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Monday, June 6, 2016

So You Want To Do Some MLB Jersey / Uniform Research...

Greetings MLB (and pre-MLB) fans!

This entire blog is called “Heritage Uniforms and Jerseys – a celebration of historic NFL, MLB, NHL, NCAA football and CFL uniforms and stadiums/ballparks/arenas”, and when it comes to MLB and pre-MLB uniforms and jerseys, it seems to me that people have one of three primary reasons for visiting this site - all at least somehow related to doing research:

1. Someone is trying to find out what a particular team’s uniform looked like in a particular year or era. This might go something like “I loved the Cardinals in the early 80’s, what did their uniform look like?”

2. Someone is trying to find out what year a particular uniform is from. This might be someone who has found, or bought, or is thinking of buying a particular MLB team jersey (authentic or reproduction) and they want to know what year it’s from and in the case of reproduction jerseys, how accurate the reproduction is.

3. Someone is simply a huge fan of a particular MLB team and they’d like to see how the uniform, particularly the jersey, has evolved over the history of the franchise.

As fun as this site is, I’m not sure it’s the best for answering the questions above – by all means I encourage everyone who wiggles their way to this site to view our “Menu of Previous Blog Postings” and have a look at the entries related to their MLB team - but I also wanted to share a number of “go-to” sites that you should be aware of.

Source of info #1: In The Beginning, there was Marc Okkonen

For MLB uniforms from 1900 to the present, the definitive online uniform history site is Dressed To The Nines – A History of the BaseballUniform.

How this online database of uniforms came to be is a somewhat long story, but I’m certain you’ll be able to follow.

In the 1980’s a man by the name of Marc Okkonen spent countless hours doing painstaking research into the history of MLB uniforms from 1900 to 1990-ish, the result of which was a book published in 1991 called “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide”. Marc was not only the researcher, he was also the illustrator and the writer. It was a remarkable achievement at the time, a true labor of love that was done entirely without the use of the internet. The book was re-printed, with updates, in 1993 and even though it sold some 35,000 copies, the economics were such that the book was never again reprinted/updated.

FYI – here’s a copy of the 1993 book cover and the 1993 book can still be found online through our friends at Amazon.

If you are lucky enough to own a 1991 copy of the book, it’s worth several hundred dollars on the open market.

Enter the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Marc Okkonen cooperated with the Baseball Hall of Fame, which scanned Marc’s original drawings and incorporated them into a searchable online database

Marc’s images end with the 1994 season, but thanks to Major League Baseball Properties, “mannequins” for uniforms from 1995 to the present are also included in the Hall of Fame’s online database. Finally, additional research by the staff at the Hall of Fame as well as numerous baseball researchers around the country allows the Hall of Fame to continually correct and update this mammoth undertaking.

Thus it is that Marc Okkonen’s book came to be the definitive online source of information about what MLB team uniforms looked like from 1900 to the present.

FYI: The Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), a scholarly organization devoted to baseball history, awarded the Henry Chadwick Award to Marc Okkonen in 2014 for his work, and this is what they have to say:

“Much of what we know about the history of baseball uniforms we owe to Marc Okkonen. A public relations consultant, freelance artist and writer professionally, Okkonen exhaustively cataloged major league uniforms dating back to 1900, research he turned into a ground breaking book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide. Okkonen also produced a series of books titled Baseball Memories using a distinctive collection of photographs and illustrations to capture various decades in the twentieth century.  Additionally, Okkonen authored the first book on the Federal League, an achievement and resource that stands the test of time with a matchless collection of photographs, ballpark information and drawings, and front office and roster information. Okkonen also created the invaluable 2,000 Cups of Coffee, containing images of players whose major league careers lasted for 10 or fewer games during the 1900-1949 era. By following his curiosity and pursuing his passion, Marc Okkonen left baseball researchers with a singular legacy."

For more on the Baseball Hall Of Fame and Museum’s Dressed To The Nines exhibit and online database, please visit here.

And for background info on the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, you might find this interesting.

Source of info #2: William Henderson’s Amazing Resource

There is a gentleman by the name of William (Bill) Henderson who has put together a CD with 2000+ pages of information that shows photographs of every MLB uniform from 1970 to the present. Just like Marc Okkonen, Bill spent tens of thousands of hours compiling his history of MLB uniforms from 1970 to the present, and he deserves a huge amount of praise for his biblical effort – all of which is available on CD for a very reasonable price.

The amazing thing about this resource, as opposed to Marc Okkonen’s effort, is that Bill's work is all based on actual photographs of the uniforms, and the photos include the sewn-in labels and other jersey identifiers. Simply remarkable.

Bill and his order desk can be reached as follows:
William (Bill) F. Henderson
Wallingford, PA

Source of info #3: Uniforms prior to 1900

Enter Craig Brown and his amazing online database of uniforms called "Threads of Our Game - 19th Century Baseball Uniform Database”.

As the name implies, this online database shows uniforms from organized baseball’s earliest years in the 1850’s to 1899, at which point Marc Okkonnen’s database takes over (see Source #1 above).

One fantastic feature, among many, that Craig Brown's database has is it not only features artistic renditions of hundreds of uniforms, but for each uniform it also shows you photographs that support the artistic rendering and invites readers to submit feedback.

Please note: Since MLB didn’t start until 1876, what is amazing about this database is that it covers a variety of teams and leagues throughout the 1800’s, not just MLB teams from 1876 onward. As Craig says, his database covers Majors + Minors + Pioneers.

Source of info #4: A Daily Gusher of Info

If you love sports uniforms and great attention to detail, then you need to be aware of Uniwatch.

Every day since May 2006 - and I do mean EVERY DAY - Uniwatch has featured a daily blog posting about sports uniforms. They aren’t always about MLB uniforms, but as one of the two premier sports leagues in North America, it certainly gets a lot of coverage over the course of a month. Uniwatch is the brainchild of Brooklyn NY based Paul Lukas  (more info here about Paul),  and if you read Uniwatch on a regular or semi-regular basis you’ll end up feeling like you know Paul – his likes and dislikes including meat, colors (especially the color purple) and things found in old desks.

Source of info #5: Auctions

Every so often people contact me because they have come into possession of a vintage jersey (or ballcap or pants) and they are trying to determine if it’s authentic, when it may have been worn and/or what it might be worth – either for the purpose of selling, general curiosity or for insurance purposes. This is very hard for me to answer and I am not an expert in this field, so let me share where I’d turn if I was trying to get to the bottom of a great vintage jersey.

A. Lelands

Lelands is based in Long Island NY and one of the most respected Sports Auction Houses in the world. They have handled such landmark collections as The Mickey Mantle Auction of the Greer Johnson Collection ($1.3M), The Harry M. Stevens Auction ($1.8M), the famed Boston Garden Auction ($2M total sales) and a personal favorite of mine, the Jim Craig 1980 Miracle On Ice Collection. Every year Lelands sells $10+ million worth of vintage sports memorabilia and cards. That may or may not make them the biggest, but they are certainly one of the best.

The founder and owner of Lelands is Josh Leland Evans. He is a child of the antiques business through his parents Maxine and Stuart Evans, and he started dealing antiques in 1969 when he was eight years old. I like the fact that Mr. Evans comes from an antiques background and that he’s been in the sports memorabilia business for decades. If I had a great vintage MLB jersey (or other piece of baseball equipment) and I was trying to get a handle on what it’s worth or if it’s the genuine article, one of my first stops would be Lelands.

Email Josh: 
130 Knickerbocker Ave, Suite E
Bohemia, NY 11716
Phone1: 631-244-0077
Phone2: 631-244-3604

B. An up and comer is:
Goldin Auctions
160 E. Ninth Ave, Suite C
Runnemede, NJ 08078
Attn: Ken Goldin
Ph: 856-767-8550 

C. Some other auction sites that deal, among things, with MLB jerseys are:

Some of these companies, particularly Grey Flannel Auctions, keep catalogues and online records of the prices realized in previous sales. This can be a very valuable resource for gauging the approximate value of vintage MLB jerseys if put up for auction.

D. If you are fairly certain that you know what you own, a much simpler route for finding out what it’s worth is good old Ebay. You could search Ebay’s archives of items that have been sold or posted for sale over the years, or you could actually put your item up for sale. One idea would be to put your item up for sale with a quite high reserve price – that way you wouldn’t risk selling it for a price lower than you expected it was worth, while at the same time learning what a going price seems to be. To me it’s an incredibly efficient way of determining the current value, and very hard to argue with the result even if you might be somewhat unpleasantly surprised.

Source of info #6: Official MLB Jersey Supplier History

Sometimes it’s helpful/useful for people to know who the “official” manufacturer of MLB jerseys was in a given year/era in terms of being able to determine what season their jersey is from. I would love to challenge any readers take on the task of creating a Wikipedia entry on the Official MLB uniform Supplier History, much like they have for the NHL uniform, but no-one seems to have yet tackled this project. Any takers?

I realize that William Henderson’s amazing Game Worn Guide (see Info Source #2 above) has the info on a team by team, year by year basis from 1970 to the present, but I’d love someone to create a short two or three page summary of what MLB’s Official Manufacturer status was from the 1950’s to the present.

Source of info #7: Logos

- Sometimes the key to identifying a jersey or other piece of MLB equipment is to know what logo was in use in a particular season. An amazing source of information in this regard is Chris Creamer's Sports Logos - the MLB section of this incredible site can be found here.

Sports Logos has been painstakingly researched and maintained since 1997 by Chris Creamer, who is from the Greater Toronto (Canada) area. It is a remarkable effort and does a great job showing each MLB team’s primary, secondary/alternative logos and does a great job identifying the years various logos were used. Chris’ site also has some information on MLB uniform history, but I would suggest that the above mentioned sources (especially #1, 2 and 3) would be the better places to go to for uniform info.

I also find it amazing how Chris has been able to get the cooperation of most of the leagues, MLB included – that is not an easy task and it is a testament to his hard work and dedication to doing a great, encyclopedic job. As Chris says right on his site “This site is maintained for research and historical purposes only, do not abuse it.”

The aforementioned Paul Lukas (see #4 above) wrote a nice profile piece on Chris in 2013 – find it here.

Many thanks for reading and please offer any feedback either in the Comments below or directly to me at .

Thanks and happy researching!


1 comment:

  1. In my own opinion owning or having at least on memorabilia from any baseball team would be more than enough as is it very expensive and having one means you have to have hundreds or even millions of dollars.


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