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Before Fanatics: The Property Of/Baseball Club T-shirt

I’m back with UW stalwart Walter Helfer today, who will be sharing his latest project (although I believe these drawings are not so new, as you’ll soon see).

Walter’s work has been featured on UW many times, including — but not limited to — NBA Tournament uniforms (Part I, Part II and Part III), City Connect concepts, as well as MLB uni ads. Paul also had a full-blown interview and slideshow of Walter’s childhood artwork. And those are just his drawings. His musings have also been featured numerous other times, including most recently when he did a deep dive on the Fleur de lis.

This next set is a bit smaller, but no less impressive — Walter created five “Property of” baseball shirts. You’ve probably seen them, at least in some form. I recall as a youngster having a “Property of NY Giants” t-shirt, which looked something like this (although mine was a t-shirt, not a hoodie).

So when I saw Walter’s concepts, I was definitely taken back to my childhood. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Walter here…

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Before Fanatics: the Property of/Baseball Club T-shirt
by Walter Helfer

Come with me now on a trip back in time when team souvenirs were a mom-and-pop industry. My first baseball accessory was a a red wool jacket with 6 felt baseballs stitched on the front. If I remember correctly, the teams were the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants. My memory might be fuzzy; I was five at the time.

My conversion from disinterested teen to sports apparel consumer occurred in 1977, before the marketing of souvenirs turned into the juggernaut it is today. No focus groups were involved, and nobody questioned the sanity of a team owner who wanted to put his squad in brown uniforms. If you wore a baseball cap, it meant you were a baseball player, and you were probably holding a baseball glove at the time. Should you be so motivated to buy the cap of a out-of-town team, it was usually a cheap wool hat with an elastic strap, a leather sweatband, and the the team logo applied to a patch which was then sewn to the front. They were laughable then, but what would I give to have a complete set now, resplendent with moth holes.

The t-shirt to have was what I called a “Twins Enterprises” shirt, after the gift shop facing Fenway Park. Fans in other cities might have called them “Manny’s Baseball Land Shirts” or “Renata Galasso Shirts”. My eyes must have been the size of dinner plates, the time I came off the street and saw all 26 teams represented with their own shirts. With their Varsity Block lettering and grey heather fabric, they were the coin of the realm for the 1977 fan. I bought quite a few (San Francisco and Texas stand out in my mind) and wore them all until light could pass through them. Here I’ve included the five teams that didn’t exist after the “Property of/Baseball Team” shirt passed from the scene, and tried to be true to their DIY spirit.

Tampa Bay





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Thanks, Walter — and thanks for sharing more of your artwork!

Readers — what say you? Growing up — or even now — did/do you have a “Property of” shirt, hoodie or jersey? I know these still exist, but should they make an even bigger comeback?

If you’ve never owned one, would you if you could?

Fire away!

Comments (37)

    I had that red jacket, too! I think your are spot-on for the teams.

    I’ve never totally understood the “Property of” concept. Is it saying that the item of clothing is the “property of” whatever team, or that the wearer is the “property?” As in, “I’m a Steelers fan, I’m wearing this shirt, so I’m the property of the Steelers.”

    As odd as that is to me, it’s no more odd than the concept of labeling clothing with “Property of Team ABC.” Why? So that Team XYZ doesn’t steal your t shirt?

    I think this was something that was done with practice clothing.

    If you played for a team, you would wear your civvies to the ballpark and then change into a boring grey t-shirt and shorts that said “Property of Green Bay Packers,” or “Property of Notre Dame Football” in block lettering on the front, with the size marked on the front as well to make fitting easy. Then, at the end of practice you would toss your practice clothes into a hamper, put on your civvies again and head out.

    So I think it was a way that the teams could keep people from walking off with practice clothes.

    I am pretty sure the “Property Of” came from schools, esp High Schools/Colleges, which derived from the prep boarding schools, which in turn derived from UK “Public” (aka our private) school sportswear traditions. Not saying the UK had these shirts first or at all, but most but most classic sportswear trends (polos, henleys, etc) trace back like that in an evolutionary sense.

    So the HS had “gym class uniforms” work but not kept, washed by staff after class, etc., and those were marked “Property Of” so kids didn’t steal them. College sports teams did the same, eventually professional clubs. But that just makes kids/players want to steal them or keep them or stretch the limits of where they wear them. If you wore one of those outside of practice/training, or in a fetching yearbook photo, you were clearly part of the “elite” team. That membership, (Oh you play on the team?”), or adjacency to that group (“No I’m not on the team but my friend…”) is desirable, so people want those clothes….

    Status by identity or proximity to and/or imitation. Natural, as old as time. “You look like the kind of guy who would play for the Phillies”, etc…So that becomes synonymous with sportswear, and eventualky replica sportswear is a thing and looks the same.

    Very well said! My thoughts, exactly. Our track gear in high school had the school name and a number on the jersey (in a sport where we didn’t have numbers), and warmup sweats. And yes, I wanted to take the sweatshirt as my senior souvenir …but couldn’t. In college we had to check out our uniform and warmups and return them at the end of each season. Somehow my college uniform and gear ended up in my drawers years later. Not sure who put it there. :D

    I always took it to mean that the shirt was from the team’s own supply and by owning one it implied you were an insider connected to the club, owning something not anyone could have – even though everyone knew it was a retail shirt anyone could own and we all knew it. But it still had that cool factor to it regardless.

    Fantastic, Walter! In the last couple of months I’ve made a few new versions of shirts I had as a kid (Mid 80’s, early 90’s). I haven’t done a “Property of” yet. I may have to do one now!

    I am ashamed in admitting this again, but growing up, my older brother went to NY to visit my aunts. I asked him to bring back a Yankees hat. He brought me a “Property of New York Yankees” hat. Uuugh. Gross. I’m gonna visit my mom and look through her photo albums. I’m sure she still has a pic.

    I had at least one, maybe two “Property of” ESPN shirts from visits to ESPN Zone in New York.

    This photo is from 2008 (if you can’t tell by my hair):

    My biggest regret was tossing out my old LL baseball caps. They were the wool with elastic backing. Our team changed shades of blue from one season to the next so I had a royal blue and then a navy one. At some point in high school or early college days I was cleaning out my closet and just decided I didn’t need them anymore. By the time my little brother came along the league had switched to poly snapbacks.

    I had several Property Of tee shirts like the ones you described…thinking I had O’s, Red Sox, Expos. This was the era before Fanatics, of course, and we would get our team gear mostly from trips to Cooperstown, a little more than 3 hours of where I grew up in Rochester, NY. As I recall, the HOF had a decent shop, but the real fan store was FR Woods House of Baseball, a few doors down from the Hall. Woods was also the only place at the time where you could get authentic New Era or Roman caps. Woods still exists, but there’s now a plethora of baseball stores in Cooperstown.

    Love this. Twins Enterprises became ’47. ’47 is doing a good job of slowly re-introducing larger graphic, vintage fan t-shirt styles

    With these “Property of” shirts, I have always wondered if the claim was that the shirt was property of the displayed team, or that the person wearing the shirt claimed they were property of the displayed team?

    The thing that always bothered me was the aggrandizing sizing oval in the middle of the design, which pegged you as XXL no matter how much of a pipsqueak you are.

    Yeah, the size, and the “Property of” which made it seem as if you stole this from the team, were why I didn’t really get into these shirts as a kid.
    But man, I’d wear that Marlins shirt!

    I usually ignore all these “concept” redesigns and such, but I think these tee shirts are really good!

    Since the Guardians didn’t exist back then either, maybe we could see what Walter could come up with for them.

    I remember having Property Of with the Mets ball logo in the early 70s. I think mine came with iron on transfers and my mom put my name and 41 on the back. I never knew what property of meant, I assume it meant I am property of the franchise. The wording harkens to a time before free agency when you were almost literally property.

    It’s very handy to have a big collection of lettering stencils and Sharpies in a few colors.

    I used to pay close attention to the different NFL t shirts I would see in locker rooms, I never saw one that said property of though. I was in the Chargers locker room in 1972,73 and 1977, they wore two different t shirts at the same time, some were gray that said San Diego Chargers and some were white and had the white helmet with a single bar facemask and no words, they were very cool looking, and you couldn’t buy them in a store. I asked Ron Waller if he would bring me one for Christmas, but I am still waiting for that one.
    The Philadelphia Bell had a lot of guys who played in the NFL and Ron Waller didn’t have a rule about wearing other teams t shirts in the locker room. I saw the Houston Oilers and one guy wore a Bengals shirt that just said Bengals in black on it, very plain looking. I saw NY Jets that just had the Jets logo, small on the tope side of the chest and I saw the Chiefs that was white with red Kansas City Chiefs arched in red. I actually got one of the KC shirts in 1977 when Ron Waller scouted for them. My father had several Philadelphia Eagles shirts that he wore from 1971 but by the time the WFL came along they were worn out, so he just wore the team issued Bell shirts. The shirts had one color printing, since these were not for retail sale there was no reason to spend extra money on the printing.

    i loved those shirts and always assumed it meant the shirt was property of the team – like it was stolen geat not merch… not that I was their property, but I was wearing their property.

    The origin of the “property of” and even “XXL” merch lines would be interesting. It seems it was designed after team branded merch that would be given to players to work out in. At some point they decided to make replicas to sell? Might be a fun rabbit hole to find out who made that decision and why.

    When I was in college in the 80’s, the bookstore sold all the t shirts with a seal on it as XXL, not matter what the true size was. I always thought it looked weird when you would see a small guy walking around campus who wore a small or medium with XXL on the shirt. When I used to fold the t shirts for the Bell equipment manager, the cubicles that they would keep them in had L XL and XXL. I would look at the seal to see the size then fold it and put it into the correct cubicle. If there wasn’t a size seal and I had to look at the tag in the neck it would have taken forever to get them back in, sometimes you couldn’t see the size because the tag was so washed out. So the size seal really served a purpose.

    I never had the “Property of” shirts, but I did have an almost full set of “departed teams” t-shirts from the 1980s.

    these shirts were grey, with the city name in varsity block on the top line and the team name in script on the line below. The lettering was two-tone (blue with white outline for the dodgers, for instance, blue with red outline for phila. a’s) and the shirts didn’t carry any other ornamentation *except* for the boston braves shirt, which had a tomahawk.

    but I really miss those, and would love a full set again. I believe that starter made them at one point, and occasionally, i will see them on ebay, but they are hard to search for.

    Awesome artwork, Walter!
    Can’t recall ever owning a Property Of anything…but I’d consider buying that FLORIDA Marlins number!

    I love this Walt, thank you. As an 80s kid who spent my paper route money on Manny’s Baseball Land and Detroit Athletic Co. swag, I absolutely had “Property Of…” shirts.

    But like others here, I want the real deal, that worn pre-Swoosh and Majestic MLB standardization. I have a few 1980s (?) Champion Detroit Tigers’ t-shirts and sweatshirts with excellent block lettering “Detroit Tigers” with Detroit arched over Tigers. Love it.

    Oh, and Fanatics is the worst .

    “Property of New York Giants”. My father went to a business trip to New York and got me a grey sweatshirt with the Giants Helmet mark. That was in mid 70s, I had just moved in to Houston as an elemetary school kid. I recall one of the other kids teased me, “I would understand if it was baseball Giants, but fooball?”

    I’m handy with photoshop and have my own heat press so I design and print my own shirts and have a “Properly Of” template that I use for one style of design and have made myself several of these. I can put a shirt together for $4.50, so it’s pretty cost effective doing a British soccer team shirt when buying one from them is over $20 just for the shipping from Europe and probably $30 for the shirt.

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