By Phil Hecken
Following last weekend’s outstanding post from Uni Watch stalwart Chance Michaels, I’m back with Chance for Part II.
If you missed last weekend’s edition, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Without further ado, let’s get right to the good stuff:
Hats Off To Brooklyn, Part II: “Nostalgia Just Ain’t What It Used to Be”
By Chance Michaels
When we left off, the Dodgers had moved from the Borough of Kings to LaLa Land, trading an interlocking block “LA” for their classic “B” cap.
The Spirit of ’55, however, was alive and well, and people never forgot the Bums. The legend of Brooklyn’s Dodgers grew and solidified into the official “lost cause” of baseball fans. Those who were old enough to have seen the Dodgers play in Brooklyn clung to them as a symbol of their lost, innocent youth. Those who came of age after 1957 pined for the Brooks with the sepia-tinged nostalgia reserved for those who weren’t around to experience events first-hand. Baseball players were regular guys in those days, we all said. Not like the spoiled, overpaid millionaires of today. Back then, the game was fresh and pure and played only for fun. “The old team isn’t playing, and the new team hardly tries.” Oh, if only we could have those better days back.
Or, perhaps, if we could just buy something to remind us of them. Major League Baseball recognized a retail opportunity when they saw one, and in the early 1980s teamed with Roman Pro to develop what would become the Cooperstown Collection. Roman Pro started out as an embroidery company in the 1930s and by the 1950s had expanded their business to include sewing logos onto caps for other manufacturers. Among their clients was Tim McAuliffe, Inc., meaning that Roman Pro likely had a hand in the last several Brooklyn Dodger on-field caps.
The throwback look caught on, especially with teams that had no longer existed. No defunct team was more popular than the Brooks, and by the late 1980s, Brooklyn Dodger caps had become a full-blown fashion statement. The fad was led by Brooklyn-born filmmaker Spike Lee, who was then coming off the success of his debut film “Do the Right Thing” (which makes Lee at least partly responsible for two of the most significant retail trends in sports, throwbacks and fashion colors).
The basic look isn’t unlike the 1955-56 Dodgers cap, made by McAuliffe in Boston, which essentially re-worked the Red Sox cap logo. The Roman Pro has something new, though. Its “Boston-style B” has a notch superimposed on it. It’s almost as if someone was looking to distinguish the 1955 Brooklyn caps from Boston Red Sox caps, and dropped in the defining feature from an entirely different Dodger cap. Wherever it came from, this new logo was adopted by MLB when they formalized the official Cooperstown Collection style sheets a few years later.
As an aside, I didn’t like this logo at the time, and as the years go by my disdain for it has only grown. The notch, which should arise organically from the junction of two loops with vertical bar. The basic shape isn’t even correct – if McAuliffe’s original 1955 logo was a single-color version of the logo then used by the Boston Red Sox, this new “official” Brooklyn logo is a notched version of Boston’s modern logo, which has evolved on its own since 1956.
But back to our timeline. The market exploded in the 1990s, and other manufacturers got into the game, most notably Mitchell & Ness in Philadelphia. They created an entire line of throwback jerseys, jackets and caps recreating the classic baseball uniforms of old, and the detailing was second-to-none. Their classic Dodger blue cap was stunning. Correct 1940s-early 50s logo, good color, soft rich wool. Looked like it could have been plucked right off Pee Wee Reese’s head. More expensive than a Roman Pro, but well worth it for those who loved the authentic style.
Mitchell & Ness didn’t make their own caps, though. For the manufacturing, they partnered with Ebbets Field Flannels in Seattle, who had started making historical minor-league reproductions about the same time. Ebbets Field Flannels has long been a favorite of mine, for the level of care and detail they put in their merchandise. Unlike the stiff-crowned Roman Pro caps, which fit more like a modern New Era 59fifty, EFF caps are soft-crowned, like the originals, and made out of a rich, supple wool. It makes perfect sense that EFF would have been behind M&N’s authentic line.
On behalf of Uni Watch, Chance spoke with EFF president Jerry Cohen to get the story. Cohen is definitely somebody who gets it™; he’s a long-time Uni Watcher who took that passion and built a business out of it, researching and developing his caps in order to make the most accurate replicas he can.
Uni Watch: How exactly did you come to partner with Mitchell & Ness? Did you know someone over there, or were they familiar with their work?
Jerry Cohen: I have known the founder of M&N since 1988, when we both started. We had collaborated informally many times on things like sourcing materials, so that part was easy.
Basically, it was our design and concept but MLB was unwilling to license us without teaming with M&N, which we were happy to do. But the cap shape, fabrication, research etc. (on the caps) were mine.
UW: Were you in any way involved with the development of the anachronistic “Cooperstown Collection” style sheets, or did you know that process was being done at the time?
JC: I had nothing to do with the Cooperstown Collection. The first licensed caps were by Roman Pro, and that’s how that particular “B” became institutionalized. The owner of Roman Pro, Bob Mazzolla, had many of the old embroidery tapes from the old days when KM Pro was one of the companies that made hats for MLB teams. Mazzolla inherited those from his father, or so he told me. Roman and MN were the first licensees given the Cooperstown designation. The funny thing is that before starting EFF, I would buy Roman’s caps via mail order, and in the course of my obsession wound up talking to Mazzolla on the phone several times (this would be around 1987). EFF used Roman as a contractor for a period in the 1990s, but we made them use our pattern instead of the distinctive shape that Roman hats had.
UW: So why did you get out of the game?
JC: After a certain amount of time M&N decided they did not want to continue the collaboration and so we lost the ability to do them. The same cap reappeared in the Ebbets Field Flannels caps we have been doing since 2005, except without the MLB teams. We have also improved on it, especially the fabric.
After Mitchell & Ness shut down its authentic cap operation (to focus on other products, presumably), fans of the Bums were left without an option to buy an authentic Brooklyn Dodger Blue cap.
Not to say that cap companies stopped trying. New Era, who will proudly tell you that theirs is the only cap worn on the field throughout what was used to be called “Organized Baseball”, makes their own version of the classic Dodgers cap. They don’t exactly strive for authenticity, though. This cap is made out of 100% genuine polyester, like the rest of the onfield 59fifties. It also has a rather unique logo. Seems as though New Era has declined to take a side in the “Authentic v. Cooperstown Collection” logo fight, and created its own. The left bar is scalloped, cutting into the loops and making them more like backwards Wishbone-Cs than proper circles. I don’t know where this logo came from, frankly. It’s possible that the Brooklyn Dodgers might have worn it briefly, given the various spins manufacturers put on the Brooklyn cap logo, but I do know that this was never significantly represented in Dodger lore. This New Era logo does have a place in history, to be sure, but it’s not Ebbets Field. It’s the baseball diamonds of Bakersfield, California, home of the LA Dodgers’ farm team (The Mets Police had a great article on this some months back.) Interestingly, New Era seems to be the only manufacturer to use it, leading me to believe that they prefer it to set their product apart. Again, an interesting logo but not a Brooklyn Dodgers logo. At least this one has a proper notch.
Other baseball fans have noticed this gap in MLB’s offerings. One in particular, who posts as “penncentralpete” on Baseball Fever’s boards, took matters into his own hands. Two years agao, he contacted one of the manufacturers who used the ersatz logo and laid out the evidence I’ve put forward here. That manufacturer was the Cooperstown Ballcap Company, also known by its clever URL ballcap.com. To their credit, Ballcap took his advice and worked with him to create the most authentic cap they could. The end result was pretty impressive. Good logo, nice soft wool, leather sweatband. The color wasn’t great—far too greenish a blue—and it could have benefitted from a slightly higher stictch count on the logo, but Ballcap took those criticisms in stride, hoping to improve the cap as it went into production. But just as it did, Ballcap bowed to financial pressures and shut its doors. A promising avenue closed.
And that’s where we are. Until Ebbets Field decides to persue a license to sell MLB caps (which, unfortunately, they have no plans at this time to do), we have to make do with the close-but-so-far versions offered to us by New Era and the like. And when we watch the Dodgers take the field in their sharp 1944 powder blue Brooklyn throwbacks, we have to content ourselves with New Era’s inaccurate caps in the field and the Cooperstown Collection inaccurate logo at the plate.
Every so often, an Ebbets Field Flannels-made Brooklyn cap will surface on eBay. They do show up from time to time, but even if you see one in your size be prepared to spend over $100 for it. Surely that should indicate some interest in authenticity.
Maybe MLB will update its style guides. Maybe someone will realize that there’s still a market for authentic throwbacks. But until then, it seems as though an authentic reproduction Dodger Blue cap is as lost to history as Ebbets Field itself.
Thanks, Chance. Once again, incredible stuff.
We have another nice of tweaks today.
If you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
Remember, if possible, try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per tweak. You guys have been great a keeping to that, and it’s much appreciated!
And so, lets begin:
We start with Rob Holeco, who has some
Devil Rays concepts:
I’ve always thought the 1998-2000 Devil Ray uniform, with the gradient rainbow in the logo reminded me of the late 1980s Astros, where they still echoed the theme of their earlier Tequila Sunrise design, even though they had gotten rid of the actual rainbow uniform. I wondered what if the Devil Rays had come along a couple decades earlier, how would they have looked in the disco/garish era of the great Astros-Padres-Pirates-A’s uniforms? Would they have had a uniform truly worthy of that era, that would lead to the later uniform that we’d see in 1998?
Maybe something like this.
Next up is Caleb Wood, with a new Detroit Lions look:
My name is Caleb Wood. I’m a huge fan of the site. I have a tweak for the Detroit Lions. Here’s the home, away, and two alts. The helmet is a play on the Michigan Panthers‘ helmets from the USFL. They won two USFL championships. I figured the Lions could learn from that. The throwback borrows from the Joe Schmidt Lions of the 50′s and 60′s and uses the comp sleeves. Here’s a closeup of the chest logo in two colors, the secondary lion head logo, and sort of an action shot. Thanks for your time!
And I know it’s not technically a real tweak, but my recent attempts at a fantasy baseball team have yielded some pretty cool results. I’m pretty proud of those but I understand if you don’t want to share them. In the strictest sense, they’re not really tweaks. Thanks for looking, anyways.
Thanks so much for Uni Watch. It’s nice to know there are others out there like me. Keep up the great work!
And our last contestant today is Timothy McKay, who has a new look for the Astros:
I love your site and thought you’d be interested in these uniforms I designed for the Astros. With a new owner inevitable, I decided it would be a good idea to change the look for a new era. It’s a combination of the old and the new…what do you think?
Nice work fellas! Back with more of your tweaks, concepts and revisions tomorrow.
by Rick Pearson
C’mon, man, there’s a right way to play the game. Everyone knows THAT…
And, of course, your full size version.
The Greatest Two Minutes In Sports
The following is a column I’ve run in the past — but it’s always good on Derby Day.
So, the Derby’s today. The Kentucky Derby. You know, the “Most Exciting 2 Minutes in Sports.” The kick-off to the triple crown. The Sport of Kings (or is that boxing?). No matter. It’s Derby Day and that means eight hours of buildup on ESPN and then well, two minutes of racing on whatever network owns the rights to the actual race. Probably the Peacock. I’ll have to check. Wanna know how to pick a winner?
Lets break the Derby down into its few basis elements.
The Hats: For many, it’s all about see and being seen. And that means sporting the classiest chapeau, the hottest hats, the largest lid or the tastiest topper you can find. Some are simply stunning. But usually, especially since the aforementioned mint julep is a part of the day’s activities, the choice of headwear is never boring, although frequently what is lacking in taste is more than made up for in original design. Of course, some might say this is the height of douchebaggery. But where else can you wear a funny hat, get liquored to the gills, AND walk away with more bank than you came? Not too many places.
The Silks: Those colorful outfits the jockeys wear? Yup, silks. And there’s nothing purdier than seeing them on top of the ponies on race day. Whether they’re heading for the gate before the race or just breaking on their run, there’s something incredibly beautiful about what can only be described as poetry in motion. When you get a muddy track or an overcast day, the men in silks just seem to burst into magnificent color throughout the race.
The Roses: They call the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses.” Why? Well, because the winning horse gets a shitload of the pungent red flowers. Sometimes they even put ‘em on the jockey. They’ve been doing it forever. It’s a nice tradition. Seems like every year the bouquets and blankets get bigger and bigger.
The Steeples: No matter when the race, no matter what the year, there are few landmarks so associated with a single event than the famous steeples at Churchill Downs. And why not? They make a fantastic frame for a shot. They are as much a part of the race as the race itself. Anytime you see a picture that includes this architectural icon, you know it’s Churchill Downs, and you can be pretty certain it’s from The Kentucky Derby.
The Starting Gate: Not nearly as iconic as the steeples, but still an integral part of the race. There is usually a pretty large field in the Derby, and the gate used to be both beautiful and classic. As time progressed, however, it sadly became less classic and more of a corporate billboard. Here’s what it looked like last year. Can they put any more shit on there?
The Bugler: Some call him the trumpeter, others call him the bugler. But no matter what you call him, there is no more anticipated music maker on race day at Churchill Downs than the man in the funny red jacket. Well … maybe the people enjoy a rousing chorus of My Old Kentucky Home more than they do the call to post, but the bugler is the most anticipated
fat man in a red jacket fat man in a red suit in Kentucky on the first Saturday in May.
The Pose: Ah yes. The win. And with the win comes the pose. It’s not unique to the Kentucky Derby by any means, but there’s something about winning the Run for the Roses that makes the win all that sweeter. It’s like the ultimate aphrodesiac right there.
The Red Carpet: Wait…what? This aint the Oscars. No, but that doesn’t mean the really special people don’t get the Hollywood treatment. After all, what would the Derby be without Visa and some Grade B talent to share in the fun? OK — VY looks great in that suit, but really, you have to wonder
lic if he really likes the ponies or the attention. Seriously, are they there to hit the Exacta or just to show off a really nice hat?
The Jockey Room: I’m not sure what exactly they call the place where the jockeys hang out before and after they race. But it is a really cool place where they keep all the silks. So many to chose from. I wonder, do they just randomly pick one or what? “I like this purple one, I think I’ll wear this one today.” No?
The Rail: No photographer worth his salt would take a shot at the Derby without taking one from beneath the rail. It is the classic shot of the race. No matter what the year, no matter what the horse, you can always count on the classic shot perfectly framed by the rail.
The Finish Pole: That almost sounds like an oxymoron or a really messed up European. But in reality, while the horses cross an invisible “line,” they are actually passing the finish pole. Now, the lettering on the obelisk has changed slightly over the years, the grand finale of the race has always been accomplished by crossing the finish line and passing the finish pole. Yep. That’s one sweet sight for a weary rider after the most exciting two minutes in sports.
Enjoy the race today. Throw a party. Make some mint juleps. Wear a silly hat. Go on — you know you want to. It’s Kentucky Derby Day.
And if that doesn’t pump you up enough, make sure you check out this primer on the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.
And that will do it for today. Everyone have a fantastic Saturday.
Those Pirates military caps are bad, but wow the Brewers version is among the worst MLB on-field hats I’ve seen! — “Fight”