I have been focused at collecting flannels for some time. They are what I enjoy collecting, researching and offering opinions on. Over the years I have had the chance to look at those of New Yankee Greats Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra to name a few. While these have been wonderful experiences, I always enjoy doing this for myself and the items I add to my collection. My collection is built around commons and coaches/mangers as they are clearly more affordable. I use them as examples in the work I do as well.
Recently I “took a flyer” for a few hundred bucks on late 40’s to early 1950s New York Yankees road jersey manufactured by Wilson. The jersey has had both the NEW YORK (modern) and back numerals restored (appear to be older felt numerals; one was applied with modern thread with synthetic fabrics). The restored number is 25, but there are also signs that the shirt once was sewn for # 15 and that it appears based on the outline and fabric bleed, #15 was the first number and the one that was on the jersey the longest. The restoration work was top notch so the jersey has wonderful display appeal amongst the other exemplars in my collection. As an aside there is a six-inch section of fabric removed from along the entire rear of the jersey. I suspect this was done to provide materiel for patching either jerseys or pants at some point in time.
I would like to take some time to take you through what I looked for and what I think I was able to find out about this jersey. The luxury I have had in all of this is being able to draw on the same references and resources I use when looking at Yankee Hall of Famers for other people.
To begin with, the jersey has a Wilson manufacturers’ tag that is most commonly seen in the general period of 1948-1954. Along with this are period laundry instructions and a single size 42 flag tag sewn into the left front tail of the jersey. The jersey has original Wilson style buttons and set in sleeves. Not much to go on? Maybe more than you think.
To start, I got out a piece of notebook paper and wrote:
I then went into the MEARS data base of uniforms which has grown far beyond the 3000 I provided to jump start this effort back in the SCDA days. I then began comparing New York Yankees road jerseys from these years to the jersey I had to “see what I could see”.
1948: Not 1948 because of style of tag and no sign of Babe Ruth Memoriam Arm Band
1949: Not 1949 because those tags are in the collar
1950: No 1950 Wilson road jerseys in data base
1951: Not likely (See Size and Player Comments)
1952: Tagging style and location matches
1953: No 1953 Wilson Roads in data base
1954: Not 1954 because no year or signs of it was chain stitched in the tail
I felt pretty good about excluding 1948, 1949, and 1954 because of the tagging and other issues. I could not find any examples of road jerseys or pants manufactured by Wilson for 1950 or 1953. This is not an automatic disqualifier, especially since we have examples of multiple manufacturers within a given year for Yankee uniforms from this period. In 1953 we know that McAuliffe provided uniforms as evidence by the crest and numeral styles that appear in photographs so it may seem reasonable to assume that there are years from this period that may not include Wilson offerings. This led me to focus on the years 1951 and 1952.
The jersey is a size tagged and measures out to be a size 42 so I decided to look at the players that wore either #15 or #25 for those years against the MEARS Data Base.
1951 #15 was Tommy Heinrich (Size 44 in 1949 and 1950 so this further seems to exclude those years as well as 1948)
1951 #25 was Hank Bauer (Hank Bauer size 44 in 1951)
The size of the jersey indicated to me that the jersey was not likely 1951 based on size and players indicated by possible numbers. But what about 1952?
1952 # 15 was issued to Archie Wilson
1952 # 25 was issued to Jackie Jensen
1952 # 25 was issued to Irv Noren
1952/53 NY Yankees Yearbooks (part of my recent team yearbook purchase and the subject of a previous article) show:
Archie Wilson 5’ 11”, 175lbs
Jackie Jensen 5’ 11”, 190lbs
Irv Noren came later in 1952, but the 1953 Yankee Yearbook shows him at 6’ 184lbs.
Joe Collins picks up #15 in 1953. Collins size at 6’, 189lbs (per the Yankees 1953 Yearbook), is more in line with a size 44 or 46.
The size would seem to indicate that the jersey may most likely have been original to Archie Wilson in 1952 (#15) and that the #25 was changed later on.
Now that I am thinking along the lines of 1952, I was then forced to consider that the Yankees appear to have ordered jerseys for post season wear. 1952 is one of those years when you find two manufacturers for road uniforms; Wilson and Spalding. The question becomes is there a way to tell the difference between these two manufacturers, especially given the fact that my jersey has had the both the front and back restored? I think there is and it comes in the form of an often over looked uniform characteristic; the buttons.
The Wilson buttons from this period are smaller (23mm) than the Spalding type (25mm). In addition, the Wilson buttons are without the pronounced outer lip or rim that can be found on the Spalding type. You can see this by looking at page 112 of Pennants and Pinstripes: The New York Yankees 1903-2002 by Ray Robinson & Christopher Jennison. Here you will find a picture of Billy Martin in a 1952 NY Yankees Road jersey with the NY Yankees 50th Anniversary Patch. The Yankees did not wear that patch in the 1952 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In looking for World Series images from that year, I found a wonderful shot on page 215 of The New York Yankees: An Illustrated History (Revised Edition) by Donald Honig. Here is a locker room shot of Mantle, Berra, Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi “reflecting on the joy of winning the 1952 World Series.” You will see the difference in the button style. It doesn’t hurt that if you look very closely at Mantle, you will see faint presence of the “Spalding Brothers” label in the back of his collar.
While this jersey I have is very worn, in looking at the left should with both a black light and on a light table, there appears to very faint signs of that a circular patch may have been on it at one time. This helps to support the 1952 season, but the signs are so faint, I have looked at other factors that may indicate the year as mentioned above.
This leads me to believe that the Wilson jersey’s with the patch may have been worn during the regular season and the Spalding’s during the post season. These may in fact be the Spalding roads that show up in the data base for 1953 as well. I touched on this concept in another previous article on post season jerseys so it is not without support outside of this example.
If all of this seems like a lot of work to go through for a common player restored jersey from the 1950s, it really isn’t as far as I’m concerned. The process that I go through is the same for commons or Hall of Famers…Jerseys for myself or those for others.
I have always encouraged others to build and use data bases and reference libraries. Does this make the jersey I bought for a few hundred dollars worth anymore than it did when I bought it? No it doesn’t, but then I now feel I have a much better idea of what I have and why…Isn’t that what collecting is all about? It is for me.
MEARS Auth, LLC