When I wrote my recent ESPN column about the genesis of the White Sox beach blanket uniform, I totally dropped the ball by overlooking a key living link to the story. That would be longtime sportswriter Steve Wulf (shown at right). Wulf is justly famous for having helped create rotisserie baseball, for being one of ESPN Mag’s founding editors, and for his many books — not to mention a few decades’ worth of great articles — but there’s another notable line on his résumé: He was on the judging panel that chose the six finalists for the White Sox uni contest.
I knew this, because Wulf wrote this 1981 article about the contest — an article that was a key component of my research — in which he plainly stated, “[Y]ours truly was one of the judges.”
So why didn’t I get around to interviewing him for my column? I don’t really have a good answer for that — like I said, I fucked up. And believe me, I hate fucking up. But hey, better late than never, so I recently asked Wulf if he’d consent to a follow-up interview. And instead of just reading one or two sentences of what he had to say (which is almost certainly what his presence in the column would have been reduced to), now you get to see the whole transcript, whoop-whoop:
Uni Watch: How did you get selected to be on the judging panel for the White Sox contest? Were you even based in Chicago at the time?
Steve Wulf: No. Honestly, I don’t remember…
UW: Maybe they just asked SI to provide a writer?
SW: Yeah, maybe. They probably contacted SI and I was one of the magazine’s baseball writers at the time.
UW: So you went out there and you were in a room with a bunch of other people?
SW: Right. And I do remember Lamar [Johnson, Chisox first baseman, who was also on the judging panel] and his wife. And I think the other sportswriter [on the panel] was the sports editor or assistant sports editor from the Chicago Tribune. I think we were all sort of giving condolences to Lamar, because no matter what we chose, his teammates were gonna blame him.
UW: And there were also two fashion editors and local TV types, right?
UW: So did they sit you down at a big table or what?
SW: It was at the Diamond Club. And it was a fairly big table. And we passed around all these designs. They had two design categories for the submissions — professional and amateur. And the professional ones were hideous. They were absolutely the worst ones. There was one guy — I think it was Alexander Julian…
UW: Oh, he went on to design the first uniforms for the Charlotte Hornets! That whole purple and teal trend in the 1990s started with him. I’m pretty sure he was the first regular clothing designer to design a pro sports uniform. But I didn’t know he had submitted something for the White Sox contest.
SW: I’m not sure it was him. But there was some big designer, somebody prominent, and his design was awful. And I remember there was one sort of quilted uniform — totally space-age. It looked like, you know, like a mattress.
UW: Wow. Did they submit an actual sample for that one, or just a drawing?
SW: Just a drawing. And the drawings themselves were very professional, but the designs were completely non-utilitarian and inappropriate. So we went to the amateur drawings, and [Richad Launius’s design] was clearly the winner, because it was the only one that made any kind of sense. [Although Launius was a professional graphic designer, he was considered an amateur for the purposes of this contest, because he wasn’t a clothing or fashion designer. — PL]
UW: How did you go through over 1500 entries in a single afternoon?
SW: I don’t think we looked at that many.
UW: But your own story for SI said that’s how many submissions there were.
SW: Yeah, but I think they had winnowed them down.
UW: So you’re saying there had already been an initial judging, before your panel was convened.
SW: Probably. I don’t remember seeing 1500 designs. Again, I wish I had a better memory of it.
UW: You guys narrowed it down to six finalists. But you said a minute ago that Launius’s design, which eventually won, was clearly the best. Was that just your feeling, or was that the consensus in the room?
SW: I think that was the consensus.
UW: At any point did you think, “Oh god, what have I done?”
SW: No. In fact, when the uniform finally came out, I bought, like, six of the hats.
UW: Because you liked it, or because you had a hand in choosing it?
SW: Because I had a hand in it.
UW: So you wanted a souvenir of your experience.
SW: Right. And what was it, about 10 years ago the reissued the jersey as a throwback, and it became a total urban hip-hop thing…
UW: And did you get a jersey for yourself?
SW: No, because it was too expensive. But I did get another one of the hat.
UW: So you still feel a little connection to that design.
SW: I do. But, I mean, I had a small hand in forming the Rotisserie League — I had an even smaller hand in this White Sox uniform.
UW: You know, nowadays there’s a lot of media chatter about whether it’s appropriate for writers to be voting for the Hall of Fame, or for postseason awards, because it could be a conflict of interest. The New York Times doesn’t let its writers vote for MVP or Cy Young. But this is something where you had a fairly direct effect on an aspect of the team that people see every day.
SW: I don’t think we had any discussion at Sports Illustrated about whether this was ethical or unethical. It was all for the story; it made it a better story.
UW: I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. I just think it’s another example of how times have changed. Hey, here’s something: Richard Launius told me that someone told him that Greg Luzinski’s wife was on the judging panel, and that she was very concerned that the original winning design directed too much attention to the stomach area of the jersey, which could have been a problem because of Luzinski’s physique. Do you recall anything like that?
SW: No, there was nothing like that.
UW: What was the whole mood like? I mean, was it fun, or was it serious..?
SW: It was fairly light. Like, “Okay, so I guess this is the best we have.” It wasn’t exactly 12 Angry Men. More like 12 Disappointed Men.
Before we wrapped up, incidentally, Wulf made it clear that he’s a big fan of another site I run, so he’s clearly a man of impeccable tastes, and is therefore as well-suited to sit on a judging panel today as he was back in 1981.
Just in time for Passover: Illustrator/designer Gary Cieradkowski — the guy behind the excellent Infinite Baseball Card Set — has just launched new baseball publication, called 21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball. Gary sent me a copy of the first issue, which is devoted to Jewish Baseball Pioneers, and I’m happy to report that it’s a gorgeous piece of work, full of informative writing and beautiful visuals, and obviously a labor of love. Further info and ordering instrux here.
Spring cleaning reminder: I still have a bit of inventory remaining from my last box of shirts featuring the logo of a certain team and a certain protein-based foodstuff. If you’re interested, speak up.
Membership update: Over a dozen new designs have been added to the membership card gallery (including Chris Cruz’s Bob Toledo-era UCLA treatment, shown at right). The printed and laminated versions of those cards will mail out later this week. As always, you can finally make good on your New Year’s resolution to make the membership scene by signing up here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: A Yonkers woman is suing the Yanks because she says they stole their top-hat logo from her uncle (with thanks to Marc Malfara). … “I’m a season seat holder for the Edmonton Oil Kings, and I just received an invitation to fill out an online survey,” says Donnie Gould. “They asked what I thought about the logo and jerseys (which I like). I wonder how many other teams ever ask this type of question on a survey.” … New uniforms for the Louisville Bats (with thanks to Josh Neisler). … Here’s another repurposing of the 1970s Pirates logo, this time for a Pittsburgh bike shop (big thanks to Terry Haines). … Interesting NHL playoff note from Donnie Gould, who writes: “I’m having an issue with the white-outs that are happening. I know this has been a tradition for many teams for a number of years, but it makes it look like the home fans are cheering for the away team. Back when the NHL teams still used white as their home jersey it made sense, but now it looks awful. If a team is going to have a white-out with their fans, the team should wear white as well.” One possible solution: The fans could dress like normal people instead of wearing $200 polyester shirts. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Let’s hope this helmet style doesn’t catch on. … Bayern Munich has extended its deal with Adidas (with thanks to Kenny Loo). … Paul Bielewicz was recently up at Cooperstown and got some worthwhile shots. First, here’s a good close-up of Hank Aaron’s record-breaking cleats, which makes it clear that they were indeed Adidas (which we pretty much knew already, but it’s good to see the little wordmark) and also indicates that they were worn for homers 714 and 715 (although I wouldn’t take that as gospel — just because Hank, or whoever, scribbled it on the sole doesn’t make it true). And second, notice anything odd about Joe Torre’s 1998 World Series jersey? That’s a Russell Athletic logo peeking out from under the WS patch — very fishy, since the Yanks don’t have logo creep on their jerseys. I haven’t been able to find any photos of Torre’s right sleeve from the ’98 Fall Classic, but I did look at a lot of photos of Yanks players from that Series, and none of them had the Russell sleeve logo. Hmmmmm. … Earth Day patch for the Chicago Fire (with thanks to Jeff Wilk). … Here’s a very good article about NHL uni numbers (big thanks to Tim Tryjankowski). … Reese Pearson sent along a fascinating piece about fire station logos in Lincoln, Nebraska. … Remember how the Orioles tweaked their logo a few years ago? Andrew Cosentino has noticed that the old logo is still being used all around the exterior gates of Camden Yards. “The only gate where I found the new logo is at the Eutaw Street entrance,” he says. … Jason Halpin notes that D.C. United’s Charlie Davies appears to be wearing a TechFit jersey. “Looks like Joseph Ngwenya has been wearing it too,” he says. “As has been mentioned on the blog before, the Seattle Sounders kit for 2011 is a TechFit kit, and all the players are wearing it. Interesting that the United players can apparently choose which style of jersey they wear.” … The Dodgers will play the first of their Thursday-afternoon throwback games tomorrow, and they’ve now announced that the opposing teams for these games will be throwback-attired as well. Love how they went with the retro-style Brooklyn letterhead, complete with postal zone instead of zip code. … BFBS note from Kenn Tomasch, who says, “I hate this shit. The white nurse’s outfit was bad enough” (cue joke about how there’s nothing wrong with a white nurse here). … When the Sabres and other NHL teams started wearing uni numbers on the upper-chest area, that was a new thing, right? Wrong. That’s Vic Stasiuk of the 1964-65 AHL Pittsburgh Hornets. “That crest if pretty sharp, too,” says Terry Proctor. … If you’re from western Massachusetts, then you know that ice cream trucks in that region are commonly referred to as Ding Dong Carts. Which means you may be interested in this baseball uniform. … Jeff Scott‘s fine Birdbats site reports that the Majestic botched the placket alignment for the jerseys that the Cardinals wore during spring training (the Cards, you’ll recall, wear regular gamers, not BP jerseys, for Grapefruit League games). According to Jeff, the Cards opted to return these jerseys to Majestic rather than sell them at the team’s Authentics Store. … Yesterday I mentioned that Boise State was wearing merit decals for their spring game. The explanation comes at the bottom of this article (with thanks to Wade Spain). … Speaking of Boise State, their blue field is an unfair advantage — or at least that’s what SDSU’s coach thinks (with thanks to Chris Flinn). … I knew there were ash bats and maple bats, but Scott Hairston of the Mets is using a birch bat, according to a report during last night’s Mets game. He apparently picked up the habit after borrowing a birch bat from Matt Stairs when they were both playing for the Padres last year. … Still more about those TV-numbered Nike undershirts that Todd Helton and Ian Stewart were wearing on Sunday: a Rockies beat writer had posted this before the game. So maybe that’s what we were seeing, although the shirts obviously looked black, not gray (with thanks to Jeff Knepper). … Not sure how legit these are, but the word through the grapevine is that these are Oklahoma State’s new football uniforms. Not as Oregon-damaged as everyone had predicted, eh? … Remember how I said Auburn’s football pants would be getting (a) a tramp-stamp wordmark and (b) revised striping to match the sleeve striping? Some new video game images show the former but not the latter (with thanks to Damon Kaley). … Mark Rzepczynski’s surname is a mouthful, especially when rendered in Toronto’s extra-clunky NOB font. Ugh, they really botched that “R” (screen shot courtesy of Daniel Kisslinger). … Andy Garms dug out his old early-’80s high school baseball jersey from John Hersey High in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and it’s a doozy. … Mets