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Discovering Japan: 1982 TV Show Hits NPB Uni Jackpot

Good morning! Greetings from Uni Watch HQ, where all three inhabitants continue to be safe and healthy, and where we had a very nice Laborious Day weekend. Hope you did as well.

Reader Dustin Meador recently let me know about a 1982 Canadian TV documentary special about MLB catcher Gary Carter — then a star with the Expos — visiting Japan and touring that country’s ballparks and baseball culture.

The documentary, which is embedded above, is 47 minutes long and worth watching all the way through. Here are some of the more notable uni-related bits I singled out while viewing it.

NPB Uniforms

If you’re into Japanese baseball uniforms, or just early-1980s baseball uniforms in general, the movie is a freaking gold mine. Here are some screen shots I took:

NOBs

• Two of the American players shown in the movie, Steve Ontiveros and Terry Whitfield, have surnames that are difficult for Japanese people to pronounce, so they are simply marketed by their team as Steve and Terry, and that’s what they wear on their backs:

• At one point the movie shows the great Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh (already retired and serving as a coach by the time this documentary was shot), including a good view of his massive-lettered NOB:

• Rear uni views shown throughout the documentary suggest that it was standard practice for short NOBs to be rendered in large letters, with longer NOBs executed in smaller letters:

This is similar to how the bumblebee-era Pirates handled their NOBs. And their uniforms at the time were made by Descente, a Japanese company. It all makes sense now!

Umpires

• I ran this screen shot in the Ticker a while ago, but it’s worth showing again — an umpire wearing eye black! Never seen that before:

• Something else I’ve never seen before: an ump wearing a shirt with a contrast-colored yoke!

In the Stands

There are some good shots of vendors wearing interesting uniforms as they roam through the crowd, and also a good view of the Chunichi Dragons’ costumed mascot:

Carter

• Carter makes several promotional appearances in his then-current Expos uniforms — sometimes home, sometimes road. He had an Expos hat with him but apparently neglected to bring his helmet, because at one point they show him participating in a home run derby while wearing his Expos uni and a Seibu Lions helmet:

• Carter also appears as a guest star in a Japanese samurai movie and gets the full makeup treatment. Believe it or not, this is him:

Miscellaneous Stuff

• At one point they show a team taking batting practice. The first weird thing about it is that there’s a catcher. The second weird thing is that the catcher is sitting on a little wooden stool. And the third weird thing is that the batter has no uni number! Dig:

• A scene of a youth league game shows the kids wearing number placards pinned or taped to the back of their jerseys:

• There’s a bit where Carter visits a Mizuno baseball glove factory. They show him the latest innovation they’re working on — a push-button pitch-sign system that allows a pitcher and catcher to communicate electronically. I guess that one never quite got off the drawing board:

• At one point they show Carter taking part in a photo shoot, and one of the photographers is wearing a United Press International cap. Never seen that before!

• During an autograph session, someone hands Carter a ticket to the 1982 Japan Series, which was then in progress. Nice ticket design:

• It’s hard to see in this screen shot, but after a player hits a home run and rounds the bases, a girl rushes out and hands him a bouquet of flowers as he trots back to the dugout:

———

There’s more — a lot more — but that should be enough to give you the basic idea. You can watch the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, the more music-savvy among you may already have guessed the inspiration for today’s headline. Here it is:

(Arigato to Dustin Meador for bringing this great bit of archival TV to my attention.)

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Clemente Day update: It had already been announced last week that the Pirates would celebrated Roberto Clemente Day tomorrow by having all uniformed personnel wear No. 21.

On Sunday night ESPN reported that, in addition, all Puerto Rican-born MLB players (there are currently only 20 of them) will be permitted to wear No. 21. Since three of those players — Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario and pitcher José Berríos — play for teams that have off-days scheduled for tomorrow, those players will be able to wear No. 21 today.

Moreover, all MLB players will have the option to wear a No. 21 patch.

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Click to enlarge

Alphabet city: Amazing moment in Saturday’s Rangers/Mariners game, as Seattle baserunner Dee Strange-Gordon (who recently changed his surname to honor his late mother) and Texas third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa found themselves standing next to each other. Two players with hyphenated NOBs, and both wearing No. 9!

Surprising that the M’s are using such large NOB lettering for Strange-Gordon instead of using a compressed version of the font. His NOB is reaching Saltalamacchian proportions. Here’s how it looks on his green and navy jerseys:

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Men of steal: Who’s that in the Expos uniform? None other than the great Lou Brock, who was working as a spring training baserunning coach for the ’Spos in 1993. The gent next to him is fellow base-stealing pioneer Maury Wills, who was serving in a similar capacity for the Mets that spring.

As you’re probably aware, Brock died over the weekend. I hadn’t been aware that he’d ever coached for the Expos until I read about it in one of his obituaries, so I went looking for a photo and found the one shown above.

Brock had similar spring training gigs with the Twins in 1987 and the Dodgers in 1988. Here’s a shot of him in a Twins uni — not a great photo, but better than nothing (that’s Brock at far-right; click to enlarge):

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a photo of Brock from his 1988 spring stint with the Dodgers. Anyone..?

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ITEM! Color Remix T-shirt launch: A few weeks ago I told you how I was partnering with designer Bryan Molloy on a new project called Uni Watch Color Remix, which will be a series of caps featuring our winged stirrup logo in new color combos (if you missed the announcement, you can check it out here).

The first batch of caps will launch sometime next week, but many of you said that you’d like to see T-shirts included as well, so I’ve gone ahead and set those up for purchase. Here are the first four designs:

Not bad, right? Here’s where you can order the black/yellow, royal/orange, navy/red, and red/navy versions. And for the rest of today, you can save 10% by using the checkout code LABORDAY. (I’ll have more to say about that discount code further down in today’s post.)

The corresponding four caps will be available next week, and then we’ll roll out shirts and caps for three or four new color combos next month, and another three or four in November, and so on.

All of the shirts will remain available indefinitely in our Teespring shop; the caps will be available on Bryan’s website for one-month windows, although we’ll probably bring back the most popular ones. Thanks for your interest!

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ITEM! Discount for Uni Watch readers: The new ninth edition of Bill Henderson’s Game Worn Guide to MLB Jerseys — an essential resource that I find myself referring to literally almost every day — is out now, and Bill is very generously offering a big discount to Uni Watch readers.

If you use this link anytime from now through this Sunday, Sept. 13, you can get the guide for $24.99, instead of the price of $45.95.

I don’t receive any royalty or affiliate fee on any of these sales. My only stake in this is promoting a great uni-related product that I strongly believe in. Take advantage of this great discount while you can!

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And speaking of discounts…: In case you missed it toward the end of last week, Teespring is running a 10% discount through midnight tonight. That means you can save 10% on anything and everything in the Uni Watch, Uni Rock, and Naming Wrongs shops, but Uni Watch will still get its full cut of the profits.

To take advantage of this offer, use the checkout code LABORDAY by midnight tonight.

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ITEM! Big free-money raffle: In a very generous move, reader James Mellett has donated a whopping $200 that can be spent on Uni Watch merchandise. I’m going to raffle it off to two winners, who’ll each get $100 that they can spend on any combination of Uni Watch items.

This will be a two-day raffle. No entry restrictions. To enter send an email to the raffle address by 8pm Eastern tomorrow, Sept. 9. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the winner of last Friday’s key ring raffle is Carl Schultz. Congrats to him, and thanks again to Christian Berumen for sponsoring that one.

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Click to enlarge

Uni(on) Watch: Yesterday was Labor Day, so this vintage jersey from my collection felt like the appropriate thing to wear. (Photos by the Tugboat Captain.)

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Sorry, no Ticker today, as the entire Uni Watch team had yesterday off. The Ticker will return tomorrow.

Also tomorrow: The annual Uni Watch NFL Season Preview! See you then. — Paul

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46 comments to Discovering Japan: 1982 TV Show Hits NPB Uni Jackpot

  • Dustin Meador | September 8, 2020 at 9:00 am |

    Very cool piece! Glad you enjoyed the video. One note, it’s Dustin, not Justin. Thanks!

    • Paul Lukas | September 8, 2020 at 9:05 am |

      D’oh! Fixed. Thanks again, Dustin!!

  • Michael H | September 8, 2020 at 9:05 am |

    Very cool that Lou Brock attends spring training for eventual WS Champs 2 years in a row. I’m sure every team was asking him to come to ST in ’89.

  • Block "O Canada" | September 8, 2020 at 9:07 am |

    Big in Japan by Alphaville came to mind.

  • Dustin | September 8, 2020 at 9:16 am |

    No problem!

    BTW if anyone is interested in watching NPB, the Pacific League broadcasts on a free sports channel called FTF (For the Fans). Finding NPB legitimately is difficult.

  • Ron Ruelle | September 8, 2020 at 9:39 am |

    No mention of Lou Brock’s greatest contribution to baseball aesthetics, the Brockabrella? Here’s an image of him wearing one while throwing out a first pitch! https://diamonddiariesdotnet.wordpress.com/tag/lou-brock/

    • Paul Lukas | September 8, 2020 at 9:42 am |

      Ah, great call!!

  • gashouseILM | September 8, 2020 at 9:45 am |

    With the American players using their first names for NOB, I wonder if that was the origin for Ichiro using his first name for NOB even though Suzuki is a name familiar to Americans.

    Today was one of my favorite UniWatch posts. Miscellaneous Stuff and the BP catcher on the stool was great and an added bonus was the kid with the placard number. Good stuff.

    • Paul Lukas | September 8, 2020 at 9:49 am |

      Glad you liked today’s post, Kevin!

      As for Ichiro: Nope, that’s not why! When he was in the Japanese minors, he was on a team with three different players surnamed Suzuki, so they all just wore their first names. He kept doing that when he reached the Japanese majors, and then requested and received permission to keep doing it when he jumped over to MLB.

    • Mark in Shiga | September 9, 2020 at 12:49 am |

      There have been quite a few import players who have used not just first names but also nicknames on their Japanese teams, both in the box scores and their jersey NOBs. Boomer Wells did it; Australian Dave Nilsson went by “Dingo” and Brad “The Animal” Lesley had “Animal” on his back.

      Here’s a Japanese-language article about some of these players with some more photos just like the ones featured in today’s story: http://column.sp.baseball.findfriends.jp/?pid=column_detail&id=097-20200111-12

  • Mike Wissman | September 8, 2020 at 9:46 am |

    Vendors at Japanese baseball games still wear interesting uniforms, each unique to their product. Was awesome to see when I caught a Giants game at Tokyo Dome last summer—wish I had taken some good photos.

  • TIm | September 8, 2020 at 10:13 am |

    Hi Paul, quick question re the winged stirrup logo shirts and sweatshirts. I’ve seen several photos of folks who ordered them, and in each it looks to me like the logo isn’t centered properly, or perhaps the form of the logo makes it appear that way. To my eyes, what I’ve seen is that the foot appears to be too far to one side (looking at it straight on, too far to the right). Have any purchasers provided any such feedback?

    • Paul Lukas | September 8, 2020 at 10:23 am |

      No purchaser has complained, but a few observers like yourself noted it. It’s because if the winged stirrup is truly centered, it doesn’t appear *optically* centered, due to the odd shape of the design.

      We had already accounted for this on our caps (the logo has always been slightly off-center so it appears optically centered), but I initially neglected to do this with the winged stirrup shirts. I’ve now adjusted logo positioning on the shirts with the standard green/yellow logo (I made the fix about two weeks ago), and all the Color Remix products have, and will continue to have, the optically centered treatment.

      The thumbnails shown on the site today show the proper optical centering, and the products should print that way as well.

      Hope that helps! If you have other questions, feel free to ask.

  • Tim | September 8, 2020 at 10:42 am |

    Mariners used 4 different uniform combos in 4 days against the Rangers over the weekend

    Friday – NW Green Top with white pants
    Saturday – All white home set
    Sunday – Cream/Royal/Yellow home alternate
    Monday – Road Blue top with white pants

    • Rusty Shackleford | September 12, 2020 at 11:19 pm |

      Sunday – Essentially Pilots’ unis; I’m surprised they haven’t put the “scrambled eggs” on the caps and helmets.

    • Rusty Shackleford | September 12, 2020 at 11:40 pm |

      As an infrequent reader/commenter of Uni-Watch, I appreciate the discount being offered for Bill Henderson’s MLB uniform history.

      Somewhere I have a first edition of Marc Okkonen’s Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century; I love that book.

  • Jeff Ash | September 8, 2020 at 11:03 am |

    I’ve always referred to those long NOBs as a Rabarkewit, honoring early ’70s MLB infielder Billy Grabarkewitz. His NOB was said to be so long that it disappeared into his armpits, and all you could see was “RABARKEWIT.”

    • Tim | September 8, 2020 at 12:03 pm |

      Big plus for the Billy G. Reference

    • Ron Ruelle | September 8, 2020 at 3:06 pm |

      ‘Rabarkewit’ needs to become canon in uni-terminology.

  • Jeff Ash | September 8, 2020 at 11:04 am |

    Also, +1 for the Graham Parker reference.

    • sandy | September 8, 2020 at 3:23 pm |

      Definitely gave me a big smile at the end!

      Read the headline & immediately heard the song in my head. Was a big Graham Parker & the Rumour fan back in the day.

      So that was a neat surprise at the end of the article. :)

      Thank you Paul.

  • Aled Thomas | September 8, 2020 at 11:12 am |

    Will the colour swap caps be available for shipping to the UK? It looks like Teespring are happy to do so, but the caps are sold through a different site

    • Paul Lukas | September 8, 2020 at 11:19 am |

      Should be, yes.

  • Aled Thomas | September 8, 2020 at 11:16 am |

    Re: no number on batting practice jersey.

    Excuse my Brit ignorance, but why would you need a number?

    Soccer, rugby etc players don’t wear a number in training over here.

    Their kit might have their initials on to avoid it getting mixed up in the wash – but they wouldn’t wear a number, they’re only needed for information during actual games, I’d have thought

    • Paul Lukas | September 8, 2020 at 11:22 am |

      You may not need one, but they’re standard for American BP/training jerseys. Didn’t realize that wasn’t the case in the UK. Maybe not in Japan either!

    • Mike Engle | September 8, 2020 at 12:16 pm |

      Yes, players’ numbers on practice equipment is quite standard here in USA. Every culture has different norms, but I bet we do it this way here because if we used initials on practice shirts, “GS” could be Giancarlo Stanton or Gary Sanchez…that’s horribly confusing because these are real life current teammates on the Yankees. But no matter how many GS players you have, you have unique numbers, so #24’s laundry is obviously not #27’s laundry.
      Now if you want to get cynical, numbers on practice jerseys are useful for management because if the players insist on wearing practice gear to the game as a slump-buster, cha-ching! Practice gear is now a rare game jersey of a seldom-used variety, which can be sold to collectors.

    • Jamie Rathjen | September 8, 2020 at 1:29 pm |

      I’ve seen soccer players wear numbers in training on both shirts and jackets, usually small ones like that. Numbers seem to be much more common than initials (except for coaches, who obviously don’t have numbers).

      • Aled Thomas | September 9, 2020 at 2:24 am |

        Yes, fair enough. This seems common now.

        Guessing it came in with squad numbers.

        the broader point still stands, though, the number on training kit is to identify whise clothes they are, rather than a big number to identify the player

  • Mike Engle | September 8, 2020 at 12:25 pm |

    Dee Strange-Gordon. How do I say this delicately? I’ll say up top, that is his literally legal last name and he should absolutely be entitled to wear it. I don’t recall if “just Gordon” was a stage name or if it used to be his now-out-of-date government name. Doesn’t matter anymore. But holy cow, as applied to Mr. Strange-Gordon, that just doesn’t look good. Sorry! It makes me crave NNOB as a more widespread practice. And teams should absolutely have a condensed font variant.

    • Tim | September 8, 2020 at 12:44 pm |

      He’s always signed his autograph as “Strange-Gordon”. He made a statement about it during the local broadcasts as having some issue with MLB “allowing” him to make the change. Makes me wonder what other arcane rules MLB still uses….

      • Mike Engle | September 8, 2020 at 1:18 pm |

        That’s interesting. I’m not aware of this interview or any previous circumstances. But if we take all of this as true, it makes it weirder. If Strange-Gordon was the last name all along, it should have been on his back as such all along. I would probably still say it doesn’t look attractive (a straight dash on a radial arch can’t help but look off kilter, whereas it would be parallel if the name were straight or VAL, or else moot if NNOB), but ugly and correct can coexist.
        My other example of a strange, probably rule-breaking NOB occurrence is for a brief amount of time, Russell Martin was allowed to carry a jersey NOB of “J. Martin.” J is for Jeanson, his deceased mother’s maiden name which is also a legal middle name of his. (Full name according to Wikipedia: Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin.) I can’t think of a good reason why this was allowed…the sympathetic human in me can understand how nobody wants to be the asshole who denies a tribute to Mom, but the principled bureaucrat in me thinks that rules should be applied uniformly.

      • gashouseILM | September 8, 2020 at 2:31 pm |

        If Strange-Gordon has had such an issue, one has to speculate that extra concessions were extended to Ichiro. Wonder why? Star power?

        • Mike Engle | September 8, 2020 at 3:43 pm |

          Ichiro had star power in Japan in a way MLB had never seen before (plucking a Japanese import out of the Nippon League, and also Ichiro was a non-pitcher) and got special permission from Day One of his MLB career and parallel union membership to wear First Name on Back and never changed from that. Slight “apples and oranges” when compared to a name change, I think.

        • Mark in Shiga | September 9, 2020 at 1:05 am |

          Vida Blue got permission to wear his first name also, and plenty of Oakland and Atlanta players did a few decades earlier. Ichiro isn’t without precedent.

        • Paul Lukas | September 9, 2020 at 7:36 am |

          It wasn’t so much that Blue or other early FiNOB players “got permission” — the teams simply did whatever they wanted. NOBs in those days were a free-for-all, with no standardization.

  • Mike Engle | September 8, 2020 at 2:01 pm |

    Something else that’s interesting among the Gary Carter screen grabs Paul got: Gary Carter’s borrowed Seibu Lions helmet has an ear flap. I just did a quick Google Images search, and aside from a few isolated times with a Mets helmet, Carter batted with a flapless hard hat. Contrast, Carter is an Expo in 80’s style racing stripes here, thus predating his Mets tenure. He clearly had “his regular Expos batting helmet” with him, because that’s literally what he would wear in the field (turned backwards for his mask, of course). Is there something in Japan’s rules that made him take an ear flap?

  • Milorad V | September 8, 2020 at 2:01 pm |

    There is a kind of delightful insanity to the horseshoe of Strange-Gordon…at least, in the beginning. Then it wears off.
    My, God, the Mariners are due for a makeover…
    Also, seeing that elegant pic of Clemente makes me, as others have mentioned, long for NNOB days. And that wonderful dull mustard yellow of that Pirates era.

  • Popguy NYC | September 8, 2020 at 2:05 pm |

    Always nice to see a Graham Parker reference- thanks for the video link as well.

  • Le Cracquere | September 8, 2020 at 2:29 pm |

    I’m not very steeped in Japanese baseball history, but am struck by how consistently American-looking their unis are. Has any pro team ever used kanji or kana on the jersey front or on their caps, instead of Latin letters?

    • Ron Ruelle | September 8, 2020 at 3:34 pm |

      The American look of their uniforms may be a reflection of the origins of Japanese anime culture. If you look at cartoons like “Speed Racer” from the 1960s, the characters and architecture look very American. Supposedly this came from American GIs leaving comic books behind and those being discovered by Japanese kids. Japan had a thriving comics culture back then, but these influences created an entirely different aesthetic that rippled through some of the Japanese culture over the next few decades.All of which results in “NO CARP NO LIFE” being the greatest sports rally cry of all time.
      https://www.sa-works.com/?cn=100404

    • Mark in Shiga | September 9, 2020 at 12:57 am |

      Japanese baseball has always used English writing on the uniforms. The Tokyo Giants’ predecessors used Japanese numerals in the beginning, as seen in this famous picture, but they switched when American fans watching their US tour couldn’t read them.

      During WWII when English became the language of the enemy, there were uniforms with Japanese team names, then they went to military-like uniforms with no numbers on the backs. After the war the US style came back.

      High school teams use Japanese writing on the fronts all the time, but the numbers on the backs are in Western digits, almost always corresponding to the player’s position with 10 and up being substitutes, and are not permanent; they are Velcroed on before each tournament depending on which members of the team are participating. Many a high school boy will be on the baseball team but never be issued a number.

  • John F. | September 8, 2020 at 3:34 pm |

    Paul,
    Love the Teamsters Local 507 jersey (except for mob-connected Jackie Presser’s name on it).

    • pedro | September 9, 2020 at 12:58 pm |

      Hey now, Harold Friedman was no angel himself.

  • Steve D | September 8, 2020 at 8:05 pm |

    Rear uni views shown throughout the documentary suggest that it was standard practice for short NOBs to be rendered in large letters, with longer NOBs executed in smaller letters

    The Knicks used to do that with their hand-cut vertical arching in the late 60s through late 70s and again in the mid 80s. Those jerseys were perfect.

    https://greyflannelauctions.com/1973_1974_willis_reed_new_york_knicks_game_used_ho-lot19524.aspx