People who know me well know that I am a passionate fan of the New York Yankees, dating back to the days when Mickey Mantle was playing first base at the end of his career and a young fellow named Bobby Murcer was chasing balls around the monuments in center field, some 463 feet away from home plate. Other people also know that one of the things that interests me about sports (more as a hobby) happens to be uniforms and equipment. In the case of the Yankees, there has been little change, other than an array of patches and mourning bands, and one significant change in the away jersey in 1973 (the addition of white bordering the midnight blue of the team name and the uniform number as well as a new sleeve trim). In the case of the New York Islanders, my favorite hockey team, uniform changes, especially the jersey and logo, have become something of an obsession with Islanders fans.
I’ve written before about the relationship between sports uniforms and history on Civil Warriors, and I’ve commented on how sports and history interact in other ways. I’ll repost those links soon. But someone who knows of my interest in uniforms is Paul Lukas, who runs a terrific blog called Uni Watch. I’ve contributed a few items to his blog, despite the fact that he’s a Mets fan. Paul also has a weekly column on espn.com, and this week’s column is of particular interest to me, both as a Yankees fan and as a historian.
This is a picture of Roy White, then a New York Yankees farmhand, posing in the uniform of the Columbus (Georgia) Yankees in 1964-1965. Note the patch on his left sleeve. White went on to play with the Yankees for over a decade, from the team’s low period in the mid-1960s to 1979. He won two World Series rings and appeared in a third Series; he wore #6 long before Joe Torre did, and as a switch-hitter he had two very distinct batting stances. Red Sox fans will recall that he scored ahead of Bucky Dent’s memorable home run in the October 2, 1978 playoff game against the Boston Red Sox.
Paul’s article shows that the whole team wore that patch in 1965; another picture shows that the uniform was also in use in 1964 (check out the use of the flag on the ball park) and 1966 (Paul has some followup information in his Uniwatch blog yesterday). So far, he’s uncovered only one other team that wore the patch, the 1953 Birmingham Barons, and in that case, it was in fact a direct political statement. Yes, even after Jackie Robinson, segregation continued in the minor leagues: I am currently reading Bill White’s autobiography, and I highly recommend it … and astute baseball and basketball fans will recall who later played for the Birmingham Barons.
Paul’s interviewed White as well as several teammates who later made it to the Yankees, including Fritz Peterson, Stan Bahnsen, and Mike Hegan (it’s Bahnsen’s tenure with the Columbus team in 1965 and not 1964 that allows me to date the team picture; Bahnsen won the first game I ever saw in Yankee Stadium, a 6-0 shutout on May 17, 1969, that some 10,651 fans attended, so I must be the “1”). Check out what Paul has to say. It offers a different take than the initial response many of you might have.