As most of you surely know by now, the Yankees and Flyers have both distanced themselves in recent days from Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America.”
When I mentioned the controversy on the site last Friday, longtime reader/contributor William Yurasko, who lives in DC, told me that he used to know a guy named John Dever, who worked for the Nationals at the time. According to William, Dever had been responsible for bringing “God Bless America” to MLB’s seventh inning stretch back in 2001, when he worked for the Padres. (For those too young to recall, the song began being played during the stretch toward the end of the 2001 season, in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.) William pointed me toward Dever’s LinkedIn page, which, sure enough, includes the following passage from his résumé: “In aftermath of 9/11 attacks in NYC and DC, prompted MLB’S placement of God Bless America in the 7th-inning stretch during 2001 postseason.”
I often talk about how uniform and logo designs are usually attributed to institutions instead of people (“Nike came out with a new design,” “The NFL revealed its new anniversary patch,” etc.), but the same could be said for things like adding “God Bless America” to the seventh inning stretch. I’ve always thought of it as something that was done “by MLB” in the aftermath of the attacks. It never really occurred to me that it must have started with one person’s idea — even though, obviously, it had to have started that way — or that we might actually know who who that person was.
According to William, that person was John Dever. Dever’s LinkedIn page indicated that he’s currently a PR manager for the PGA of America, so it was easy enough to contact him and ask if he’d be willing to share his story. He was initially a bit reticent, but I assured him that I wouldn’t ask him anything about the Kate Smith controversy. I was more interested in how he got the idea and what he thought of the song’s continuing use nearly 18 years later.
I spoke with Dever by phone on Sunday evening. Here’s an edited/condensed transcript of our interview.
Uni Watch: In 2001, when you were working for the Padres, what was your job title at the time, and what did that job entail?
John Dever [shown at right]: I was the assistant public relations guy, or something like that. I don’t recall the exact title, but I was the number two guy in the baseball PR department.
UW: Prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, what did the Padres do for the seventh inning stretch?
JD: I’m pretty sure that it was just, you know, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” like most places.
UW: As I recall it, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the MLB schedule was suspended for about a week — is that right?
JD: Yes, that’s right.
UW: As the Padres prepared to resume play after that break, what were your concerns about the seventh inning stretch?
JD: My recollection is that this whole thing was birthed on Sept. 11, not after the break. I was on the west coast, so when I woke up that day, I think one tower had already been hit. So I’m getting ready for work, it was like, “Wow, can you believe what just happened?” Then the second one was hit, and you knew something grave was happening.
UW: And at this point it’s not yet clear that the games are going to be suspended, so you’re just getting ready to go to work like on any other day.
JD: Yeah. Nobody knows anything yet, and there’s no social media, so I went in to work. And we’re talking about what could be done — and I think this was before all the games were called. Because that wasn’t an instantaneous thing. It took a few hours.
UW: So are far as you’re concerned, there’s still going to be a ballgame that night.
JD: Right. And we had some talk in the office about how we had to do something different. It couldn’t just be a normal day. So I was in this meeting, and I probably didn’t talk the whole meeting. And I think maybe we talked about doing something after the national anthem — that was going to be a big moment. And I remember thinking that the national anthem is about a battle, okay? And maybe it was just a day to not — a day to be more peaceful. So I said, “Hey, why don’t we think about another song that speaks to America that people in the ballpark can kind of unify around?”
I still wanted to play the national anthem, don’t get me wrong. But I think “God Bless America” came into my head. And then I thought, you know, people’s attention spans are only so long. If we do two straight songs — the national anthem and then another one — that’s a lot. So I said, “You know, is anyone really going to be happy today, or gleeful? Instead of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,’ why don’t we put this other song in there [in the seventh inning] and see if that works.” And people liked it. So that was the plan, just to do it at our stadium.
But what happened was, Larry Lucchino was our president and CEO at the time, and there was an owners’ meeting in Milwaukee, so Larry had headed there to meet with Bud Selig and the owners.
UW: So he was already there? He had flown there before all the airplanes were grounded in response to the 9/11 attacks?
JD: Yeah. I think he had to leave the day before, and I think he might even have been the only owner, or one of the few owners, who’d arrived by then. And of course he saw what was happening and checked in, so Charles Steinberg, my boss, relayed the [“God Bless America”] idea to Larry. And he said, “Wow, that’s pretty good. I’m gonna let Commissioner Selig know about that.” Now, I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you exactly whether they loved it, whether it was an instant take or they debated it, but the telephone game began and it was in the right person’s ear.
And then at some point, the games were cancelled and we waited a week. And honestly, Paul, I don’t think I thought about the song for one second during that week, when we were all worried about who’s alive, who’s missing…
UW: Right, we all had bigger things to worry about.
JD: And then after a while it was, alright, we’re gonna ramp this puppy back up. And when games resumed, I believe we were in Los Angeles.
UW: That’s correct. I looked up the schedule, and you guys played three games in L.A. and then had an off day before coming back to San Diego.
JD: Yeah, so we didn’t even get to do the song at first.
UW: Did the Dodgers do it for those three games in L.A.?
JD: I kinda remember that they did, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. I believe it became a league-wide initiative.
UW: That was my impression as well, that it came down as a league-wide thing. But it sounds like Bud Selig never contacted you, nobody from the MLB offices ever got in touch with you to discuss the idea. They just basically ran with it?
JD: Yeah. Which is fine.
UW: When you got the idea, was “God Bless America” the only song you considered? Or did you consider any other songs, like “America the Beautiful” or “My Country ’Tis of Thee” or “This Land Is Your Land”?
JD: You’re the only person who’s ever asked me that. The truth is, I’m not the most knowledgeable music guy. But yes, more than one song jumped through my head. Now I’m trying to think what the other one was. I think it was “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood [which, as it turns out, Greenwood actually sang prior to Game Four of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium — PL].
Anyway, I had a couple of songs in my head, none of which I was really able to grasp the title of, and this wasn’t really the time and place where you went to meetings with laptops in front of you and could just Google something. So when I said it out loud, “God Bless America” came out. And I think I knew what it was, but I didn’t know — was it Kate Smith? I had no idea who she was, or is. If you had called me a week ago [before the current Kate Smith controversy] and said, “Who’s the famous woman who does ‘God Bless America,’ at Yankee Stadium,” I wouldn’t even have known.
UW: So it sounds like the specific song recommendation you came up with was somewhat random.
JD: To some degree, yup. Some degree of randomness, and a little bit of blind luck.
UW: When you came up with the idea, were you thinking of it as a one-game thing, a “rest of the season” thing, or something more?
JD: I didn’t think anything about that. I thought it was just going to be for the Padres. And really, the Yankees took it mainstream and perfected it. And of course they’re in New York, close to Ground Zero. I said something out loud, but other people perfected it. It had almost nothing to do with me.
UW: Did it make you feel good, though, to see how your idea was playing out?
JD: Oh, I loved it. You know, I worked in Major League Baseball for 17 years, and I sat through “God Bless America” hundreds if not thousands of times. And yeah, sometimes I think about it. And I’m extremely — it’s a neat thing. I’m proud of it. I don’t talk about it very often. My wife knows, a few people know. Obviously, Will [Yurasko] knows. But it doesn’t come up very often.
UW: When the Padres were getting ready to begin the 2002 season, did MLB have a policy about what would be done regarding “God Bless America,” or was it left up to the individual teams to decide?
JD: Paul, I don’t remember the specific timing, but at some point Major League Baseball let the clubs choose their own direction, and I think you saw a divergence. Some teams used it on holidays; I think most did it on Sundays; the Yankees still do it every day. So again, there’s this divergence, and I think that’s so perfect, to be honest with you. I think it’s ideal.
UW: It’s perfect and ideal that the teams get to set their own policies?
JD: Yes, that they can decide what works for them and their ballpark programming and their fan bases.
UW: I see from your LinkedIn page that you went to work for the Montreal Expos in 2003. How did they handle the seventh inning stretch, since they’re obviously not an American team?
JD: I don’t know how they handled it in 2001 and ’02, because I wasn’t there. I know we didn’t use it in ’03 or ’04. It wouldn’t make sense. I think they had a lot of compassion — Canadians as a whole have a ton of compassion for what happened — but it wouldn’t have made much sense [to play “God Bless America” in Canada].
UW: In 2005, when the Expos became the Washington Nationals, you remained with the franchise and moved to DC, right?
JD: Yes, correct.
UW: And how did the Nationals handle the seventh inning stretch during their first season, especially with the team bringing baseball back to the nation’s capital?
JD: I don’t really remember what the Nats did regarding the song. My best guess is that it was a Sunday/holiday thing. Probably Opening Day, too. I can tell you it definitely wasn’t every day.
UW: And is that how it remained up through the end of 2014, which was your last season with the team?
JD: I think so. I don’t remember it changing or being more than Sundays and holidays.
UW: Did your co-workers with the Nats know that the whole “God Bless America” idea had started with you?
JD: Some of them knew. A smattering of people. It wasn’t something I talked about a lot.
UW: It’s now been almost 18 years since you came up with your idea. Are you surprised that “God Bless America” is still being played at big league ballparks, and could you ever have imagined that your idea would become a standard part of the baseball experience?
JD: No, I’m not surprised, because I think it was good for baseball fans, and for Americans who happen to be at baseball games. It’s a nice moment when we all get together and stand up for a moment of remembrance and such. It’s a nice song. It’s not even that long; it probably takes about a minute. So I’m not surprised. I don’t think — I don’t really want to get political here, but I don’t think the 9/11 experience has really left anyone who was there for it, so — yeah. I’ll leave it at that.
UW: There have been some controversies involving “God Bless America.” At one point, for example, the Yankees had a policy of not letting fans move around the stadium during “God Bless America,” and in 2009 they even ejected a fan who tried to use the restroom during the playing of the song, which led to a lawsuit and a five-figure cash settlement. Were you aware of that, and do you have any thoughts on it?
JD: Huh. No, I did not know that, so I don’t really have any comment on it.
UW: Also, in 2004, Carlos Delgado of the Blue Jays protested the Iraq War by not being on the field when “God Bless America” was being played. That was pretty widely reported — were you aware of that at the time, and what did you think of it?
JD: I vaguely remember it, but I don’t have any thoughts on it, and I don’t think I did at the time.
UW: Some fans and sportswriters have said that “God Bless America” may have made sense in 2001. But in the years since then, MLB has added all sorts of other patriotic gestures, including stars-and-stripes uniforms, camouflage uniforms, military jet flyovers, “veteran of the game” promotions, and more. And of course the national anthem is still played at the beginning of the game. So when viewed in that context, the argument goes, “God Bless America” is basically overkill. What do you say to that?
JD: I’d rather not go there, Paul. That’s the kind of no-win question I’d prefer to avoid. Thank you.
UW: No problem. Last question: If you owned an MLB team, or if you were the commissioner, what policy would you set for the seventh inning stretch?
JD: I think the way it’s been handled, with each individual team choosing their own path and their own direction, I think that’s perfect. And in some ways, it’s what America’s all about. I’m proud of my minute role in this, and I’m proud of how the game of baseball has handled it through the years as well.
Faaaaascinating. As you can probably tell, John was very gracious and humble throughout the interview, and he shared some really interesting details. To my knowledge, this is the most complete account of this topic that’s ever been published.
I happen to be one of those who believe it’s time for “God Bless America” to be retired from MLB ballparks, but I think reasonable people can differ on that. And hell yeah, John should be proud — how many people can say that an idea they off-handedly proposed at a meeting ended up changing the MLB ballpark experience, perhaps permanently? It’s a pretty amazing story, and I’m grateful to John for sharing it with us.
We didn’t discuss the Kate Smith situation with the Yankees and Flyers, and there have been no new developments on that front in the past 24 hours, so let’s please keep today’s comments to John and his story. Thanks.
(My thanks to William Yurasko for bringing John’s role in this story to my attention.)
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What can mono-brown do for you: Lots of uni-watchers noticed that newly acquired Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was given a Color Rash jersey at his introductory presser and also wore the Rash in his first Browns photo shoot, leading many fans to wonder if the Browns might be planning to redesignate the Rash as their primary home uni for 2019.
Now a Cleveland radio station is reporting that that’s exactly what the Browns have in mind. According to the report, the team has asked the NFL for permission to elevate the mono-brown design to primary status, which would allow them to wear it more often than the three-game limit that would normally apply. The report also says that the current Rash design will be retained when the team undergoes its planned 2020 redesign (although it’s not clear if this means the Rash design would go back to non-primary status and make way for a new colored-jersey uniform).
The report doesn’t suggest any time frame for when the request might be acted upon.
Meanwhile, as long as we’re talking about the NFL: The Texans made an earthshaking change by adding their primary logo above the nameplate on the back of the jersey. This is never a good idea. Pretty sure the Bills and Cardinals are the only other teams with this uni detail, and let’s hope it stays that way.
(My thanks to Phil for bringing the Browns item to my attention.)
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By Brinke Guthrie
Did you ever have View-Master slides growing up? Mine always seemed to be for Disney TV shows, movies, and theme parks. This set, though, is for MLB. “Famous American and National League players pictured in three dimension, 7 scene Kodachrome View-Master reels”! Believe me, VMs were very cool back in the day. The images really did pop out at you.
Now for the rest of this week’s picks:
• Does anybody really know what time it is? You will with this 1970s Ted Williams pocket watch! A great item for fans of Teddy Ballgame, or the Splendid Splinter, or whatever your preferred Williams nickname might be.
• This is a set of late-1970s “Crack N Peel” NFL helmet stickers. I always loved this depiction of the helmets, and two things stand out here. One, you’ve got NFC teams facing left, AFC facing right (maybe so they’d show the Steelers’ one-side logo?). You just don’t see many left-profile helmet views. Second, Bucco Bruce needs to be flipped around — oops!
• Another example of a left-facing helmet, this time for the San Diego Chargers on a nice lined jacket made by Active Generation. Which presumably means that you can’t wear it while slumped in the recliner eating popcorn and watching the Chargers.
• A Collector’s Corner favorite: these shiny, laminated 1970s NFL team plaques (in this case for the Cincinnati Bengals) from Kentucky Art Plaques of Morehead, Ky. I proudly displayed one just like it alongside my Cowboys version. The one downside? The cardboard back tab would eventually fold over and it wouldn’t stand up without being propped up.
• Phil Esposito (minus the Bruins B, as you can see) had his own hockey accessories line. One of his items was this jacket-sized emblem of his arch-rivals, the Blackhawks!
• Who would ever wear a big ol’ enameled belt buckle like this one for the St. Louis football Cardinals?
• Yikes! Check out the excellent graphics on this 1970s-1980s “American Footballers” wallpaper from the UK. We’ve all seen those images before on posters, no?
• This 1970s St. Louis baseball Cardinals thermal cup caught my eye because they used the team’s non-primary color — yellow — as the cup’s featured color.
• Check out this lot of 11 1970s MLB mini-pennants.
Seen an item on eBay that would be good for Collector’s Corner? Send any submissions here.
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LOWER PRICE! Cap update: I’m happy to report that the Uni Watch Classic Cap, after a brief hiatus, is once again ready for ordering. This is the same cap we’ve had available all along, made by Ebbets Field Flannels, but now we’re selling and shipping it ourselves instead of having Ebbets do it for us.
Here’s the deal:
• The price is $42.99 ($6 less than Ebbets was charging!). Shipping is $5 for one cap and $7 for two caps. (For more than two caps, or for non-USA orders, check with me to get the shipping charge.)
• As of this morning, all sizes from 7 to 8, in 1/8 increments, are in stock. But we only have one 7-3/8 remaining, so that will probably go almost immediately. (I’ve already ordered new inventory, so we should be restocked by about the end of May.)
• Not sure of your size? We also offer the adjustable version with a handsome leather strap and burnished metal buckle.
• To order, start by sending the appropriate amount to me by one of the following methods:
a) The best ways to pay are via Venmo (use @Paul-Lukas-2 as the payee) or Zelle (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Apple Pay (718-915-4943), because they don’t impose any fees. If you’re not familiar with Zelle, it’s the system most banks now use for free cash transfers to other banks. If you use your bank’s website, click on the “Transfers” or “Send Money” tab — you’ll probably see an option for Zelle. It’s free and easy to use.
b) You can also use the Cash App, although they skim a bit off the top. Use email@example.com as the payee.
c) If you don’t like electronic payments, get in touch and I’ll tell you where you can send a paper check or well-concealed cash.
Unfortunately, I can’t accept PayPal (a long, extremely frustrating story). But if you live overseas and PayPal is the only feasible option for you, get in touch and I’ll explain how we can come up with a workaround.
Important: After paying, email me with your desired cap size and shipping address.
That’s it. My continued thanks to reader Mark LaFountain for serving as the official Uni Watch Cap Fulfillment Manager.
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Design contest reminder: In case you missed it on Monday, Uni Watch is teaming up with the Portland Pickles — that’s a college wood bat summer team — for a contest to design the Pickles’ “Future Baseball Night” jersey, which will be worn on July 4. There’s a $150 cash prize for the winning designer, along with a free futuristic jersey.
Entry deadline is Friday, May 3. Full details on the contest rules and entry requirements, along with the full scoop on what “Future Baseball Night” will entail, can be found here.
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Mmmmmm & Mmmmmm: I like M&M’s. Who doesn’t? I usually stick to the basic plain or peanut varieties (almond is good, but you only get like five or six per pack). Lately they’ve been coming out with all sorts of crazy flavors, most of which I don’t care about. Thai Coconut M&M’s? Come on. Gingerbread M&M’s? Just stop.
But there’s a new-ish variety — it came out earlier this year — that I’m pretty stoked about: English Toffee Peanut. I happen to love toffee, but I actually think this variety tastes a bit more like coffee — lots of mocha notes in there. Really good! I’ve gotten a bit addicted to them and typically grab a pack on my way to the subway.
English Toffee Peanut M&M’s are one of three new flavors that are currently up for a consumer vote. The winning flavor will be kept on board as a permanent variety, while the other two will be scrapped. In a just world, this would be a landslide. But we all know this isn’t a just world, so I strongly recommend that you (a) try English Toffee Peanut M&M’s and see for yourself how completely awesome they are, and (b) cast your vote here to keep them in production. Otherwise I’m gonna start getting the shakes every time I get to my subway platform, and nobody wants to see that.
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By Alex Hider
Baseball News: Visiting hitters are having trouble picking up the ball (WaPo link) at Marlins Park when the roof is open due to shadow patterns (from Mike Chamernik). … David Wishinsky was watching highlights from Sunday’s Brewers game and noticed a pre-2019 ball-and-glove logo without the white webbing. … EvoShield, an equipment company, is launching a line of custom-molded armguards and shinguards for baseball players (from Josh Claywell). … Astros P Lance McCullers Jr. wore the jersey of former ’Stros manager Larry Dierker yesterday (from Ignacio Salazar). … We’ve mentioned this before, but once more won’t hurt: Back in the early 1970s, Indians coaches wore white piping on their caps to differentiate themselves from the players (from @History_Cle). … Remember how the Omaha Storm Chasers said they’d wear “Potholes” uniforms as an April Fools’ joke? Well, the joke landed so well that they’re actually going to do it tomorrow! … Will Chitty notes that perhaps the two biggest Yankees stars to go through Class-A Charleston in the past few years, Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez, both wore No. 35 with the RiverDogs. … The San Antonio Missions, the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate, will wear Fortnite-themed uniforms on Saturday. … The McNeese State softball team wore pink jerseys over the weekend (from Chris Mycoskie).
Pro Football News: Check out these beautiful NFL patches, which once belonged to former Giants tackle Ed Widseth (from Derek Martin). … Here’s another look at the new uniforms for the AFL’s Albany Empire (from Chet Winchester).
College Football News: Reader Robert Delano found this (presumably) homemade Notre Dame Randy Moss jersey at a thrift store. Remember, Moss did give them a verbal commitment at one time.
Hockey News: Jeopardy! single-game record-holder James Holzhauer incorporated the logo for his hometown Vegas Golden Knights into his signature on last night’s broadcast (from Judson and John Kelemen). … The Blue Jackets held an open intra-squad scrimmage yesterday, and all players wore blue helmets — even those in white sweaters, who would normally wear white helmets (from Tyler Johnson and Shawn Humphrey). … The Federal Hockey League, a Single-A minor league hockey league, has a new team: the Danbury Hat Tricks (from Stan Capp).
Soccer News: A Twitter user noticed over the weekend that LAFC doesn’t put much effort into its captaincy armbands. In fact, the design the team uses is available on Amazon for $4 (from John Flory). … Five-year-old 3-on-3 soccer update from Jon Kasper: We had a color-on-color matchup — nay, make that orange-on-orange— yesterday! … Paris Saint Germain’s new home kit has leaked (from Josh Hinton).
Grab Bag: Lots of team-color ties at introductory press conferences in this supercut of new college basketball coaches (from James Gilbert). … Quite the sight in Spain, as tennis players Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori hit some tennis balls on a makeshift court inside Barcelona’s Palau de la Música (from James Gilbert). … Nike has unveiled a limited-release sneaker for dog lovers that includes a brown spot to mimic a walk through a dog pile (from John Cerone). … The Canada Post has released a series of dessert-shaped stamps (from Will Scheibler). … The college spikeball championship — UGA vs. aTm — was red vs. red.
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Our latest raffle winner is Paul Bastia, who’s won himself a “NBA Draft Night” jersey from the Charleston RiverDogs. Congrats to him and thanks to the RiverDogs for providing the jersey. We’ll have another raffle tomorrow. — Paul