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A Uni Watch Look at Willie Mays

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Good Thursday morning, Uni Watchers. I hope everyone had a pleasant Juneteenth.

It isn’t often we lose two players who were arguably the best in their sport, and after their playing days were over, ambassadors for the game within one week of each other. But that was the case last week with NBA great Jerry West, and two days ago, MLB icon Willie Mays. Reader/contributor Steve Dodell asked if he could do the “UW Look” at West, and he’s back again today, this time remembering the life and uniforms of the Say Hey Kid. ICYMI, yesterday the Giants announced the team will be wearing a “24 MAYS” patch in Willie’s honor/memory.

Here’s Steve with …

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A Uni Watch Look at Willie Mays
by Steve Dodell

Less than one week after we lost one of the greatest NBA legends and league logo Jerry West, we have now lost who many almost every expert says is THE GOAT in baseball, Willie Mays, the “Say Hey” kid. Even more poignant is that it comes the week of Juneteenth and this week’s Rickwood Game that will celebrate the Negro Leagues and was practically going to be an homage to Willie even before his death. Willie announced days ago that he could not attend, but now he will surely be watching over. Willie wasn’t the MLB logo, though maybe he should have been. It is certain that his stature warrants a Uni Watch look back at his life.

Willie was only 17 when began playing in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons in Rickwood Field. He played there from 1948-1950 and here is a nice color shot of him.

As baseball slowly became integrated, Willie started 1951 playing for the Minneapolis Millers, whose jersey was modeled off their parent club, the New York Giants. He wore number 28.

One of his Miller jerseys was appraised for $60-80,000 a few years ago, but that seems lowball to me. It’s Willie Freakin’ Mays.

Willie joined the New York Giants in May of 1951. Here he is in their classically beautiful grey flannel road jersey with black and orange graphics, which has NEW YORK in a vertically arched font.

I love a good embroidered patch and in 1951, they wore that patch for the 75th Anniversary of the National League. The Giants home jersey was equally classic with a cap that obviously became the prototype for the Mets.

 

Willie played for the Cangrejeros de Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League after winning the World Series in 1954.

The jersey looked like a Cardinals jersey, except with crabs on bats instead of birds, but in hated Dodger colors!

In 1958, The Giants skipped town to San Francisco. The home jersey stayed the same, but of course a new cap was needed. Here is Willie trying on a version that never made it to the field, thankfully.

On the road, I always loved the SAN FRANCISCO block font, which they have gone back to now.

Willie was traded back to New York in 1972 and played out his career with the Mets, retiring after the 1973 season. The road jersey he wore was similar to the New York Giants, but without the vertical arching. In this shot from the 1973 World Series, you can also see evidence of something you don’t see nowadays…Mays would keep his cap in his back pocket when he was wearing his batting helmet.

While with the Mets, Willie played with The Franchise, Tom Seaver. As a college player at Fresno City College near SF, Tom noticed that Willie never buttoned his top button, so Tom decided to do the same, as Paul discovered several years ago.

Mays was an entertainer at heart. From Wikipedia:

Mays’s flashy style of play stemmed partly from his days in the Negro Leagues. “We were all entertainers,” he said, “and my job was to give the fans something to talk about each game.” Sometimes he would deliberately slip to the ground for catches to make them look tougher than they really were. He wore his cap one size larger than necessary so that it would fly off when he was running the bases or making fielding plays.

In that vein, Willie was also one of the first (if not the first) to have his uniforms custom-tailored for a tight fit that accentuated his physique. Paul’s lede here linked to a custom-tailored Mays jersey.

A few years ago, it dawned on me that there’s an immense number of photos that Willie took with Hank Aaron over the years. I would hazard to guess they must be one of the most (if not the most) photographed opponents in the history of sports. Here is an image that has often confused people, because by the time Aaron got to the Brewers (in the American League at that time), Willie was retired and was a Mets instructor. Then why would they both be together in road jerseys? The answer is, this was taken at the 1976 Hall of Fame Game, a game in which Willie came out of retirement and got a base hit. Note also the Mets sometimes wore pillbox hats that year to celebrate the National League Centennial and wore a ridiculously distorted road script made by Goodman & Sons. Not a great look.

In his later years, Willie returned to his Giants roots and could often be seen wearing a batting practice cap he seemed to love, with a stylized G. Here is a picture of him giving a gift with quite the NOB.

Here he is giving another gift, in the same cap, and wearing an Onassis Knot. What is an Onassis Knot you may ask? Paul, of course, addressed it at the time.

Commenter Mike Engle had a theory on why Willie chose to only wear that specific cap:

Makes sense to me. The Giants, of course, didn’t issue 24 after Mays left, but didn’t retire it until 1983, likely due to the fact that he had been with the Mets after retiring and was then suspended from baseball along with Mickey Mantle by Bowie Kuhn in 1979 for being a paid “ambassador” for the Bally’s Park Place hotel and casino in Atlantic City. The Mets did not issue number 24 to many players after Willie left the organization and surprisingly retired his number two years ago as well.

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Thanks, Steve. Beautiful tribute to the Say Hey Kid.

 

 
  
 

Threads Of Our Game

Got an e-mail yesterday from the great Craig Brown, who runs the fantastic Threads Of Our Game website. If you’re not familiar with it, the primary focus is on pre-1900 baseball uniforms and related ephemera.

He wrote:

Removing ads from uniforms — it happened in 1895

Hello baseball historians,

I think most would agree that the baseball uniform is no place for advertising. Not on batting helmets, not on shirtsleeves, not anywhere. Imagine the iconic Dodgers script someday being replaced by the mark of a corporate sponsor? Ugh, so English Premier League.

However, such an occurrence took place in Minneapolis in 1895. The team’s shirt that year didn’t read “Minneapolis” or ”Millers.” Instead it read like one of the painted signs on the outfield wall. Barnstorming teams of the day, such as the Hop Bitters and Page Fence Giants, pushed products on their shirts — but Minneapolis was a member of the lofty Western League, soon to become the American League. In late May 1895 the ad was removed, but not for reasons you would expect.

To see the uniform and to read more, go here.

Thank you for your time.

Craig

Thanks, Craig! Great work (as always) on this!

See all posts on the Threads feed here.

 

 

Guess the Game from the Uniform


Based on the suggestion of long-time reader/contributor Jimmy Corcoran, we’ve introduced a new “game” on Uni Watch, which is similar to the popular “Guess the Game from the Scoreboard” (GTGFTS), only this one asked readers to identify the game based on the uniforms worn by teams.

Like GTGFTS, readers will be asked to guess the date, location and final score of the game from the clues provided in the photo. Sometimes the game should be somewhat easy to ascertain, while in other instances, it might be quite difficult. There will usually be a visual clue (something odd or unique to one or both of the uniforms) that will make a positive identification of one and only one game possible. Other times, there may be something significant about the game in question, like the last time a particular uniform was ever worn (one of Jimmy’s original suggestions). It’s up to YOU to figure out the game and date.

Today’s GTGFTU comes from Jermain Soldier.

Good luck and please post your guess/answer in the comments below.

 

 

Uni Tweet of the Day

Pretty much…

 

And finally...

…that’s going to do it for the early lede. I will have at least one more post this morning, before I hit the road for a couple hours mid-day. If there’s any breaking uni news I’ll do my level best to have a post up in the later afternoon

Big thanks to Steve Dodell for another great “Uni Watch Look At…” If we can go at least a few months without another, that will be a good thing.

Everyone have a good Thursday, and enjoy the “MLB at Rickwood” game tonight, where the Cardinals and Giants will be in Negro League throwbacks, and the late, great Willie Mays will be feted.

Peace,

PH

Comments (1)

    Willie Mays was my grandfather’s favorite player. It was my grandfather who introduced me to baseball and my love for the San Francisco Giants comes from him. Going to games, you’d sometimes see Willie at the ballpark. Always with a smile on his face. He was the goat. Listening to the Giants broadcaster announcing his passing during the game Tuesday night was heartbreaking.
    I imagine there will be a ton of emotions tonight at Rockwood Field.

    Steve a great work on a great man! Thanks! Willie Mays and his basket catch made many a little leaguer look either cool or fool….you missed catching it and you were on the bench.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Mets retired Willie’s # 24. In fact, it had been percolating for quite a while.

    When Joan Payson traded for Mays, she had promised him that a couple,of years after he retired, the Mets would retire his number. Unfortunately, Mrs. Payson died before she could fulfill that promise.

    It took an inordinate amount of time, but finally Steve Cohen fulfilled Mrs. Payson’s promise. I’m glad that Willie lived long enough to see it.

    The Mets retiring Mays’ 24 was like the Brewers retiring Aaron’s 44. Mays was a huge part of New York baseball long before the Mets existed, as Aaron was a part of Milwaukee baseball before the Brewers came along. Their legacies in each city tower over their short career-closing stints with the new teams.

    The photo is from the Cracker Jack Old Timer’s Game, played on July 19, 1982 at RFK in Washington, DC. Luke Appling is standing next to Mays and hit a home run in that game at age 75.

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    Good call. I was there. By that point the Redskins were the sole tenant at RFK and the original movable seats in LF had been locked in ever since the Senators left for Texas. So they built a “Blue Monster” in Front of the LF stands that was no more than 250’. Which is why Luke Appling was able to reach it at age 75.

    Willie’s early uniforms are things of beauty. Works of art. They scream quality, craftsmanship, and distinction. Miles and miles ahead of Nike’s cheap, disposable sweatshop crap.

    One thing I noticed about old photos of Willie Mays: he almost always has long sleeves on underneath his jersey. I’m sure this had a lot to do with playing in windy and cold Candlestick Park for much of his career, but it definitely is a staple of his overall uniform look through the years.

    100% You don’t see the long undersleeves in pictures from the NY days, or the pic of Willie from Puerto Rico. But having endured many night games at The Stick, I can attest to the need for layers.

    One other uniform he wore was with the 1950 Trenton Giants. It was in Trenton where he got the nickname “Say Hey Kid” from his teammates/and or manager.

    The home jersey was identical to what the New Yorkers wore, but history is a bit lost to exactly what the T-Giants wore on the road. He wore the number 6 in Trenton.

    D’oh! I meant, “Well done, Steve,” but typed “Phil” instead! Steve, you deserve the credit for this great bit of research and excellent writing. Phil, you deserve credit for being the editor who brought it to us. Thanks to you both!

    This one was all Steve (although I kinda did reach out to him). But thanks just the same.

    Thanks guys…but I have read this blog for almost 15 years and all its history, of course mainly from Paul, but all other contributors and commenters and Phil is what has given me the outlet and desire to even express what I have observed about uniforms for my whole life.

    The Giants during those years had multiple number fonts on the back, sometimes at the same time, probably due to different uni manufacturers. I have noticed that from old pictures/films.

    Wasn’t Mays also one of the first players to pull up his stirrups really high, and maybe also have specially-made stirrups that amplified that look?

    One thing I should have mentioned, and my brother reminded me, was that when Mays went to the Mets, Jim Beauchamp gave up number 24 for Willie. I’m sure he had no leg to stand on to try to keep it. they would have cut him, LOL.

    Great stuff, a wonderful article. Love the story about that G hat he wore. I remember the last time the Giants won the World Series they even travelled to NYC (or some of them did, anyaway) to greet old Giants fans still living there.

    The reference to his hat flying off because it was one size too big goes against everything I heard when I was growing up in the ’70s. Almost every other reference confirms that Mays asked for a cap one size too small, ensuring it would come off while he ran. link

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