Welcome to the latest installment of the Okkonen files, as we continue to examine the work and legacy of pioneering baseball uniform researcher Marc Okkonen, who died in late May.
Today we’ll be hearing from uniform designer/historian Todd Radom (that’s him at right), who’s been at the forefront of sports design for the past quarter-century. Although he’s best known for his MLB work (his designs have appeared in some capacity on the uniforms of every current MLB club), he’s also done lots of non-baseball work, from the logo for Super Bowl XXXVIII to the logos and uniforms for BIG3, and a ton of stuff in between. He’s also a dogged researcher and has come up with many important finds that have added to the historical record, including the explanation for the Dodgers’ red jersey numbers.
Todd is one of several people I contacted in recent weeks to ask about their interactions with Okkonen. As it turned out, Todd never met him or dealt with him directly, but he had something very interesting to share — photos of some of Okkonen’s original research notes. I’ll let him tell the story:
I first learned of Marc Okkonen and his work via an April 1989 Sports Illustrated article. A couple of years later I eagerly picked up a copy of the first edition of Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century. It served as affirmation that there were indeed other weirdos like me who enjoyed and observed the details and visual history of Major League Baseball. I still have that copy — the jacket is dog-eared and the pages have been lovingly pawed through many, many times. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of that book and its importance to me and to my career.
Since 1992 I have worked with my friends at Major League Baseball in researching and redrawing historic cap logos, uniform lettering, and sleeve patches. Some years ago, while doing a round of research work for MLB, I visited Cooperstown in search of some very, very specific stuff. Curator Tom Shieber and the Hall kindly assisted me, as they always have. I remember Tom leading me into his office, where he had a stack of boxes waiting. These boxes contained Okkonen’s original notes for Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, carefully arranged by franchise.
Everything was written in neat characters — the precise letterforms of a draftsman. A tiny drawing of a serif “W,” rendered in ballpoint pen.
One sheet of ruled paper reads “STATE LIBRARY CHECK.” A series of notes follows, detailing specific games in which certain uniforms were worn [for the rest of these photos, you can click to enlarge].
His now-familiar batter drawing appears throughout these notes, surrounded by photocopied newspaper clippings from the distant past.
There’s a New York Giants player with a uniform that reads “NEW YORK” across the chest — he wrote “PROBABLY BLACK” next to the lettering, and noted that the caps featured a “THIN BAND.” There are printer registration marks and years that have been crossed out and other annotations that help form a picture of what his process was like.
The internet arrived just a few years after the publication of Marc’s book, changing the way we interact with each other and with information. So many reference materials, particularly newspaper archives, have been digitized and annotated over the years. Okkonen and others of his generation conducted their research on-site, as opposed to online. That process was painstaking and expensive.
So let’s celebrate the curiosity, research, artwork, and life of Marc Okkonen. His groundbreaking work represents the start of a path that leads us places like Uni Watch, where we all owe him a debt of gratitude.
Paul here. Holy moly — those notes! Can you imagine how much work it took to piece together the visual record that Okkonen assembled? It’s staggering. And think how much that work has enriched the rest of us. If there were a Uni Watch Mount Rushmore, Okkonen would definitely be included in it. And if there were a Uni Watch Hall of Fame, he’d definitely be in the inaugural induction class. Hell, he might be the inaugural induction class.
I’ll have at least two more installments of the Okkonen Files in the weeks to come. You can see all of the installments we’ve done so far here. Meanwhile, if you had any dealings or communications with Marc Okkonen that you’d like to share, feel free to contact me. Thanks.
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A different kind of cap memorial: Red Sox pitcher David Price had a small mark on his cap during last night’s game against the Dodgers. You can see it there in between the Red Sox logo and the maker’s mark.
Let’s take a closer look (click to enlarge):
It was a paw print! It was widely reported in recent days that Price’s longtime pet, a French bulldog named Astro, had died, so the paw print was apparently a memorial for the pooch.
We’ve seen cap-inscription memorials for players, team employees, family members, cultural figures, and more, but I think this is the first cap memorial for a pet, at least that I can think of. R.I.P., Astro.
(Thanks to Brian Fraser for this one.)
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Possible new Sixers leak: A since-deleted tweet yesterday appeared to show a new 76ers alternate uniform on a mannequin. Is it legit? It certainly feels of a piece with the rest of the team’s uniform program, and most recent NBA leaks have proven to be legit. I suspect this one is as well.
As for the design, it’s not awful. Too bad about the gold side striping, though, which doesn’t work at all.
ITEM! Bouton/Ball Four update: On Thursday I posted my obituary for pitcher/author Jim Bouton, whose seminal 1970 book, Ball Four, changed my life. Lots of other writers clearly hold a special place for Ball Four on their bookshelves and in their hearts, as one heartfelt tribute after another has been published over the past few days.
I’m happy to announce that I’ll be participating in a tribute to Bouton and Ball Four this Thursday evening, 7:30pm, at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan. Other participants will include the great Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs; Villanova professor and longtime baseball author Mitchell Nathanson, who’s working on a Bouton biography (and who tells me he’s a big Uni Watch fan); and Field of Schemes honcho Neil deMause (who, like myself, is an alum of the Village Voice sports section and has also been my editor for the recent collecting/collectors pieces I’ve written for Gothamist). There may be other people added to the bill later this week.
We’ll each be talking about what what made Bouton and Ball Four so special to us and/or reading a few of our favorite passages from the book. (I’ll definitely be doing the former; not sure yet about the latter.) Doors open at 7pm. Admission is free. It would be great to see a bunch of Uni Watch readers there — please join us!
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Meet the Contributors — Andrew Cosentino: The photo above was taken in Cleveland at last week’s MLB Home Run Derby. The gent on the left is longtime Uni Watch reader Andrew Cosentino, who was proudly wearing a Uni Watch T-shirt for the occasion. He wore a different Uni Watch shirt the following night for the All-Star Game. Interestingly, his sartorial choices led to several instances of mistaken identity: “Over the course of the two events, I was mistaken for Paul Lukas not once, not twice, but three times!” he says. (When I told the Tugboat Captain and showed her the pics, she said, “Whoever asked him that must not realize you don’t have that much hair anymore.” Ouch!)
If Andrew’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been submitting Ticker items for many years. He has two niches: Virginia Tech stuff and Baltimore stuff. I’ll let him tell you a bit more about himself:
I’m a 32-year-old project manager, living in Baltimore. I’ve been reading Uni Watch for years! I started reading Uni Watch on ESPN in college around 2006. From there, I moved on to the blog, which has become my daily lunchtime read. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the day. I also follow the Twitter feed, have a membership card, and periodically purchase merchandise. My favorite items are the 2017 Purp Walk shirt and the Uni Watch socks.
I’ve always been fascinated by the team building side of sports. I used to love doing fantasy drafts in various video games; my favorite was Dynasty Mode in NCAA Football (RIP). I often found myself picking teams and colleges based solely upon uniforms. As my interest grew, I started to pay more and more attention to athletics aesthetics. I also think the plethora of bad uniforms that came out in the early 2000s made me appreciate good uniforms even more.
Regarding my two subject area specialties: I grew up outside of Baltimore and now live in the city, so I tend to be pretty plugged into Baltimore sports news. I’m also a two-time Virginia Tech alum who’s mildly obsessed with my alma mater. That said, I’m always happy to defer to fellow Uni Watch member Clark Ruhland on all Hokie matters. (PSA to the Uni Watch community: It’s Virginia Tech, VT, or Tech. Not VA Tech. Not “Vah” Tech. Not Virginia Tech University. Not University of Virginia Tech. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University are also acceptable.)
I don’t really think of myself as “the Baltimore and Virginia Tech guy on Uni Watch,” but I’ll happily wear that title if that’s how Paul thinks of me. I have a great deal of pride in both my city and my college, so I view it as a distinction of honor. I wouldn’t say that I feel responsible for covering those two subject areas, but I do feel like I should be on top of them. Whenever I see someone else beat me to the punch on a Baltimore or Virginia Tech news nugget, I always think, “How’d I miss out on getting to that one first?”
Thanks for the info, Andrew, and also for your many Ticker contributions over the years. You help to make Uni Watch a better place!
By Jamie Rathjen
Baseball News: Former Phillies 1B Ryan Howard officially retired as a Phillie yesterday, and the team honored him by wearing a commemorative sleeve patch. … The Rockies apparently have one version of their logo slightly incorrect on their own scoreboard: you can see that the the C is on top at the point where the C and the R overlap, when the R should be on top instead (from Josh Lefkowitz). … Phillies OF Bryce Harper now has Philadelphia’s Rocky statue on his bat knob (from Max Weintraub). … Mets clubhouse manager Kevin Kierst has a big collection of baseball movie posters (NYT link). … Here’s a good video of former A’s P Dave Stewart watching a broadcast of his first no-hitter and commenting on his uniform style (from Roy Ellingsen).
Football News: This picture shows the college football 150th-anniversary patch on the sleeve for officials (from Rob Montoya). … Phil had great coverage of the Washington Huskies’ new uniforms in Saturday’s entry, and now The Seattle Times has weighed in with its own article (from Marcus Kamp).
Basketball News: You can see lots of new and changed NBA numbers on Etienne Catalan’s Twitter feed.
Soccer News: Among the new kits or shirts Josh Hinton sent us were second kits for German teams Bayern Munich and Schalke 04, a third kit for Manchester City (also from @deadendnights), a first kit for Watford, which appeared on their under-18 team, and a first shirt for Italian team Sampdoria. … You can see more reveals on Josh’s dedicated Twitter feed. … There’s also new kits for Polish teams Śląsk Wrocław and Elana Toruń. The latter design is to call attention to the dangers facing bees (from Ed Żelaski). … The Colorado Rapids are wearing their yellow and blue second kit from 2017 and 2018 to avoid a color clash in a friendly against Arsenal tonight. In a strange move, the team’s article about the color choice is written like they’re wearing something new and uses almost the exact same marketing copy as when the kit was actually introduced in 2017 (from Stephen Smith). … The second-tier women’s team at English club Yeovil Town, who already established some visual independence from the men’s team last season by wearing solid green instead of green and white hoops, now have their own crest as well. … A podcast covering the Austrian Bundesliga started rating kits on the “Hartberg scale” of ads, named after TSV Hartberg’s ad-covered effort, which is a 10/10 on the scale (from Stefan Schubert).
Grab Bag: Here are all the national champions’ jerseys appearing at the Tour de France. … The gold medals for the winners of the Volleyball Men’s Nations League will have the path the ball took for the winning point on the back. Russia beat the U.S. in yesterday’s final (from Jeremy Brahm). … Also from Jeremy: Slovenia released stamps for September’s European volleyball championship, which it is hosting with Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. … CBS Sunday Morning did a piece yesterday on the making of spacesuits for the Apollo astronauts. The testing of the suits included the model astronaut catching and kicking a football (from Kary Klismet). … The owner of a Texas shop that manufactures sports merch says championship T-shirts and hats for losing teams are just thrown away (from Ignacio Salazar). … A growing trend that started in New Zealand is woodworking clubs where members build their own coffins (from Jason Hillyer).
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What Paul did
last night over the weekend: The Tugboat Captain and I spent the weekend in western Massachusetts with one of her brothers and his family. While we were there, we went to MASS MoCA, where we saw all sorts of cool art, including this really nifty concave piece of mirrored stainless steel by the British sculptor Anish Kapoor. As you can see above, it made for a really good group selfie!
We also went hiking, grilled some beef and pork (a treat for me, since I no longer have a backyard and hadn’t grilled since moving last summer!), went to a swell Polish church bazaar, ate a lot, drank a lot, etc. In short: an excellent weekend getaway! Hope your weekend was a good one as well. See you back here tomorrow. — Paul