Thursday, March 05, 2015

March is Mostly Mets Reading Month: 'Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century' was an obvious labor of love

We’re continuing our celebration of March is Mostly Mets Reading Month by heading back to the reference shelf for another of my most favorite books ever.

March 5: “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century” by Marc Okkonen

Published in 1991

For as long as I’ve loved baseball, I’ve loved baseball uniforms.

On our visits to Cooperstown, I’m sure I spent as much time in front of the spectacular uniform display as I did gazing reverently at the plaques. 

The Angels caps with the halos, White Sox’s shorts, the uniforms from the Seattle Pilots sole year – they were all there before me.

My favorite Christmas gift ever was a real, authentic 1985 Mets home jersey, racing stripes and all. 

I've since been able to acquire a fair number of jerseys including authentics -- the same as the players wear -- to real, game-worn jerseys, including one from a player named Matt Murray, who had a cup of coffee with the Braves. Such things used to be affordable. 

There’s just something magical about a baseball jersey.

Marc Okkonen thinks so, too.
My first Mets uniform, early 1970s

I had a chance to interview the Michigan-based author when I somehow convinced the Flint Journal editors that I needed to write a features page article on baseball uniforms.

Okkonen tells the story about watching the film “The Natural” and being surprised that the costume designers couldn’t come up with accurate depictions of the uniforms worn by National League team from the late 1930s.

He discovered that while baseball might be the most documented sport in the world, no one had created a comprehensive record of the uniforms worn each year by each team. Clearly, that’s an unacceptable void and Okkonen sought out to fill it.

He went to work studying photos and newspaper articles and various collections, including the treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

The result is a book that is both simple and amazing. Clearly, this was a labor of love.

Using an identical figure he called a “manikin,” Okkenon painstakingly recreated the beautiful uniforms worn by each team through the 20th Century. The book chronicles how jerseys themselves changed through the years, from materials to patterns, then walks us through each team’s uniforms.

He also has the uniforms broken down by year, so you have an entire league. You could imagine what it looked like when, say, the Mets played the Pirates in 1969.

It was rare for a team to have more than home and road uniforms in those days. 

Now, with teams wearing alternate jerseys, throwback jerseys, and special ethnic day jerseys and so on, each team could fill a page with various combinations.

Okkenon’s book is so complete that it’s not just the definitive tome on the subject, it might the only one. And you can get a used copy on Amazon for less than $2. 

The Baseball Hall of Fame now has Okkenon’s entire database online in a virtual exhibit called “Dressed to the Nines.” It’s searchable, and once you start typing in years and teams, you’ll be hooked.

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