Skip to content
 

Uni Watch Library: “The Sports Immortals” (1972)

Posted in:

Good Sunday morning, everyone! Phil and I are wrapping up our long holiday weekends. His was mostly play (looking forward to his curling updates!), mine was mostly work. I did get to go somewhere yesterday for a bit of fun, which I’ll share with you at the end of today’s post. Right now I want to celebrate a little Christmas in July, by sharing a book I received last December.

Welcome to the Rust Belt branch of the Uni Watch Library. Today we feature a very nice book which was given to me by a very nice UW reader. For the past several years I’ve been corresponding with Brandon Gutierrez from Utah, mostly via Twitter. Two things we have in common: neither of us went to BYU, but we share a love of when the Cougars wear their royal blue unis. Brandon even sent me a BYU Volleyball cap (in navy, but I still wear it), and I sent him a jersey that didn’t make it into Jimmer Claus’ Vilkmas bag. This Christmas I received a surprise package, and a letter which begins, “I got this book cleaning out my wife’s grandmother’s house…gave it a read and thought, you know who would appreciate this? Jim Vilk!” He sure was right! “The Sports Immortals” is a compilation of stories from the writers of the Associated Press, who in 1972 selected their 50 all-time greatest athletes from an impressive range of sports. It has a bit of a Wide World of Sports vibe to it because of the variety, even though it leans heavily into the four major sports.

Brandon’s letter continues with, “Imagine a book like this written today. I don’t think we could expect a single profile written about a jockey, much less two.” Here’s one of them: Eddie Arcaro leading the way at Aqueduct.

__________

__________

Brandon also said, “It’s got great photos from the era. I love looking at the uniforms of bygone ages, from the leather helmets of Bronko Nagurski…

__________

__________

…to Jesse Owens’ track spikes.”

__________

__________

He and I agree that it’s fun to read the styles of Mid-Century journalists. As Brandon puts it, “They take a ‘Just the facts, ma’am’ stance…certainly a far cry from the bombast and hot-take driven styles that drive sports journalism today.”

Anyway, we’re here for the unis, so that means back to the photos. I’ll just highlight a few more of the many great shots in this book, starting with the man widely considered to be the greatest athlete of the first half of (and maybe the entire) 20th century: Wa-Tho-Huk, also known as Jim Thorpe.

__________

__________

And you thought I was going to post a football photo, huh? Some other time…I found a doozy of a pic while researching more about him. I chose this baseball one to show you that even back in Jim’s day, some pre-Nike uniform makers didn’t know how to Respect The Placket. I also was curious about this Lawrence team for which Jim played. Caption after caption during my search gave me basically the same thing that AP wrote: “In this undated file photo, Jim Thorpe poses in a baseball uniform.” But which uniform? I assumed Lawrence, Kansas, and upon further research, I was off by half of the country. After stumbling onto an eBay posting of a newspaper clipping of Thorpe, it turns out he played in Lawrence, Massachusetts. A little more digging shows that he played for this Greater Boston Twilight League team in 1924, long after his glory days as an Olympian, collegiate and professional athlete.

Another baseball player who caused me to do some uni research was Babe Ruth.

__________

__________

Obviously, he’s not in his usual Yankees (or even Red Sox) attire. The U on the sleeve and the S on the cap had me adding “USA” to his name while searching, which gave me a clearer photo of Babe playing in a 1934 tour of Japan.

One more baseball photo, because this one is a real work of art. Phil and I agree that ads don’t belong on uniforms, but on an outfield wall?

__________

__________

At least in this case, I don’t mind! Who knew a house painter could create such a stunning likeness of Henry Aaron!

Okay, back to football. Back in the early ’70s, I wasn’t into just kickers and punters. I was a big fan of Joe Namath.

__________

__________

These photos reminded me of when NFL Films would show him warming up before a game in his green warmup jacket, chewing on some gum. When I was too young for gum, I would take a piece of Mom’s bread dough and keep it in my mouth while I threw the football in the back yard. Also, notice that in the second photo, Joe is wearing someone else’s jacket because there’s a different number on it.

I did say there was a Wide World of Sports vibe here, so let’s branch out some more. There’s a nice photo of helmetless Gordie Howe going against the helmetless Rangers.

__________

__________

What could possibly go wrong there? Don’t click on that if you’re squeamish.

Back to track, here’s Babe Didrikson Zaharias clearing a hurdle.

__________

__________

Other notable women include stylish tennis star Helen Wills Moody…

__________

__________

…and skater Sonja Henie, back when figure skating was done in the great outdoors.

__________

__________

I have to include Phil’s vote for Greatest Basketball Player of All Time, Bill Russell. Check out how far the last period is from the F on his University of San Francisco jersey!

__________

__________

Then there’s Bob Cousy doing the Patrick Ewing undershirt thing before Patrick was even born.

__________

__________

Meanwhile, George Mikan is waiting for the day when someone will make a jersey that properly wicks away moisture. So are we, George…so are we.

__________

__________

I’ll conclude with one of the many golfers in the book: the nattily-attired Ben Hogan.

__________

__________

I would SO wear that outfit! And Ben’s driver is about the size of mine from my 35-year-old set of lefty clubs.

Hopefully you enjoyed the photos as much as I did. I give the book my highest rating. I’d not only read that…I’d buy that. Thanks to Brandon, I don’t have to! If you see this book in your local library, or if you come across it online or in a thrift store, I definitely recommend it.

 

 

 
  
 

Always Uni Watching. Always.

Yesterday, the family and I got away for our annual trip to the Great Lakes Medieval Faire in Ashtabula County, Ohio. The Wife and The Kids like to dress up for the occasion. I would, but it’s usually too hot and I don’t like sunscreen, so I wear a bucket hat, a long sleeve shirt and long pants in light earth tones. That way I stay somewhat cool and not burned, and I almost look like a cross between a peasant and a modern farmer. It beats what I wanted to do, which was make myself a NY/NJ Knights t-shirt. Anyway, after one of the shows we were watching, I saw a kid in a football helmet and jersey.

__________

__________

It was early, I was tired and hot so I said to myself, “Why would a kid wear that to a medieval f… oh, I get it… he’s a Viking”!

__________

__________

Cool Lego shirt on the dad, by the way. My son would wear that. Normally I wouldn’t sneak a photo of a minor, but with his back to me I figured I was okay. A few minutes later I approached the family to applaud them on their ingenuity. The mom had a serious look on her face and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I flash you?” Apparently she had a corset malfunction for a brief moment, but I responded, “To be honest, I didn’t even notice. I was looking at the helmet. Very clever!” Always uni watching, folks. Always.

 

 

 

That's It For Today

Hopefully Phil will be back tonight safe and sound after his curling bonspiel. I’m going to visit Dad before going to work, but I’ll keep my eye on the comments section whenever I can. Take care, and I’ll see you next weekend!

 

 

Comments (12)

    Fun stuff, Jimmer. I love coffee table sports books and have a bookcase full of them. BTW… the Rangers pictured with Geordie Howe are Ron Stewart and Walt Tkaczuk.

    Are there any other hockey players featured in the book? I would think that Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull and possibly a young Bobby Orr would deserve a chapter.

    I am always amazed at how people “grow up” in various generations and cultures. I see pictures of (particularly) baseball and football players from the early/mid 29th century and think “my god life just hit hard back then.” They were mostly playing at the same ages athletes do now, but some of them (Babe, Namath, Thorpe for example) just never looked like young’uns to me. I refer to it as Mick Jagger syndrome, although Mick was far from the original modern day perpetual roughed up old man, he’s just the best example.

    Love seeing any references to Jim Thorpe. In my portfolio I have numerous drawings concerning a college named after him. But extra bumps up for showing him in the uniforms of Lawrence, MA, which is my father’s home town.

    Awesome Jim. I still have a couple like that from my childhood. Books like that, and Sports Illustrated, are where we got our best close up looks at the players (and the uniforms) back in the Stone Age when we only had one TV game per sport per week.

    Hey, I have an idea for you and Phil and all Uni Watchers out there. I’ve watched quite a bit of MLB Network, and I keep wondering about whether the SLOB (small letters on back) are equally small for all teams. I have seen Phil’s Mets a lot and their names are severely shrunken. Also the Phillies’. I just finished the Phillies and Braves and Atlanta’s definitely seemed bigger. I’m watching the Dodgers and Brewers now and they seem OK. I’m also OK with the O’s and Cardinals. I wondered if it was darker trim around lighter letters looking better (BAL, STL) or two-tone versus a single color, but the Pirates’ black with gold trim look good. I suppose this is trivial compared to the terrible gray shirts, but hey, this is Uni Watch! Taking away all individuality (and vertical arching) is bad enough but at least do standardization right! Has anyone else noticed this or is it just me?

    Nothing wrong with running that pic of the kid in Vikings garb, Jim…and nothing wrong with that version of the Vikings purple jersey, especially if it’s the 2012 Nike type.

    There’s only one thing wrong with that version: it isn’t the Tarkenton-era jersey.
    Erase that from my memory and I’d say, “Hey, that’s a great jersey!”
    Instead, it’s a good jersey. I think I like that one better than the Daunte Culpepper Gary Anderson-era jersey.

    You will seldom see Joe wear the green jacket with number 12 on it, I have seen him in pictures wearing several different numbers, there were pictures of him on ebay against the Patriots wearing several different numbers in just that game. The jackets were made by sand knit, and since they were cut to go over the shoulder pads, they were all the same size, so you could grab any jacket that was on the bench. The KC Chief’s also wore those type of Sand Knit jackets in the 60’s-70’s, and you will also see players wearing jackets with someone else’s number on it.

    That’s why you’re the ’70s uniform expert!
    I’ll be honest…I was so captivated by the gum chewing that I never noticed if he had the proper number in those NFL Films videos!

    My father told me anything with a number 12 on it would disappear, of course you know he had to play against the Oilers in a practice jersey because his game jersey was stolen. The Dallas Cowboys also wore those Sand Knit jackets but didn’t bother putting numbers on them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *