All Uniforms Are Not Created Equal
Thoughts on the Grading of Vintage Baseball Uniforms
MEARS Auth, LLC
The MEARS grading criteria and metrics were established based on the collecting community’s desire to have uniforms evaluated and graded in such a manner that it made comparative value assessments possible; similar to what was currently in place for cards. While I am not a personal fan of assigning a numeric grade to a baseball jersey, I do recognize that the evaluation and subsequent grading of uniforms is what the customer wants.
The MEARS system of using a worksheet as a means to establish common protocols for evaluations is a good idea, and one I used before this system was adopted. MEARS expanded the categories and various fields to accommodate other sports; but my focus has been and remains on exclusively baseball uniforms so the following discussion is only meant by me to apply to vintage baseball uniforms and grading various aspects associated with restorations of them.
The current MEARS grading criteria calls for a deduction of -.5 for a restored patch and -1 for a missing patch. The intent is to reward those jerseys that still retain an original patch. This is how it should be. The problem lies in that, on face value, it makes the assumption that all patches are the same. It also fails to take into account the presence of existence of patches from older uniforms. Vintage baseball uniforms (defined by me as pre-1980) were really never intended to be anything other than a consumable expense born by a major league club. Uniforms were ordered in lower quantities prior to the 1980s and they were not seen, by and large as collectables. What this means is we should have a reasonable expectations that uniforms were typically used for more than one season; in one capacity or another (major league or minor league use).
As such, patches that were applied to a uniform for a single season may not have had continued utility on the uniform in subsequent seasons. This creates a reason why they would have likely been removed. If this logic trail is accepted, then the standard we should expect is to find these vintage uniforms largely without the original patch in place. Since not all uniforms by years or teams featured these special patches, then we are not accurately reflecting this in the grading of them. For example, the Baltimore Orioles wore a fairly non-descript home uniform from 1963-1965. However in 1964, they wore a special patch to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner. If you were grading a home jersey from the same common Oriole player, each obtained from the player, and each in the exact same condition (all original and same use and wear) they would all receive the same grade. I have two problems with this:
1. The 1963 and 1965 jerseys get a pass if you will because they never had a patch. A such the 1964 jersey has to answer one more question on the test, and get no additional credit for being able to answer that question.
2. In all my years of collecting and researching uniforms, I have only encountered this patch twice.
If these jerseys, for the sake of argument all graded an A8 and the went to market, the 1964 jersey would command 3 to 5 times the price of the 1963 and 1965 based on the patch alone. However, the same 1964 home jersey without the patch graded at a A7.5 (.5 for missing patch) would do marginally less that the all original 1963 and 1964 offerings. My point here is that the grading, with respect to patches has failed to capture the comparative value assessment that it was intended to.
Now turn your attention to the same team, same common player, but now we are talking about 1969 when the jerseys featured the MLB 100th Anniversary patch. 1968-1970 are the same style home uniform and not a tough style. The presence of an all original patch on the 1969 will not have the same impact on pricing as the presence of an original or even replacement patch from the 1964 offerings. The reason for this is the 100th Anniversary patch can still be found without much difficulty on E-Bay for around $150.
It is my position that the grading of patches has to take into account the rarity of the patch itself as that is what is driving the value, not so much the numeric grade that comes with the jersey it is on. It is also my position as stated previously, that what we should really expect to find is the jersey to be missing the patch to begin with. The current standard also treats replica patches as being the same as no patch at all when some collectors might prefer the replica patch from an aesthetic standpoint as to no patch at all given they very well never find an authentic period offering to restore the garment. The question then becomes what might a new grading scale look like for patches to accomplish all that it is supposed to capture, account for, and reward accordingly? First there would have to be some listing that identifies a rare vs a non-rare patch. The easiest way would probably list the non-rare offerings as the list would be smaller. Once that is done, I would offer:
+.5: Original rare patch, original to the jersey
+/- 0: Restored period original rare patch; provide the work is well done and not detectable from an casual observational standpoint. If the restoration is obvious, then -.05
-.5 Restored period original non-rare patch
-.5 Restored replica replacement rare patch
-.5 Missing rare patch
-1 missing non-rare patch
This system now rewards the rare patch as it should. It also recognizes the value difference between a restored rare patch vs a restored non-rare patch. It also gives the collector the option of improving the aesthetics of his jersey with a replica. What would have to made clear, is one single qualifying statement, that being that no none-rare replacement patch could result in a jersey getting the grade of a an A10. All restorations would also have to be well documented in the assessment so that any future buyer would know just what they are getting. For a jersey that would grade as an A10 and it has the original patch, that jersey could certainly be annotated as A10*.
Offered here is an illustrative example of rare and non-rare patches:
Examples of Vintage Pre-1980 Non-Rare Patches
1976 National League Centennial Patch
1976 Cleveland Indians “Spirit of 76”
1976 Oakland Athletics Bicentennial Patch
1976 Philadelphia Phillies Liberty Bell Patch
1976 Detroit Tigers Bicentennial Patch
1976 Chicago Cubs 100th Anniversary of the Cubs in the National League
1975-1976 Massachusetts Bicentennial
1969 MLB 100th Anniversary Patch
Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves Screaming Brave Patch
1955-1963 Orioles Laughing Bird Patch
Post 1950 Indians Chief Wahoo Patch
1951 American League 50th Anniversary Patch
1939 Baseball Centennial Patch
Examples of Pre-1980 Rare Patches
1978 All Star Game Patch (San Diego)
1976 Montreal Expos Olympics Patch
1973 Pirates “21” Clemente Patch
1973 50th Anniversary of Yankee Stadium
1969 San Diego Padres Conquistador Patch
1969 Seattle Pilots Wheel/Wing Patch
1968 Chicago Sesquicentennial Patch
1964-1965 World’s Fair Patch (Mets)
1964 Baltimore Orioles 150th Anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner Patch
1962-1964 Houston Colt .45s Texas State Flag (Road Jerseys)
Pre-1957 Milwaukee and Boston Braves Sleeve Patches
1955 Cincinnati Reds “Mr Red” Sleeve Patch (Square and Contoured Versions)
1952 New York Yankees 50th Anniversary Patch
1951 Detroit 250th Anniversary of Detroit Patch
1951 National League 75th Anniversary Patch
1950 Philadelphia Athletics Connie Mack 50 Years in Baseball Patch
1947-1950 Indians Chief Wahoo Patch
1946 Cleveland Indians 150th Anniversary of Cleveland Patch
1942 HEALTH Patch
1943-1947 Stars and Stripes Patch
1939 World Fair Patch (New York Baseball Teams)
(All patches prior to this time)
Restorations of Lettering and Numbering
The MEARS worksheet currently calls for deductions in this area; ranging from -1 to -3 with little in the way of guidance or qualification. This same scale is currently being applied to number changes that only account for a -2 if it is either a team number change or a restoration with a vintage number.
This is not entirely consistent with the MEARS grading scale which is built largely on .5 point increments. As written and applied, it also makes little account for the quality of the work or the vintage of the material used. Since we are discussing vintage baseball uniforms and not baseball cards, restorations cannot be appropriately compared using these two collectables. The baseball uniform was always intended to be a consumable expense used by a ball club, and the baseball card was always meant to be a collectable.
I think a better parallel can be drawn to restorations on collectable automobiles and those of uniforms. Both were items intended to be used. Both can be found in various conditions and both are subject to market evaluations based on the nature of the restoration work. With automobiles, the most valued are those in all original condition and fully functional. Alterations or customizations are acceptable or factory applied. The automobile collectables market also provided for relative value assessments when year/model specific parts are used vs period parts vs modern fabricated parts. Assessments are also placed on the quality of the work. I feel that the restorations on vintage baseball uniforms could be considered and evaluated in much the same manner. For example, a grading scale that allows for:
-.5 for a restored name, number, or team lettering if the restoration was done with materials from the same team and manufacturer if the work is well done and not detectable without technical means (UV lighting, light table, digital microscope).
-1 for a restored name, number, or team lettering if the restoration was done with period materials if the work is well done and not detectable without technical means (UV lighting, light table, digital microscope).
-1.5 for a restored name, number, or team lettering if the restoration was done with modern materials and if the work is well done and not detectable without technical means (UV lighting, light table, digital microscope).
-2 for a restored name, number, or team lettering if the restoration was done with modern materials and if the work is well done and detectable without technical means (UV lighting, light table, digital microscope).
-2.5 for a restored name, number, or team lettering if the restoration was done with modern materials and if the work is not entirely accurate and detectable without technical means (UV lighting, light table, digital microscope).
-3 for restored name, number, or team lettering if the restoration was done with modern materials and if the work is not entirely accurate and stands out as a noticeable and obvious poor restoration.
Working along these lines for vintage baseball jerseys accomplishes a number of things:
1. It accounts for the use of vintage and non-vintage materials.
2. It accounts for various degrees and quality of work.
3. It becomes more consistent with the MEARS grading scale built on .5 increments.
4. Still ensures that vintage jersey with restorations with names, numbers, or lettering could not likely achieve a grade of A10. The rare exception would have to be when a player changed numbers during the same season and all of this would have to well documented.
The simple fact of the matter is that vintage jerseys do not compare well with baseball cards on any number of levels and it is and has been my position that any system that calls for their grading should take this into account. It is also my feeling that the proposed changes in how restorations on vintage baseball uniforms are assessed and graded if done in the manner I have presented here would go a long way in helping the accurately recognize and reward those differences.
Those are just my thoughts…what are yours?
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com