It seems as though you can't hear about the baseball Hall of Fame lately without having to hear about a singularly dumb controversy. In April the Hall's president, Republican hack Dale Petroskey, canceled an event commemorating the movie "Bull Durham" because of the political views of stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. This month Roger Clemens engaged the Hall in a whizzing match about what team insignia will appear on his cap when he's inducted.
So it's nice to be reminded that most of the time, on this or that randomly selected day, the Hall of Fame is a pretty good baseball museum. And I mean that in the sense that Barry Bonds is a pretty good baseball player.
The new online exhibit Dressed to the Nines is the kind of thing the Hall of Fame should be getting ink for.
It's a photographic and illustrated history of baseball uniforms. The highlight for me is a database of uniforms from all three modern major leagues as depicted by historian and illustrator Marc Okkonen, author of the classic "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century." Ever wonder what the 1915 Baltimore Terrapins of the short-lived Federal League looked like in their rompers? No? Neither did I, but it sure was fun to find out. They had a stylized turtle on their left breast in case you're suddenly curious.
The database has a depiction of every home, road and alternate uniform for every team, every year since 1901. It's fun to see how your favorite club's look evolved. Did you know that the Dodgers didn't use that familiar script logo and the Yankees didn't settle on the interlocking "NY" on their shirt fronts until the late '30s? Or that nobody put uniform numbers on the front of their jerseys until the Dodgers did in the early '50s? I hadn't realized that the familiar red Cardinals cap didn't come into use until the early '60s, and what I thought of as their retro move of recent years, wearing dark blue caps on the road, is actually a revival of something they did only once before, in 1964.
The Giants wore their distinctive black and orange color scheme only briefly in the early '30s before adopting it for good in 1947. Otherwise it was mostly blue and red. Teams in the early decades of the 20th century sometimes wore garishly checked pajamas, which alas never caught on the way pinstripes did.
A timeline and individual essays on the different parts of a uniform -- cap, pants, lettering, etc. -- move beyond simple style trivia such as when numbers were introduced and delve into practical and social history. Early professional teams wore wool instead of the more logical, comfortable cotton, the exhibit says, because cotton was associated with work clothes, and baseball wanted to seem upscale rather than working class.
My only nitpick is that the timeline, which is quite detailed for earlier times, peters out and gets awfully thin for the period since 1961, when baseball uniforms have changed more than at any other time since the Civil War era. There's no mention of the blue road uniform trend of the '70s or the recent popularity of alternate caps and jerseys, for example.
But that's more than made up for by the inclusion of a photo of the satin jersey worn in the minor league American Association All-Star Game in Toledo in 1938. The shirt, an example of another trend that didn't catch on, satin jerseys designed to look good under the lights at night games, is silver with red sleeves and a blue star over the heart. The letters "AA" straddle the top point of the star.
With the throwback-uniform fad still so hot with the kids, it would be right in style at any nightclub. It'd be cool to wear it to a 12-step meeting.
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Now you can visit Canseco in the big house [PERMALINK]
Speaking of 12-step meetings and the Hall of Fame, guess which one Jose Canseco is a better candidate for these days.
Canseco, already under house arrest after pleading guilty to aggravated battery charges stemming from a 2001 bar brawl, allegedly violated his probation by testing positive for steroids. He's in a Miami jail now facing prison time.
This is a shame because it denies fans of the big Cuban the chance to pay $2,500 to spend an afternoon at his house, an offer he's been making on his Web site, which as of Wednesday afternoon wasn't mentioning his Sunday arrest.
Canseco's offensive numbers would have made him a marginal Hall of Fame candidate if not for all the other stuff he did, like playing the outfield pretty poorly, and then not at all after becoming a permanent designated hitter, and just generally doing something stupid every few weeks for his whole career. And now his retirement. He admits to using steroids in his playing days and said last year that he was planning to write an autobiography detailing the widespread use of steroids in the big leagues. If nothing else, his latest fiasco gives him credibility on that score.
I remember standing just outside the cage in Oakland and watching Canseco take batting practice in the late '80s, when he was fashioning what looked at the time like the beginning of a Cooperstown-bound career. The thing that never came across on TV was how absurdly graceful Canseco was. Not just for a big man -- 6-foot-4, 240 pounds -- but for anyone. Other than lack of effort, there's no reason why he couldn't have become a superb outfielder. He was actually a little better in the field than you probably remember early in his career, but it didn't last.
What the big lug will always be remembered for is being an idiot. A juiced idiot. What a waste.
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