Good morning! Things continue to be more or less fine here at Uni Watch HQ. I hope the same is true for you and those close to you.
Yesterday I wrote about how the pandemic might redefine how the uni-verse salutes heroes. Today I want to look back at something that happened the last time our nation faced a crisis of this scope — the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
One result of that crisis was that “God Bless America” began being played in MLB ballparks during the seventh inning stretch. Most MLB teams still do this on Opening Day, Sundays, and holidays; the Yankees do it for every game.
About a year ago, longtime Uni Watch reader William Yurasko, who lives in DC, told me that he used to know a guy named John Dever, who worked for the Nationals but had previously worked for the Padres. According to William, Dever was the one who’d suggested bringing “God Bless America” to MLB ballparks in 2001, during his Padres stint. So I got in touch with Dever (he had left baseball and moved on to become a PR manager at the PGA, a job he still has) and interviewed him.
I originally published the transcript of that interview last April. But this seems like a good time to run it again, because the pandemic will likely give birth to its own set of new rituals and protocols across the sports landscape, just as 9/11 did. Also, it’s just a good story — I re-read it the other day and was surprised by how many of the details I had forgotten in the course of the past year.
Here we go:
Uni Watch: In 2001, when you were working for the Padres, what was your job title at the time, and what did that job entail?
John Dever [shown at right]: I was the assistant public relations guy, or something like that. I don’t recall the exact title, but I was the number two guy in the baseball PR department.
UW: Prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, what did the Padres do for the seventh inning stretch?
JD: I’m pretty sure that it was just, you know, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” like most places.
UW: As I recall it, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the MLB schedule was suspended for about a week — is that right?
JD: Yes, that’s right.
UW: As the Padres prepared to resume play after that break, what were your concerns about the seventh inning stretch?
JD: My recollection is that this whole thing was birthed on Sept. 11, not after the break. I was on the west coast, so when I woke up that day, I think one tower had already been hit. So I’m getting ready for work, it was like, “Wow, can you believe what just happened?” Then the second one was hit, and you knew something grave was happening.
UW: And at this point it’s not yet clear that the games are going to be suspended, so you’re just getting ready to go to work like on any other day.
JD: Yeah. Nobody knows anything yet, and there’s no social media, so I went in to work. And we’re talking about what could be done — and I think this was before all the games were called. Because that wasn’t an instantaneous thing. It took a few hours.
UW: So are far as you’re concerned, there’s still going to be a ballgame that night.
JD: Right. And we had some talk in the office about how we had to do something different. It couldn’t just be a normal day. So I was in this meeting, and I probably didn’t talk the whole meeting. And I think maybe we talked about doing something after the national anthem — that was going to be a big moment. And I remember thinking that the national anthem is about a battle, okay? And maybe it was just a day to not — a day to be more peaceful. So I said, “Hey, why don’t we think about another song that speaks to America that people in the ballpark can kind of unify around?”
I still wanted to play the national anthem, don’t get me wrong. But I think “God Bless America” came into my head. And then I thought, you know, people’s attention spans are only so long. If we do two straight songs — the national anthem and then another one — that’s a lot. So I said, “You know, is anyone really going to be happy today, or gleeful? Instead of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,’ why don’t we put this other song in there [in the seventh inning] and see if that works.” And people liked it. So that was the plan, just to do it at our stadium.
But what happened was, Larry Lucchino was our president and CEO at the time, and there was an owners’ meeting in Milwaukee, so Larry had headed there to meet with Bud Selig and the owners.
UW: So he was already there? He had flown there before all the airplanes were grounded in response to the 9/11 attacks?
JD: Yeah. I think he had to leave the day before, and I think he might even have been the only owner, or one of the few owners, who’d arrived by then. And of course he saw what was happening and checked in, so Charles Steinberg, my boss, relayed the [“God Bless America”] idea to Larry. And he said, “Wow, that’s pretty good. I’m gonna let Commissioner Selig know about that.” Now, I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you exactly whether they loved it, whether it was an instant take or they debated it, but the telephone game began and it was in the right person’s ear.
And then at some point, the games were cancelled and we waited a week. And honestly, Paul, I don’t think I thought about the song for one second during that week, when we were all worried about who’s alive, who’s missing…
UW: Right, we all had bigger things to worry about.
JD: And then after a while it was, alright, we’re gonna ramp this puppy back up. And when games resumed, I believe we were in Los Angeles.
UW: That’s correct. I looked up the schedule, and you guys played three games in L.A. and then had an off day before coming back to San Diego.
JD: Yeah, so we didn’t even get to do the song at first.
UW: Did the Dodgers do it for those three games in L.A.?
JD: I kinda remember that they did, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. I believe it became a league-wide initiative.
UW: That was my impression as well, that it came down as a league-wide thing. But it sounds like Bud Selig never contacted you, nobody from the MLB offices ever got in touch with you to discuss the idea. They just basically ran with it?
JD: Yeah. Which is fine.
UW: When you got the idea, was “God Bless America” the only song you considered? Or did you consider any other songs, like “America the Beautiful” or “My Country ’Tis of Thee” or “This Land Is Your Land”?
JD: You’re the only person who’s ever asked me that. The truth is, I’m not the most knowledgeable music guy. But yes, more than one song jumped through my head. Now I’m trying to think what the other one was. I think it was “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood [which, as it turns out, Greenwood actually sang prior to Game Four of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium — PL].
Anyway, I had a couple of songs in my head, none of which I was really able to grasp the title of, and this wasn’t really the time and place where you went to meetings with laptops in front of you and could just Google something. So when I said it out loud, “God Bless America” came out. And I think I knew what it was, but I didn’t know — was it Kate Smith? I had no idea who she was, or is. If you had called me a week ago [before the current Kate Smith controversy] and said, “Who’s the famous woman who does ‘God Bless America,’ at Yankee Stadium,” I wouldn’t even have known.
UW: So it sounds like the specific song recommendation you came up with was somewhat random.
JD: To some degree, yup. Some degree of randomness, and a little bit of blind luck.
UW: When you came up with the idea, were you thinking of it as a one-game thing, a “rest of the season” thing, or something more?
JD: I didn’t think anything about that. I thought it was just going to be for the Padres. And really, the Yankees took it mainstream and perfected it. And of course they’re in New York, close to Ground Zero. I said something out loud, but other people perfected it. It had almost nothing to do with me.
UW: Did it make you feel good, though, to see how your idea was playing out?
JD: Oh, I loved it. You know, I worked in Major League Baseball for 17 years, and I sat through “God Bless America” hundreds if not thousands of times. And yeah, sometimes I think about it. And I’m extremely — it’s a neat thing. I’m proud of it. I don’t talk about it very often. My wife knows, a few people know. Obviously, Will [Yurasko] knows. But it doesn’t come up very often.
UW: When the Padres were getting ready to begin the 2002 season, did MLB have a policy about what would be done regarding “God Bless America,” or was it left up to the individual teams to decide?
JD: Paul, I don’t remember the specific timing, but at some point Major League Baseball let the clubs choose their own direction, and I think you saw a divergence. Some teams used it on holidays; I think most did it on Sundays; the Yankees still do it every day. So again, there’s this divergence, and I think that’s so perfect, to be honest with you. I think it’s ideal.
UW: It’s perfect and ideal that the teams get to set their own policies?
JD: Yes, that they can decide what works for them and their ballpark programming and their fan bases.
UW: I see from your LinkedIn page that you went to work for the Montreal Expos in 2003. How did they handle the seventh inning stretch, since they’re obviously not an American team?
JD: I don’t know how they handled it in 2001 and ’02, because I wasn’t there. I know we didn’t use it in ’03 or ’04. It wouldn’t make sense. I think they had a lot of compassion — Canadians as a whole have a ton of compassion for what happened — but it wouldn’t have made much sense [to play “God Bless America” in Canada].
UW: In 2005, when the Expos became the Washington Nationals, you remained with the franchise and moved to DC, right?
JD: Yes, correct.
UW: And how did the Nationals handle the seventh inning stretch during their first season, especially with the team bringing baseball back to the nation’s capital?
JD: I don’t really remember what the Nats did regarding the song. My best guess is that it was a Sunday/holiday thing. Probably Opening Day, too. I can tell you it definitely wasn’t every day.
UW: And is that how it remained up through the end of 2014, which was your last season with the team?
JD: I think so. I don’t remember it changing or being more than Sundays and holidays.
UW: Did your co-workers with the Nats know that the whole “God Bless America” idea had started with you?
JD: Some of them knew. A smattering of people. It wasn’t something I talked about a lot.
UW: It’s now been almost 18 years since you came up with your idea. Are you surprised that “God Bless America” is still being played at big league ballparks, and could you ever have imagined that your idea would become a standard part of the baseball experience?
JD: No, I’m not surprised, because I think it was good for baseball fans, and for Americans who happen to be at baseball games. It’s a nice moment when we all get together and stand up for a moment of remembrance and such. It’s a nice song. It’s not even that long; it probably takes about a minute. So I’m not surprised. I don’t think — I don’t really want to get political here, but I don’t think the 9/11 experience has really left anyone who was there for it, so — yeah. I’ll leave it at that.
UW: There have been some controversies involving “God Bless America.” At one point, for example, the Yankees had a policy of not letting fans move around the stadium during “God Bless America,” and in 2009 they even ejected a fan who tried to use the restroom during the playing of the song, which led to a lawsuit and a five-figure cash settlement. Were you aware of that, and do you have any thoughts on it?
JD: Huh. No, I did not know that, so I don’t really have any comment on it.
UW: Also, in 2004, Carlos Delgado of the Blue Jays protested the Iraq War by not being on the field when “God Bless America” was being played. That was pretty widely reported — were you aware of that at the time, and what did you think of it?
JD: I vaguely remember it, but I don’t have any thoughts on it, and I don’t think I did at the time.
UW: Some fans and sportswriters have said that “God Bless America” may have made sense in 2001. But in the years since then, MLB has added all sorts of other patriotic gestures, including stars-and-stripes uniforms, camouflage uniforms, military jet flyovers, “veteran of the game” promotions, and more. And of course the national anthem is still played at the beginning of the game. So when viewed in that context, the argument goes, “God Bless America” is basically overkill. What do you say to that?
JD: I’d rather not go there, Paul. That’s the kind of no-win question I’d prefer to avoid. Thank you.
UW: No problem. Last question: If you owned an MLB team, or if you were the commissioner, what policy would you set for the seventh inning stretch?
JD: I think the way it’s been handled, with each individual team choosing their own path and their own direction, I think that’s perfect. And in some ways, it’s what America’s all about. I’m proud of my minute role in this, and I’m proud of how the game of baseball has handled it through the years as well.
Faaaaascinating. To my knowledge, that is the most complete account of this topic that’s ever been published.
Is there another John Dever out there, nursing a post-pandemic idea that will become a staple of the sports world when life gets back to some semblance of normalcy? Time will tell.
(My continued thanks to William Yurasko for bringing John Dever to my attention.)
ITEM! Pin Club launch: Our usual schedule is to release the new Uni Watch Pin Club designs on the first Tuesday of every month. But considering the state of the world, I decided we could all use something fun to get excited about, and the sooner the better, so I’m launching the April pin today.
Todd Radom and I created this design back in February, before the world blew up. At the time, we figured it would be appropriate to have something that celebrated the start of baseball season. Obviously, there’s no baseball currently taking place, but we’re still really happy with this pin design — check it out (for all photos, you can click to enlarge):
The design, as most of you probably realized immediately, is based on an official MLB baseball:
We had to put the word “Commissioner” alongside my signature, rather than beneath it, due to space considerations. Still, I’m amazed by how well our pin manufacturer reproduced my signature at this size — the entire pin is only 1.375″ across!
We’re producing these in a numbered edition of 250, with the numbering and the month laser-etched onto the back of the pin:
This pin is available here. And if you need to get caught up, here are the January, February, and March designs, all of which will remain available until they sell out (no reprints!). You can get a 15% on all of these pins, and on everything in the Uni Watch Shop and the Naming Wrongs Shop, by using the checkout code COMMUNITY.
And while we’re at it, several other discounts are in effect until further notice:
• The Uni Watch Classic Cap, usually priced at $39.99, is now $35.99.
• Uni Watch seam rippers, usually $6, are now $4.
• And custom-designed Uni Watch membership cards, usually $25, are now $20.
If you’d rather support Uni Watch via a donation, here’s now to do that.
My thanks, as always, for your consideration and support.
Oh. My. God. Why are domino patterns so satisfying? I don’t know, but this video showing all 31 NHL team logos rendered in dominoes is likely the best three minutes you’ll send today. Enjoy!
(Big thanks to Andreas Papadopoulos for alerting me to this one.)
Ralph Northam could not be reached for comment: It’s hard to express how little I care about NFL draft caps (strictly merch for merch’s sake), but this new Browns design that launched yesterday — part of a full slate of 2020 draft caps that nobody will be wearing at the draft because nobody will be attending the draft — deserves special attention. At first I just glanced at it and thought, “Oh look, they found a way to ruin Brownie — by rendering him in that dumb-ass neon sign motif.” But then reader Josh Levy pointed out to me that the resulting visual effect makes Brownie look like a minstrel character in blackface. And once he did that, I couldn’t un-see it.
Just to be clear: I’m not accusing the NFL, the Browns, or New Era of intentionally creating a blackface design, I’m not saying that the hat is racist, I’m not offended by it, I’m not outraged, blah-blah-blah. I’m just saying, well, it kinda looks like Brownie is in blackface — because it does! Not just because his face is suddenly black, but because the rest of his facial details are white, which was a standard blackface trope. Obviously, that wasn’t anyone’s intent with this cap (just like the Padres didn’t intend to hide a swastika in their spring/BP cap logo) — it’s just an unfortunate visual effect.
Speaking of, the real problem with this Browns cap is the exact same problem that tripped up the Padres: If you come up with some dumb-ass design template and insist on shoehorning every single team into it, you may end up with some unintended consequences. Stop forcing the dumb-ass design motifs and maybe there’ll be fewer unfortunate visual effects.
Click to enlarge
Cycling jersey reminder: In case you missed it, we’re taking orders for another round of Uni Watch cycling jerseys. Just like before, you can customize the back of the jersey with your choice of number and NOB.
We’re taking orders through the end of this week, and the product should be ready to ship in early May. Full ordering info here.
Membership update: When we launched the Uni Watch Membership Program in 2007, reader Bob Andrews was a charter enrollee. Since then, he’s ordered nine additional cards (I’m pretty sure sure his total of 10 is the most of any single reader), including three just last week. One of those three was a particularly inspired request: He wanted a card based on the “Here” flag that flew at the spot where Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson hit a ball out of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
Bob’s cards are among six new designs that have been added to the membership card gallery. I hope to have those cards printed, laminated, and in the mail by this time next week.
Ordering a membership card is a good way to support Uni Watch (which, frankly, could use your support these days). And remember, as a gesture of comm-uni-ty solidarity, the price of a membership has been reduced from $25 to $20 until further notice.
ITEM! Another membership raffle: Reader Peter McCurdy recently ordered a membership card (he got this Georgetown hoops treatment) and, while he was at it, generously donated an additional membership for me to raffle off, so we’re going to do that today.
This will be a one-day raffle. To enter, send an email to the raffle address by 8pm Eastern tonight. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow. Big thanks to Peter for sponsoring this one.
By Lloyd Alaban
Baseball News: A doctor at a New York hospital says she was told to use a Yankees rain poncho — complete with an official MLB authentication hologram! — as her personal protective equipment (from @mikeobs). … Lots of uni- and logo-related tidbits in this article about trivia items from all 30 MLB teams (from Warren Ehn). … Reader Michael Konkoleski found something noteworthy in the MLB: The Show 20 video game. When games are played on April 15 — Jackie Robinson Day — during the game’s story mode, all players wear Robinson’s No. 42, a tradition observed throughout MLB.
Football News: The Buccaneers will officially unveil their new unis on April 7. Of course, Uni Watch readers already know what they’ll look like (from multiple readers). … Speaking of the Bucs: As expected, WR Chris Godwin will give up his No. 12 and switch to No. 14 so that new Bucs QB Tom Brady can wear No. 12 (from multiple readers). … Former Eagles OT Tra Thomas has a wall of framed jerseys from teammates and opponents (from Sam McKinley). … Here’s a Twitter thread by reader Alex Rocklein about how he removed the Nike logo from his Washington jersey. … Reader @DrSoup_MD made a giant portrait of Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes out of colored beads. … Florida State is going with digital-only tickets for the upcoming season (from James Gilbert).
Hockey News: The NHL Players’ Association has voted the Blackhawks’ sweaters to be the best in the league. To see the results, click through the slideshow until you get to the “Arenas & Teams” tab (from Mike Chamernik). … Here are all 31 NHL sweaters made in the Nintendo video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. If you want to recreate these sweaters for yourself, here are the codes compiled by team into a spreadsheet (from Katie, who didn’t give her last name).
Basketball News: An alleged screenshot of late Lakers SG Kobe Bryant in the upcoming NBA 2K21 video game shows him in a uniform he never wore (from Alan Baca). … Reader Sean Kautzman found several sloppy inconsistencies with this Photoshopped image of new Virginia Tech commit Cartier Diarra: Diarra is depicted with two different numbers, the Virginia Tech logo on one of the balls has been inverted for legibility, and the Kansas State logo on the other ball has been scrubbed.
Soccer News: After a controversy among Russian supporters who boycotted their national team’s 2020 home kit because the sleeve cuff striping looked like the Serbian flag, Adidas has updated the sleeve design (from Josh Hinton). … For more about kit news from around the world, check out Josh’s Twitter feed. … In the NWSL, new Portland Thorns center-back Becky Sauerbrunn has worn No. 4 for the league’s entire existence. It was occupied in Portland by Emily Menges, who agreed to switch to No. 5 in exchange for a coffee (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … A football kit industry insider shared some of his secrets regarding teams and outfitters (from Mark Coale). … Someone has mocked up “pandemic kits” for many UEFA clubs. (from Jacob Gibb). … FIFA is exploring an emergency fund to help out clubs and soccer federations around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Grab Bag: Fashion brand Ralph Lauren has pledged $10 million to make PPE for medical personnel and first responders in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Some journalists have opined that relying on fashion brands to make PPE exposes a failure of the U.S. healthcare system (from Tom Turner). … New York officials will turn some U.S. Open tennis courts at NYC’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center into a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients. … Speaking of tennis, many lower-level tournaments on the men’s and women’s pro tours may not survive (NYT link) the disruption caused by the pandemic. … A few things from reader Timmy Donahue: This character in the TV series Royal Pains is dressed up as a boat Captain because he thinks he won a yacht. He is actually wearing a bootleg Marine Corps Officer’s cover. … The World Wars on the History Channel shows a fictional portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton on a tank in Sicily with a Jeep in front of him. The markings on the Jeep correspond to a unit that didn’t actually fight in Sicily. … Mercedes-Benz has “updated” its logo to promote social distancing. … Nissan has filed a trademark for a new logo (from Jakob Fox).
Click to enlarge
What Paul did last night: Out like a lamb, my ass. It was 43º for yesterday evening’s Pandemic Porch Cocktails™ session, and I for one am ready for some balmier weather. Fortunately, as you can see, we brought some peanuts to snack on, so that helped.
If you look at the spot where the porch, the left-side railing, and the front shrub converge, you’ll see a black smudge. That’s one of our neighborhood strays, Thom, who darted by just as I was taking last night’s photo.
And speaking of cats, here’s our daily dose of Uni Watch girl mascot President Caitlin:
Daily cat break pic.twitter.com/SZYuhgAGtS
— Mary Bakija (@mabatron) April 1, 2020
Today is April Fool’s Day. Given the current state of the world, maybe there won’t be many pranks. Or, conversely, given the current state of the world, maybe there’ll be more pranks than ever. So if you hear some hot uni news today — “The Yankees have decided to put player names on their jerseys when baseball returns to action after the pandemic,” say, or “All NFL teams will add a City Edition helmet this fall” — remember to check the calendar and maintain a healthy skepticism before you breathlessly repeat it or retweet it. (All of today’s Uni Watch content is 100% legit and prank-free, no foolin’!)
Stay safe! We’re all in this together, and we will get through it together. See you back here tomorrow. — Paul