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Thursday, June 16, 2005
Updated: June 21, 10:48 PM ET
From corsets to catsuits

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Ah, big-time tennis – the pageantry, the tradition, the overpriced concessions. With Wimbledon set to kick off today, and people still chattering about French Open champ Rafael Nadal's clamdiggers, this seems like a good time for Uni Watch to take a look at the world of court couture.

The game's biggest clotheshorse is, of course, Serena Williams – what with the catsuit, the gaiters, and the tribute to the Cameroon soccer team. But Page 2 has already had its fun with her, and with other contemporary players. So instead, let's take a look at the sport's early days – key milestones on the road from this and this to this and this:

1887: With most female players wearing ankle-length dresses, bustles, petticoats and corsets, 15-year-old Lottie Dod gets away with wearing a calf-level hemline because it's part of her school uniform. She wins Wimbledon, but later calls on the sport's higher-ups to allow "a suitable attire for women's tennis which does not impede breathing."

1905: American May Sutton causes the sport's first sartorial scandal by rolling up her sleeves and exposing – gasp! – her forearms.

1919: Most female players are still wearing corsets when France's Suzanne Lenglen causes a stir by taking the court at Wimbledon in a loose-fitting, short-sleeved cotton dress, accessorized with knee-high stockings and a headband (none of which, presumably, impedes her breathing).

1921: Helen Wills Moody begins wearing a white visor, which becomes one of her two signature accessories. The other: a cardigan, which she wears in cold weather.

1931: Joan Lycett wears ankle-length socks instead of stockings, becoming the first woman to play bare-legged. With no more stocking garters to hide, this marks the beginning of the end for low hemlines.

1932: At the U.S. Open, Britain's Bunny Austin becomes the first man to wear shorts, with America's Alice Marble becoming the first shorts-clad woman a year later. Nobody objects too strenuously, probably because acid-washed denim hasn't yet been invented.

1933: Frenchman René "The Crocodile" Lacoste inadvertently creates the visual template for legions of annoying Skippys and Muffys by trading in his stiff-collared, long-sleeved shirt for a short-sleeved polo, which soon becomes the basis for his own clothing line.

1946: Yvon Petra becomes the last man to win Wimbledon while wearing long trousers.

1949: In a development that gives new resonance to the old "I see London, I see France" nursery rhyme, the UK goes into collective apoplexy when Gussie Moran plays Wimbledon in lace-trimmed underwear, which she obligingly displays for photographers.

Of course, once you had players showing off their undies, it was only a matter of time before they started showing off – well, you get the idea.

As for Nadal, Uni Watch has no problem with his getup, but it's too bad he has allowed himself to become the new poster boy for logo creep – or in his case, a full-scale logo insurgency. In case you missed it: ATP rules restrict the size of clothing logos to just a few square inches. But Nike, which sponsors Nadal, has long contended that Adidas' trademarked triple-stripe design is essentially an illegally oversized logo. To make their point, the Nike bigwigs plastered a giant swoosh on Nadal's shirt – and another one on the back – for the Rome Masters tournament in early May (apparently all the swooshes on his socks, pants, wristbands and headband were too subtle).

So Nadal basically let the Nike folks make him a pawn in their marketing war against Adidas. At the risk of sounding sentimental, Uni Watch pines for the days when the competition was between the players, not the sportswear companies.

Felt Mark
Just when you think you've seen everything – when you think you've finally got this cold, unfriendly world figured out and have grudgingly come to terms with your place in it – someone comes along and casually mentions something that turns your whole perspective upside-down. In this case, that someone is reader Matt Sanderson, who recently dropped the following bomb on Uni Watch HQ:

"Perhaps this is common knowledge, but the Cubs have a raised, 3-D emblem on their batting helmets – complete with embroidery, just like on their caps – as opposed to the vinyl sticker most other teams use. I lost a bet with a friend over this issue in the mid-1980s and have been a '3-D batting helmet logo watcher' ever since."

Common knowledge? Au contraire! Over the course of 30-plus years of following baseball, Uni Watch had never noticed this detail. And frankly, it sounded a bit suspect – with everything in baseball being so standardized these days, what were the odds the Cubbies would be using a different kind of helmet logo than everyone else? But following up on such tips, no matter how dubious, is Uni Watch's job, so a period of intense Cubs-centric photo research ensued. Most pix, however, such as this one, were inconclusive – like, if you stare at it long enough, you can probably convince yourself that the logo is raised, but it also looks a lot like a flat decal. Uni Watch was unconvinced.

That's when Sanderson, perhaps sensing his reputation at stake, directed Uni Watch to this photo. And sure enough, it looks as though there's a patch, not a decal, being knocked off of Andre Dawson's helmet. A bit of additional research turned up this shot, which shows at least a hint of the patch's depth and embroidery. Uni Watch was now intrigued (if somewhat shaken to the core), and wanted to know more.

Batting helmets used to be made by American Baseball Cap Inc. (which is why they used to have the "ABC" logo on the back). But ABC was acquired a few years ago by Rawlings, which now makes all the MLB helmets, so Uni Watch contacted Rawlings marketing manager Dan Cullinane to get the full scoop.

"The Cubs do use a different helmet logo than the other teams," he confirmed, much to Uni Watch's amazement. "It's a white felt adhesive appliqué with an embroidered red 'C' inside the felt. I'm not sure of the history, since we only bought ABC a couple of years ago, but I believe that initially all the team logos were made out of felt. But every other team has switched to a decal."

Cullinane even went above and beyond the call of duty by sending Uni Watch a sample Cubs helmet logo and an actual Cubs helmet, which makes it easier to show the appliqué's thickness.

The next step was to call Wrigley Field, where Uni Watch hoped to get some background info from Yosh Kawano, perhaps the most storied of all MLB equipment managers. Unfortunately, he wasn't in the mood to discuss this weighty matter (maybe just as well, since he's famous for limiting his vocabulary to "yes" and "no" when being interviewed), so instead Uni Watch spoke with the Cubs' other equipment manager, Tom Hellman.

"I've worked with the Cubs since 1983, and we've always had the felt helmet logo," he said. "Before that, I worked for the Reds in the '70s, and they just used a sticker, so when I came over here and saw how the Cubs do their helmets, I thought it was pretty cool." And when new players join the Cubs, do they think it's cool, too? "Um, not really," he said. "Actually, nobody ever mentioned it before." And is it true that all teams used felt helmet logos way back when? "Look," said Hellman, bringing the proceedings to an abrupt halt, "I've been around for a while, but not forever, y'know?"

Fair enough. In retrospect, maybe it's not so surprising that the Cubs would have a unique helmet logo. They're also the only MLB team to include an "®" trademark symbol on their jersey insignia (a topic Uni Watch addressed a few years back), as well as the only club to wear their team logo on their pants. Heterodoxy, thy name is Cubbies!

Meanwhile, Matt Sanderson, who got this investigative ball rolling, is happy to share the glory. "The real credit should go to my longtime friend Richard Bolster, who used that Andre Dawson cover photo to win the bet we had about the Cubs' helmet logo," he says. "I ate crow, he gloated, and he works it in just about every time we have a disagreement about anything. But since then, I have proselytized on the subject whenever I've had the opportunity."

At ease, Matt. By any reasonable standard, you've now fully paid off your share of the bet.

Uni News Ticker
Odd situation looming in Houston, where Astros outfielder Jason Lane wears uni No. 24. That number is due to be retired next month in honor of Jimmy Wynn, so Lane will have to switch to a new number. As reader Kevin Gee points out, it's not often that a number is retired while someone else is still wearing it (the most famous case being when Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque switched from wearing 7 to 77, in deference to Phil Esposito). … The Bills unveiled their new throwback alternate unis on June 4, and whaddaya know – they look pretty good, from the striped socks and black shoes to the old-school helmet design. Nicely done. … By now, most folks know that Tigers pitcher Jason Johnson, who has diabetes, wears an insulin pump clipped to his belt. But it turns out that he's not the only ballplayer with a medical device on his person: San Diego's Darrell May (who clearly deserved to be included in last column's rundown of stirrup stalwarts – mea culpa) is asthmatic and keeps an inhaler in his back pocket while pitching. On May 17, he felt a little chest tightness during the third inning and actually stepped off the mound to use the inhaler, marking the first time he'd reached for the puffer while on the field. … Aaron King glumly notes that the Rome Braves – Atlanta's single-A affiliate – held one of the worst uni promotions in recent memory earlier this month: Jimmy Buffett Night. Shouldn't every player who was forced to wear that jersey get at least a courtesy promotion to Double-A (if not a September call-up to the bigs)?

Meanwhile, in a move of similarly dubious propriety, the St. Paul Saints held Nurses Appreciation Night two Sundays ago by having the team dress up in pink scrubs. … XYZ Dept.: A thoroughly repulsed Brian Crisp reports that Cardinals reliever Ray King took the mound June 3 with his fly unzipped. Fortunately, Tony La Russa spotted this undignified state of affairs from the dugout and removed King after only one pitch (ostensibly because he gave up a hit, but we know the real reason). … Over in the NBA Finals, reader Dustin Hirsch notes that Detroit's Richard Hamilton wore a red headband during the first half of Game 3, but switched to a blue headband for the second half. … On June 11, the Devil Rays became the latest MLB team to play a game in their batting practice jerseys – a particularly odd move considering their BP attire is so similar to their green alternate jerseys. … Redskins RB Clinton Portis and former teammate Ifeanyi Ohalete finally stopped acting like 12-year-old girls and settled their uniform-number payment dispute, a day before it was set to go to trial.

Saturday night's light-heavyweight title bout between Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson was notable, because both fighters wore white trunks, which meant the primary visual distinction between them was that Johnson's gloves were white and Tarver's were gray. Would someone please tell these guys that color TV was invented in 1953? … Logo Creep Alert: When the Indians wear their alternate vest jerseys, Coco Crisp has been sporting what appears to be a big, ugly Adidas splotch on his left undersleeve, while the rest of the team goes plain-sleeved. When Crisp isn't looking, someone please sneak up behind him with a pair of scissors and excise the offending imprint. … Is Pabst Blue Ribbon the new libation of choice at the 19th Hole? Gotta wonder after seeing Jason Gore's caddie, Lewis Pulle, decked out in PBR gear during the U.S. Open (with thanks to reader Ethan Ganot). … Just askin': Why do so many MLB managers wear wristwatches? What, the stadium clock isn't big enough? Or maybe they have to remember when to sneak back to the clubhouse to watch "American Idol"? Uni Watch thought the whole point of baseball was that time is irrelevant because the game is measured in outs and innings, not in minutes. But look in the dugout and you'll see most skippers looking like train conductors, including Dusty Baker, Clint Hurdle, Charlie Manuel, Lloyd McClendon, Jack McKeon, Phil Garner, Jim Tracy, Felipe Alou, Willie Randolph, Mike Hargrove, John Gibbons and Ron Gardenhire, among others. They can't all have endorsement deals with Rolex, so what gives?

Follow-ups
The roster of catchers who don't wear a backward cap beneath their hockey-style mask – and who are therefore shamefully bareheaded when the mask is removed – keeps growing. Uni Watch has spotted John Flaherty, and reader Richard Ceccarelli nominates the Angels' Molina brothers, Bengie and Jose. Fortunately, they haven't passed along this bad habit to their kid brother Yadier, who maintains proper decorum by wearing a backward Cardinals cap under his mask.

And speaking of catchers' headwear, the Devil Rays just called up Kevin Cash, who joins the Dodgers' Jason Phillips in the elite fraternity of backstops who wear their helmets with the brim facing forward.

Meanwhile, last column's hosiery hoedown prompted an excellent missive from reader Steve Kusheloff, who points out that the 1959 Chicago White Sox deserve a special place in the stirrup pantheon. After wearing striped black stirrups during the regular season, they lived up to their team name by switching to striped white stirrups for the World Series.

The ChiSox aren't the only team whose shins have been styled white-on-white. As several readers have pointed out, UCLA was wearing blue-outlined white stirrups in last week's Women's College World Series. And speaking of college sports, Brett S. Baker and Ernie Washington note that Nebraska was wearing nifto striped hose in last month's Big 12 tournament – not quite as cool as stirrups, but still pretty sharp.

In more stirrup news, Uni Watch is pleased to report that A's teammates Bobby Crosby and Joe Blanton, both of whom have previously worn solid stockings, were wearing real stirrups – complete with yellow sani! – during last week's series against the Mets.

The prize for the most subtle stirrup sighting, however, goes to Ross Yoshida, who spotted the following factoid: Contrary to Uni Watch's long-standing belief, Jim Thome doesn't wear solid socks – he wears low-cut red stirrups over red sanitaries. It's hard to see, but look closely – it's true!

Finally, a big shout-out to the several readers who suggested – sometimes in rather graphic terms – that the intensity of Uni Watch's stirrup fixation borders on, shall we say, the fetishistic. You all get big points for having such creative imaginations, but not for accuracy. And frankly, Uni Watch's preoccupation with athletic hosiery is nothing compared to what you'll find on this rather remarkable site, whose Web master makes Uni Watch look like a mere dabbler. Remember, obsessions – much like stirrup heights – are all relative.

Paul Lukas only wears clamdiggers when actually digging for clams in the Great South Bay. Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.