Returning to an old tradition here. At the end of nearly every month we add a new group of historic baseball jerseys to our website. At one time I used to do a blog post about one or more of them, then I got busy, or I got lazy, take your pick…Anyway, the point being we’d like to start doing that again. I like this month’s group, both for the graphic diversity (who doesn’t like a baseball shirt with a tree on it? Thank you 1956 Missoula Timberjacks), and the relevance to current events. With Cuba once again in the news, I thought it would be a nice time to introduce the 1956 Hershey Sports Club shirt to the world. And with Ken Burns’ Jackie Robinson film coming up in April, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Jackie’s 1945 home Kansas City Monarchs jersey, which we will take up in more detail in a couple of weeks. One of the oddest jerseys I have seen was this zip-up Hawaii Islanders flannel from 1970. It is rare to see vertical stacked lettering like this. As flannels were almost universally abandoned after 1971 for the dreaded double knits, this was likely Hawaii’s last road flannel.
The State of Hawaii patch adorns the left sleeve, as on previous Hawaii uniforms. The Islanders were a California Angels affiliate in this period, and the basic uniform style and trim owed a lot to the parent club. They may have even been earlier Angel uniforms handed down to the affiliate team – a common money-saving practice at that time. The Islanders were the pride of the Coast League in 1970, with a club that boasted a 98-48 record (best in the league). Chuck Tanner was manager and the team drew 467,000 fans into Honolulu’s old “Termite Palace”, pretty great when you consider that the next-best drawing club was Tucson, who only attracted 35% as many fans. In fact, the Islanders are considered one of the 100 best minor league teams in history. The Aloha State’s love affair with their professional baseball club ended by 1987, when the team finished last, and only 116,000 fans showed up to bear witness. The Islanders packed up and left for Colorado Springs the following season.
Check out the rest of this month’s selections here. And hopefully, this will become more of a habit!
A few years ago, I did a blog post about veteran minor leaguer Cosmo Cotelle, who played for over twenty teams in a twenty year career without ever tasting even a cup of coffee in the majors. Cotelle played for ten different major league organizations and five levels of minor league ball from 1919 to 1940. Despite a lifetime aggregate batting average of .320 in the minors, Cotelle never got the call. He reached the highest level of minor leagues several times, but never made it that last step. This was not so unusual at the time, as there were only sixteen major league clubs, so about 400 total jobs. Once a player reached the majors he did anything to stay there, including playing hurt. With up to 300 teams in the minors, that meant as many as 7500 players competing for a handful cherished slots in the bigs.
Cosmo Cotelle, no doubt wondering what it will take to get to the majors.
In Cotelle’s case, it was a typical situation of a very good player perhaps not having that something extra to earn a look in the big leagues.
The pitcher Bill Sisler holds the record for most teams played for at an astounding fifty. But what is more interesting is that he seems to have been a lousy player whose main talent was talking himself into jobs. He never lasted more than a few games with any club, yet he continued to talk his way into new contracts. Sisler’s best record was 8-10 with the 1942 Staunton Presidents of the Class C Virginia League. It would be great fun to do an entire collection of the fifty caps worn by Sisler, though I’m not sure how big a market there would be. For more on Sisler check out Tim Hagerty’s column at The Sporting News.
Bill Sisler with the Trenton Senators, one of 50 teams he played for.
“It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”…and now it’s over. One of the strange things about operating a historical apparel business is how many obituaries I end up reading. What can be said about Yogi Berra that hasn’t already been said by others, or by Yogi himself? In 2008, we were hired by the New York Yankees to make the uniforms for the living Yankee greats from the flannel era. This illustrious list included Mel Stottlemyre, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, and of course, the great Yankee catcher. Obviously this was a very high-profile and important project. As often happens, we were barely given enough time to produce the uniforms, but we managed to barely make the deadline. The game was scheduled for September 21st, and the Yankees graciously flew me out to New York and put me up at the Sheraton (the only time a team has ever done that for a project we’ve done, so thanks, Yankees!). My nerves were already frayed at this point, and being in New York while the global financial system was melting down didn’t help. A day or two before the game I received a call from a Yankee official. He was concerned that the flannel uniforms appeared too “creamy”, and was especially worried that Yogi, in particular, would not like them. The idea that Yogi Berra might not approve our Yogi Berra uniform filled me with dread, but I realized that was as likely a “cover my ass” moment for a panicky staffer and that Yogi himself had likely not actually seen the uniform yet. I patiently explained that flannel uniforms were supposed to be “creamy” compared to the white polyester uniforms of the modern era – Yogi would be fine. Everything went well on the day, and when Yogi’s name was announced and #8 trotted out to his position at home plate and I breathed a sigh of relief.
With a legend as big as Berra’s, it’s easy to sometimes overlook what a great player he was. He came to the Yankees with no fixed position and uncertain prospects in 1946, after the hometown Cardinals and Browns passed on him, but the Yankees saw something in the youngster that those teams did not, and Casey Stengel, who had a genius for getting the most of his favored players, helped turn Berra into a star. Yogi was not only one the game’s greatest catchers, he was three-time American League MVP, an all-star fifteen consecutive years, the first player to hit a pinch hit home run in the World Series, and the first catcher (and only) catcher to call a perfect game in the Series. He also managed both the Yankees and Mets to pennants. He showed dignity and class, even when treated shabbily by more than one Yankee owner. So, let’s pop open a Yoo-Hoo and salute one of baseball’s best players, as well as greatest characters.