Yesterday morning, just as I was preparing to leave my hotel room in Washington, I received terrible news: Mike Hersh, a longtime Uni Watch contributor and someone I’d grown proud to call my friend over the past four and a half years, unexpectedly passed away on Tuesday. The cause of death hasn’t yet been determined, although I know Mike had several health issues, including diabetes. He was only in his mid-40s.
I was stunned; I still am. I had been e-mailing with Mike just a week or so earlier.
The crazy thing is that I received the news of Mike’s death only about ten hours after returning to my Washington hotel from an absolutely stupendous Uni Watch party, which had put me in such a good mood. Then I heard about Mike and my mood plummeted. It was like going through all the pleasure and all the pain that comes with family — in this case, the Uni Watch family — in the space of half a day.
Mike grew up in Philly but had lived in New York for quite a while. I first encountered him about nine years ago on eBay, where he frequently outbid me for vintage uniform catalogs. (For a while, I simply referred to him as “my nemesis.”) We didn’t meet in person until 2008, shortly after he started reading Uni Watch. You can read more details about that here.
In the months that followed, Mike began contributing huge amounts of material to the site, especially wire photos, catalog scans, and eBay finds. At one point he was coming up with so much great stuff that another reader — Conn Nugent, I think — dubbed him “the increasingly indispensable Mike Hersh.” For a while I referred to him that way as well.
For most of the time I knew him, Mike worked as a designer for Ralph Lauren’s Polo/Rugby line. He knew I’d like all the vintage sports reference imagery that was lying around the Rugby offices, so on several occasions he invited me up to take a look. It was the kind of simple but generous gesture that made him such a great guy.
Mike’s parents were (and I believe still are) in the sports memorabilia biz, so he grew up surrounded by all sorts of cool sports-related collectibles and always stayed connected to that world. In 2009, he was planning to attend the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland and said to me, “You should come check out the convention and write about it. You can even share my hotel room.” So that’s what I did. During the convention, Mike showed me around and introduced me to several dealers, including his parents, who were wonderful people. It was a great trip, and really sealed our friendship.
My favorite story about Mike is this one: At one point he asked me, “You live in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, so how’d you get to be a 49ers fan?” I explained that in 1970, when I was six years old, I’d reached into a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and pulled out this football card, which made me a Niners fan for life. Mike asked if I still had the card, and I said no, it had gotten lost or discarded sometime during my teens. About a week later, a mint copy of that card showed up in the mail, courtesy of Mike and his parents, who had the card in their memorabilia inventory. It’s been mounted on the wall of my office ever since.
I hadn’t seen as much of Mike over the past year or so, because he and his wife, Ali, were busy with their first child, Zach (who Mike couldn’t stop raving about — he was a very enthusiastic father). But Mike and I still e-mailed pretty regularly. The last time we corresponded, in late January, he was telling me how much he loved his new gig as design director at JC Penney, where he landed after Ralph Lauren pulled the plug on the Polo/Rugby line last November.
Mike and I had recently gotten into that familiar New York routine where one of us would say, “Hey, we need to get together soon,” followed by the other one saying, “Yeah, I’ll get in touch in a week or two when things aren’t so hectic.” He was busy, I was busy. E-mail made it easy — too easy — to stay in touch without actually hanging out. Boy do I wish we’d gotten together one last time. It was a privilege knowing you, Mike — you’ll be missed.
(For those who want to contribute, Mike’s family has asked that donations in his name be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)