ENLIGHTENMENT IN DETROIT
In 2008, and for the past few years, the Detroit Tigers have been among the best friends a game-used baseball equipment collector could have. Items are sold by the team regularly, ranging from game-used baseballs to game-worn jerseys to most everything in between. The overseer of these sales, Marc Himelstein, is almost unanimously hailed as a fair seller and a quality guy. Things are good now, with the Tigers heeding the call of the game-used hobby, and offering an excellent response
Longtime collectors, however, remember what it was like in the 1980s and early ’90s, though, and the newbie in the hobby would be flabbergasted to learn.
Back 15, 20, 25 years ago, the Tigers were instead among the biggest (i) FOES for the game-used hobby. Jerseys worn by Tiger players went for a premium back then, as the team offered nothing in way of over-the-counter sales, and made no bulk sales to hobby dealers, the normal method of acquisition in that era, and one most teams that let jerseys loose went the route of.
Not only did they make no individual or bulk sales, they even tried to reclaim what they perceived to be illegally released. The team’s method of making that determination was to examine the manufacturer tag on a jersey (Wilson, Russell or Rawlings), and look for the handwritten notation “JS”. Those were the initials of team equipment manager Jimmy Schmakel, and those hand-inscribed initials were added to jerseys that were legitimately released.
Several Detroit area collectors of the day have told me of incognito Tigers team employees hitting a lot of the smaller card shows to hunt for Tigers game jerseys without those key initials. If found, the team reps confiscated them, threatening the owners with a call to the police and a charge of possession of stolen property being handed to them for these unitialed, improperly released (i.e., stolen) items. It got so that many dealers would bring jerseys and hide them under the table, only bringing them out when a request from a person they trusted and recognized was offered.
The tide began to turn slowly, beginning in 1992. The Tigers had a home game in which the jerseys worn were to be auctioned off in SCD afterwards, with SCD writer and Detroit show promoter Jim Hawkins running the auction. The jerseys from this game came with Tigers paperwork, and had a special notation written on the Russell tag in black marker signifying them as the jerseys from that game, referring to the beneficiary of the auction proceeds, Oakland County Special Olympics. The only bad part was that most of the jerseys worn looked like retail jerseys obtained for the player to wear for one game. There were no “100% Polyester” or “Intera” tags on the tail, and the retail collar tag was present. Still, it was a start.
Then, in 1995, the Tigers began a still-active custom of wearing Negro League retro uniforms for one home game tribute each season. First Russell, then AIS produced these, and auctions of some years (again involving Jim Hawkins) took place. The train was starting to chug.
In the middle-late 1990s, Pro-Am Sports, owned by Wayne “World B.” Otto, struck the first actual bulk deal with the Tigers. The sale included game and BP jerseys from the team’s mid-1980s Wilson issues all the way to 1995. Some were “blessed” with number and name changes or removals, but the thirst of Tigers game-used enthusiasts were starting to be quenched. On a smaller scale, Phillies niche expert and part-time dealer Howard Wolf picked up a moderate quantity of a scarce (even now) one-year style: the 1995 navy blue alternate game jrseys. They had a similarity to the team’s BP jerseys, but were knit instead of mesh. These were made by Russell, and were of the NNOB variety, with huge two-tone numbers on the back. The front chest logo was not the Olde English D by itself, but instead the upper case letter with a snarling Tiger walking through it. These were only worn for a small number of 1995 home contests, including one summer Saturday day game against Boston that I attended.
Today, those days are just a historical footnote in the story of game-used collecting, and the once-stingy Tigers have evolved into being among the best teams in the Majors to acquire the real thing from. Thank you, De-troit!!
I don’t know if the information was wrong or if I read it wrong, but Bill Haelig, the Ripken family collector/expert, emailed to say that the 25th Anniversary 1983 World Champs Orioles patch, while worn on the home Turn Back The Clock jerseys worn while hosting Toronto, was NOT added to the standard game shirts afterwards.
I never mind getting an email of correction from Bill for a number of reasons. First, he comments knowledgeably on the areas he knows (Ripken family and Orioles, in general), and doesn’t come up with jabber just to make himself look good. Second, correction emails from him never include words like “idiot”, “moron”, or “incompetent”.
Finally, he sends emails that look like an intelligent, rational (he is both) person sent them…not a Mom’s basement pajama blogger nor a Type-A person who has to write everything in upper case letters with liberally added exclamation points. In short, he is a gentleman, and many in the hobby would be wise to emulate him.
Gene Upshaw, Oakland Raiders great, Hall of Famer, and 25-year president of the NFLPA, died of pancreatic cancer at age 63. No successor to his post has been named as of this writing.
Larry Hennessy, an All-American at Villanova and a two-year NBA player, died at age 79 this past Friday. He had his uniform number 14 retired by Villanova. As a pro, he played for the 1955-56 NBA Champion Philadelphia Warriors, and the following season for the Syracuse Nationals. ,
Finally. Darrin Winston, a longtime minor leaguer who finally made it to the Show for two seasons, died of leukemia at age 42. He joined the Phillies and played with Philly for 34 games in 1996-97.
TWO TEAMS, ONE CITY, BOTH IN FIRST, CHICAGO ROCKS!!