When asked to determine what a shirt may actually be, especially one that has neither a player identification or year, it can be very challenging indeed. This was the case recently when we received a pinstripe jersey that consisted of alternating red and blue pinstripes on a cream colored shirt with a now lavender color intertwined NY on the left breast and a Spalding tag in the cadet style collar. Following is a step-by-step detailed account of how we reached a conclusion as to what the shirt actually was.
First, the shirt is examined on a light table for changes and alterations. In this case, was the NY original to the shirt and was anything ever placed under or over this emblem. The NY has faded to lavender, the same color found on all of the 1927-28 era Yankee jerseys we have seen. You could plainly see the stitching was original and that nothing was ever replaced. In addition, through multiple washings, the thin felt NY had pulled away in places having shrunk at a different rate than the flannel jersey and the outline and original thread was still in place where the original sized (pre shrunk) NY had been applied. The Spalding tag in the collar was full size, no double set of holes and the collar had never been opened up either on top or bottom and the tag was not sewn through the back, all of which were proper and original.
We used the MEARS guide to manufacturing tags to determine that the Spalding tag in the collar dated back to at least 1915 and maybe 1914 (the most notable change from the pre 1914 tag is that AD 1876 is dropped from bottom inner circle and is replaced by the phrase Made in USA) as a transitional starting point of this style of tag and extended through approximately 1928 giving a year either way for transition of new tags and the final exhaustion of all of the older tags. This helped narrow down the potential years of manufacture.
We next consulted Marc Okkonen’s book “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century” to determine which team, if any, used this style of shirt and a similar font, the NY chest logo, either the Giants or Yankees. Given this book converted black and white photographs into color drawings, we were looking for similar styles of the collar, pinstripes and logo. We determined that the logo was correct for the Yankees and that the same style logo found on a pinstripe home shirt first appeared in 1915 and was used through 1916, after which the logo was dropped from the breast and before which, the shirts had no stripes. This also matched our data base information on the Spalding tag dating. We also determined that the NY was definitely not the Giants as the font style was all-wrong. Marc’s book did not show the two color striping pattern nor did his drawing indicate a cadet collar, rather he pictured both the 1915-16 shirts with what appeared to be a standard sun collar, the small strip of material sewn into the collar to give a two tier appearance, an annoyance that a lot of players cut out of the shirts and something that was dropped from production by the late 1930’s. The cadet collar is a stand up collar similar to the old 1960’s Nehru jackets with the small gap in front. These nuances, when compared to an actual shirt with regards to Marc’s images, are pretty standard. He used black and white photographs for his drawings and without an actual shirt to compare to, he would have no idea of stripes color, only if they were dark or light. Having determined the jersey was most likely a 1915 or 1916 New York Yankees home pinstripe, the next logical step was to try and find some actual pictures that might show this style of shirt being worn and might help in determining whether or not the Yankees wore the cadet style jersey rather than the sun collar variety shown in Marc’s book.
One of the first places we go when searching for photographs is our data base where we have been downloading images of players and their jerseys from the Internet for the last couple of years but we had nothing concrete as this shirt is extremely early and we had never done one from this era for the Yankees. Corbis proved more valuable and we found image # U26340INP which shows New York manager Duke Ferrell along with McGraw in which you can clearly see that the shirt is not only a cadet style collar but the style of the NY is identical and it is a pin stripe jersey and the buttons appear dark in this black and white photograph dated April 9, 1915. Another photograph # BE047371 dated July 7, 1915 shows Elmer Layden stretching to catch a ball and the collar and NY are also clearly identifiable and are again, the same as the shirt in question.
We next searched all of the books pertaining to early baseball in the extensive MEARS library and found the book on the New York Yankees written by Donald Hoag and on page 22 is a shot of Ray Caldwell with a trainer and the shirt style has the same pinstripe material with the cadet collar and the identical NY font. Unlike the Corbis photograph, this picture was not dated yet the style matched perfectly to the Corbis photos as well as our jersey. Caldwell pitched with New York from 1910 thru 1918, which still fell into our window period of 1915-16. According to the uniform book, the Yankees did not have any insignia on the breast of their jerseys from 1917 or 1918. In 1912 during Caldwell’s tenure, there was an NY on a pin stripe shirt but this pre dates our Spalding tag. The years 1913 & 1914 sported a solid home shirt with the NY. Therefore, the only years that sported pinstriped home jerseys with the NY that coincided with both our tag dating and Caldwell’s years with the team were either 1915 or 1916. In addition, Corbis photograph # U40957INP shows a team photograph of the Yankees on April 20, 1916, opening game at New York, in shirts with no insignia on the breast even though Marc’s book shows the 1916 team as having both the NY fronts as well as the plain fronts although we could find no other 1916 dated photographs to prove whether or not the book was correct in showing insignia’s on the 1916 shirts. Therefore, we have no photographic evidence to prove that the shirt could have been worn in 1916. We have dated proof that it was not worn from 1917 thru 1928, the last year of this particular style Spalding tag. There is picture of Ed Sweeney on page 15 of Hoag’s book, a catcher who finished with the Yankees in 1915 and he is wearing a solid shirt with a NY font. We know this is not a 1915 and given that the only years Okkonen shows a solid shirt during Sweeney’s tenure with the NY font is 1912 thru 1914 and the earliest our jersey could be would be 1914 and this would have to be a transition era for this style Spalding tag as they were using the AD 1876 in the circle thru 1913. We could find no dated 1914 photograph either supporting or refuting Okkonen’s 1914 images and the Sweeney picture further strengthens his argument. Therefore, if the 1916 opening day picture shows the Yankees with no insignia on the breast and 1914 shows a solid shirt sans pinstripe and the Spalding tag in our jersey goes back no further than 1914, we must conclude that the jersey is a 1915 New York Yankees home jersey and the earliest example we have ever seen. To be on the safe side, we will used the word “circa” 1915 just in case it could spill into either part of 1914 or 1916 but nothing points to that at present.
Lastly, we shot pictures of the jersey and converted them to black and white images to compare with the vintage black and white photographs at hand. All of the dark and light hues compared favorably to every picture we had on hand. Since no color pictures exist, we must assume that the alternate blue/red pinstripes are correct since both show up as dark stripes and the buttons appear dark as well. I wish that I could tell you that with all of this research, we could tell you who the player was who wore this jersey but there is no player id anywhere on the shirt. No marked laundry tag or stitched name is present. Given that no teams in the major leagues were wearing numbers in 1915, it would be all but impossible to determine which player might have worn it. The only way to determine this would be to gather a sample of DNA from a relative of every player that was on the1915 team roster. You may be able to narrow down the possible players by sizing the 39 players on the team and eliminating players based on the size of the shirt compared with the players size but they wore shirts on the larger size back then and at best, you might be able to eliminate maybe 20% of the players not to mention the trainers, coaches and managers that potentially wore the jersey. Should it have had a name embroidered? That is a good question. We have no surplus of these early shirts to come to any concrete conclusion. The 1915 Boston Red Sox jersey that just sold had a laundry tag with an area meant for the player to write in his name. If so, where is the laundry tag on this shirt? Maybe it was an extra or maybe it went down to the minors and the name was removed. We will never know since the tale goes back 91 years and there is nobody around anymore who was there to have known. Even without any positive player identification, any shirt dating to the early years of the American League and especially the New York Yankees is a find worthy of any baseball jersey collection. Armed with the proper research material right at hand makes identifying such rare jerseys much easier than in years past but as you can see, it still takes a lot of time and research but in this case, it really paid off.
Till next time,