[Editor’s Note: Reader Randy Miller recently offered to guest-write an entry about a sport I know very little about. Here’s his report. — PL]
By Randy Miller
As a professor at the University of South Florida, I occasionally teach a class called Sports and Media. When I ask the students which were the first three sports to succeed on television, the answer never varies: They pick baseball, football, and basketball.
It’s a trick question, of course. The correct answer is boxing, pro wrestling, and roller derby, each of which became mainstays in televisions’s earliest days. The reason seems clear enough now — the old bulky cameras and small TV screens of the late ’40s were much better for showing a small enclosed area as opposed to the panorama of an outdoor field. No matter that only one of the three could truly be considered legitimate sport (and considering the mob influence on boxing at the time, maybe not even that).
I have a soft spot for the old roller derby unis, which had distinctive looks and interesting quirks. In the early TV days, the derby uniforms had to protect skaters while also differentiating between teams on the small black-and-white television screen. Football had yet to adopt the white-vs.-color jersey style on a regular basis, but the derby came up with an interesting alternative: The designated home team wore solid jerseys and the visitors wore stripes. In addition, each team wore distinctive numbers. For example, the Jersey Jolters wore numbers in the 20s, while the Brooklyn Red Devils wore numbers in the 60s. The San Francisco Bombers wore 31-39 with No. 40 reserved for star skater Charlie O’Connell. Males and females often shared the same number.
The jerseys were Durene with bright heavy-duty sateen shorts and light-fabric pants with leather padding for the knee, upper shin, and side of the thighs. There was also a provision for an additional pad, but many players chose not to use it, as skater Loretta Behrens recalled: “There was a pocket in the rear for a rubber sponge pad — as we called it, a butt pad — which many gals removed as it looked like we had a Kotex pad hanging out.” Not that Kotex wasn’t helpful elsewhere. “We put [Kotex] pads in our skates when our feet got sore and they soaked up sweat and protected against blisters,” Behrens said. (You can see more of her recollections on her web site.)
Eventually, the Derby settled in San Francisco, where skaters would spend a portion of the year skating in televised league games and the rest of the year traveling on a national tour. The jerseys became snazzier. Stripes no longer marked home and visiting teams but became incorporated into the familiar derby jersey style with candy-striped shoulder panels and sleeve striping. (Note the zipper on the Chiefs jersey, by the way — zippers were worn only by female skaters.) This style can be seen in pretty much any film or TV series that used roller derby as a backdrop, from Raquel Welch’s Kansas City Bomber [whose trailer is absolutely essential viewing — PL] to The Shaggy D.A. and Fantasy Island.
The San Francisco league eventually adopted various and somewhat innovative uniform styles, including these beauties worn by the Northeast Braves. The Bombers had several looks, and the Midwest Pioneers had off-center diagonal numbers.
Today, the sport has reinvented itself with a boom of women’s roller derby teams and leagues springing up around the country. Some of these teams have, er, interesting ideas about uniforms, to say the least.
Roller Bonus: Paul here. By coincidence, shortly after Randy submitted that entry, Kenn Tomasch checked in with a roller derby item of his own: “Arizona Roller Derby had its championship match over the weekend. Afterwards, they retired the number of one of the women, who’s moving away or otherwise leaving roller derby or something (I wasn’t quite clear). Apparently they all choose numbers that mean something to them, and 282 is the telephone prefix (not the area code — the exchange) in Sedona, Arizona, where this young lady apparently lives. I got some interesting shots of NOBs and other things that these ladies wear, which you can see here.”
And then, by yet another coincidence, I got a note the very next day from longtime Uni Watch follower The Rev. NÃ¸rb, who informed me of yet another derby-related news item, this one involving a trademark dispute. I eagerly await Jeremy Brahm‘s report on Japanese roller derby, which I figure should be arriving any day now.
Pedro Update: I’m holding off on coming up with an official Uni Watch name for Pedro Martinez’s perpetually unfastened second button until we can confirm or reject Roger Faso‘s claim that the point of the missed button is for Pedro to pull out his cross pendant and kiss it (which I’ve never noticed him doing, but Roger says he’s seen it). Meanwhile, Alexander Yellen notes that the missed button, by any name, has been part of Pedro’s repertoire for a while, as seen in these shots from the 2004 World Series.
Raffle Reminder: Today’s the last day to enter the raffle for the Don Larsen perfect game tickets. Details here. I’ll announce the winners on Monday.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Now that‘s a rally cap (thanks, Vince). ”¦ If you thought Nike’s bike-path decals were brilliant, check out Adidas’s latest viral marketing scheme (see sixth graf). ”¦ Really interesting article here about what it costs to outfit the Brewers (with thanks to Jason McDowell). ”¦ Yesterday I linked to this 1989 article about the Raleigh Athletic Equipment Company. That prompted the following reminiscence from Paul Wiederecht: “My mom, who worked in the Yankees front office from 1954-57 remembered that as the place that took care of the Yanks’ and all road clubs’ uniforms in New York. Back in the early ’70s she was looking for material to make a homemade KC Royals uni for my younger brother Larry, and she took all of us kids to Raleigh’s plant. What a place for a bunch of baseball-obsessed kids! Yankees unis, helmets, shoes, etc., as well as other baseball and football equipment all over the place!” Paul also pointed me toward this article (which begins with a vignette set in Raleigh’s plant) and this vintage ad. ”¦ C.J. Nitkowski, now pitching in Japan, recently had some trouble with his glove (with thanks to Tyler Kepner). ”¦ “Levi Leipheimer, the current U.S. road race [cycling] champ, rides for Astana, who wear teal and yellow (like the Kazakh flag),” writes Nolan Brett. “In his most recent race, he was wearing a green jersey (signifying points lead, I think) with the Astana crest on it (teal and yellow), with his red/white/blue shorts, helmet, and bike — not pretty. Plus, for the ultimate in bike geekery, note the red hoods on his brake levers to match the handlebar tape. Never seen those before. Very cool custom touch.” ”¦ Miuke Bonasia reports that Hickory Crawdads catcher Andrew Walker is a Uni Watch kind of guy (photos by Billy Crowe). ”¦ Two new Kentucky football replica jerseys have hit the market: home and road. “They’ve eliminated the basketball-esque striping and added the striping on the sides,” says Jeremy Branham (not to be confused with Jeremy Brahm). “It also appears that ‘KENTUCKY’ is in a larger point size.” ”¦ UNLV has just unveiled new football uniforms too, and holy shit are they awful. Further details here. ”¦ “In just the third game of the Appalachian League season, Elizabethton Twins coach Jeff Reed forgot his helmet in the 3rd inning,” reports Matt Nelson. “The umpire noticed the problem and had a bat boy bring him a helmet in between pitches.” ”¦ Did you know that the four major leagues and the Collegiate Licensing Company are all members of a trademark-watchdog group called CAPS (short for “Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports Logos”)? I knew nothing about this group — which, oddly, is headquartered in Idaho — until Richard Stover pointed me here (although the site apparently hasn’t been updated in several years). Interestingly, the MLB section notes that “TM” and ” ®” symbols shouldn’t be used on embroidered products, which means the trademark symbol on the Cubs’ jersey patch isn’t just anomalous — it’s contrary to MLB’s own stated protocol.