Our story so far: Last Thursday I Ticker-linked to this article, which stated that Rays coach Don Zimmer “was the first player to try on a Mets uniform.” On Friday I figured out that the source for that claim was Zim’s official Rays bio, which states, “Was the first player to try on a Mets uniform, modeling it at Huggins-Stengel Field in St. Petersburg before spring training opened in 1962.”
This was all news to me, so I made arrangements to interview Zim on Friday afternoon. But before I spoke to him, I received several communiqués from Uni Watch readers responding to Friday’s Ticker:
• Todd Radom wrote in to say, “Zimmer told me the same thing himself, in the Yankee Stadium dugout in 2000 (I designed the cover for his book and art-directed Neil Leifer’s photo shoot).” Good story, but all it really confirmed was that Zim believes he was the first uniformed Met. It didn’t confirm that he’s right.
• Then Mike Hersh pointed me toward a passage from the book Tales of the New York Mets — scroll down a bit on this page. This added a bit more detail to Zim’s story, but at this point it was still only Zim’s story, with no independent confirmation.
• The kicker came when Hersh and Cork Gaines found two similar but distinct wire photos that appeared to confirm Zim’s tale — one from the AP and one from UPI. As you can see, the captions both refer to the “new uniform.” One of them ran in a newspaper on Feb. 13, 1962, and the other on Feb. 12, which means the photos were probably taken on Feb. 11.
At this point, I was convinced: Don Zimmer was the first player to wear a Mets uniform.
I was disappointed to see that they’d dressed Zim in a road uni, however. As many of you know, the Mets’ home uniform was originally supposed to look like this. That mock-up was unveiled on Jan. 19, 1962 (confirmation of the date can be found here) — only 23 days before Zim’s photo shoot took place. So they must have decided to revise the home design at some point during that 23-day period.
My interview with Zimmer ended up being pushed back to Saturday morning. Here’s how it went:
Uni Watch: So how did you come to be the first player to wear a Mets uniform?
Don Zimmer: Well, I lived in St. Pete. And that’s where the Mets trained — or where they were going to train. They called me and said that the uniforms were sent down, and would I come down and put on a Mets uniform.
UW: Because they needed someone to model it?
DZ: That’s right. And I had my son with me. And when I went down, I had the picture taken with him on my shoulders. And that’s how it happened.
UW: So this was before spring training actually started. And they called you because you were already there, because you made your home there.
DZ: That’s right.
UW: Did that make you feel proud, or excited, to be part of something new?
DZ: At that time, yes, no question about it. Casey Stengel was the big show.
UW: Was he there for that photo shoot, or any team officials?
DZ: No, no. And there was no other players there.
UW: In the photos I’ve seen, it’s a road uniform, with “New York” across the front. They didn’t have a home uniform?
DZ: I don’t know about that. I just wore the uniform they gave me.
UW: Also, the photos I’ve seen only show you from the chest up. Were you wearing the full uniform, including the pants and all that, or just the jersey?
DZ: I couldn’t tell you that for sure. Honestly, I can’t remember that.
UW: Did you end up keeping that uniform? Do you still have it?
DZ: No, no, it was just for the photo.
This still leaves one tantalizing question: When did the home uniform — the real one, not the mock-up design that was never used — make its first public appearance? A clue may lie in the caption to this photo, dated March 6. Spring training had opened on Feb. 25, so did the Mets have to wear road attire for the first week-plus of their uniformed existence? Apparently so — that would explain why several of the spring training shots in the 1962 Mets yearbook show Stengel and his staff in road uniforms.
I’d still like to see an additional confirmation of that March 6 date. But it looks like we’ve untangled a fair amount of Mets uniform history here.
Incidentally, I realize some of you probably rolled your eyes and said, “Geez, another Mets story on Uni Watch” when you saw today’s topic. But believe me, if Zim’s bio had said he was the first player to wear, say, a Colt .45s uni, or an Angels uni, I would have pursued the story just as vigorously. So if there are other examples out there of “[this guy] was the first player to wear [this team's] uniform,” let’s start compiling them.
One other thing: In case you were wondering, Don Zimmer is a total peach. Really enjoyed speaking with him.
UPDATE! Today’s entry had only been up for a few hours when reader/commenter Dwayne (no last name given) posted a photo from the 2/12/62 edition of the St. Pete Times showing that Zim wasn’t the only player suiting up for that photo shoot. Turns out pitcher Bob Miller was in uniform that day as well! Just goes to show that someone’s story, even if confirmed, isn’t always the whole story.
Contest reminder: I’m currently sponsoring a design contest to create a logo for the Baseball Project. Full details here.
Membership reminder: The membership enrollment fee will go up to $20 at the end of this month. If you want to sign up at the $15 price, there’s no time like the present.
Spring cleaning reminder: While poking around in my basement, I found an extra box of T-shirts promoting a certain protein-based foodstuff in the design style of a certain team. Once they’re gone, they’re gone — so if you want in, speak up.
Uni Watch News Ticker: A slightly less prominent Mets distinction: D.J. Carrasco has become the first Met in team history to wear team-logo stirrups. Ron Mazzola took that shot on Friday. … Here’s a cool site devoted to record label design (thanks, Kirsten). … You don’t often see photos of the Pirates’ 1947 uniform — an odd design that they wore for only one season — but Gordon Blau spotted one. “It immediately made me think of Bethany Heck’s Eephus League,” he says. … St. Paddy’s Day is now far back in our rear-view mirrors, yet I keep learning about additional NHL teams that wore green warm-up jerseys for the occasion. The latest example: the Thrashers. “At least this is way better than the green game uniforms they wore a couple of years back,” says Mike Powers. … Meanwhile, Chris Hernandez reports that a bunch of AHL teams wore green jerseys for the holiday as well. You can see several of them in this gallery. … The recent video clip showing Michigan football practicing in white pants inspired a Wolverines fan site to write about the time the team went white-over-white (big thanks to Gary Streeting). … Two items from Phil Johnson: Boston College is still using the old NFL logo on its media credentials, and who is Little Nickey, and why is he wearing a three-digit uni number? … More tales of mis-tagging, this time from Mack Abbott: “I saw this Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt with an NFL tag at a local bargain store. They had a whole rack of NCAA sweaters with the NFL tag — North Carolina, Iowa, and about a dozen others.” … We’ve talked about the Mariano Rivera going high-cuffed this spring, but Robert Tusso notes that another prominent Yankee has made a lower-leg adjustment as well, and not for the better: Derek Jeter, who in the past has always cuffed his pants right where they meet his shoes, is now in full-blown pajama mode. Disappointing. … On Friday I noted that umpire Gary Cederstrom was wearing a matte-finish mask. But Eric Hill points out that Braves catcher David Ross has been going matte-finished at least since last season. … Reprinted from Friday’s comments: I hadn’t realized that the White Sox had experimented with gold-trimmed prototypes after winning the 2005 World Series. … Tim Tebow is now America’s newest underwear model (thanks, Brinke). … Bill Mitchell sent me this shot of South African cricketer Hashim Amla and his tremendous beard. I was wondering if this might be the Cricket World Cup equivalent of a playoff beard, so I asked cricket maven Peter Della Penna, who said, “No,he’s a devout Muslim, so the long beard is for religious purposes. Interesting fact regarding his jersey, though: In Test cricket, South Africa is sponsored by Castle Lager, but he doesn’t have the Castle logo stitched onto his shirt because drinking alcohol goes against his strict beliefs.” Hmmm, if I were on a team outfitted by Nike, I wonder if I could use a similar rationale to avoid wearing the swoosh. … Oooh, check out this family tree of telecom logos (nice find by Paul Lee). … Interesting take on disaster tribute symbols from Travis Cuomo, who writes: “I was a student equipment manager at Florida in 2005, when many teams wore those helmet stickers for Katrina. We chose not to wear them because many areas of Florida had been devastated by hurricanes that year as well but didn’t get nearly as much publicity. We weren’t going to wear a sticker for Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana when people in our own state were suffering.” … Jerry Wolper found a 1984 newspaper story about the Astros’ equipment being stolen, so they borrowed gear from the Giants. … Here’s a nice Howe family portrait. “Never seen Pucky on the front of the jersey before, or FiNOF either,” says RJ Myers. … Here’s something I’ve never seen before: In Saturday’s NCAA Midwest Regional hockey game between North Dakota and RPI, the RPI players had some sort of rear-leg strips. Is that padding? Something else? Details, please (as noted by Brandon Boemann). … Shelvin Mack’s NCAA patch fell off during Butler’s game on Saturday, but a teammate helped put it back on (screen shots by Ronnie Covert). … More Charliegate fallout: With disgraced former Mets equipment manager Charlie Samuels still being investigated for gambling activities, the Mets have decided to scrap their in-house NCAA bracket. … Although the Adidas logo isn’t permitted on NBA uniforms, Paul Lee notes that the logo from the compression undershirt often shows through on white jerseys. … Yet another NHL team that wore green warm-ups earlier this month: the Caps (with thanks to Jason Gilmartin). … Here’s some rare footage of CFL vs. NFL games (great find, Ricko). … Also from Ricko: Color footage of Sammy Baugh! … Buncha stuff from Jeremy Brahm: (1) Here are the uniforms for a charity soccer match between the Japanese national team (top) and J-League All-Stars (bottom) on March 29. (2) Here is the 2011 NPB Futures team uniform for the Eastern League (AAA level in Japan). (3) The La New Bears in the CPBL in Taiwan have rebranded themselves as the Lamigo Monkeys. (4) A catcher in a Japanese high school baseball tourney was wearing an unusual helmet — and yes, he also lost a tooth after taking a ball to the chops, but the helmet is more interesting. … “Since at least 2003, Indy Car driver Orial Servia has featured artwork by fellow Spaniard Salvador Dali on his helmet,” writes Mike Edgerley. “This weekend the helmet had extra significance because the St. Pete Grand Prix went past the new location of the Dali museum.” … Ron Yaworski recently returned from spring training in Arizona and shot some photos of the abandoned Brewers spring training park known as Compadre Stadium. … Further info on Compadre here. … Michael Orr is now tracking MLS kits on a weekly basis. He also adds, “One of the projects I’ve been working on is an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society on the NASL-era (1975-82) of the Portland Timbers. We’ll have game-worn shirts, shoes, track jackets, etc., plus lots of other cool stuff. I’ll send you a link when we open, mid-April.”