Peter Nash, who runs the excellent Hauls of Shame investigative site, recently posted an entry written by jersey historian Dave Grob that featured several uni-notable finds — one of which led to a lengthy back-and-forth debate between Nash and myself, with Grob eventually joining the discussion as well. Now that the dust has settled, I’m going to share the whole thing with you.
First, let’s cover the non-controversial parts of the post:
• There’s a major find lurking in this clipping. It’s a little hard to read, so here’s a transcription:
A feature of the 1932 Red Sox uniform, a device that would not be noticed by the average fan unless his attention was called to it, is the demountable numeral which has been developed by [team] President Bob Quinn. The numeral is removable and fastens on the player’s back by means of concealed lacing. Quinn, bothered by frequent complaints that his players did not alays wear the numerals which were assigned to them on the official score card [in 1931], and knowing that the mix-up was often due to failure to make laundry connections in time to equip his men with fresh uniforms with their own numbers on, hit upon the scheme during the recent winter.
Detachable uni numbers! That’s a huge discovery. Naturally, it made me think about the detachable numbers worn in the 1934 All-Star Game (if you’re not familiar with that chapter in Uni Watch history, full details are available here), although it’s not clear if there’s any connection. Also unclear: Did the Sox wear the detachable numbers just for that one season, or for longer? Either way, we definitely need some photos of this phenomenon.
• Auction listings and Dressed to the Nines routinely state that the Braves’ first use of satin uniforms for night games was in 1948. But they actually debuted the satins in 1946, as proven by this newspaper clipping.
Interestingly, when Phil wrote about satin uniforms back in August, he included this line: “The Boston Braves wore their satin uniform in 1948 (according to Okkonen — I’m not entirely certain this is correct).” So Phil was ahead of the curve on this one! Why did he have a hunch Okkonen might have been wrong here? His response: “You expect me to remember something I did back in August? … Seriously, I’m not sure why I did that, but I may have found an auction or something that led me to believe the 1948 year was wrong. I don’t remember exactly, but something must have tipped me off.” Whatever set off Phil’s radar, we now know he was right.
Okay, so those are two great additions to the historical record, both from that one Hauls of Shame post. But when Peter Nash was getting ready to publish this entry (remember, he didn’t write it — Dave Grob did), he was sure that I’d be most excited about another aspect of it. On Dec. 30, he sent me the following note:
Dave Grob wrote an article I’m going to publish about a pretty cool discovery he made: Fans purchasing “authentic, on-the-field” jerseys at retail stores of a major league team’s manufacturer, as early as 1919!
Have you ever heard of anything this early in this regard? What’s the earliest you know of?
I told him I wasn’t aware of fans buying authentic jerseys anywhere remotely close to that era. It sounded like an amazing find.
Three days later, on the night Jan. 2, Nash published Grob’s post. As you can see, the headline declared that Red Sox fans “wore authentic, on-the-field gear as early as 1919.” In the text of the entry, Grob laid the groundwork for his discovery:
We tend to think of our ability as fans to obtain a high quality jersey of our favorite team as something relatively new. This has been both a blessing for the fan and curse for the collector, since the proliferation of professional quality product gives the collector reason to pause, questioning if what they are buying is really a “gamer.” Well, it seems that all of this just got a little more complicated, since it appears that as early as 1919 you could have waltzed into 49 Franklin Street and purchased a professional quality duplicate of what [uniform manufacturer] Horace Partridge was making for the hometown Red Sox.
That was the drumroll. The cymbal crash was this ad, which Grob discovered in the 4/6/19 edition of the Boston Globe.
As you can see, the key part of the ad reads as follows: “Uniforms ready in all qualities, from duplicates of those we make for the Red Sox (see them in our windows) to inexpensive grades. Team Managers should get our flannel samples and quotations.” To Nash and Grob, this meant Boston fans were buying authentic Red Sox jerseys way back in 1919, just like fans buy team jerseys today.
But I didn’t see it that way. I want to make it clear that I have nothing but respect for Nash and Grob, both of whom are much better investigative researchers than I am, but I felt they were overplaying their hand on this one. As soon as I read the blog post on the morning of Jan. 3, I sent this note to Nash:
Hi, Peter …
I’m sorry to say, however, that I’m not interpreting the “retail authentics” aspect in the same way you are. Let me explain.
Old uniform catalogs, which I’m sure you’ve seen many of, routinely offered multiple grades of flannel quality, usually culminating in “professional” or “major league” quality. Any team at any level of play could order these top-quality uniforms if they were willing to pay the premium price for them, and manufacturers like Rawlings or Spalding would make it clear that these uniforms were “the same as Ty Cobb [or whomever] wears.”
I think that’s what’s essentially being stated in the 1919 Horace Partridge ad. They’re not suggesting that anyone off the street can walk in and buy a jersey; rather, they’re making clear that they make the uniforms for the Red Sox and that this exact same quality of uniform is available to any team that chooses to do business with them. It says, “Team managers should get our flannel samples and quotations” — seems pretty clear that they’re selling to teams, not to individuals.
Also, note that there’s no mention of jerseys being sold by themselves — rather, they’re selling full uniforms.
Furthermore, I strongly, strongly believe they would not have sold an individual uniform to a customer — rather, they would have had a minimum order of nine, or a dozen, or whatever. This was standard practice at the time.
Finally, there is simply no way laypeople or civilians would have worn baseball jerseys as casual-wear in 1919. It would not have been considered appropriate in any social setting.
Now, if Joe Shmoe walked in and said, “I really like the Red Sox jerseys, so make me a dozen full uniforms,” I’m sure they would have done it. But I don’t think that was what they were suggesting.
That began a lengthy series of correspondence between Nash and myself. Here was his first counter-volley:
While it’s very clear that the business model of these companies was to sell uniforms to teams and team managers, as you correctly state, I think what Dave [Grob] found extraordinary about this ad was this statement: “….from duplicates of those we make for the Red Sox (see them in our window).” I believe he interpreted that as Red Sox uniforms being displayed in the store window.
I believe his thinking was that “duplicate” doesn’t mean that the garment is just the same grade of material (professional-grade), as is alluded to in many company catalogues suiting up teams. It appears to be an actual dupe of the Sox uni for 1919.
We both don’t know for sure (and probably never will) if someone could walk in and buy just one. But I do have photographic proof of Boston’s most famous fan, “Nuf Ced” McGreevy, having single Red Sox duplicate uniforms and dressing up in them. Did McGreevy buy his “single” uniforms at Horace Partridge or Wright & Ditson? Did the ballclubs (which were notoriously cheap) give him the uniforms he wore? It’s all speculation, but all I think Dave was going on was the “duplicate” claim of Partridge.
Of course, to compare the mindset of a 21st-century fan to that of fans from the early 20th is big stretch. Those fans would probably think the concept of wearing just a jersey without pants was pretty bizarre, let alone wearing it to the ballpark. Does that mean they might not hang a Red Sox jersey on a wall? (McGreevy did that at his bar, too.) Obviously what we think of fan gear today is much different.
That being said, McGreevy was way ahead of his time with his fan-innovations (including wearing a full uniform). I’m sure you are familiar with Ronnie Woo-Woo dressed up in his full Cubs uniform at Wrigley. Nuf Ced McGreevy was a century ahead of him. Red Sox mascot Jerry McCarthy also paraded around Fenway in an authentic, custom-made Red Sox uniform. …
Its not surprising that a Boston manufacturer would mention this in an ad, knowing of McGreevy and the Royal Rooters.
I wouldn’t just write off Dave’s finding as being the same old song one would find in any of the uniform and equipment catalogues. Dave was amazed at the fact that you could buy a duplicate of a Red Sox jersey. That is the way he interpreted it. I don’t think Dave has ever seen that offered by any other company (or anything even close to that in catalogues or ads). In fact, one would think the ballclubs would have prohibited the possibility of an amateur or semi-pro team dressing up as the “Red Sox” in the same uniforms.
I guess it all comes down to how you perceive the word “duplicate” in this case.
Either way, a pretty interesting issue to argue. Before you brought this up, I hadn’t even considered McGreevy’s wearing uniforms as some sort of fan innovation.
>I think what Dave found extraordinary about
>this ad was this statement: “….from duplicates
>of those we make for the Red Sox (see them in our
>window)” I believe he interpreted that as Red Sox uniforms
>being displayed in the store window.
Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly what it meant. Hell, if I made the uniforms for the Red Sox, I’d trumpet that fact by putting them in my window too. It’s a point of prestige, a selling point, etc.
But to whom was the company selling? I don’t think it was to individuals. I think it was to teams. And as we all know, there have always been many minor league, semi-pro, and amateur teams that use the same names as big league clubs. So if I had an amateur team called the Red Sox, I could order a set of “duplicate” Red Sox uniforms for this company.
The fact that one or two nut-case fans (I mean that in the most affectionate way) like McGreevy or McCarthy may have purchased uniforms is not the making of a business model or, to my mind, conclusive proof of anything. It simply means that back then, as now, fanatics were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to show their support for their favorite team. When I was a kid in the 1970s, licensed replica jerseys didn’t yet exist, but that didn’t stop some enterprising souls from procuring Mets uniforms that they’d wear to Shea Stadium. I never knew where they got them; whatever their source, it didn’t change the fact that such items were not available to the public at large.
Our little back and forth here relates to a theory I’ve had for some time regarding how fan gear came about in the first place.
From what I surmise, it was first directed toward kids and I believe the first items offered at the ballparks were caps, maybe early as the ’40′s. Maybe earlier. … I know for a fact my Uncle wore a Dodgers cap and uniform when he went on Happy Felton’s “Knot-Hole Gang” show in the ’50s.
This photo proves that some kids wore White Sox uniforms (manufactured by the big league outfitter) as early as the 1917 World Series. Same label as the big league uni worn by the Sox.
When did older “nut case fans” like McGreevy and those Mets fans at Shea (in greater numbers) start wearing jerseys to ballparks, etc.? And when did their sales become an actual business? Guess that would be a cool research project to tackle.
I remember that in terms of basketball, when I was a kid (late ’70s, early ’80s), you could walk into Crosby’s and buy an authentic Knicks jersey, just like the ones worn by the players.
Back to me:
I think the advent of Little League had a major role in this evolution, because it provided children with access to uniforms and caps. They weren’t big league quality, natch, but it gave them a taste of what a uniform was like. Although I never wore my Little League uni to grade school, I knew some kids who did — that’s how proud they were of their uniforms. I think that was a key step in the road toward merchandising.
Meanwhile, I still don’t believe the Bosox outfitter was selling to the public. Feel free to forward my previous e-mails to Dave Grob — I’d be curious to hear what he has to say about this.
And back to Nash:
Hypothetically, couldn’t youth or club teams, company teams, or school teams (all made up of the general public and everyday Red Sox fans) have purchased these Red Sox uniforms in 1919? Are they not still fans wearing the same gear as their favorite team when they themselves are playing? Could that in some way be considered the origin/ foundation for what has developed in more recent times with licensed gear?
We don’t know absolutely if Red Sox uniforms were sold singularly or how many were sold to the public or to teams, or if there were minimum orders. You say you “don’t think they [sold to the public].” But you don’t know for sure, either.
Perhaps it would have been more accurate in the headline for me to state: “… Red Sox Fans (“Could have” or “May have”) Worn Authentic On-The-Field Gear….”
Both sides here are saying we THINK quite a bit, because we really don’t KNOW for sure.
Either way, I enjoy your input and it’s been fun to argue. After watching the Twilight Zone marathon over the weekend, I feel like we should all just hop in some time machine and settle this back in Boston c. April, 1919.
That should probably have been the end of it. But somebody (who looks a lot like me) just couldn’t quite let it go:
>Hypothetically, couldn’t youth or club teams, company teams,
>or school teams (all made up of the general public
>and everyday Red Sox fans) have purchased these Red
>Sox uniforms in 1919?
Yes, absolutely. But I think there’s a big difference between saying (a) teams were buying them, and (b) fans were buying them. Teams use uniforms as, you know, uniforms, for use on the field, whereas fans (some of whom have no athletic ability or inclination) use them as civilian apparel. It’s the difference between functional clothing and personal/fashion clothing. And since your piece today was referencing today’s licensed jerseys (which are obviously in the personal/fashion category), the implication of your piece was that fans in 1919 were buying these full uniforms — or were being encouraged to buy them — as fashion apparel. I just don’t see that. …
I’m not trying to be critical or dismissive. On the contrary, I’m just trying to add my analysis to this excellent historical find that you’re presenting.
And that’s pretty much where we left it for the next 36 hours or so. Then Dave Grob, who’d been busy with a family issue, weighed in:
When I said in my article that it appears to you could have waltzed in and bought a jersey, there is nothing that leads me to believe this was not possible. It appears the product was available and on display to the retail the buyer. The bigger question is: While possible, was it probable? I tend to think that sales of this product would have been extremely rare and here are few reasons why.
A professional grade uniform (jersey, pants, cap, stockings) would have run around $17-$19 if not purchased with a team/volume discount. My guess is the jersey would have accounted for about half of that cost or $8.50 to $9.50. While this does not seem like much, it is 16.5 to 18.5 times the cost of a ticket to a ballgame at the time (50 cents). Compare this to today: Depending on the source, an average ticket to a ballgame is around $30. The fan today can buy an authentic MLB jersey for around $200, or roughly 6.5 times the cost of an average ticket. So with some stubby back of the envelope math/analysis, it would have been three times more expensive for an average fan to have bought one of these in 1919. At this point in time, an average bricklayer, painter, plumber, or stonecutter in a large city was bringing home just over $30 a week, so this would have been [an extremely expensive purchase].
[Also], the convention of the day with respect to culture and dress would have made the purchase of one these jerseys or uniforms an oddity to say the least. This would have been cost-prohibitive for a child and out of the ordinary for a man to wear, except under the most unusual or peculiar conditions. …
So why does the ad read the way it does? … Did Horace Partridge want to play up the relationship they had with the Red Sox? Of course they did. Did they want fans, players, and team mangers to consider buying their line of baseball-related products? Without a doubt. … I think the message was “Come see what the Sox use and wear and we hope you buy something.”
Short version: Possible? Yes. Probable? Not likely.
Phew! My interpretation of this is that Grob basically agrees with me. In any event, as Nash pointed out in several of his notes, this all raises interesting questions about the history of uniform merchandising, the evolution of licensed merch, and so on. Good fodder for further research.
January giveaway: I came home from Ohio last night with a nice souvenir tucked away in my luggage: an official Super Bowl XLV football — one of the first to come off the assembly line in the wee hours of Monday morning (that’s Dan Riegle, who runs the Wilson plant that I was visiting). But I already have enough footballs, so I’ve decided to raffle this one off.
I normally have a “One entry per reader” rule for giveaways, but I’m gonna modify that for this prize: If you’re a Packers or Steelers fan (you know who you are — just be honest about it), you can send two entries; everyone else can enter once.
To enter send an e-mail (or two e-mails, if you’re a Pack or Stillers fan) to the giveaway address by 7pm Eastern next Monday, Jan. 31. Include your shipping address in the body of the e-mail. I’ll announce the winner the following day.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Buried within this story is the news, straight from Mike McCarthy, that the Packers will wear green in the Super Bowl. … Kevin Seraphin of the Wizards had his shorts on backwards last night. … Unveilings, Part 1: The Padres will reveal their new road and camo uniforms today. … Unveilings, Part 2: The Lightning were planning to unveil next season’s uniforms yesterday but ended up postponing it until later this week. Seems like odd timing, no? Most unveilings take place in the off-season. Anyway, here are some hints regarding what to expect, plus a little birdie tells me, “It’s basically like the Maple Leafs, with white jerseys/blue pants on the road and blue/blue at home.” … Xavier retired Brian Grant’s number on Saturday and wore Grant-era throwbacks to boot (with thanks to Jason Martynowski). … LSU wore gold at home, instead of their usual white, on Saturday. “They hadn’t done that in a few years,” says Ethan Allen. … Check out this old Oklahoma A&M hoops photo. Aside from the one guy in the non-matching jersey, everyone has non-matching uni numbers on their jerseys and shorts (good find by Chris Smith). … Kansas hoops wore a small black memorial ribbon on Saturday in remembrance of the mother of forward Thomas Robinson, whose mother had passed away the day before. I absolutely do not mean to sound insensitive — losing a parent is a horrible thing — but I think uni memorials for players’ family members are a bit much. … Wanna see the weirdest baseball hats ever? Check out these beauties from 1875! That same catalog offered these and these (as well as some absolutely killer stockings). All of those images are from the “Equipment” section of this excellent site devoted to 19th-century baseball (great find by Mike Hersh). … Wisconsin-Green Bay will be wearing mid-’70s throwbacks on Friday night. Here’s the original design they’re based on (with thanks to Andrew Gavin). … Wanna know what a bunch of designers think of Roger Federer’s personal logo? Look here. … Kim Clijsters’s fourth-round match at the Aussie Open was delayed when her opponent was flagged for having an oversized logo on her dress (with thanks to Tod Hess). … The L.A. Kings have been conducting a tattoo contest, and one entrant submitted a sensational Rob Ullman tat design (big thanks to Dave Sikula). … “Interesting NOB situation going on with the Texas Lady Longhorns basketball team,” writes Bill Kellick. “These photos aren’t the best but you can see that Kristen Nash (#32) has “Kr. Nash” while her sister Kathleen simply has “Nash.” … Another week, another EPL kit roundup from Michael Orr. … New soccer kits for Canada. … Don’t think I’ve ever seen this before: merit decals arranged to form bull horns. That’s Jesse Williams of the Arizona Western College Matadors (with thanks to Matt Lesser). … Remember Dave Parker’s assorted facemasks from 1978? At least one opposing player — Karl Pagel of the Cubs — had a little fun mimicking Parker’s gear. Just goes to show you really can do anything with duct tape (nice find by Jerry Wolper). … Remember when Mitch McConnell somehow decided that the best way to hold onto his Senate seat in Kentucky was to remind people that New York is full of pushy Jews? Now another Kentucky institution has connected these same dots. Can’t wait to see how this trope evolves at Churchill Downs this spring.