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The Okkonen Files, Vol. 4: A Letter from the Master

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Welcome to the latest installment of Uni Watch’s deep dive the work and legacy of pioneering baseball uniform researcher Marc Okkonen, who died in late May.

Previous installments of the Okkonen Files have examined Okkonen’s research methods and how he interacted with major figures in the uni-verse like Hall of Fame curator Tom Shieber and Mitchell & Ness owner Peter Capolino. But today we’re going to look at how Okkonen interacted with someone who read his seminal book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century.

That person is Uni Watch reader Scott Unes. I’ll let Scott set the scene:

My mom and dad gave me the first edition of Okkonen’s book for my 20th birthday, shortly after it came out, and I was ecstatic. I pored over that book and absorbed every detail.

There was a note in the book that said something to the effect of, “If you find any errors, contact me here.” I took that little paragraph and ran with it.  I sent him a letter, briefly congratulating him on the book, but very quickly and elaborately detailing all the “mistakes” I had found.

When I received the letter that he wrote back, I was so excited. Why was Marc Okkonen writing back to me? Maybe he was going to say something like, “Wow, Scott, you know as much about uniforms as I do. Maybe you should have written this book!” That’s what my stupid 20-year old self was expecting.

But no, his letter was not to pat me on the back. Instead, he was understandably upset. He referred to my “laundry list” of his errors, and he was right on with that assessment. It was not a humble letter that I had written to him. In my misguided way, I was trying to let him know that I was someone like him, someone who had a great love for all the details of baseball uniforms, and had the ability to notice when something minor had been changed or adjusted. But I was really just a dumb kid bragging and showing off. Imagine spending the money and years on the book, and having some idiot kid write to you telling you all the things you missed.

At first, I was crushed. But as I got older and matured, I gained a better perspective and realized that I would have responded the same way if someone had written a conceited letter to me.

Still, I wish I had written back to him again, telling him something different. Telling him how much I loved that book. Telling him what it meant to have that body of research at my fingertips. No more looking at old baseball cards for uniform information, wondering what year the picture was taken. I wish I had told him how much use I got out of that book, and still get today. I should have thanked him in my letter and left it at that. I didn’t even thank him.

I still have the letter from him, tucked inside my copy of the book.

Powerful stuff! I asked Scott if he’d be willing to share the letter that Okkonen had written back to him, and he readily obliged. Okkonen’s handwriting was excellent (that’s usually the case with draftsmen), so I’m not going to transcribe this — you can just click to enlarge and read it as Okkonen wrote it:

That’s really something, eh? I love the very last sentence: “Despite my hostility, your findings are truly appreciated.”

When sending the scan of the letter to me, Scott had this to say:

I hadn’t read this in years.  Reading it now, I realize he was more gracious than I was remembering (maybe more than he should have been?). He basically addresses every item on my list and opens a genuine discussion with me on the details I had brought to his attention. I wish I had the letter I sent him, but it’s pretty clear from his point-by-point response which uniform details I was talking about!  In most cases, he is open to my findings.

I think he used the beginning of the letter to take me down a few pegs, and the rest of the letter to have a genuine baseball uniform discussion with a true fan. I am most grateful.  Back in the pre-Uni Watch days, it was difficult to find anyone who was able to discuss such points!

Indeed. Mega-thanks to Scott for sharing his letter and recollections with us — priceless stuff, and definitely a good insight into Okkonen.

You can see all installments of the Okkonen Files here. Meanwhile, if you had any dealings or communications with Marc Okkonen that you’d like to share, feel free to contact me.

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How slow can you go? The Orioles ran out of pitchers during last night’s 16-inning marathon against the Angels, so outfielder Stevie Wilkerson was pressed into service on the mound. He pitched a perfect inning and became the first position player in MLB history to record a save! Even better, he did it by lobbing pitches in the mid-50-mph range. The video above shows his entire improbable inning.

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For all photos, click to enlarge

Lapel pin reminder: In case you missed it on Wednesday, we’re now offering the Uni Watch winged stirrup logo as a sharp-looking enamel lapel pin. People really seem to like this one! Full details here.

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LAST CALL for plate pre-orders: Today is the last day to pre-order the Uni Watch 20th-Anniversary Plate up through the end of this week. We’ll probably have a very small supply of plates available in addition to the pre-ordered quantity, but not many. So if you want to get in on this one, please get your pre-order to me today. Full details here.

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A hint of things to come: A few readers have recently asked me if I’d consider making a Uni Watch cycling jersey. Now, thanks to longtime reader Nathan Haas, who runs the uniform brand Adelph Wear, we’re going to make it happen.

What you see above is a prototype. Here’s how it looks on the back (click to enlarge):

We’re going to make a few very small tweaks to the prototype and then make the jersey available for ordering next month. You’ll be able to customize the number, NOB, and whether you want the Uni Watch 20th-anniversary logo on the sleeve.

As a daily cyclist myself, I’m pretty stoked about this one. Big thanks to Nathan for taking on this project — you’ve been awesome to work with, buddy!

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The Ticker
By Anthony Matthew Emerson

Baseball News: Back on July 21, Padres 1B Eric Hosmer was wearing a cap with both the MLB150 patch and the Padres’ 50th anniversary patch. None of his teammates had the MLB150 patch, which was supposed to be only for Opening Day. Is Hosmer one of those players who try to wear the same cap all season long? (From @Hat_Tweets.) … The Philadelphia Inquirer has all the info on the mono-burgundy Saturday Night Special throwbacks that the Phillies will be wearing tomorrow (from Michael Paolucci). … The logo for the Triple-A All-Star Game, to be held in Round Rock, Tex., has been unveiled. More info here (from Ignacio Salazar). … Last night, my hometown Portland Sea Dogs, Double-A affiliates of the Red Sox, threw back to their gorgeous 1994 teal alternate unis from when the team was affiliated with the Marlins (from Heath Carignan). … Speaking of the 1990s, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Single-A affiliates of the Pirates, wore these beauts, referencing one of the most popular Nickelodeon shows from that era, All That. Think of it like a kid’s version of Saturday Night Live. Makes my ’90s kid heart melt (from Scott M. Trembly). … The Potomac Nationals, Advanced-A affiliate of the Nationals (natch), have inconsistent patches on their left sleeves. … The Brooklyn Cyclones, Short Season-A affiliates of the Mets, have apparently removed Cyclones and Brooklyn Dodgers retired numbers from MCU Park. … A Kentucky American Legion game was grey-vs-grey (from Josh Claywell). … Twins P Sean Poppen’s jersey last night was several years old.

Football News: Packers OT Gerhard de Beer has the “de” in his NOB in lowercase letters. First time seeing that for the NFL? (From Brian Anderson.) … The Jets seemed to be using old practice jerseys during spring OTAs, but have now updated them. Better look here (from Jason Klein and @TravisEtienne). … The Ravens are once again using black no-contact unis for their QBs (from Andrew Cosentino). … The Eagles’ practice facility has the facility’s corporate advertiser in the endzones instead of the team logo (from Sam McKinley). … The Titans have totally redesigned their press conference podium (from @TitansUni). … Also posted in the hockey section: Steelers CB Joe Haden wore a Sidney Crosby sweater to training camp (from Jakob Fox). … The Broncos cheerleaders have added the Pat Bowlen memorial logo to their boots (from Zeke Perez Jr.). … We’ve seen some intense eyeblack and facepaint before, but this Calgary Stampeder takes it to a whole new level (from Russell Price and @HitTheGlass). … Lots of uni stuff in this article about KJ Hill’s decision to go to Ohio State (from Jason Hillyer). … Two threads from Rutgers’ official Twitter account are full of uni awesomeness (from Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary: Mingo Central (W.V.) High has new football helmets .

Hockey News: Cross-posted from the NFL section: Steelers CB Joe Haden wore a Sidney Crosby sweater to training camp (from Jakob Fox). … Lots of new uni numbers for the Blackhawks (from Terry Mark).

Hoops News: In addition to new alternate unis, the Magic are also getting a new alternate court (from Landon Tabor). … New road unis for Temple men (from @UntillTheNight). … It must’ve been difficult to play basketball in these uniforms back in 1908! That’s Pendleton High School in Oregon (from Jeremy Brahm). … Anyone know why David Robinson would have been wearing a Magic warm-up top during the 1992 NBA All-Star Game?

Soccer News: Manchester United added NOBs in Chinese script underneath the uni number for a preseason friendly in Shanghai against Tottenham Hotspur, which also had Chinese NOBs. United did a similar thing when they went to Thailand in 2013, though then the club completely eschewed Latin script NOBs (from Griffin T. Smith and Josh Hinton). … Speaking of Josh, you can catch his daily download on his Twitter account, including the formal launch of Juventus’ away kit and PSG’s new away kit. … Dynamo Moscow have left Nike for Kelme, and have released their new kits (from Ed Żelaski). … Palermo, an Italian Serie D side, has unveiled a new crest. Palermo was once one of the premier clubs in Serie A, but was relegated from Serie B a few weeks ago following bankruptcy (from @FTCUTD). … In 1997, New England Revolution F Joe-Max Moore went first name on back.

Grab Bag: Here’s a great story about the only company licensed to make wool pennants and banners in the country (from Adam Yarnevich). … The Mercedes F1 team will have a special “heritage livery” for the German Grand Prix (from Jack Wade). … The polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France has a new design this year because it has a new advertiser. Compared to the previous one, the dots are smaller and neatly arranged in rows (thanks, Jamie). … Speaking of Le Tour, the number plates on the bikes have a little medallion to indicate the number of career Tour de France stage wins each rider has. It’s a sticker, so it can be updated during the tour as riders accumulate stage wins. Michael Rich isn’t sure if it’s new, but it’s the first time he’s noticed it. Anyone know? … The security guard unis at the MGM Northfield Casino in Ohio are getting a redesign after patrons complained that one of the uni’s design elements evoked the Holocaust (from Chris Weber and Jason Hillyer). … The Philadelphia Inquirer is asking for fan input about which Philly team uni is the best (from John Kelemen). … Vancouver buses will have a new blue-and-green color scheme come 2020 (from Wade Heidt). … Also from Wade: the Langley Thunder of the Western Lacrosse Association wore special jerseys for their final game of the season.

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And away I go: On Sunday I’m heading to Ireland for a much-needed vacation. Phil will be running the site while I’m away, and also for the entire month of August, as I’ll be taking my annual August break from blogging (although I may show up on the site from time to time with various announcements).

Also: I’ll be starting my new gig at Sports Illustrated on Aug. 12. I’ll have some sort of introductory column, which of course you’ll be able to access from here on the blog. I’ll also be working on my annual college football season preview, which will run on sometime around Aug. 28 or 29.

Everyone have a great August, and I’ll see back here soon. — Paul

Comments (65)

    The Joe Hadden/Crosby link in the football section and hockey section both redirect to the Titans podium

    Tottenham Hotspur (Manchester United’s opponent yesterday) also had the player names in Chinese script under their numbers yesterday.

    I was able to purchase Okkonen’s book for just $10 recently. Since his passing, the price has gone up to about $150 in places.

    Paul, I was wondering what other uniform related resource books you would recommend similar to Okkonen’s?

    I have some photo-heavy books that I sometimes consult for reference, but there’s no other book *specifically about uniforms* that’s anything like Okkonen’s, at least not that I’m aware of.

    I’m unaware of any secondary source like Okkonen’s that’s even playing the same sport, much less in the same league. But there are a few books that contain quality primary sources like photographs and contemporary descriptions that are worth seeking out. My personal favorite example is a book about the history of the Pacific Coast League, link. Lots of color photographs of artifacts as well as game photos and press descriptions. A number of SABR publications also reproduce or document primary sources of the sort, though rarely in color.

    Alas, I moved my library across the Atlantic twice in the early 2000s and also put much into and then out of storage at the time, and my first edition of Runs, Hits, and an Era was one of a tiny handful of items that went missing.

    The UW cycling jersey needs more sponsor logos. ;)
    I’m a little disappointed that the Phillies couldn’t get vertical arching done on the NOB for the Saturday Night Specials. I guess it is a little more work than radial arches letters but it’s for one game and the details should matter. (I mind less about the NOB on the powder blue throwbacks because I believe they stopped the vertical arching before they changed from powder blues to road grays in the late 1980s.)

    Sponsor logos is a terrific idea! Not real corporations or anything, but what would be the fictional brands that if the existed, would sponsor a Uni Watch team in the Giro, Tour, or Vuelta? Aside from the Brannock Device, of course. “Beer Frame”? Late-Stage Capitalism? The Society for the Porrect Orientation of the Apostrophe in Signeage – initialized as SPA’S? The number 7?

    Why not real sponsors?
    Paul has real advertisers on his site?
    Why not place Gray(sp) Flannel Auctions or one of his other choice adverts?

    It would be true to his site.

    The pictures I have seen of the Saturday Specials in Bill Henderson’s guide are not vertically arched.

    Update on the ticker piece about WLA’s Langley Thunder. Found out later yesterday that the Tessa Beauchamp Foundation special jerseys were only worn during warm-ups.

    The jerseys were white. WLA teams wear their dark jerseys at home in the second half of the season. Visiting New Westminster Salmonbellies brought their white jerseys. As a result, the Thunder needed to wear their usual black jerseys during the game.

    This is a huge black eye for the Thunder, the Salmonbellies and the league for not communicating properly. Based on social media from the Thunder, I and I’m sure others knew that the special jerseys were going to be white this year, more than a week before the game. These jerseys for a charitable cause were to be worn for the whole game.

    Statement from the league about the situation:


    Paul, I don’t know if you’re going to the southwest of Ireland but if you get a chance to visit that region I strongly recommend taking a trip to Bantry Bay and Castletownbere, it’s a quintessential small Irish town in some of the most beautiful surroundings I’ve ever seen!

    The 1992 NBA All-Star Game was played in Orlando. Assuming that his Spurs warm-ups were missing for some reason, surely the explanation for David Robinson wearing a Magic jacket is as simple as that?

    I think you’re correct. I saw the replay of that game yesterday at happy hour and during introductions he was the only player not wearing a warm-up.

    I remember that the broadcasters mentioned that Robinson and Drexler’s warm ups had gotten lost, stolen, or forgotten and they couldn’t get new ones in time. It May have been during the pre-game show.

    It was not a humble letter that I had written to him. In my misguided way, I was trying to let him know that I was someone like him … But I was really just a dumb kid bragging and showing off.

    I had a very similar experience as a young man, fresh out of college, being in the press box at a major sporting event for the first time. I met one of my then-idols, a rather famous broadcaster and ex-athlete of whom I’d been a fan for many years, and tried to make that kind of connection, but failed spectacularly, not realizing my own folly until it was too late. It has haunted me ever since, more than 25 years now.

    Scott, don’t feel too badly about this. We all do and say foolish things at that age, and while we learn from them we have to live with the fact that they can’t be undone. In my case, I doubt this person would even remember let alone care if I ever by chance encountered him again and thought to apologize for that long-ago breach of etiquette, but in the end, that’s all it was.

    Conscience can be a burden. But it’s a burden well worth bearing.

    Thanks very much for these words. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who has mishandled this type of interaction with the people we admire and respect. I have used this example ever since, to make sure to be more appreciative of someone’s work, in this type of situation. So, again, I’m going to say thank you to Paul for the work he does. It means a whole lot to me, and I want him to know how much we all appreciate his work and skill.

    It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who has mishandled this type of interaction with the people we admire and respect.

    Likewise, I’m sure. Thank you for telling your story with such candor and thoughtfulness.

    Another great entry. Thanks Scott and Paul. Paul, I hope there are many more columns like this to come. I hope that someone in Marc’s own family gets wind of this and is able to tell us a great deal more about the man.

    Proofreading my own Ticker submission:

    “…as rides accumulate stage wins.” Should be riders.

    re: the stage win stickers on the number plates. It’s not new this year, as I’ve seen it in previous years. However, I can’t tell you how long it has been going on. Sorry!

    Also, and this may have popped up in the Ticker, the rider with #13 traditionally wears it upside down. This year (I think for the first time), it has been printed upside down (with advertisers the correct way up).

    O’s OF save best thing I’ve seen in a long time. Paul, see you in September.

    Both of the Joe Haden/Sidney Crosby links are the Titans Uni Tracker twitter link

    Enjoy Ireland! It’s a beautiful country.

    Are you willing to divulge where you are going? The “Ring of Kerry” is beautiful, if you can make it out there.

    Arriving in Dublin, renting a car, driving. No set itinerary. An uncharted ramble. Have a map with many, many pins in it, but no firm plans regarding a route. Just gonna wing it.

    Sounds like a great plan – there’s quite a bit to see there. I’ve only been to Dublin, and the west (Killarney, Galway, Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Mohrer, etc.)

    Have you ever talked to the guys from the Second Captains podcast in Dublin?

    You would be a great guest for them while you are in country. :)

    Yesterday, I was thinking, I should tweet to @uniwatch that we need a cycling jersey. I’m looking forward to it.

    First thing I looked for was a makers mark, as every jersey manufacturer’s interpretation of sizes is different. (Euro, race-cut, club-cut, etc). Then I realized it’s a Uniwatch jersey and the makers mark might not be included as part of the graphics.

    Paul, any indication of who would be printing these if/when they are made available?

    Nathan says: “They would be Euro/race cut jerseys. If they are looking for a more relaxed fit (Club cut) they could order a larger size.”

    Paul – can I recommend that when you’re done publishing all volumes of The Okkonen Files that you create a link at the top to access them all in one spot?

    They really are some of the most interesting and engaging pieces you’ve written and deserve to be highlighted on an ongoing basis.

    Thanks, Jay — glad you’re enjoying the series! (Although I really shouldn’t get any credit for “writing” them, since there’s very little of my own writing in these entries!!)

    Cycling Jersey! Great design! Looks terrific!

    I hope that the cycling jerseys have detailed and accurate sizing information. It appears that the cyclists’ perspective of what is an XXL size is a bit different from the rest of the world. I have an XXXL jersey now that I barely fit into (it’s not a pretty thing to see). The jersey should be form fitting, but folks need to realize what they are getting (or may be squeezing) into.

    Yeah, this argument is only just slightly undermined by the fact that the kid’s own father has demonstrated pretty regularly and publicly that he is an avid Welsh rugby fan.


    Ditto for Princess Anne who seems to attend pretty much every home Scotland rugby game.

    In other words, it’s a storm in a hearty cup of English (sorry, United Kingdomish) tea.

    Prince William is actually also a big Aston Villa fan and current president of the Football Association (as the article says).

    But the main point of contention that article seems to want to promulgate is this notion that royals show exclusive favouritism to English sides and neglect the other nations. He can be a fan of Aston Villa and president of the FA, but if he’s also very publicly professing his love for Welsh rugby then that theory is demonstrably bunk.

    That article says in a couple of places that it’s a “Lionesses” (women’s team) jersey, but it is clearly a men’s team version. There’s a star over the crest, slightly hard to see in the picture as it’s silver on white, commemorating the men’s team’s World Cup win in 1966.

    Sadly the Lionesses have not followed the Leeuwinnen of the Netherlands by changing the lions in their crest from maned males to smooth-headed females:


    Scotland’s women should do the same.

    I love the idea of a cycling jersey! This design does look sharp, of course. However, I would have hoped for a more distinct cycling design. This is a tequila sunrise baseball shirt imposed on a cycling top. is the final design up for debate/proposals? I’ll probably get one regardless, just being obsessive about aesthetics…

    Sigh. Several people specifically asked for a tequila sunrise cycling jersey. Can’t please everyone!

    For now, this is the design. Maybe we’ll do another design later.

    Great piece today! Thanks, Paul! And thanks, Scott, for sharing that very personal story!

    As we go through the Okkonen Files series, I’m seeing the picture emerge of a man who could be a bit gruff and plain-spoken, but who genuinely loved what he did and enjoyed interacting with baseball fans who had a similar appreciate the visual nuances of the game. His letter to Scott illustrates that perfectly.

    Speaking of the letter, Okkonen’s choice of stationery is quite intriguing to me. I’ve seen hotel stationery used for letters before. The letters always seem to have come from the distant past (like this one), and to have been written by an older generation. Was it common, back in the day, to just help yourself to the free stationery in your hotel room and use it at much later dates for your personal correspondence?

    The letter is postmarked from Marina Del Rey, CA (I’m assuming that’s near Redondo Beach – East Coaster here), so I’m assuming he sent this letter while staying at the hotel, using the complimentary stationery available.

    Nice catch! I wasn’t able to make out the postmark until I downloaded the photo and zoomed in on the envelope. Interesting that Okkonen would take time in the midst of his travels to respond to Scott’s letter.

    Love the cycling jersey! I will definitely be buying one.

    Any possibility of creating a full cycling kit (i.e. shorts and/or socks)?

    Enjoy your time away, Paul! As always, you’ll be missed during your absence.

    And best wishes for safe and extremely enjoyable travels! Looking forward to the recap when you return. I’m hoping for some fun and unexpected uni-centric observances from Ireland!

    Have a great trip Paul. Hope we get to hear a bit about the cool places, wonderful people, and unique treats (both solid and liquid) that you get to experience! Sláinte!

    Much as I loved him for writing it, Okkonen’s 1st edition really was chock full o’ mistakes.

    I made a list myself but never sent it to him. A LONG list.

    Belts and buttons on the 1980-83 Padres really rings a bell. Lots of problems with shoe colors in the 70s. That kind of thing.


    Congrats on the SI gig and enjoy the much needed time off. Will you be doing a travelogue entry once you return?

    A friend plays for the Padres so I asked him about Hosmer’s hat. He says he doubts its that Hos wears it all season. Likely the clubhouse manager didn’t grab it.

    Cannot wait to order the cycling jersey for our son. Have a great vacation. Thanks for the site and congratulations on the SI gig.

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