You probably don’t realize this — I didn’t realize it myself until a few days ago — but today is a very special day in the annals of uni-watching. For it was 77 years ago today, on Feb. 14, 1937, that the single greatest piece of uni-watchery I’ve ever encountered was published. Today we will take a closer look at, and pay tribute to, that epic screed.
First, let’s set the stage with some quick background: During the five-season span beginning in 1937, Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley and his art director, Otis Shepard (who designed lots of Cubs program covers and Wrigley’s gum ads over the years), embarked on the most ambitious series of uniform innovations the sport had ever seen. They began in 1937 with the first zippered jersey. Three years later, in 1940, came baseball’s first vest and first (and still only) pleated pants. The finishing touch came in 1941: the game’s first powder blue uniform.
Lots was written about these uniform innovations at the time, and much of it was hilarious. I’m particularly fond of this Sporting News item about the 1941 powder blues, for example. But nothing I’ve previously seen can compare with this piece that was published in The Chicago Tribune 77 years ago today (click to enlarge):
The article was recently sent my way by Bill Francis, a researcher at the Baseball Hall of Fame, who recently stumbled across and was nice enough to send it my way. It runs 1,341 words — a little longer than the typical length of my ESPN columns — and is nothing short of a masterpiece. It has witty observations from its author, tons of quotes from Otis Shepard that give insights into his creative process, and several bits of genuine uniform news that we — or at least I — hadn’t previously been aware of. (It also taught me several new words, including anent, garniture, and appurtenance. I think it’s safe to say the article’s author, Edward Burns, was getting pretty well acquainted with his thesaurus.)
Even when viewed at the click-enlarged size, the article is hard to read, so I’ve transcribed the whole thing for you. It appears below, with all its original syntax and punctuation left intact. The only adjustments are that I’ve marked a few key passages with boldface footnotes, which correspond to numbered notes that follow the article.
Even if you don’t care about the Cubs or about MLB, you’ll want to read this — trust me. Here we go.
Add Our Cubs to Nation’s Well Dressed Gents: Their 1937 Suits Have More Color Than Mr. Dean
By Edward Burns
The Cubs sartorially have gone artistic in a big and pleasant way. For weeks Otis Shepard, art director of the Wrigley company, with Gabby Hartnett and Stan Hack serving as mannequins, has been submitting costume designs to President P.K. Wrigley and other Cub officials. The effort has now been rewarded by dazzling accomplishment.
Manufacturers of uniforms, in the past accused of being a trifle hidebound in the baseball department, have been yowling not so secretly at the revolutionary trend toward dressiness on the baseball field. But amidst scream that “the players won’t stand for it” and “you can’t get a ball player to go for that,” the manufacturers executed six home and six road costumes, all of which were paraded by Gabby and Stan. The first five models of each series were rejected. But the No. 6 models clicked, not only with Art Director Shepard and Owner Wrigley but with Harnett, Hack, and several other players called in to refute the manufacturer’s moans anent what the players would and would stand for in the matter of garniture.
Furthermore, It’s All for Art and Beauty
Final orders for quantity tailoring have just been placed. In mid-April at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will burst forth in novel and great resplendence.
Before we go any farther in this piece, we want you to understand that Mr. Shepard is no he dressmaker. Not that he dressmakers aren’t all right.(1) But if Mr. Shepard were a he dressmaker you’d have to suspect that in functioning in the Cub costume matter he would be simply drumming up some business for himself. Everything Mr. Shepard has done for the Cubs is in the cause of art and beauty.
Mr. Shapard designs all of the Wrigley company’s posters which you see in newspaper advertisements, on the billboards, in street cards, on trucks, and in drug store and other windows. He has designed many gum packages, cartons, etc. He has a wide reputation as one of the leading authorities on the commercial application and the psychology of color reactions.
Old Costumes Cause Him Pain
Though a very busy man in his own highly specialized field, Mr. Shepard for several years has been breaking out with the hives whenever he has beheld a conventional baseball uniform. Being a Wrigley executive he naturally has felt deepest pain in his sense of the esthetic on looking at the Cub costumes, though by being on the Pacific coast at the time he was spared the harrowing experience of looking upon Manager Grimm’s costume that stretch a year or so ago when Charley got the notion that it was good luck to wear a filthy uniform.(2)
Mr. Shepard, if you please, now will tell you about the caparisons of the 1937 Cubs, while we reserve the privilege of interjecting a parenthetical thought here and there:
“The first thing I want to emphasize is that there has been no tendency toward making the Cubs look like chorus boys.” [There is nothing theatrical about Mr. Shepard except that while he is in his studio he wears ultra-baggy pantaloons, a gaucho shirt, and other appurtenances of the artists who wander around the courtyards in the opening scenes of light operas, not to mention Greenwich Village.(3)]
Color Has More Value in Solid Areas
“The first princile I applied in evolving the new Cub uniforms is that color has more value in solid areas than in stripes. Solid color areas carry greater distances and can be seen as the color they are at greater distance. For instance, the Cub uniforms of the past have been trimmed with narrow red and blue stripes. At a distance of a few feet the stripe appears purple and a few feet farther away it can’t be seen at all.” [Looks like you've got something there, Otis.]
“colors have been used that can be seen from the stands in all their vivid richness. Insignia, too, can be seen from the stands, and there are no more hemstitched or embroidered teddy bears to perplex and strain the eye.” [You're right, Mr. Shepard. We never could make out that bear and those red and midnight blue socks always looked black to us.]
“Before I discuss color in detail I’ll devote some time to describing the design. The necks are cut with a deeper V than ever before.(4) These V’s were studied very carefully on the mannequins and had no feminizing effect whatever. In fact the boys looked more athletic than heretofore.” [That's all right with Gabby and Stan, but how about players with large and fluttering Adam's apples?]
The Only Button Is on Their Caps
“There won’t be a button in the entire wardrobe, except the bright red ones atop the caps. Manager Jim Dykes of the White Sox is the only player who ever had a zipper uniform and he did get his until last year.(5) Mr. Dykes is a zipper enthusiast, claiming that he can get away to his after dinner speaking much earlier. The Cubs have adopted the zippers for a different reason — better draping.” [Draping or no draping, Shep, we still think the quick getaway feature will register best with the players.]
“For some reason sock manufacturers always have made socks long enough to reach 10 or 12 inches about the knee. A ball player wears a thin white cotton sock under his costume sock. After he has rolled own both to his knees he naturally has a knock-kneed appearance. And this distortion establishes an optical contrast which, combined with the misplacing of stripes, destroys the athletic appearance of a player’s calf. The new Cubs socks will be less than knee length and the stripes will be placed around the ankle, not the calf.”(6) [Nice going, Otis. We'd like to have you talk to Mr. Comiskey some time.]
Then They go Back to the Rag Bag
“Six years ago the Cubs started the use of uniform sweatshirts, then, after others had taken up the plan, went back to the rag bag for their tattered and greasy private ones.(7) The sleeves of the former uniform sweatshirts were such a dark blue they looked black. The new Cub sleeves will be a brilliant electric blue.” [We understand that the hidebound uniform salesman picked this as one of the spots to tell Mr. Wrigley what his player wouldn't wear. And Mr. Wrigley properly and firmly said they'd wear ’em at least till next fall without arbitration until they win a National League pennant or beat the White Sox in a city series.]
“The uniforms will be tailored differently than heretofore. The elimination of the sock roll has resulted in a different design for the pants, including a redraping of the conventional dropping seat. There will be a half inch stripe on each trouser leg.” [Otis, Charley Grimm is going to be awfully angry with ou if you've actually eliminated the drooping seat. Personally Charlie is bound to feel stifled.]
What About the Plug Tobacco?
“There are to be no ornate flaps on the hip pockets. In fact, no flaps of any kind.”(8) [Why, Mr. Shepard, how are the bridegrooms on the team to conceal the fact that they carry fine cut, scrap, or plug tobacco?]
“The predominant color notes in both the white home uniforms and the bluish-gray road uniforms are bright red and brilliant blue.(9) The 1/2-inch pants stripes on the white uniforms will be blue and on the gray uniforms they will be red. The lettering on the shirts also will be in bright red and blue combinations — but the large capital C in Chicago and in Cubs will not be gingerbready as heretofore. It will be a strong letter that any one with good eyes can see at a reasonable distance.” [Sorry, Mr. Shepard, we can't reproduce in color this sketch you've given us, but we'll tell the Sunday ed that there'll be a chance for a swell roto picture when a few of the boys can pose that famous Tribune camera, all dressed up in their new Shepard creations.]
Okay, so that’s the article. Here are my notes corresponding to the boldface numbers sprinkled throughout the piece:
1. This sentence is essentially saying, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” a full 56 years (almost to the day!) before Seinfeld popularized that phrase.
2. This is the first I’ve heard of Cubs skipper Charley Grimm superstitiously wearing a dirty uniform for good luck. I did a bit of research in an attempt to confirm the story but came up empty. If anyone would like to follow up, I’d love to learn more about this.
3. The author appears to be not-so-subtly suggesting that Shepard is gay — only this time without the Seinfeld-esque disclaimer.
4. I hadn’t been aware of the Cubbies’ 1937 jerseys having a deeper V-neck. This definitely isn’t shown in Marc Okkonen’s templates, and photos of the ’37 jerseys don’t appear to show a deeper V either (click to enlarge):
Maybe this is something that was planned but eventually scrapped. Anyone know more?
5. So according to this account, although the ’37 Cubs were the first full team to wear zippered jerseys, White Sox player-manager Jimmy Dykes was the first individual to wear a zippered jersey, in 1936. I went looking for a primary-source confirmation of this and couldn’t find any written accounts. I did, however, find this photo of Dykes wearing a zippered jersey while his three coaches — Muddy Ruel, Billy Webb, and Jimmy Austin — wore buttons:
Now, the White Sox wore those buttoned home jerseys in 1936 and 1937, and Dykes had the same coaching staff for both of those seasons, so that photo could be from either ’36 and ’37. But it seems unlikely that the Tribune would attribute something to the Chisox in an article about the Cubs unless it was true, and I’d say the photo, while not definitively dated, is persuasive. I’m inclined to believe this one.
6. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of baseball socks (or in this case stirrups) being made to a shorter length. More notably, it’s also the first time I’ve heard of the stirrup stripes being lowered in ’37. Sure enough, Okkonen had that covered, although you have to look closely to see it in his templates. And yes, if you look at old photos, the stripes do appear to be riding a bit low:
It’s worth noting that the 1937 home uni is part of the Cubs’ throwback program this season, and I’m told they’ll be wearing striped stirrups. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re properly below calf-level.
7. I’m not sure what to make of this. Let’s look at that quote from Shepard again: “Six years ago the Cubs started the use of uniform sweatshirts, then, after others had taken up the plan, went back to the rag bag for their tattered and greasy private ones.” So was he saying that the Cubs’ players used to wear whatever ratty old undershirt they had lying around, and then they switched to (and even pioneered the use of) standardized team undershirts, and then they went back to non-standardized undershirts? Anyone know more about this?
8. The implication here, although it’s not explicitly stated, is that the ’37 Cubs were the first MLB team to wear pants with welt pockets instead of flap pockets. This is something that, to my knowledge, has never been documented.
9. Interesting that the road uni is described as “bluish gray.” That’s definitely not shown in Okkonen’s depiction. Of course, color photos from that era are rare, so it’s hard to confirm this one way or the other.
One additional note: The article’s headline refers to the uniforms having “More Color Than Mr. Dean.” I have no idea what this means. Anyone know who Mr. Dean might have been?
The guy who wrote this article, Ed Burns, was a longtime Tribune sportswriter. While the Cubs wore those Shepard-designed uniforms in 1937, Burns busied himself with a series of articles about every big league park. The series, called “Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks,” is collected in full here, and is definitely worth checking out. (Burns died in 1955 and was later honored by Purdue and Indiana, whose football rivalry he had covered for many years.)
Okay, that’s a wrap. Big thanks to Bill Francis for sending this old article my way, and extra-big thanks to Ed Burns for writing it. Seventy-seven years later, it holds up as a classic of the uni-watching genre.
This is too perfect: A few ESPN columns ago, I wrote, “Every Olympics, it seems, there’s one piece of performance attire that generates a lot of buzz. … For Sochi, the chatter is centering around Under Armour’s new suit for the U.S. speed skating team, called the Mach 39, which was produced in conjunction with the aerospace company Lockheed Martin.”
A lot of hype and several races later, the American speed skaters are having a miserable Olympics. And according to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story yesterday, the Americans’ lousy performance is likely due to a design flaw in the suits. As Deadspin quickly pointed out, the American skaters weren’t able to wear the new suit on the World Cup circuit because Under Armour wanted a big, splashy unveiling just prior to the Olympics.
Hmmmm, you mean a sci-fi-ish suit name, a collaboration with a defense contractor, and a big publicity budget don’t automatically add up to a storybook ending? Shockers.
And here’s the best part: Although some skaters brought other suits along to Sochi, they’re not allowed to wear them, because IOC rules stipulate that all the skaters from a given country have to wear the same design. (The U.S. team has requested a waiver on that requirement. I hope for their sake it’s granted.)
I feel bad for the skaters but not for Under Armour, which has been working this one straight out of the Nike playbook and deserves the comeuppance. Live by the hype, die by the hype. Maybe next time they’ll actually let the athletes try the gear in competition before having them wear it in the biggest event of their lives.
V-Day: If you’d rather see some Valentine’s-related content on Feb. 14, this Uni Watch entry from two years ago should do the trick. Enjoy.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column is a round-up of the latest MLB uni news.
’Skins Watch: Here’s an old sheet of U. of Illinois logo decals that definitely wouldn’t pass muster today (thanks, Phil).
Baseball News: Too bad this super-cool vintage VFW baseball jersey is too big for me — otherwise I’d snap it up in a sec. … This is pretty cool: The first photos of Willie Mays as a San Francisco Giant (from Roger Faso). … Buried within this article about Auburn baseball is the following: “From the start, [coach Sunny] Golloway has plastered the word ‘Omaha’ all over the team, putting it on the back of Auburn’s practice uniforms, in signs in the team’s offices and all over Plainsman Park itself, a reminder that the Tigers’ ultimate goal is reaching the College World Series.” … Back in 2005, the Dave Matthews Band appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing old-school flannel baseball uniforms. … The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have announced their promo schedule for 2014, which includes lots of special jerseys. … Hmmm, a White Sox jacket with a Yankees logo. No wonder it was on the clearance rack (from Grant Stupeck).
NFL News: The folks at Scotch/3M are selling tape dispensers shaped like football helmets. Jon Solomonson spotted those at his local Office Depot. … ’Skins QB Robert Griffin III has donated $100,000 worth of equipment to his old high school. … The Bengals’ cheerleaders aren’t allowed to wear underwear, among other ridiculous rules. … This is cool: a year-by-year slideshow of 49ers team portraits (from Jason Charles Franklin).
Hockey News: Interesting piece about how nobody in the crowd was wearing jerseys during two of the most famous moments in hockey history, and how merchandising has changed since then. … Not uni-related but still interesting: Teebz has written a piece on NHL groupies. … The Odessa Jackalopes (NAHL) will be going Pink in the Rink next weekend. … There’s a new children’s book about a nine-year-old girl who’s on a hockey team and wants a really high uni number. … Valentine’s Day jerseys on tap for the Waterloo Blackhawks (from Clint Wrede).
Soccer News: “Earlier this week a soccer team in Iraq unveiled their new jerseys, manufactured by Adidas,” writes Fernando Cardenas. “The jerseys were somewhat nice, but the problem came when it turned out to be identical to the ones worn by the Colombian national team. This is particularly annoying given that Adidas promoted the Iraqi shirt by saying, “The white outlines symbolize the hope for peace in the country…” To some level team rooters always realized this was a marketing trick, but the fact that the jersey was copied from Colombian design just confirmed that suspicion.” … New jersey sponsor for Tottenham.
NBA News: The Nets and Bulls went color-vs.-color last night. … Are sleeved jerseys the future of the NBA? Maybe. … Amir Johnson of the Raptors is injured, but he wore a jersey-style vest on the bench the other night. … Golden State cener Festus Ezeli has purchased uniforms for a local YMCA team. … Adidas is releasing a new Kareem-themed sneaker. When I posted that link on Twitter yesterday, Aaron Flies quipped, “They should’ve called it the Shoe Alcindor.” … These days everything has a secondary logo, even the NBA All-Star Game.
College Hoops News: Western Kentucky is retiring Darel Carrier’s jersey. … Walla Walla Community College’s women’s team wore pink on Wednesday. … Back in 1977ish, Utah State had striped shorts but non-striped jerseys (great find by Jon Kasper).
Olympics News: Here’s an absolutely sensational photo survey of Olympic gear and equipment. … And here’s a good article on how technology often trumps athletics at the Games. … Interesting explanation for why the USA hockey team wears white helmets instead of navy (from Mike Korczynski). … Are the Norwegian curling team’s much-ballyhooed pants actually a violation of curling’s rules? Maybe. … Speaking of the Norwegian curlers, several readers have noted that they’re wearing the same jerseys as the Norwegian national soccer team. … Good info on Alex Ovechkin’s customized Olympics gear (from Matthew Austin). … Good round-up of a few Olympic athletes’ uniforms here (from Geoff Poole). … This is pretty awesome: photos from pairs figure skating with the men Photoshopped out. Genius! … Speaking of figure skating, a Washington Post writer is echoing something I’ve been saying for years: Make the skaters wear standardized uniforms instead of costumes. … “I was watching the Olympic curling coverage of Canada vs. Denmark,” says John Thompsen. “The Danish skip is known by the name Rasmus Stjerne, but his jacket has ‘Hansen’ on the back. The CBC commentator explained that IOC regulations require that competitors go by the name that is listed on their passports, and Stjerne’s real last name is Hansen — Stjerne is his middle name.” Interesting — he apparently gets to wear Stjerne when he’s competing outside of the Olympics. … This is totally awesome: photos from the very first Winter Olympics. Don’t miss (big thanks, Phil).
Grab Bag: Fascinating article about Barbie’s appearance on the new SI swimsuit issue cover. … The secret ingredient for a safer bike helmet is apparently paper (from Tom Mulgrew). … There are apparently some people out there competing to set the world record for the most sponsorship logos on an article of clothing. … Big counterfeit jersey bust announced yesterday. … Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Target team will wear new firesuits throughout the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. There’s a video available here. … Here are some pics of DC-area high school athletes shoveling and playing in the snow in their uniforms. … If you’re into collecting sports figurines, you could do a lot worse than these cute little guys called Oyos (from Chris Falvey). … Good article on the phenomenon of trademark bullying. … Bauer, which is known primarily as a hockey brand, is buying Easton-Bell’s baseball and softball business. … A Texas high school softball team is wearing a memorial patch for their late coach, who died last fall. … UFC is considering the use of a standardized uniform. … Who’s that in the Navy uniform? None other than a young Richard Nixon. … Here’s a new one: The Penn State lacrosse team has a player named Tom LaCrosse! “I cannot think of any other athletes whose last name and sport match,” says Gerry Dincher. … Happy V-Day, New Girl. Looking forward to our weekend getaway!
Holiday schedule: True story: When my parents got married, they chose Feb. 22 — Washington’s birthday — for their wedding date, figuring their anniversary would always be a holiday. Of course, they couldn’t foresee the advent of President’s Day, which scuttled their plans.
Anyway: Assuming I can shovel my car out of the snow bank where it’s currently entombed, the New Girl and I are getting out of town for the three-day weekend. I’ll have some sort of content on Monday, but it’ll likely be on the short side.
Everyone enjoy your V-Day and your Prez Day weekend, and I’ll see you next week.