This is my first installment of Bushing’s Best Buys. I selected this topic to begin with as it represents the full spectrum of what I will be addressing. This months feature covers both an item that I think represents a Best Buy (snag them when you find them) and Best Buy for MEARS with respect to adding to our ever growing exemplar collection. The title and the question I pose is “Where Have All The 1970’s Yankees Knits Gone?”
This may sound like a Simon and Garfunkel song but it is a question with merit. In the years I have been looking at baseball uniforms, I have noticed that some team’s offerings appear with either greater or less frequency. One of those lesser found teams of the 1970’s has been the New York Yankees, especially in all original condition. If we examine the introduction of Yankee knits from 1973-79, we find relatively few all original specimens, either home or road. I use 1973 as my starting point as flannel jerseys were still being worn by the Yankees in 1972 (Corbis Aug. 6, 1972 Bobby Murcer in flannel home jersey) and continue through and including 1979, a total of seven years worth of knits.
Even using an un-representative two homes and two roads as just a planning number for both players and coaches with an active roster of 40, this comes to over 160 shirts per season times seven (1973-79). This means a minimum number of 1120 jerseys issued during this era. I say un-representative since we can see a picture of Reggie Jackson wearing a pair of home knit pants with three others in his locker. There are also two jerseys hanging in the locker behind him and one in front of him so the actual number is probably much higher. Where are they and what happened to them?
Now I am not stating that we at MEARS have seen all the existing original 70’s Yankee’s knits as I am sure there are collectors reading this right now while staring at their prized Munson shirt but for this argument, I can only go by factual recorded data and am using this to expound on rarity and survival rate. Which brings me full circle back to my original question, where did they go? A partial answer to that intrigue arrived at our doorsteps last week in the form of a large box containing not one, but twenty one Yankees home knits , twenty of which dated from 1973-1978. They came to us via a minor league connection and offered up the largest single quantity of Yankee’s knits that we have ever had the chance to analyze with regards to tagging, trends, etc.
These jerseys all had two things in common; that they came from the minor leagues which points us to the final resting place for what might have been a similar fate for a large majority of missing Yankees shirts; and they all had alterations of some sort. Interestingly enough, all but one had the players name cut out with the edges evident to determine size. Next, all five of the 1978 homes were complete with the Munson memorial black armband and not a single one had any number changes or any changes at all except each had the name cut out and one had a uniform number that did not correspond with any player or coach.
Three of the five jerseys with the Munson arm band are year tagged as 1978. The style of Wilson tag supports a 1978 offering as well. The fact that they have an armband not worn until Munson’s passing in August of 1979, seems to indicate that this was done for later use at the minor league level or as an additonal jersey for use in spring training. Old jerseys in spring training were very common place in the 1970s. Pictures can be found of Red Sox players wearing flannels in spring training in 1976.
On occasion where more than one player wore that number (since all but the Roy White had the name cut out) we have determined the original player by the size of the player and the size (length) of the cut out name tag i.e. Holtzman is a longer swatch than Pagen, both of whom wore number 53 in 1976.
Additionally, per Getty images, there are no sleeve patches added or missing from any of the shirts listed. The complete listing is shown in the enclosed graphic.
In this collection was also found a 1982 original number 59 but no player id (outside the realm of this article) as well as two shirts, one with an original #53 and another with a change from 30 to 60 but without any year tags, it is impossible to pinpoint year or player. All of the above listed jerseys had the years intact except the 1978 jerseys in which only one still had the year intact but the original black armbands along with the Wilson tag indicate 1978. There were no 1975 or 1979 shirts in this collection either, a fact that imparts conjecture on our part that those years either did not get sent down or went to a different minor league affiliate and as such, were not included in this group.
Now, lets look at a sample list of MEARS evaluated 1973-79 era Yankee jerseys both home and road and compare to the above group also shown in an enclosed graphic:
Discounting the two jerseys that could not be authenticated, that leaves nine shirts, only two of which are Hall of Fame members. The style breakdown is five homes and four roads. The question arises as to how did these high graded original shirts miss the minor league boat? We know that in the case of the Reggie Jackson, it was given in July of 1977 to his old Oakland batboy after the game, hence the lack of alterations. Given the high grades of the above jerseys and the fact that they do not exhibit excessive wear, we can also deduce that they did not get sent down i.e. no minor league alterations. And what of the road style uniforms? There were none in this group but from the above list, we have done less original 1970’s Yankee road jerseys than we did home styles. One may still conclude that the road jerseys with the NEW YORK fronts had to have gone to a minor league team as well but to a different team than the one the home collection came from. It would seem only logical that a larger number of original Yankees jerseys would have made their way into collectors hands had the players taken their shirts home with them at the end of the season and had since sold said possessions to the various dealers and auction houses over the past thirty years.
Maybe I have raised more questions than I have answered but one thing is for certain, all original 1970’s Yankee knit game worn jerseys are scarce, hence a Best Buy when you find them. Unlike the Mets who seemed to be under-funded at times reusing their jerseys in the major leagues for several seasons, the Yankees organization didn’t seem to suffer from funds but still found it financially responsible to re-use their jerseys rather then let the players take them home at the end of each season. In conclusion, 1970’s Yankees knits are rare and to have an opportunity to see over twenty 1970’s knits from one team at one time is unprecedented and invaluable to us as a research and evaluation tool.
Until next time and the Best Buy, David Bushing