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A Frank Howard History Mystery (Plus a Very Funny TV Commercial)

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In the wake of Frank Howard’s recent death, lots of photos of him have been circulating, including the one above, which I’d never seen before. It shows Howard celebrating with his Tigers teammates after they clinched the 1972 American League East Division title.

The notable thing, of course, is that Howard’s NOB is vertically arched — a style that the Tigers did not wear that year. In fact, according to Bill Henderson’s jersey guide, the Tigers have never worn vertically arched NOBs.

And yet there’s the photo of Hondo. How can we explain this?

We’ve often seen the opposite situation, where a team with vertically arched lettering (VAL) has a random player or two with radially arched lettering (RAL). That’s because VAL is much trickier and more labor-intensive to execute, so minor league call-ups and midseason trade acquisitions sometimes didn’t get the full VAL treatment from their VAL-clad teams. For example, when Atlanta called up Kelly Johnson from Triple-A in 2005, he initially got a RAL nameplate, even though the rest of the team was wearing VAL. This was common for Atlanta call-ups and trade acquisitions at the time.

Frank Howard, it’s worth noting, was a late-season trade acquisition by the Tigers in 1972 (they traded for him on Aug. 31). But it doesn’t make sense that they’d make him a more labor-intensive VAL NOB if the rest of the team wasn’t wearing that style to begin with.

One thing that occurred to me: Maybe (a) the Tigers acquired Howard while they were on a road trip, and (b) they had a blank home jersey on hand and gave it to the home team’s stitcher so they’d have the jersey ready for Hondo when they got back to Detroit, and (c) the home team used VAL and their stitcher therefore executed the NOB in that style. Seems a bit improbable, but stranger things have happened.

As it turns out, the Tigers were indeed on the road when they acquired Howard — but they were in Oakland, and the A’s were not using VAL at the time. (In fact, they weren’t even using RAL — their NOBs were straight!) So that theory doesn’t pan out.

I emailed Bill Henderson to see if he had any insights. Here’s his response:

For the past couple of years, I also have had this photo in my files, and I’ve been looking for other examples to explain why he would’ve had that lettering style. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer. I have many pictures of the 1972 Tigers in my collected archives, and I don’t see any other examples with a vertical arch. I’ve also restored several jerseys from that season, and they have a normal [radial] NOB. Well, that’s if you can call anything the Tigers did normal, because it looks like they pulled the letters out of some bin of assorted mishmash, because so many different variants of the NOB font appear. It just goes to show that we should expect the unusual from back in those days.

On a whim, I checked to see if Howard’s previous team used vertically arched names, because I thought maybe Wilson [the company that made the Tigers’ uniforms at the time] had already created the lettering pattern and just used what they had on hand when making his Tigers jersey. But his previous team was the Texas Rangers, and they did not use vertical arching.

I also consulted uni designer/historian Todd Radom. His response: “Not a clue!”

Hmmmm. It would be helpful to have some other photos of Howard’s home NOB from that season, just so we could see whether the VAL was a one-time thing. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find such an image. That’s not surprising — Howard appeared in only eight home games during his one month with the 1972 Tigers, and three of those were as a pinch-hitter.

But wait! Howard wasn’t eligible for the postseason that year because he reported to the Tigers after midnight on Aug. 31, but he supported his teammates by serving as the team’s first base coach during the American League playoffs against the A’s. The final three games of that series were in Detroit, and I’ve now spent more time than I’d like to admit poring over video highlights of those games, hoping to catch a glimpse of Howard’s NOB.

I finally hit paydirt in this clip from Game Five. All you have to watch are the first few seconds:

It’s a little blurry, but that’s definitely a vertically arched NOB. Just to confirm it, here’s another screen shot from that same game:

Again, it’s blurry, but you can clearly see that Howard’s NOB is styled differently from batter/runner Bill Freehan’s.

So the jersey Hondo was wearing in the photo at the top of this post was not just a one-time thing — he clearly went VAL on multiple occasions!

This still doesn’t solve the mystery of how or why the VAL NOB ended up on Howard’s jersey, but now at least we know it wasn’t a one-time fluke. Unless we can find any other examples, Frank Howard will go down in history as the only Tiger to wear that lettering style.

Meanwhile: Reader William Yurasko reports that Howard appeared in a Nestlé’s Quik TV commercial in 1971. He wore the his regular Washington Senators uniform for the spot, but for some reason they gave him a comically large “W” logo on his batting helmet:

What the hell were they thinking?

You can watch the commercial here:

(My thanks to Jeff Sak for sending me down the NOB rabbit hole, and to William Yurasko for the Quik commercial.)




Substack Reminder

In case you missed it on Wednesday: For this week’s Uni Watch Premium article over on Substack, I have an interview with designer Eric Bodamer, who was working for Nike when they had to quickly redesign the Jaguars’ number font in the middle of the 1997 preseason. It’s a really interesting story, full of good details.

You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the whole thing, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber to my Substack (which will also get you access to my full Substack archives). My thanks, as always, for your consideration.



Gift Guide Reminder

Don’t look now, but year-end holiday shopping season will soon be upon us, which means I’m about to start work on the 2023 edition of the annual Uni Watch Holiday Gift Guide.

Just to refresh your memory: My gift guide usually avoids the obvious stuff like mass-market jerseys and caps and focuses on more unusual uni- or logo-related products, books about uniforms, uni-related artwork, uni-related jewelry, and so on.

I already have a bunch of good leads to get me started this year, but I’m always looking for more. So if you know of a product or service that would be a good candidate for inclusion in the gift guide, please let me know ASAP. Self-promotion is fine, so don’t be shy if you yourself are the person behind the product you’re suggesting.

Big thanks in advance for your help!




Can of the Day

Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I think “White Rose” and motor oil just aren’t a good brand/product pairing. Nice design, though.

Comments (27)

    After looking at that Frank Howard photo, the Tigers (at least from 1972) and Red Wings NOB fonts look very, very similar.

    And yet the Tigers were still decades away from any connection to the Red Wings via the same ownership.

    Ah, now *that* is a really interesting idea! Did the Tigers have Howard’s NOB done by the Red Wings’ stitcher?

    A fun theory, but … in 1972, the Red Wings had straight NOBs (and only on the white jerseys): link

    They didn’t switch to vertical arching until 1982.

    Right! And it wasn’t until 1983 when the Red Wings changed to their current font, apparently to match the Tigers! (In theory, of course.)

    Another way the Red Wings connection makes no sense is, why would the Red Wings have navy twill lying around? No chance the Tigers would give anybody else navy twill to make a VAL NOB when they could have done it themselves in that moment.

    Also Paul I came to say, just because he wore that weird jersey multiple times doesn’t mean it’s “not just a one time thing.” Maybe it reinforces the idea that it was a one time thing! The Tigers produced one weird (for them) VAL NOB jersey and they just made Frank Howard keep wearing it because they didn’t feel like producing a correction

    When I said it “wasn’t just a one-time thing,” I meant that he didn’t wear it just one time. It may be (and, indeed, probably is) the same jersey, but he wore it multiple times.

    My first thought when I saw that was, “that’s the same font as the Red Wings,” so glad it wasn’t just me.

    I think the only logical explanation for the VAL is that a substitute person not familiar with the Tiger’s NOB protocol was used to put Howard’s name on the jersey.

    Am I the first to notice that both Howard and fellow Buckeye alumnus John Havlicek were both nicknamed Hondo? They also both played basketball for OSU.
    As for the arching, I think the stitcher was brought in at the last minute and was not aware of the arching style of the rest of the team. Looks beautiful on Howard’s jersey. I have always loved vertical arching.

    “I think the size of that “W” looks just about right.” – Jimmer Vilk

    I just stumbled across this Lelands listing for a Frank Howard game worn ROAD jersey that has VAL – link. So I guess it wasn’t just a home jersey thing.

    In re “White Rose” branding. The small town in which I grew up has a restaurant named The White Rose. It is not, strictly speaking, a greasy spoon. So, I agree that the association of the brand name and motor oil is a bit of cognitive dissonance.

    I just googled 1972 Tigers jersey and guess what came up? A RAL home jersey for Frank.


    It also seems to me that whoever did the VAL for Howard took into account that the Tigers wore a very large NOB font. This makes it doubtful somebody just found some letters somewhere. Also, in VAL, each letter has to be custom angled.

    I do love a Uni Watch investigation. The deep dive is inspiring but you gotta have connections. I’ll be drinking some Quik after watching that commercial.

    “The notable thing, of course, is that Howard’s NOB is vertically arched — a style that the Tigers did not wear that year.”
    Forgive my ignorance, but were (m)any teams using VAL in ’72?
    Cool find … love these rabbit holes!

    I’m not sure if (m)any were using VAL specifically that year, but at least a few had *previously* used it by then. The Orioles come to mind, e.g.: link

    BTW, I love how the Tigers addressed the change to double knits. The traditional home uniform was unchanged. The road was modernized with a pullover, sleeve trim and vertically arched wordmark.

    Hi. The uniform that Hondo is wearing in the commercial is blue pinstriped with Red Senators lettering. That Jersey was used through the 1967 season with a blue cap with red crown stripes and for the regular season beginning in 1968 with a red cap. For spring training in 1969, the nationals wore the red cap and red helmet with the blue pinstriped Red Senators Jersey. But for the regular season the team rolled out non pinstriped cream colored home and gray road with red lettering until the team left for Texas after the 1971 season. Additionally, Hondo is wearing Number 9 in the commercial which was his number pre-Ted Williams becoming manager of the Senators. He switched to number 33 in 1969 so Ted Williams could wear his standard Number 9. Long story short, the Nestle Quik Commercial was shot in Spring Training, 1969 at the latest. Thank you.

    Regarding the commercial. I believe it was shot prior to the 1969 season. Howard wore #9 from ‘65 thru ‘68. When Ted Williams became manager in ‘69, Howard gave up #9 in deference to Williams, who wore the number during his Hall-of-Fame career.

    Jim Schmankel, the current Tigers Equipment Manager who has been with the club for around 40 years, may have some insight or know someone who can solve the mystery? Very curious though as I have never seen vertical arched surnames on the Tigers………Red Wings as mentioned yes, and the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons great teams of the 80s had vertical arched surnames on their warm up tops.

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