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The Hidden Uni Connection Between Willie Mays and Tom Seaver

Willie Mays turned 90 yesterday, so there have been lots of Mays tributes floating around this week. One of them, improbably, taught me about a fascinating uni-related connection between Mays and another all-time great, Tom Seaver.

The tribute in question is this New York Times article about Mays that was published on Wednesday. It was written by James S. Hirsch, who authored a Mays biography 10 years ago. While I was reading the article, this passage jumped out at me:

[Mays] was particularly close to Seaver, who as a college player noticed that Mays didn’t button the top of his jersey, so Seaver never buttoned the top of his.

As a lifelong Mets fan who grew up watching Seaver and caught the tail end of Mays’s career — and who has seen, heard, and read an incalculable amount of information about both players over the years — I was unfamiliar with this storyline. Since Hirsch had written a Mays biography, I figured this tidbit about the buttons was probably mentioned in the book, so I found a searchable version of the bio online, searched on “Seaver,” and sure enough, there it was on page 512 (click to enlarge):

How’s that for a fascinating uniform detail? My next step was to look at photos of Mays. Did he really leave his top button unbuttoned all the time? Yup (click to enlarge):

I had no idea. Of course, leaving the top button unfastened looks completely unremarkable from our modern vantage point, when so many players leave multiple buttons open. But in the 1950s and ’60s, it may have seemed more adventurous, even radical. Was it considered part of the “flashy” style often attributed to Black ballplayers? Did some old-schoolers think Mays was “disrespecting” the uniform and the game, like Buck Showalter thought about Junior Griffey’s backwards BP cap?

Meanwhile, what about Seaver — did he really go unbuttoned as well? I watched him pitch countless times during his career and have viewed a gazillion photos of him over the years, but I never thought anything about his top jersey button. So yesterday I looked at some photos (click to enlarge):

So yeah, Seaver did indeed go top-unbuttoned. I did find a few shots of him with the top button fastened, but those were mostly posed shots, not game photos.

Even better, I found two group shots of the Mets’ 1969 starting pitchers — Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Nolan Ryan, and (in one of the photos) Jim McAndrew. In both photos, Seaver is top-unbuttoned while everyone else — except possibly Koosman — is fully buttoned:

Again, Seaver’s jersey style looks completely ordinary by today’s standards, but maybe that’s not how people viewed it back in the day.

Either way, it’s fascinating to hear that Seaver took his cue from Mays in this regard. What a subtle uni-related tribute! It occurs to me that from 1977 through 1986, Seaver was stuck wearing pullover jerseys with the Reds, Mets, and White Sox. I wonder if it bugged him that he had no top button to leave open.

I don’t mind saying that this feels like the perfect capper to what has been a really great minutiae-obsessive week here on Uni Watch. The ump patches, the Dodger Stadium batter’s boxes, the NOBs with diacritical marks, and now the Mays/Seaver button connection. Peak Uni Watch!

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Squatchee Watch: Twitter-er @PierogiPacMan noticed that Royals starter Danny Duffy’s cap was missing its white squatchee yesterday. I did some quick photo research and discovered that Duffy was also squatchee-free during his two previous starts, on May 1 and April 25, although he was properly squatchee-clad for the start before that, on April 19.

Intriguing! So I asked Royals PR rep Mike Cummings about it. He spoke to Duffy after the game and got back to me with this:

Danny just said that it popped off a couple starts ago because his head is too big, and apparently he’s kept the same cap for those [last few] starts. We’ll see if he changes it up after taking a loss today.

Not sure I’ve ever heard of a squatchee coming off due to an oversized melon, but that’s the official story!

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Who wears short shorts (continued): Twins infielder Nick Gordon made his MLB debut yesterday. As you can see above, he’s the latest MLBer to take high-cuffing to extreme lengths (or maybe lack of length). Here’s how it looked in action:

Gordon has gone up and down, literally, with his pants. He had the super-high-cuffed style in spring training of 2019 but was a full-on pajamist just two months ago, so he’s clearly not wedded to one specific style. Let’s get him in some stirrups!

(My thanks to Ben Hagen for bringing Gordon’s big league debut to my attention.)

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New Uni-Centric Museum Exhibit
By Kary Klismet

If you’re anywhere near Leadville, Colo., this year, you won’t want to miss “Miner Leaguers: Mining and the Great American Pastime,” a new exhibit at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit, which runs through December, explores the important recreational and cultural role that baseball played in mining towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Longtime Uni Watch reader Myles Gallagher, who was the museum’s curator until recently leaving for another position, organized the exhibit. Among its artifacts are painstaking recreations of uniforms worn by legendary mining town baseball teams; playing equipment, including bats, balls, and gloves; and historical photos. Here are some highlights of what you’ll see.

Full disclosure: I contributed a couple of items to the cause and finally got to see them on display, along with the rest of the exhibit, last Saturday. It was well worth the drive from Denver and a fun way to support the work of a fellow uni-watcher. Check it out if you can!

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The Ticker
By Anthony Emerson

Baseball News: Mets OF Kevin Pillar apparently broke or damaged his belt during a head-first slide yesterday, so he took off his belt and finished his tour of the bases belt-less (from @bivlo). … We’ve seen this before, but it’s always fun to see the Sacramento Solons’ 1970s uniforms with shorts (from @dfoliver68). … The Hillsboro Hops, High-A affiliates of the Diamondbacks, have added a memorial patch for Mike Bell, the D-backs’ former farm director who passed away recently (from @therealejgold). … The Lexington County Blowfish, of the collegiate wood bat Coastal Plain League, unveiled new uniforms for the 2021 season (from Kary Klismet). … Kentucky wore flag desecration caps last night against Florida. … The home plate umpire at last night’s LSU/Auburn game was wearing an MLB-branded jersey (from Branden Duerfeldt).

Pro Football News: Patriots RB Brandon Bolden is switching from No. 38 to No. 25. … The Colts have revealed the numbers for their recent draft picks (from Alex Wiggs). … We have our first look at Trevor Lawrence in a full Jaguars uniform, minus the helmet. … The Alphas, a team in the new Spring League, have a player wearing No. 100, and at least one player on each team went NNOB (from Marcus Hall).

College/High School Football News: Georgia Tech’s helmets got the three-stripe treatment for practices (from Mike Raymer). … Virginia Tech will have a new way to dole out uni numbers. Players will get to pick their numbers based on strength and conditioning rankings (from Andrew Cosentino).

Hockey News: Back on Cinco de Mayo, the Sharks wore some amazing warm-up sweaters (from Wade Heidt).

Soccer News: Manchester United’s 2021-22 home kits have leaked, and unlike other major soccer leaks, we actually got some good images (from multiple readers). … Spurs FW Harry Kane has once again purchased Leyton Orient’s kit ad space, and will donate the space to charities (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Also from Jamie, with musician Ed Sheeran now advertising on Ipswich Town’s kits, here’s a list of other musicians who’ve served as kit advertisers.

Grab Bag: Carnival Cruise Lines is updating its livery (from Kenneth Traisman). … The following are all from Kary Klismet: Here’s a piece on how flight attendant uniforms have evolved over the years. … Fast Company has an article about the color-selection process for logos. … A student at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Massachusetts has created the school’s first-ever athletics logo. … Atlanta’s Midtown High School, which recently changed its name to drop its association with the racist newsman Henry W. Grady, has unveiled new logos.

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That’s a wrap for this week. And what a great Uni Watch week it’s been! Hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Stay well, enjoy Phil’s weekend content, and I’ll see you back here on Monday. — Paul

Comments (39)

    What a great week at Uni Watch! Thanks to Paul, the entire team and contributors, for all the great material.

    Proofreading in The Ticker (baseball section): Sacramento’s minor league team was the Solons, not the Salons.

    Virginia Tech will have a new way to dole out uni numbers

    I wonder where they got link

    Mays was the first to have his uniform tailored, leading directly to the tighter-fitting uniforms of the late 60s through the 90s.

    This has been a week for the ages at Uni Watch–awesome work Paul and team!

    I guess I haven’t seen much of the Jags in recent years to notice, but wow, does their 1 seem extra narrow and 6 seem extra wide to anyone else? I get that teen uniform numbers are always going feel a little off because of the size of the 1 compared to other numbers, but Lawrence’s jersey looks extra distorted to me.

    Re: bands sponsoring English kits.

    I’m amazed that a band sponsored a U-13 team at a grammar school. I guess that band (Mogwai) was starving for publicity of any kind.

    This would (should) never happen in the U.S. as the National Federation has rules on what can appear on the front of a shirt. Oddly enough, about 20 years ago, the Bell Multicultural School in Washington, D.C. wore straight-off-the-rack Boca Juniors replicas complete with Pepsi advertising.

    Or they were doing a nice thing? Right from the article.

    Drummer Martin Bulloch had known the school’s deputy head for years and offered to help out when he heard the kids were having to play in old kits, with no funds for new stock.

    Mogwai are probably the second biggest band in Scotland behind Belle and Sebastian, so I don’t think they need publicity. Were Motorhead needing publicity when they sponsored a youth team?

    Mogwai really aren’t the kind of band to do anything just for publicity! The band’s drummer was friends with the school’s deputy headteacher and reached out to offer to replace the old, worn-out kit.

    That kind of thing is fairly common in a lot of British schools – most don’t have seperate budgets for sports teams like in the US, so either have to rely on donations for “non-essential” equiptment like uniforms, or ask the parents to cover the cost. When I was at high school during the early 90s we played in cast-off rugby uniforms until a local business offered to buy us new ones – we were lucky to not have any sponsor ads on our unis, but every other school we played did, either as a large logo on the front of the jersey or on the back in place of the NOB.

    Regarding Brandon Bolden switching from 38 to 25, my first thought was “he’ll look faster now.” The Uni-Watch blog entry about that topic a while back is definitely true!

    I might be out of the loop here, but is Nick Gordon wearing some kind of knee pad under his socks? The biker shorts probably make it easier to notice, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that before.

    I’m really disappointed to see Uni Watch today drifting away from its core mission of monitoring umpire sleeve decoration. Kidding! What a banner week for Uni Watch this has turned out to be. Congrats to Paul and the whole UW team!

    I think the first week of May should be Ump Week at Uni Watch from here on out.

    A fun week of uniwatching, indeed. Thanks to Paul and everyone else who contributed.

    Question about the porchtraits: I see a dog in today’s photo. He or she looks pretty determined to get somewhere. Do you ever get visits with the dogs? Dogs that want to come and say hi.

    We’ve spent a few nights on our front step during all this. We have two dogs so ALL THE DOGS walking by want to come and visit. I was wondering if it was the same for you.

    Yes, the dogs sometimes visit with us, and a few of them have become regulars. We love getting to pet them!

    And then when we come inside, Uni Watch girl mascot Caitlin sniffs us suspiciously because we smell like dog….

    Woof, that Man U jersey is ugly. I’m a guy who doesn’t mind sponsors on soccer jerseys, but the sleeve and the extra logo in the sponsor strip and the paint-by-numbers Adidas detail… Ugh. Man U is capable of so much better, and frankly while I’m not a fan of Adidas doing those unis they are capable of much better, too.

    A long way from the Umbro glory days.

    On Seaver, I wonder if the Henley Mets jerseys were designed with this in mind for him (obviously he never wore them as he literally book ended the era) as the Henley is such unique design choice as only the Mets and Rangers did this with their pullovers

    Look at what l found…scroll down to the middle of the article and you see Seaver in the Mets henley jersey…and it looks like the top button is unbuttoned…


    I’ll ad my voice to the praise for the great content this week! It’s been classic Uni Watch! Today’s piece is no exception. What a fun discovery to find a uni-related connection between two of baseball’s all-time greats!

    I noticed the same thing! Never seen that before on a baseball player. Another rabbit hole for Paul to dive into next week!

    First MLB game I went to was at Dodger Stadium with Sandy Koufax vs the Giants and Willie Mays. Even though the Dodgers were my favorite team, and Koufax my favorite pitcher, Mays was my favorite player. Saw Mays hit a HR off Koufax. Quite an introduction the baseball.

    Whenever I wear a baseball jersey, or really any button-up for that matter, I always leave the top button unbuttoned. Never thought about why, other than my neck being too big for a particular shirt.

    Side note: anyone remember how Eric Byrnes would leave the top TWO unbuttoned and the thing would flap in the breeze?

    I don’t mean this in any way to be a negative comment about the Leadville Blues’ uniforms or their team or players, but unfortunately for them, the uniform on display reminds me more of the uniforms that Holocaust prisoners had to wear at camps such as Auschwitz. An innocent baseball legacy ruined by totalitarianism and genocide.

    Ruined? For whom? You? I mean, okay, too bad for you. But I’d say you’re painting with a pretty broad brush if you assume they’re ruined in some sort of objective or universal sense.

    Those uniforms predate the Holocaust by more than forty years. And similar shirt pattern are still easy to find in contemporary fashion:



    …So I’d say whatever passing similarities there are between the that pattern and the garb that concentration camp prisoners were forced to wear aren’t so strongly associated in the minds of the vast majority of the public to keep it from continuing to be worn on a regular basis. Sorry, but I’m not with you on this one.

    I agree with Brian, my first thought when I saw that photo was how much those uniforms resembled those worn in Nazi slave labor and concentration camps. Especially with the matching striped cap. There are some differences, the prisoners wore matching striped pants while the baseball players appear to have worn white pants and bow ties. But just seeing the shirt and hat without the other elements makes it hard to ignore the similarities.

    Also, I got what Brian meant by “ruined” here. Kind of like how this hockey team’s legacy (as well as nearly any use of the swastika prior to the Nazis adopting it) has kind of been ruined as well:


    I get that Brian wasn’t saying that the uniforms were “ruined” by anything that the Leadville Blues did – that the similarity is an unfortunate byproduct of later events in history. I still think there’s a much stronger correlation between the swastika as a symbol that’s been “ruined” retrospectively than a simple blue and white stiped pattern on certain garments.

    That design, for reasons I mentioned above, does not automatically trigger “Holocaust” for me. But YMMV.

    One more point about the about the Leadville Blues uniforms – the image behind the uniform in the display case appears to be the same one as this:


    In that context, where you can see the players’ pants, belts, ties, and tucked-in shirts, it’s obvious the uniform is distinct from concentration camp garments. I suspect if you were to see the exhibit in person, that wouldn’t have been the first association to jump into your mind.

    Thank you for explaining further what I meant. I guess it jumped out more at me because of my many years of studying that period of history.

    I always left the top button on my jersey unbuttoned when I played (college 20 years ago). I just thought it was was like the top button on a polo or the bottom button on a sport jacket/suit. I remember a number of MLB players doing the same at the time.

    The short shorts thing has gotten out of hand . . . what’s next? A player takes the field wearing a speedo?

    As a life long Mets fan, the Seaver/Mays connection story made my week, that and getting my first C-19 vaccination – feel great!
    Wonderful story, Paul!

    Sacramento Solons. Further proof that stirrups look horrible with shorts.

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