By Morris Levin
The online resources for those of us who track historic baseball uniforms are abundant in 2014. We have Bill Henderson’s Game Worn Jersey Guide; Chris Creamer’s MLB Uniform Tracker; the Diamond Uniform Database; team specific fan projects, and official team histories; and now a 19th century uniform project.
These data repositories are all phenomena made possible by the power of graphic design programs and the collaborative possibilities of the internet. Before the widespread adoption of the internet in the late 1990s, and availability of access to news and photo archives, much of the uniform specific research resided with those companies producing historically accurate authentic caps, jerseys, and jackets.
Many readers of this site still have their 1980s and 1990s Ebbets Field Flannels and Cooperstown Ball Cap catalogs. Mitchell & Ness would issue two subsequent catalogs in the 1990s, one in 1995 with Rabbit Maranville on the cover, and another in 1998 with Hank Aaron.
The 1990 Mitchell & Ness catalog came out in a wave of early enthusiasm for historic uniforms. It’s fun to remember the context in which it was produced and issued in 1990.
You can see the gallery here of many of the pages of the 1990 Mitchell & Ness catalog. I do not know of any specific places online that make it available for sale.
Mitchell & Ness had been a long time Philadelphia sporting goods company when its owner, Peter Capolino, came into the business of reproducing historic baseball flannels in 1985.
The shiny gleam and infatuation with 1970s multipurpose AstroTurf stadiums, and the double-knit’s first generation pullovers and elastic waistbands, had begun to wear off by the late 1980s. This met the nostalgia of the post WWII generation who had grown up watching Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays, and who in the 1980s were in their 40s and 50s and 60s.
At this time, the Roman Pro Cap Company began to offer authentic fitted caps in styles which had not been available in decades. One could buy and wear the classic 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, and 1951 New York Giants cap, and short lived gems like the 1961 Los Angeles Angels with its embroidered silver halo. At age 14 I read Jim Bouton’s Ball Four and bought myself a 1969 Pilots cap.
Chance Michaels has a great post on this site where he traces the historiography of the Brooklyn Dodgers through the licensed apparel made available again in the 1980s.
The shift back to a 1950s and 1960s uniform aesthetic gained serious momentum with the 1987 season as many teams revived classic uniform elements. The Chicago White Sox went button front with athletic script. The Seattle Mariners put S on their caps and went button front in clean blue and yellow. The Oakland Athletics married post-1963 gold and green, button fronts, and the 1955 to 1960 Athletics lettering in one of my favorite contemporary classic uniform sets. The Braves revived and updated the club’s 1946 to 1962 uniforms, with Atlanta on the road. The Twins returned to pinstripes and were so bold as to drop their NOBs.
Mitchell & Ness grew through the late 1980s. A Sports Illustrated article on the company came in 1987, and in 1989, Sports Illustrated’s Baseball preview issue featured Marc Okkonen’s work on the Chicago White Sox which brought more awareness to uniform history as a topic unto itself. Major League Baseball created the Cooperstown Collection in 1988. This licensing label remains today the umbrella label for all licensed MLB historic logos and marks.
In addition to Mitchell & Ness in Philadelphia which produced the authentic reproductions of MLB jerseys, jackets, and pennants, Jerry Cohen at Ebbets Field Flannels in Seattle did the same for Minor League Baseball, Negro League jerseys and jackets. The idiosyncratic Cooperstown Ball Cap made gorgeous hand made MLB, Negro League, Minor League, and well… just about every real and fictional professional and semi-professional baseball club they could track down or imagine.
On the most basic level, the purpose of the 1990 catalog was to sell jerseys and jackets. By virtue of the absence at the time of any other publication illustrating and tracing the specific history of the game’s jerseys, and patches, the catalog served as a sort of reference document, summarizing and publishing for the first time much of the research completed in those first years.
To build Mitchell & Ness as a company, Peter gathered a small crew that included Paul Pogharian who went to libraries and took out microfilm, and combined through old sports magazines. Mitchell & Ness happened to share a physical building with Reedmore Books, a used magazine and periodical shop rub Mr. and Mrs. Bagelman, who also owned the building at 1229 Walnut. Reedmore had complete sets of Sports Illustrated, Sport, and other vintage sports magazines with pages of color photos. (It was how research was done in the olden days before the Library of Congress, Getty, and everyone digitized their photo archives in a gluttony of pleasure for those who get it.)
The catalog was the result of this research. To present the material, Mitchell & Ness had designed a publication that itself was wonderful tactile object, sharp in its presentation even twenty four years later, with its alternating pages of 10 by 10 glossy color, with 7 by 10 two-color inserts.
Rather than give away their catalog as most companies did, Mitchell & Ness sold it for $5 (the equivalent of $9 in 2014 spending power). The jerseys and jackets were premium, and so too was the catalog itself. This also served to contribute to its feeling of being as much a book as a retail marketing tool.
Inside a 10-inch by 10-inch square brown paper envelope, Mitchell & Ness mailed the catalog together with the current price list (printed on cardstock) and a swatch of soft Mitchell & Ness jersey flannel. It put in your hand the feel of the jerseys displayed in the catalog’s pages. The narrative assured you that the company knew its history.
Mitchell & Ness today, and especially prior to its purchase by Adidas and increased focus on fashion apparel, served as a unique kind of for-profit business. It served as a central clearing house, community center, and resource for historic uniform research.
In the spirit of a history book, Mitchell & Ness presented its 1990 catalog chronologically. It opens to How It Began: A History, tracing the Mitchell & Ness company’s roots to Philadelphia’s industrial immigrant past in 1904, and carries the narrative through the 1940s when Mitchell & Ness began to outfit the Philadelphia Phillies and then the Athletics.
The earliest jersey reproduced was the 1890 Brooklyn home. The middle opens to A Brief History of Teams. The chronology closes in 1969 with the MLB 100th Anniversary Patch, expansion era, and Sleeve Patches and Their History, with patches from 1925 to 1969.
By virtue of its license with Major League Baseball, Mitchell & Ness was not able to use player names in any of its marketing copy. The absence of player names meant that a subtext is a vision of team histories transcending any one player.
In addition to Mitchel & Ness’ jerseys and historic memorabilia, we find in the catalog examples of the other companies producing historic items. The pennants in the pictures were (and continue to be at M&N) the work of Roanoke, Virginia manufacturer Collegiate Pacific. The 1925 Phillies cap is Cooperstown Ball Cap and New York Giants an 8-panel Roman Pro cap.
Interest in historic uniforms continued to grow.
Later in the 1990 season, with the White Sox playing their final season at Comiskey Park, the team played the first turn back the clock game. They wore their 1917 uniforms, the year of the team’s last World Series win. The following year, in 1991, the Phillies hosted a turn back the clock game, as did the Baltimore Orioles, and Reds, and the trend grew from there.
Such was the strength of this aesthetic shift back to 1950s and 1960s styling that by the 1993 season, all twenty eights clubs wore button front jerseys; not one team wore powder blue on the road; two clubs had resurrected the jersey vest unseen since the 1970 Pirates; and only three teams had dark color alternate tops. Most games that season were white home versus gray road.
Update on Bill Henderson and the 2015 Game Worn Jersey Guide
Bill Henderson has had a robust response to his call for assistance for the 2015 edition of his Game Worn Jersey Guide. He can still use more volunteers to do web research to find for game photos. He will provide a list of games for which he is looking for photos, and a guide on “how to do it”. He also needs spring training photos of players wearing BPs in 2013 and 2014. Please write Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Morris Levin first shopped at Mitchell & Ness in 1989. He worked at the retail shop between 1993 and 1997, and for the wholesale company from 2001 to 2006. He is looking forward to Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia’s 2014 Base Ball Exhibition & Fair at The Philadelphia Navy Yard on September 6 and September 7.
U.W.F.F.L. Spring League
UWFFL Developmental League – Weekday Edition
By Rob Holecko
We have finally reached the Championship Game of the inaugural season of the UWFFL Developmental League. Two South Carolina teams, the Greenville Pointers and the Charleston Navigators, will face off for the title. These two teams both came out of Group B, Greenville running the table with an 8-0 regular season mark and playoff victories over Missouri and St. John’s, enter this game at 10-0.
Charleston went 7-1, their only loss a 9-5 decision to the Pointers on March 29. After winning a play-in game over Staten Island to get into the playoffs as a Wild Card, they’ve had impressive victories over undefeated teams Yellowknife and Little Rock and they enter the Championship with a mark of 10-1. Last week, both teams looked impressive in their semifinal victories:
It should be an exciting Championship rematch for these two teams who are fast becoming rivals as they both will compete in the Metro South Conference this fall.
Speaking of the fall season, the minor leagues are in full swing starting this week, so head on over to www.uwfantasyfootballleague.com to vote on more of this week’s games. If you’d like to design a team for future inclusion in the UWFFL, go to our Prospective 2015 Expansion teams G+ Community and post your ideas and concepts today!
Design Contest Reminder
In case you missed it, I’m hosting a WFL Design Contest. All the rules and instrux are in the link…
…but if you don’t want to click there it’s pretty basic: If the World Football League hadn’t folded in 1975, and the League were still active today, what would the teams’ uniforms look like in 2014? Click the link for more details. Deadline is September 1, and you can send all your submissions to me: Phil.Hecken@gmail.com.
Should be a fun contest, so if you are a concepter or designer, give it a whirl!
Click to enlarge
And now a few words from Paul: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column is about a bunch of previously unseen prototype designs that Reebok prepared for the Vikings about a decade ago (including the one shown above). Check it out here.
And as long as I have you here:
• My annual college football season preview will be up on ESPN next Monday.
• The annual NFL preview will follow two days after that.
• My thanks to the many of you who’ve ordered Uni Watch 15th-anniversary patches. If you want to get in on that action, look here.
And now I’m off to Chicago, where I’ll be attending Comrade Robert Marshall’s wedding tomorrow. Everyone have a great weekend!
‘skins Watch: Reader TommyTheCPA sends in this article from the Washington Post, “My kids are Redskins fans. But I won’t let them wear the sportswear.” … The latest to chime in on the debate is former QB and CBS broadcaster Phil Simms, who “considers not saying ‘Redskins’ on broadcasts,” (thanks to Chris Flinn). … An advocacy group dropped its threat of a lawsuit against Warroad Public Schools over the district’s use of an American Indian head as its school logo (via Jimmy Lonetti). … Former player and ESPN commentator Mike Ditka on Redskins controversy: ‘It’s all the political correct idiots in America’. Ditka also said the name debate is “so stupid it’s appalling,” (thanks to Patrick O’Neill). … Mike Carey, longtime NFL referee, avoided Washington’s games because of the name. … Kelly Maw writes, “Thought you guys might be interested in this. The redskins could take a lesson on how to honor Native Americans from the Utes.” … Jim Schweitzer writes, “Not sure if you’ve seen this before, or if it’s intentionally “Redskins” free, but I saw these shirts at the Roanoke, VA Target (yesterday) evening. They had NFLPA stamp on them. Unbranded RGIII looks strange. Didn’t notice any other Redskins merch around, mostly because this area is drowned out by Hokie junk.”
Of course, the twittersphere had some thoughts on fans attending Monday night’s Washington/Cleveland Browns game as well:
— Michelle Basch (@mbaschWTOP) August 18, 2014
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 18, 2014
Uni Watch News Ticker:
Baseball News: Check out this 1951 photo of Joe DiMaggio & Mickey Mantle, showing the American League Golden Anniversary patch (h/t @Baseball_Photos). … Most of us know that the Cardinals’ iconic “birds on bat” logo was created in the early 1920s. But, with current events being what they are, did you know they were ‘born’ in Ferguson, MO? (h/t to Chris Creamer). The Brooklyn Eagle declared them “snappy” at the time (thanks to Todd Radom). .. What the hell is this? At least we know where it’s located. … Nice to see an old Red Sox stirrup. Odd to see it depicted like that. … The KC Royals 1974 uniforms (complete with stirrups!) have arrived for “Retro Night,” which is Saturday, August 30th (thanks to Lendsey Thomson). … Korea unveiled their Descente made baseball uniforms for the upcoming Asian Games (thanks to Dan @MyKBO). … Here’s a look at the jerseys the Brooklyn Cyclones will wear for 90s night to benefit the ALS Association, on August 27th (h/t MiLBPromos).
NFL News: The Cleveland Browns have changed the wordmark fonts in their endzones. Here’s the old font and here is the new font (great spot by Jonathan Dies). If you look closely you’ll see the ‘Dog Pound’ eyes. That immediately led Tom Wilson to note that is a ‘ripoff’ of the Bengal cat eyes. And THAT prompted Christopher Smith to note it’s all a ripoff of the Panthers. Sigh. … Reader Matt Larsen shares this piece regarding the St. Louis football Cardinals. Says Matt, “You can see the solid colored socks on the offensive lineman on this page.” … Couple Seahawks items noticed by Alex Allen: This 12th Man soda display at a WalMart in Renton, WA, and these door handles, at their old training facility on the campus of Northwest Univesity in Kirkland, WA.
College Football News: With a week to go before their first game against Miami (OH), here’s the Marshall equipment staff decaling up the helmets (h/t @HerdEquipment). … Eastern Michigan has gray field turf. Yes, gray. That sound you just heard was THE Jeff poking himself in the eye with a sharp stick. More details here. … Utah football will wear Ute tribal seal on helmets for 11/22 game vs. Arizona as part of “Ute Proud” campaign (thanks, Paul). … New uniforms for the SMU Mustangs. Here’s video of the reveal (h/t Patrick Engel). Here’s what all three (red, white & blue) unis look like. … Marshall Football will be giving out jersey towels, 3,000 of which will be passed out at the Ohio Game. Submitter Brice Wallace says, “it’s funny that the ‘jersey towels’ have numerals with green at the bottom, which would apparently violate the gradient-numbers rule calling for contrast between the numerals and jersey color. The new butt-ugly unis have white at the bottom of the numerals.” … New uni for Sam Houston State University. Says submitter Chris Mycoskie “SHSU plays Eastern Washington in the first college football game of the year, Saturday at 3:30, for the Inaugural FCS Kickoff.” … Also bringing the SHSU tease to my attention was Victor Quintana, who had this wonderful quip: “SHSU spent the last 2 years with a uni set from Nike that included an OK jersey and a GOD AWFUL pair of pants dubbed by fans and critics like as the “diaper” pants. Along with this switch in brands is also a minor switch in the helmet. The decal logo on the helmet will remain the same, but the helmets are now a matte orange instead of a glossy finish they were in previous years. An example of both the diaper pants and glossy finish helmet can be seen here for comparison.
Basketball News: Looks like the new basketball shirts this year will still have sublimation. Here’s a look at the back of the new Arizona Wildcats hoops jersey, with sublimated cactus and desert scene (thanks to J.D. Thomas).
Hockey News: The Islanders (a team I grew up watching, going to maybe 10-20 games a season during the late 70s-early 80s), playing their last year at the Coliseum, are saying goodbye to the old dump (h/t @MetsBro). Here it is that logo on a patch and a few pucks (h/t Mike Engle). And here are closeups of the puck and patch (MetsBro again). … The NHL (if you remember back to the outdoor games) has a thing for chrome now. And that will continue with the All Star Game jersey crest. Ugh. … “Check out the new mask by Blues goalie, Brian Elliott,” says Ryan Zwyer. “I would love to see more goalie masks. Maybe even a goalie mask contest.” … “Did the Blues just leak their own new sweaters?” asks Patrick Walsh. “From a game in Slovakia. There’s precedent for a Blues wordmark over the note, but never under. And that wordmark is garbage anyway, hopefully it’s just there for the exhibition abroad. The rest looks good though.” … Lumby Nelson writes, “Came across this cool article on the history of Team Canada’s hockey jerseys. The article is celebrating 100 years of Hockey Canada.”
Soccer News: International soccer is big business. Here’s a good article outlining how each Premier League side fares financially against one another, as well as the deals that top European and international teams have carved (from Michael Richardson). … Bayern Munich get new team bus and do a “reveal” in spectacular fashion (thanks to George Chilvers). Also from George, for English football fans, a “very difficult” quiz (lol) to identify shirt sponsors.
Grab Bag: Nice find from Graham Clayton who writes, “Back in 1973, Glenelg (SANFL) and Richmond (VFL) both had identical primary jerseys (black with diagonal yellow sash) when they played each other in the unofficial end of season “Australian Championship”. A coin toss was used to determine which team would keep their primary jersey. Glenelg lost, and had to play wearing all-yellow jerseys.” … What happens to football players when their careers are over? Well, some of them open art studios (thanks to Jerry Wolper). … SI’s Extra Mustard has compiled a list of the worst bootleg team merchandise available on the Internet (Thanks, Brinke). … This is pretty cool: some really smart people have attempted to come up with anti-shark swimsuits, for those who, you know, like to swim where man eating sharks tend to also swim (from Roger Faso). … The fourth section of this article states that the #48 Lowes Chevy of Jimmie Johnson will be switching from white to blue as a good luck charm after a series of sub-par finishes (thanks to David Firestone).
And that’s going to do it for this fine, penultimate Friday in August. Big thanks (again), to Morris Levin for another great segment of Fridays with Morris. Always a highlight of the summer. Speaking of which…
Where has the summer gone? There’s actually a college football game tomorrow!
I’d like to offer my own best wishes to Comrade Robert Marshall and his lovely bride-to-be Kate — sure would liked to have been there, but alas, someone’s got to mind the UW store, right? Yeah, that’s it. Anyway, Happy Trails Wreck & Pineapple!
Everyone have a great weekend — the blog will be ably handled by our webmaster Johnny Ekdahl, and I’ll be back for one last week (of weekdays) on Monday — don’t forget to check back then because that’s the day Paul releases his eagerly anticipated NCAA Football Preview — always one of the best columns of the year!
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken.
“Next stop on the Europhile express appears to be Columbus. If we’re lucky it’ll just be an “FC” stuck onto the backside of the existing name like a Victorian bustle. If we’re unlucky… Borussia Columbusgladbach?”