then abandoned as a failed experiment.
Some of you may be scratching your heads and thinking, “Wait a sec — wasn’t there another team that wore a strike zone uni?” Yes: the 1952 Denver Bears, although their version of the concept used contrasting color zones instead of horizontal stripes.
So were the Bears inspired by the Cats? Nope. In fact, the concept that the Bears ended up wearing had already been devised — and patented! — by a Denver inventor before the Cats’ uni ever appeared on the field, although the Cats apparently weren’t aware of that.
As you can see in that second Sporting News item, the Denver inventor had “invited inquiries from uniform manufacturers and dealers regarding its type of uniform.” That was in September of 1950. Apparently there weren’t any takers until the summer of 1952, when the Bears got on board. It’s not clear to me how many times the Bears wore this design in 1952, or if it was ever worn in any subsequent seasons.
As for the Cats’ abortive K-zone concept, do you think they got a new set of uniforms just for this experiment? I think it’s more likely that their poor seamstress was probably told to add the stripes to all the pants and jerseys and then told to remove all of them. Get out that seam ripper!
Big thanks to Todd, Dave, and especially Tom for their assistance with this one. I love it when we can solve a mystery so handily, especially when the solution turns out to be as interesting as this one.
Incidentally, if you look again at the last Sporting News clipping from today’s main entry, you’ll see that the headline includes the word unies — the plural of uni, obviously.
This raises an issue that’s been vexing me for some time. Most people seem to spell the word in question without the “e” — unis. But that word seems like it would be pronounced “yoo-niss,” when the pronunciation we’re after here is actually “yoo-neez.” So from a phonetic standpoint, wouldn’t the Sporting News way make more sense? And don’t diminutive plurals usually end in “ies” (puppies, pennies, titties, etc.)?
Frankly, both spellings of this word have always looked awkward and unappealing to me, so I’ve always gone out of my way not to use either of them. When referring to more than one uni, I usually just go with uniforms.
Still, this seems like one of those issues we need to settle one way or the other. What say you, denizens of the uni-verse?
And here’s one more thought: However we resolve this, the same style rule should also hold for sani(e)s (as in more than one sanitary sock), which is another one I’ve always found troubling.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Teams that normally wear red jerseys usually use gold for their quarterbacks’ “no contact” practice jerseys. But the 49ers apparently use black. … Latest tool in the study of concussions: a sensor-equipped mouthguard. … More info on those orange-numbered Browns jerseys from 1984. Here’s what we definitely know: The orange-numbered dark jerseys were worn for one preseason game and then scrapped, and no orange-numbered white jersey was ever worn for any game, preseason or otherwise. But were the white jerseys ordered and manufactured? If so, that would explain the existence of this jersey. I explained the situation to Ravens PR man Kevin Byrne, who worked for the Browns back in ’84 (he’s even quoted in this old article about the jerseys). His response: “Doesn’t add up — I don’t remember seeing these. If they were made, they didn’t even make it to a practice with the Browns.” … Leather helmets were ultimately replaced by plastic helmets, but until now I’d never seen a helmet with leather and plastic (nice find by Robert Eden). … A few people have noted that the Texans wear their captains’ patches on the left side, instead of on the right like everyone else. … Nebraska RB Roy Helu Jr. wore one glove on Saturday — unusual for a non-QB. “He usually wears two gloves (and has even gone gloveless once, but that was in the rain),” writes David McGee. “I’m trying to figure out why he would go the Michael Jackson route — he’s not really known for being flashy like that.” … New logo set for the USL (with thanks to Yancy Yeater). … Remember this Nats prototype that surfaced last week? I can now definitively say that that’s not the new home uni. … I was chatting yesterday with a Phiten publicist, who informed me that the company had recently signed an endorsement deal with Carmelo Anthony. “But NBA players don’t wear Phiten necklaces on the court, do they?” I said. The reply: