I can still remember when Marc Okkonen’s “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century” first came out. We had just moved from Ft. Campbell, KY to a year stint at Ft. Huachuca AZ. My son Jacob was in his first year of Tee-Ball and we were beginning to truly share that father-son sort of bond with the game of baseball. My wife Michelle had long been in the habit of taking Jacob and Mary to the library, and one occasion, she and Jacob brought home this marvelous volume. Jacob and I must have checked Okkonen’s book out a dozen times over the year until we bought our own copy. We spent hours going though it and voting on our favorite uniforms. One thing that clearly placed a jersey at the tops of both of our lists was if it had a “cool patch.”
This was 1992 and the time I started to take a serious interest in baseball uniforms. As I began to pick them up, one of thing I noticed right away was that if you could find vintage uniforms with the original patch, the price was at a premium. I can specifically remember asking about the price of a common 1951 Cincinnati Reds road jersey…the price was $1800 with the patch and $900.00 without. Thinking I would be able to find and buy a replacement patch on the cheap at a later date, I opted for the shirt without the patch. Just goes to show you what I knew back then.
Along the way, the value of these patches as collectables in their own right caught on. Replica patches have always been available, but much of this craze was reignited by the original offerings of Mitchell and Ness on their original line of replica flannels in the early 1990s. A spin off of this was the packing of these with a history of the patch or team. These are available today through a couple of product lines such as the Willabee Ward sets. These are wonderful products for any number of reasons. The problem comes in when these items are added to vintage uniforms and not identified as such. Often the images that are included of the jersey in venues such as E-Bay offering don’t permit the collector to see details involving the fabric used in these replica offerings. This is really the easiest and most consistent way to identify originals versus replicas.
Back when I did my work on the 1951 Gil Hodges home jersey, I included a side by side comparison of a replica patch with the original that was on the jersey. I also made note of what some of the visual differences were. One collector wrote me saying “the side by comparison was very helpful, would you consider doing an article on more and different patches?” I always like getting feedback on what I write and especially enjoy when collectors let me know what they find helpful and what they would like me to cover. To that end I have laid out a number of patches for comparative purposes. This was a fairly easy thing to do given the number of patches on the exemplar jerseys in my reference collection.
In addition, MEARS bought the Willabee and Ward collection as a reference tool some time back. Dave Bushing has been buying patches for some time and was good enough to let me borrow a number of them for this article as well. One of the things we at MEARS felt was important was to be able to identify for a collector why the patch on the jersey they submitted was not an original. As I said the easiest thing to note is the fabric, but how do you show a now disappointed collector a fabric with any degree of ease? Spending money on reference material improves the overall quality of MEARS work with respect to offering opinions on game used uniforms. It also provides us with the ability to help educate collectors with respect to the purchases they make and the items they have in their collections.
Some 17 years have passed since Jacob and I began to look for the “cool patches.” I enjoy them as much today as when they first caught my eye. My hope is that this article and visual comparisons will help you see things for what they really are…patches are cool, but buying a replica as an original is not.
As always, enjoy what you collect and collect what you enjoy.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com