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Mike Hersh: R.I.P.


Yesterday morning, just as I was preparing to leave my hotel room in Washington, I received terrible news: Mike Hersh, a longtime Uni Watch contributor and someone I’d grown proud to call my friend over the past four and a half years, unexpectedly passed away on Tuesday. The cause of death hasn’t yet been determined, although I know Mike had several health issues, including diabetes. He was only in his mid-40s.

I was stunned; I still am. I had been e-mailing with Mike just a week or so earlier.

The crazy thing is that I received the news of Mike’s death only about ten hours after returning to my Washington hotel from an absolutely stupendous Uni Watch party, which had put me in such a good mood. Then I heard about Mike and my mood plummeted. It was like going through all the pleasure and all the pain that comes with family — in this case, the Uni Watch family — in the space of half a day.

Mike grew up in Philly but had lived in New York for quite a while. I first encountered him about nine years ago on eBay, where he frequently outbid me for vintage uniform catalogs. (For a while, I simply referred to him as “my nemesis.”) We didn’t meet in person until 2008, shortly after he started reading Uni Watch. You can read more details about that here.

In the months that followed, Mike began contributing huge amounts of material to the site, especially wire photos, catalog scans, and eBay finds. At one point he was coming up with so much great stuff that another reader — Conn Nugent, I think — dubbed him “the increasingly indispensable Mike Hersh.” For a while I referred to him that way as well.

For most of the time I knew him, Mike worked as a designer for Ralph Lauren’s Polo/Rugby line. He knew I’d like all the vintage sports reference imagery that was lying around the Rugby offices, so on several occasions he invited me up to take a look. It was the kind of simple but generous gesture that made him such a great guy.

Mike’s parents were (and I believe still are) in the sports memorabilia biz, so he grew up surrounded by all sorts of cool sports-related collectibles and always stayed connected to that world. In 2009, he was planning to attend the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland and said to me, “You should come check out the convention and write about it. You can even share my hotel room.” So that’s what I did. During the convention, Mike showed me around and introduced me to several dealers, including his parents, who were wonderful people. It was a great trip, and really sealed our friendship.

My favorite story about Mike is this one: At one point he asked me, “You live in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, so how’d you get to be a 49ers fan?” I explained that in 1970, when I was six years old, I’d reached into a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and pulled out this football card, which made me a Niners fan for life. Mike asked if I still had the card, and I said no, it had gotten lost or discarded sometime during my teens. About a week later, a mint copy of that card showed up in the mail, courtesy of Mike and his parents, who had the card in their memorabilia inventory. It’s been mounted on the wall of my office ever since.

I hadn’t seen as much of Mike over the past year or so, because he and his wife, Ali, were busy with their first child, Zach (who Mike couldn’t stop raving about — he was a very enthusiastic father). But Mike and I still e-mailed pretty regularly. The last time we corresponded, in late January, he was telling me how much he loved his new gig as design director at JC Penney, where he landed after Ralph Lauren pulled the plug on the Polo/Rugby line last November.

Mike and I had recently gotten into that familiar New York routine where one of us would say, “Hey, we need to get together soon,” followed by the other one saying, “Yeah, I’ll get in touch in a week or two when things aren’t so hectic.” He was busy, I was busy. E-mail made it easy — too easy — to stay in touch without actually hanging out. Boy do I wish we’d gotten together one last time. It was a privilege knowing you, Mike — you’ll be missed.

(For those who want to contribute, Mike’s family has asked that donations in his name be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)


Comments (107)

    I didn’t know him, but appreciated Mike’s contributions to the Uni Watch community.

    My condolences to Mike’s friends and family… his son and wife in particular. My heart goes out to them.

    In a world where it is hard to find time for ourselves, let alone anyone else, it seems Mike Hersh did. Not only for his family but his friends as well. Truly this world has lost something special. Maybe we can all learn form him and start taking time for the small things in life agian.

    I never met Mike, but his contributions to the UW community were immense. He’ll be missed “here” but moreso in the real world. Prayers and condolences go out to his family and friends.

    I was at the gathering Wednesday night, and I can agree with Paul that it was a wonderful evening, with a great turnout. We were both very excited when Thursday dawned and we were about to head over to the Smithsonian for the symposium. I was with Paul when he opened the e-mail announcing Mike’s passing, and he became ashen as he read the terrible news. Really puts things into perspective.

    Never put off that “lets get together” moment. It might not happen.

    RIP Mike

    Mike will be missed in the UW community. My prayers go out to his family, especially his wife and son.

    As a Type 1 diabetic, this shook me up this morning. My thoughts are with his family. A great guy, from all that’s been said.

    Sad sad news. As many will say, I never met Mike but “knew” him through here. I know he will be here and more so at home. Prayers are with his family. RIP Mike.

    One of the best things about the internet is the communities that form. Hearing about Mike is a reminder that we’re all real people. So, in addition to expressing my condolences to the Hershes, I’d like to express my appreciation to all the members of the Uni Watch community for your contributions. It’s too easy to take everyone for granted.

    I agree with what each of you has said, BurghFan and Kyle. While (for better or for worse) I’m not as active in the comments as I used to be, I know I feel a significant sense of community with the UW family … even though there MIGHT be two other commenters I’ve met in real life.

    So sorry to hear about the loss of Mike. Feel so sad for his family, especially his young son who will grow up not knowing a great guy.

    I am absolutely stunned. Such a big loss to the Uniwatch community. Truly enjoyed Mike’s contributions here, wire photos & ebay finds especially. Would have loved to hear more about his new gig at JC Penney.

    RIP Mike

    Paul, that appreciation of Mike was both heartfelt and illuminating. What a terrible loss. You had the good fortune of getting to know someone both as a Uni Watch personality and as a real person, bigger than, but kin to the communal love buzz we all felt at hamilton’s Bar in DC. As a Uni Watch personality, Mike was without peer (well, maybe Jeremy Brahm can compete) as a frequent and reliable source of REALLY COOL stuff. And, yeah, it was me that came up with “increasingly indispensable” because this guy named Mike Hersh kept coming up with these items that, for me at least, just could not be ignored. Many an hour — many many an hour — was dedicated to following a Mike link and then using those irresistible images and sites as points of departure for further burrowing on my own. Such is the master teacher.

    What a great write up. A fitting tribute for one of the many who make this site required reading for me.

    All my best to Mike and his family. I’ll never understand God’s plan at times like this, but maybe it was simply time for another angel in heaven.

    My deepest condolences to Mike’s family. It’s a terrible loss for our UniWatch family, but exponentially so for his wife and son. Perhaps we should do something as a tribute for his survivors?

    That was a really nice tribute, Paul.

    It’s so sad when good people leave us before their time…

    We should all be so lucky as to have a friend so eloquently and heartfully write of our passing. Thoughts go out to you and Mike’s family and friends.

    Maybe there should be a UW “In Memorium” section where you retire reader cards. Too morbid?

    Not really…we all suggest memorial patches and curiosity of those in sports whether it is a player (current or former) or even coaches & owners…

    If he had been an athlete I guarantee that a memorial patch / logo we be discussed at some point…should make NO difference at what level the person is, a memorial patch is what it is.

    Great picture. Thanks for sharing. The internet and this site are pretty damn amazing. Bring together uni people into a community where the loss of one can impact other thousands of miles away….

    I certainly didn’t know Mike beyond the words Paul just wrote, but man – losing someone in their 40s is just not right. And to have such a young child that he was so enthusiastic to raise and see grow up, that’s gut wrenching. I hate that kid will never get to personally know what appears to have been a fine human being.

    My prayers go out to all of Mike’s family and friends.

    Wow. A few others have said it, and I’m sure more will think the same, but it bears repeating: I didn’t know Mike personally, but I always appreciated and enjoyed his contributions here. A prayer will definitely go out to the family of The Indispensable, and Irreplaceable Mike Hersh.

    Paul, that was a genuinely classy tribute.

    Sorry for your/our loss. He sounded like a super guy. I actually have diabetes, but the lesser of the two types. I also live in Wyoming just off an Indian Reservation. I bring this up because diabetes is a huge factor in the shorter life spans of the Native Americans (and I believe that’s the case across the country). So oddly enough (and unfortunately enough) this kind of ties together the two parts of your yesterday and column.

    I never met Mike nor emailed him. I may have never exchanged comments on this forum with him, I don’t know. But I felt like I sort of knew him–you know?– through his wonderful contibutions here, his comments, and of course, the photographs of him. Like the one of him as a little kid in the Flyers jersey. One of us.

    Rest in Peace.

    What a truly great post, Paul. It took me a second to process the name, but I certainly remember seeing all of his contributions pile up. This is sad news. The Uni Watch stirrup is at half-calf today.

    This is the moment when we’re all reminded that, for all our lighthearted talk about how we are “those who get it,” the word “we” is perhaps the most imperative. This is a little community you’ve built, Paul: A community of fans who see America’s cultural touchstones in a meaningful, deeper way. Not just for the results of games, because everyone watches for those, but for the overall visual appeal and pagentry of it all. I think a lot of folks are joining those ranks every day, but when we lose someone who is so earnestly part of that “we”, we also feel it in a more meaningful, deeper way, too.

    Condolences, Paul, and to all of us. Hard not to be moved by a story like this.

    I’m not sure I could put it much better than that, Dan.

    Paul, your column is heartfelt. As much as it must have pained you to write it, I’m sure Mike’s family and friends will be touched by it.

    So young… and with a kid! My prayers go out to his family, little Zach in particular.

    Requiesce in pace, Mike.

    I was thinking a memorial patch. Maybe even add them to membership cards for the next month or so.

    RIP Mike.

    The reason I first came to UW is sports uniforms. The reason I come back daily is because, while I never know what I’ll find, I know it’s worth my time.

    Mike, may you rest in peace. Paul, thank you for this tribute to a friend and a fellow member of the uni-verse.

    Speaking on behalf of my son, Zack, thank you, Paul and your readers, for your kind words and support.

    You’re more than welcome, Ali. Although you and I have never met, I feel like I know you, because Mike talked about you (and Zack, of course) all the time.

    Hang in there — our hearts go out to you.

    This is surely devastating for everyone who loved your pal Mike. I am so sorry.

    When my best friend and the person whom I loved most died at age 39, this sent me into a profound emotional hole. The only thing that gave me any form of comfort was the fact that there was nothing left unsaid between us; we had told each other how we felt many times. I hope that you can find some similar shred of peace, since it is clear that Mike knew of your great affection for him.

    A black day for this little group here…

    deep deep condolences to his family, and all that knew him personally

    Mike’s loss will have a greater impact on his immediate family, but we will feel it here too. R.I.P. Mike, and prayers and condolences to his family and friends.

    Sad to hear, I’ve seen his name on several occasions on this site, I’m finally able to put a name to the face, unfortunately it is under terrible circumstances.


    Horrible news, beautiful tribute. Here’s hoping the Uni Watch community will be able to be a source of some support to Mike’s wife & child in the weeks & months to come.

    I just read this last night. A loss very similiar to the one Paul is experiencing. “If we had been doing our job, the sorrow I am feeling today would have been the deep sorrow that comes with parting, not the pain of regret.”
    We all have friends that we see less of. It is important that we try harder to spend time with them. I am as guilty as anyone. Paul’s story today, and the one I read last night, couldn’t have driven that point home more succinctly. RIP.

    Aw hell. My prayers are with Ali and Zach as well as Mike’s parents and family.

    Peace to the memory of Mike Hersh.

    I met Mike when, as mentioned, he and Paul came to Cleveland a few years back. Seemed like a very nice guy. Sad to hear of his passing. My condolences to his family and friends.

    Condolences to the Hersh family and friends of Mike. His contributions will be missed. I didn’t know him, but he seemed like someone I would have liked to have known.

    It is incredibly sad to hear of Mike passing away. Paul, as I read your tribute, I got the sense that all of us here at Uni Watch are our own breed and small family. If any of you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ever ask.

    Offering my condolences to Mike’s family and friends – as many have mentioned, he was taken from this earth way too soon – RIP, Mike.

    My condolences to his family and to everyone in the UW family who were lucky enough to know him well. He clearly enriched many, many lives.

    A guy dying and leaving a wife and infant; that really, really, really, really sucks. Life is a real bitch and its alternative is even crueler. RIP.

    I’ve been an avid Uni-Watch Reader for 4 years and always enjoyed Mike’s content. I feel the worst for his son but perhaps when he’s older he can get to know his dad through the many contributions made here. The internet is a powerful tool in that way, preserving our personalities for the ages

    My most heartfelt condolences go out to the Hersh family. I echo the sentiments which touched on the family like nature of this community. We can trade opinions and agree, or we agree to disagree. Mutual respect reigns supreme. I’m grateful for, and I’ll never forget the messages received from some of you, during a tough time. Mike’s memory will live on forever. And Paul, your thoughtful words honoring your friend will live on as well. A sad day for Uni-Watch.

    I am sorry for your loss, Paulie. Your tribute today brought tears to my eyes, even though I have not met either of you. He was blessed to have such a great friend. And so were you

    Wow. When I first started soliciting help for the GUD early in 2009, Paul put Mike’s name in front of me. While it didn’t work out, Mike and I exchanged a few emails and I found him pleasant. And now he’s gone.

    So sad and sorry to hear. RIP Mike and T’s & P’s go his family and friends.

    Feel like I lost a friend, even though I never knew Mike. This really is a great community. Looking forward to the next Uni Watch gathering in Boston.

    Condolences to all who knew Mike. Anytime I see a passing of someone close to me in age with young kids as I have it’s hard to read. Paul, appreciate you dedicating today’s posting to a deserving Uni Watcher.

    Paul, I follow your Twitter feed and occasionally check the site. Not sure what made me click through to this story, but I was shocked and saddened.

    I also had the privilege of knowing Mike Hersh, we worked together for a brief time in the late 90s. Every positive sports cliché for a person applied to Mike. He was a team player, gave 110% to his work and never took a day off.

    Everything you wrote about Mike rings true. What struck me about him was his willingness to help and give of himself. It didn’t matter if you were a friend or a complete stranger, he was there to lend a hand. In our design field some tend to keep visual resources and technical skills to themselves, knowing it gives them a distinct advantage. Mike was the exact opposite and as someone new to the field I was grateful.

    We both moved on and lost touch. I had heard that he had gotten married and had a son. Ali and Zach, Mike was a good man and I’m sorry for your tremendous loss.

    RIP mike Hersh. I am putting an MH decal on my cycling helmet today. As a fellow UNIWATCHer, I think mike would have appreciated the gesture.

    I am sorry to hear about the sad news. I will keep Mike Hersh’s family and friends in my prayers.

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