If you’re a regular Uni Watch reader, you’re probably familiar with (and, ideally, own a copy of) Bill Henderson’s seminal Game Worn Guide to MLB Jerseys, by far the most authoritative product of its type. It’s no exaggeration to say I refer to it on a near-daily basis — to confirm this, to double-check that, or just to browse through all the amazing content. And as some of you may recall, the periodic updatings of Bill’s guide, which take place every three years or so, have led to some of my most enthusiastic (if somewhat florid) writings.
Bill and I began corresponding via email back around 2006 or ’07 and finally met in ’08 (he wore a rare Phillies “Philadelphia” prototype jersey for the occasion, complete with a generic “player” NOB), but for some reason I’ve never interviewed with him until now. We conducted this dialogue via email a few weeks ago. Without further ado:
Uni Watch: Let’s start with basic stuff: How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living?
Bill Henderson: I was born in 1961, so I am 54 now. I live in suburban Philadelphia. I am an international marketing executive with a specialization in the pharmaceutical industry, focused around drug distribution and data privacy. I have had a very good career and have had the opportunity to live and travel all over the world.
UW: Which team(s) do you root for — not just in baseball, but in all sports?
BH: I am a lifelong Phillies and Eagles fan, because that’s where I was brought up. I’m a Philadelphia fan across the board, but confess to not really following other sports very closely.
UW: Were you interested in uniforms and jerseys when you were a kid? If not, when did your interest develop?
BH: As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in sports uniforms, but especially baseball uniforms. I loved the colors and wild styles of the early 1970s when I was an impressionable kid. Wearing a uniform to me conveyed a strong sense of “belonging.” I’ll admit that even when I was a second-grade Cub Scout, I loved to wear my uniform, including the hat, while the other kids all seemed to hate it.
I was never a good baseball player. I couldn’t hit and I ran like I had a refrigerator strapped to my back (as one coach kindly told me). By the age they started cutting players, I was always cut from the team, which was devastating to me. I have sometimes wondered if my collecting of game-worn MLB uniforms was fueled by my desire to belong to a team.
UW: How and when did you get into jersey collecting, and how many jerseys do you have?
BH: My first jersey was an authentic, baby-blue Larry Bowa road jersey from the 1978 Phillies, which I bought the very first time the Phillies made such items available for mere mortals to buy. I wore it everywhere as a teenager. It was expensive (in 1978 dollars) and precious ”” people simply did not own or actually wear things like this in public back then. Here I am wearing the Bowa jersey in 1980:
I haven’t counted recently, but I probably have just over 1,000 authentic MLB jerseys, and 75% of them are game-worn. My Phillies jerseys take up a whole closet by themselves.
The habit of collecting is, in itself, a bit of a strange human dysfunction. I prefer to think of it as a harmless hobby, and console myself with the fact that my collection retains an asset value, unlike others who might spend their hobby dollars on Cuban cigars, meals at fancy restaurants, golf memberships, or vacation travel.
UW: Do you only collect baseball jerseys, or do you also dabble in other sports? Only MLB, or also MiLB, Japanese, etc.? Emphasis on any particular team(s)? Any other specialties or sub-niches within your collection?
BH: I now collect only MLB jerseys, though I keep a modest collection of game-worn Philadelphia Eagles jerseys.
My unstated and original personal goal was to have one jersey from every MLB team. Then it grew to one home and road for every team. This morphed eventually into one jersey of every style worn on the field for every team, back through the start of the double-knit era, which for most teams began in 1972.
Early on, I was also casually looking for one of every turn back the clock jersey as well, but the absolutely crazy proliferation of special jerseys — Memorial Day, Independence Day, Hispanic Day, etc. — has caused me to be more practical and limit my ongoing collection to only the home, road, and alternate jerseys for each team (out of a sense of preserving my sanity, my future retirement budget, and peace in my marriage). I have even stopped collecting all the BP jerseys. Enough is enough.
I look for “commons.” I would prefer to have the unaltered jersey of a bullpen pitcher over the dirt-stained uniform of a star player. Player celebrity does not impress me.
UW: How do you acquire most of your jerseys — from team auctions? eBay? Trades with other collectors?
BH: I have made a lot of connections over the years with people who help me find things I am looking for, but eBay can be a treasure trove if one knows what to look for, and I browse there a lot.
UW: Are you well-known within the hobby as a “major” collector?
BH: I have no idea””I never think about that.
UW: If you’re willing to say, how much do you spend per year on jerseys?
BH: My wife is going to read this, so I will say that I spend very little indeed. But seriously, these are “assets” that have a resale value. I keep track of what I spend, never pay outrageous prices for anything, and other than the hassle of liquidating, I am pretty certain I would break even if I sold everything, which I suppose someday I will.
UW: How do you store or display your jerseys?
BH: I built a big walk-in closet, eight by ten, with floor-to-ceiling jerseys on upper and lower racks [click to enlarge]:
I have also appropriated nearly every unused closet in the house and have large Tupperware bins under the beds. As far as “displaying” them, I wear the jerseys! And I hang a couple in my office that I change out every week. But I often come across stuff I forget I have and am surprised when I see them.
UW: Do you wear your jerseys only to sporting events, or also in non-sports contexts? Do you try to acquire jerseys that will fit you?
BH: I wear them just about anywhere. People know me for it, but people who are meeting me for the first time probably wonder what my fashion problem is. I can tell you that only in the past 15 years has it become acceptable for an adult man to wear jerseys anywhere. People just did not do that back in the ’70s through the early ’90s. The rappers changed that. People once would regularly approach me and ask me if “I was” the player whose name was on the back of my shirt. More than once, someone has approached me in a restaurant for an autograph.
So yes, I try to buy jerseys that will fit me, although this is really difficult when talking about the ’70s and ’80s. Players wore their uniforms skin-tight during that period, and the players themselves were smaller. It is really rare to find uniforms from that era in size 48, which I prefer. Coaches and relief pitchers are my best buy.
UW: Do you also collect caps, pants, or any other uni-related items? Or just jerseys?
BH: I used to collect caps. I have probably 125 authentics, but I rarely wear them, so I stopped collecting them.
Pants: I probably have 25 pair that have come with jerseys when I bought the set. In my mind, the only good use for pants is to cut them up to make perfectly matching nameplates for the jerseys.
I do have a sizable collection of MLB sleeve patches, but I don’t consider those as something I collect. I bought them in case I ever found a jersey they might go on! So they’re sort of like spare parts.
BUT — I also collect music. I have every song that registered above the top 20 since 1932. These used to be on 78s, 45s, and LPs, but I have since digitized. Analog media takes up too much space. And I collect and restore antique cars. I currently have three, and that is my limit before my wife makes me move out. A great deal of my writing has been for magazines on antique car restoration (or as they call it, “resto-mod,” making ancient cars safer and more drivable in today’s world).
UW: How and when did you get the idea to begin compiling your guides to game-used jerseys? When was the first edition published, and what edition are you up to now?
BH: I started to compile the data for my own use. I would buy authentic jerseys back in the ’80s and ’90s, and when I would send them off to be lettered by shops that claimed they knew how to do it right, 90% of the time the jersey would come back wrong. Wrong fonts, wrong letter size, wrong colors, outlines too thick or too thin, no nameplate when one should have been used. I got sick of sending things back, and I am sure the shops got sick of me as a customer.
My “first edition,” if you want to call it that, was a text-only document ””probably 20 pages of typed notes, arranged by team, to remind me what was right and wrong: when NOB began, the years styles changed, which years patches were used. I shared this with a few friends and associates who asked.
When online selling appeared and eBay blossomed in the early 2000s, that’s when I started to see people trying to sell jerseys with erroneous descriptions and potentially fraudulent intentions. In those early days, I would frequently write to sellers who had misstated facts or posted photos that contradicted reality, and point out their errors. While some were appreciative, I soon learned that much of the fraud was likely intentional, judging from the nasty responses I began to get. From that point forward, I started documenting authenticity with a vengeance because I realized there was no guide to authenticity in our hobby like the ones that had emerged in other collecting fields (Hummels, jewelry, antique automobiles, rare recordings, etc.). So that’s how my guide began growing and becoming more detailed.
(As an aside: When the first Asian counterfeits hit the market, I was actually living with my family on an expat assignment in the Far East. I recall my shock the first time I saw racks of counterfeit MLB jerseys for sale on a trip to Singapore. Today the fakes are all over the market. They make me furious, but a visit to the ballpark reveals that most fans either don’t know or don’t care. I would estimate that at a typical Phillies game I attend, 80% of the player jerseys people are wearing are counterfeits.)
I am now up to a Seventh Edition, which is about 3,000 pages with over 15,000 photographs. I start compiling the new information and correction sheet for the next edition the day after the current edition hits the street. There is always something new to catch, and always something I miss.
I have also created individual team editions, which are selling faster than the full and unabridged book. They cost less (only $9.99) and each have about 400 pages of content: 300 common pages from the main Guide on topics like fabrics, trim, patches and tagging, and then another 80-150 pages of team-specific content, depending on the team.
UW: How many copies per edition do you typically sell?
BH: The last edition sold around 1,000 copies; distribution channel access is my biggest bottleneck. It is available as an E-book on my own website, on eBay, as a CD-R on Amazon, and through a few specialty hobby bookstore outlets. The new edition is selling at a faster rate, and I am experimenting with distributing via other E-Book publishing outlets, like Amazon and iTunes. But it’s not easy to sell of on these sites — they have very stringent requirements regarding file formats and file size, and then the merchants take more than half the money from every sale. I am still experimenting with those outlets.
UW: The guide uses the changeover from flannels to double-knits as its starting point. Why did you use that as your benchmark?
BH: The current edition goes back to 1970, which includes the final year(s) of flannels for every team. But the main reason I started with knits was because, as a collector, they were all I could afford! Pre-1972 flannel-era jerseys typically cost on average three to four times as much as a post-flannel knit. And finding “original” examples of anything from the flannel era is nearly impossible, as all these jerseys were reused and recycled in the minors until they fell apart. Someday, though, I hope to do a volume on the ’40s through the ’60s.
UW: Are you surprised that your guides have become popular with people who are interested in uniforms but don’t actually collect them (like me, for example)? Did it ever occur to you that the guides would find an audience outside of the realm of collectors?
BH: It doesn’t surprise me at all. People are interested in the histories of all sorts of things, and not everyone has the money or space to build a collection of MLB jerseys. I would say that a lot of my readers are card collectors, and modest jersey collectors with maybe five to ten 5-10 jerseys. They who use my book as a sort of “dream book” to go through and look at things they might like to own someday.
UW: How has the guide, and your methods for compiling it, changed over the years? With teams now rolling out so many special jerseys, special patches, and so on, has that made it hard for you to keep up?
BH: The most significant difference is how much help I get now. People send me pictures of their collections and notes cluing me that a uniform-related event happened last night in their home city so that I can research it. I am so grateful for the contributions. With the number of “special uniform games” that happen these days, it would be so much harder to keep up without this help.
UW: Any guide tries to be authoritative, but I’m assuming you often find mistakes (or readers find them for you) and that you then have to make corrections, yes?
BH: Even with a team of editors and an executive editor, I start discovering errors in a new edition the day after I release it! Readers are an incredible help here too. They and I are still discovering new facts and coming up with new theories explaining oddball sightings.
UW: Do you have any “white whales” — jerseys that you know have been worn in games but that you haven’t been able to find game photos of?
BH: Truly, almost none! I can tell you that in earlier editions, I was obsessed with finding photo proof of some of the things that Marc Okkonen had included in his earlier book and that had then found their way onto the Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” site as “fact” — the A’s having a set of pullover game jerseys in 1987-1988, for example, or the Reds having an alternate “Cincinnati” red jersey in the late 1980s and early 1990s (that one, interestingly, has been removed from Dressed to the Nines). While I keep an eye open for these “white whales,” I am now convinced that neither existed.
The most elusive jerseys of the double-knit era are the A’s 1972-73 gold jerseys with the white “A” on the front, and the Cleveland Indians’ 1972 jerseys, both home and road. Their complete absence in the hobby indicates to me that they were probably stripped of all lettering by the teams and converted into the next year’s jerseys with different designs sewn onto them. That’s the only explanation for why they have seemingly disappeared.
UW: Why have you never published the guide as a printed book?
BH: Cost. A 3,000-page reference book filled with color photos would be ten inches thick, and the paper and ink alone would cost more than most anyone would pay. Then there’s the little issue of photo rights. While I might consider my use of news photos as “fair use,” licensing them for use in a print edition would be cost-prohibitive. If I printed this book, I’d have to make compromises: far fewer photos, less color, fewer pages, and even then I don’t think I would sell enough copies to break even before the topic required updating again in a new edition (I have been doing new editions roughly every three years.) It would turn something fun into a nightmare.
UW: You’re also an expert on baseball fonts and typography. Tell me how you got into that and what you’ve been up to on that topic.
BH: I have always been a typeface geek. My dad ran an industrial printing plate shop, and my job as a kid was to identify and put away thousands of letters of loose lead type in their proper drawers. That lead is in my blood!
Typography is a big issue in our hobby. I am often surprised by jerseys with incorrect lettering, advertised as all-original when they surely are not. There are thousands and thousands of pre-2000 game-worn jerseys out there with resewn ”restored” lettering, attempting to re-create the jerseys’ MLB appearance after their dark journey into the minor leagues where they were stripped of their original lettering.
Personally, I have at least three dozen authentic jerseys in my collection with lettering that is just plain wrong. They hang in the back of my closet and will probably never again see the light of day. Now, thanks to social media, I see other collectors have this problem too. I keep a massive “rogues gallery” of photos of improperly lettered authentic jerseys in my files to serve as a reminder of what is out there.
My latest project is to re-create all the original player name/number patterns for each MLB team, every jersey style and every year going back to 1970. I have dived into it with an obsessive passion. There are hundreds of these patterns to do, and I am nearly halfway done. I’m using thousands of original game-worn jerseys as my models. I am working closely with Patsy Elmer of Big Time Jerseys in Phoenix to make this lettering service available to restorers and fans when they have their own MLB jerseys restored or customized. And I will make them available at no charge to Majestic and to all the MLB clubs hosting TBTC games so that they can use their own original fonts if they choose to.
UW: So when’s the new edition of the guide coming out?
BH: After every one I say “never again,” but then I always do another one. Let’s be brave and say 2019.
Great stuff. Big thanks to Bill for sharing his story with us, and for all the assistance and friendship he’s provided to me over the years. Here’s to you, buddy!
’Skins Watch (a day early this week): GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump both think the ’Skins name should not be changed. I’m sure Bush’s thoughts on the matter have almost nothing to do with the fact that ’Skins owner Daniel Snyder donated $100K to Bush’s campaign. ”¦ A Nebraska high school whose teams are called the Chieftains is keeping the team name but will no longer allow fans to dress in headdresses, feathers, or war paint, and the student section will no longer be called the Tribe (from Joseph Anderson). ”¦ Monday is Columbus Day, which makes this a good time to revisit this classic Sopranos scene.
Baseball News: Some sneaky Cubs fans snuck into a store across the street from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and cleverly rearranged some lettering (thanks, Mike). ”¦ As for the play-in game itself, disappointing but not surprising to see that both teams wore their colored alts. As one Twitterer put it last night, “Looks like a spring training game.” ”¦ The Cubs rub their helmets when they get a hit, which explains this odd sight in the dugout last night (screen snot by @The Howlr). ”¦ When the Cubs’ All-Star-Game representatives had to wear the ASG sleeve, their Ernie Banks memorial patches were moved to the chest. But when the Postseason patch was added to the team’s jerseys for last night’s game, the two patches shared the same sleeve (from Jamie Uthe). ”¦ Meanwhile, the Pirates’ jerseys appeared to create problems for TBS’s green screen. ”¦ At one point last night, the score was Star Wars-themed. ”¦ Whoa, look at this amazing carved baseball bat trophy (from AW Rader). ”¦ By odd coincidence, at one point last night the CBS Sports website showed photos of three N.L. postseason pitchers all wearing throwbacks. ”¦ Phil notes that five of the remaining postseason teams have royal blue alternate jerseys. Lots of blue caps, too.
NFL News: The NFL is looking to add more international games to its schedule, with Mexico said to have the inside track as the next foreign venue. ”¦ Black alts on tap this Sunday — along with a high volume of pink — for the Ravens (from Andrew Cosentino). ”¦ The NFL is planning to share concussion data with helmet companies, with the goal of creating position-specific helmets (from Matt Jenson). ”¦ Former Maryland teammates turned NFL rookies Stefon Diggs and Darius Kilgo exchanged jerseys after Sunday night’s Broncos/Vikings game (from Matt Shevin).:
College and High School Football News: Here’s a local TV station’s picks for the best high school football unis in the Cincinnati area (from Jonathan Daniel). ”¦ Due to the storms and flooding in South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ home game this weekend against LSU has been moved to Baton Rouge. Interestingly, South Carolina, which is still the designated home team despite playing in LSU’s building, has chosen to wear white, which will for LSU to wear purple at home against an SEC school for the first time in nearly two decades (thanks, Phil). ”¦ Ohio State has a big marketing deal with several beer brands, including Coors. “Interestingly (or not), the especially stout Buckeye defenses are called ‘the Silver Bullets,'” notes Jason Hillyer. “I imagine ostensibly the name is based on OSU’s helmets, but I bet Miller Coors doesn’t mind a different association.” ”¦ Ryan Atkinson notes that Wichita Northwest High School in Kansas has very Michigan-esque uniforms. Trent Kling says that’s because the Wichita Northwest teacher who designed the uni and created the school’s fight song was a Michigan fan. ”¦ Here’s this week’s Arizona State blackout costume (from Eric Lewitke). ”¦ Black helmets this weekend for Oregon State. ”¦ Here’s this week’s look for Air Force. … Some people are uneasy with the growing number of schools that sell alcohol at games.
Hockey News: The current issue of The Hockey News is has a jersey/sweater theme and includes interviews with SportsLogos.net founder Chris Creamer and Icethetics honcho Chris Smith. ”¦ Here’s a good rundown of all the gear — sticks, helmets, gloves, visors, etc. — worn by L.A. Kings players (from Chris Bisbee). ”¦ “Apparently the original Winnipeg Jets wore red helmets on the road for a couple games in the mid-1990s,” says Eric Romain. “I’m amazed I’ve never heard of this. Does anyone know the story? Googling doesn’t reveal much info, except for this recent message board thread.” ”¦ Pinktober has spread to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay’s gloves (from Alan Kreit). … Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated his 63rd birthday by suiting up in uniform for a hockey game.
College and High School Hoops News: Indiana is adding soccer-style championship stars to its shorts (from Terry Mark). ”¦ New uniforms for Hillsdale. ”¦ We already knew that Baylor was keeping its neon trim despite changing from Adidas to Nike this season, but here’s our best view yet of just how much neon there’ll be. ”¦ Awesome court logo for Fordham Prep. “I wish it was Fordham’s logo because it’s gorgeous,” says Pat Costello.
Grab Bag: What if international soccer kits were designed by major fashion labels? (From John Muir.) … The world’s worst-kept secret — i.e., the impending partnership between Under Armour and Wisconsin — will reportedly be announced tomorrow. ”¦ New fad in China: People are wearing plastic head accessories shaped like fruits, vegetables, and flowers. ”¦ Very interesting article about how the NCAA recently eased regulations on meals and snacks for Division I athletes, prompting an arms race of new kitchens, nutritionists, dieticians, and so on at the major schools. Recommended reading. ”¦ The nonsense over players wearing “unauthorized” headphones has hit the rugby world (from Chris Bisbee). ”¦ David Firestone has written a piece about a perfectly preserved vintage auto racing helmet. ”¦ New logo for Eastern Illinois athletics.
’Tis the season: By the time most of you read this, I’ll be on my way to a TV studio in Manhattan, where I’ll be engaging in one of my favorite rites of autumn: the annual taping of the Puppy Bowl. The latest edition is taping today (the kitten halftime show) and tomorrow (the puppies), and I’m lucky enough to be attending both sessions. The whole thing is embargoed until shortly before Super Bowl 50, so I won’t be able to share any details until then, but I think it’s safe to say I’ll be having a lot of fun over the couple of days. Big thanks to my friends at Animal Planet for once again inviting me — you guys are the best.