By Vince Grzegorek
While my esteemed boss used up all the Uni Watch frequent flier miles on trips to St. Louis, Toronto, and his vacation, I was left in charge of the blog and with the task of foraging for stories only as far as my trusty Dodge Stratus would carry me. That didn’t turn out to be a bad thing, though, since I ended up hot on the trail of some archived uniforms nearby at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland.
A quick backstory: While browsing through the searchable collection of the WRHS, I came across nine uniforms from around 1920 that weren’t on display. There were no pictures, just a short description of the color and text on each one. My interest piqued, I got in touch with Scott Longert, Associate Curator for Sports History, and asked if I could come down and have a look. He was gracious enough to say yes and spend some time with me last Friday. (All photos courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society, of course.)
I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I got down there. These jerseys were close to 90 years-old and were from amateur sports leagues, so it was possible that I would walk in to discover torn and tattered pieces of fabric, or faded remnants of what had once been great uniforms. All I had were the brief descriptions and the fact that the pieces were made by the Favorite Knitting Mills, a company that produced a ton of uniforms during the period and sponsored many more amateur teams, including the Favorite-Knits, a powerhouse of early-1920s football.
My worries were soon assuaged as Scott unveiled the collection donated by George and Ann Yanda in 1999. The jerseys, which belonged to George’s father, also named George, were in outstanding condition and provided a brief survey of early semi-pro and amateur attire for both basketball and football.
In almost every case, the team was either playing for or sponsored by a local Cleveland company. There was the “Fry Marvel” jersey, which had a nice little twist with inverted coloring on the letters and background on the front; the “Meter Lab” jersey, which looked almost as sharp as any sweater you would buy in the mall these days; the “Victory Auto Service” jersey, which almost screamed “Badass”; , the “Illuminating” jersey, the most boring example of the bunch; the “ChaLmps” jersey, which had a gorgeous design; the “Circles” jersey, which was the only one to have a last name on the back (as you can see in the lead photo); and the “Suchan Alleys” jersey, which had a beautiful-looking font on the front and back.
The prize was to be found, however, with two inconspicuous but beautiful football jerseys that had just a simple “I” on the front. After chatting with George Yanda about his father’s career, I found out that George Sr. played for the Cleveland Indians football team, which played in both the early NFL and the American Association of Professional Football. So these jerseys were probably worn sometime around 1922 or later when the Indians merged with the Canton Bulldogs to become the Cleveland Bulldogs.
As I chatted with George about his father’s playing days, times of little pay and a lot of travel, times detailed in books like Pro Football’s Rag Days, it was amazing to know I had seen the uniforms sitting right in front of me, and it was even more amazing to see how incredibly well-preserved they were. Stored in a basement for decades, and then stored at the Historical Society for the last 8 years, the jerseys can now see the light of day, and we can get a full-color glimpse into those Rag Days.
Tangential Bonus Material: Unfortunately, the jerseys I viewed are not on public display, but the WRHS still has plenty of amazing things, including the restored Chief Wahoo from the top of old Municipal Stadium (with beautiful striped stirrups just for Paul). Also, Scott tells me that there will be a major Cleveland Indians exhibition next summer that will collect photos, uniforms, and artifacts from the team’s extensive and storied history. Stay tuned for details. And finally, the Western Reserve Historical Society has a baseball speaker series running in August that will include talks by Cleveland’s VP of Public Relations, Bob Dibiasio, and former sportswriter, Burt Graeff.
Uni Watch News Ticker: That mysterious guy Paul has sent along a couple more contributions: First, my Ohio State Buckeyes beat Michigan again in this rating of college football uniforms; and second, the Long Beach Armada had planned a Michael Vick jersey bonfire, but had to cancel. Now, you can exchange a Michael Vick jersey for a free ticket on Animal Awareness Day, and then use the jersey as a pooper scooper or wee-wee pad… Curtis Granderson respects uniform history (thanks to Bill, no last names, please)… How often do you see an athlete advertise for another sport? Well, Ben Curtis just might be the most blatant example ever. “Go NFL!” (a teal deal thanks to Alexander Collazo)…Roger Faso passed on a great photo gallery of a game played to historically accurate uniform standards (except for the shoes)… A nice piece on Manny’s barber and the “LMontro 99” wristbands sent along by Chris Flinn… The new 125th anniversary logo for the International League looks very spiffy, and very Scott Turner-esque (solid assist by Doug Brei)… An article on South Africa’s new Rugby World Cup jerseys can be found here (hard-hitting thanks to Josh Rubin)… Majestic will become the official outfitter of Minor League Baseball starting at the beginning of the 2008 season according to Matt Hoffman… A Uni Watch shout out to Ryan Finley, who gave a nice shout out to Uni Watch in this azstarnet.com blog entry about Arizona’s uniforms (thanks to Chris Pastore)… Matthew Linder alerted me to this Ebay listing for a Cleveland Lumberjacks jersey that he called “amazing”. I can think of a few other descriptions as well.