Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

Dear athletics aficionados,

The Lazy Scholar happily welcomes back Matthew Mugmon, a graduate student in music at Harvard. Last heard ruminating on some surprisingly suggestive baseball tunes, Mugmon returns today to tackle another side of sports fandom.

Somewhat recent research suggests that when we root for sports teams, we’re actually rooting for ourselves.  It only makes sense, then, that we want our favorite players to wear uniforms and logos that reflect the way we see ourselves—modern (or classic), hip, attractive, and, of course, intimidating.  If athletic apparel includes logo misfires or design miscalculations, then we might start to lose confidence in our own ability to win at life.

This must be why an article from last November revealing the U.S. World Cup soccer jerseys still collects heated comments from insecure American patriots.  “Gary” aptly observed that the diagonal stripe resembles a beauty pageant sash,  and “Matthew N” went so far as to wish failure on the U.S. team:  “This has to be a god damn joke. These kits are hideous. They are so bad that I really may consider hoping they lose just because of this ugly kit.”

As a lifelong fan of the Washington Capitals hockey team, I get where “Matthew N” is coming from. I admit that my team’s clunky outfit from the late ‘90s until 2007 (pictured below) made me feel slightly self-conscious rooting for them.

Team officials know that a uniform or logo shift can energize or deflate a fan base, so it’s no surprise that they’ve apparently devoted more resources to fashion refinements—and sometimes overhauls — than even many active fans may realize.  Thankfully, we can relive our favorite teams’ cosmetic histories (and thus our own) through an array of digital archives.

My first stop had to be The Hockey Uniform Database, a comprehensive source for information about, and images of, National Hockey League team uniforms and how they’ve changed.  There, I discovered that in their inaugural season (1974-75), the Caps fashion directors made a mistake worse than the later black, white, and gold atrocities: white pants with red shirts. (Unfortunately, this archive doesn’t include images of the white pants, but pictures elsewhere show that it was, in fact, a bad move.  I guess no white after Labor Day really is a rule to live by.)  To explore the database, I recommend tracing the tiny adjustments and the seismic shifts using a “flipbook” browsing technique.  Just pick the first set of jerseys for your selected team (teams are on the left), and then click the right arrow until you reach a uniform combo you really hate.

The Basketball Logo Index from the Association for Professional Basketball Research doesn’t have entire uniforms (and it hasn’t been updated in a while).  But it does allow you to easily compare logos from teams as they moved around, since it includes all the designs of a particular franchise on the same page.  So when the Chicago Zephyrs became the Baltimore Bullets in 1963 (today, the Washington Wizards), we can detect a relationship between the letter styles and spacing in “Zephyrs” and “Bullets” and then appreciate the continuity. Or, we can just laugh at the Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons) mascot, who seems to have been a giant metal clown.

Turning to football (of the American variety), the level of detail on The Helmet Project is especially striking, considering that most football teams’ logos haven’t noticeably changed over the years.  A diehard fan can use this site as a starting point for a dissertation on football helmet art.  Here’s the kind of thoroughness we’re dealing with:  “Some sources
indicate that the Falcons wore a single white stripe on their black helmets during at least one preseason game in 1990; however, I have never seen a single photograph to confirm this, and I now strongly doubt that this is true.”  Me too.

Finally, there’s the uniform database on Dressed to the Nines: A History of the Baseball Uniform, a searchable online exhibit from the Baseball Hall of Fame.  As with football, headwear is the most interesting place on baseball uniforms for graphics.  Unfortunately, the exhibit browser doesn’t let you zoom in on the hats, but among the special features here are discussions of the history of each part of the uniform, from caps to stockings.  There, we find out that in the 1960s, the Angels hat had a silver halo on top (pictured).  In 1971, that halo shrank and migrated to the “A” itself.  Lucky for the Angels players, officials for Disney—which owned the team from 1996 to 2003—never managed to add Mickey Mouse ears to the design.  But they probably thought about it.

Iconographically yours,

Matthew Mugmon

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Dear seventh-inning stretchers,

With President Obama’s high and wide pitch, baseball season is officially upon us. So I turned to Matthew Mugmon to dig into the archive for signs of the pastime’s past. Matthew is a graduate student in music at Harvard, whose dissertation looks at the relationship between American modernism and the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. And when you’re done reading his musings about baseball, check out his recent guest post on Gershwin at Amusicology.

Warm weather, the smell of hot dogs and stale beer, the sound of summer songs blasting from car radios, and the sight of too many Jonathan Papelbon jerseys all make me think about one thing: baseball.  I’m the first to admit that it’s not a perfect sport.  Actually, let’s face it — baseball is about as interesting as NASCAR.  Nothing happens for 10 minutes, then the batter calls a timeout, then the infielders meet on the mound, then the manager calls the bullpen, then a kid runs out to get the relief pitcher’s jacket, then…  Maybe this is why baseball has so much ephemera.  We need a real way to pass the time while consuming America’s painfully boring “pastime.”

There’s no better way to get into the baseball mood than to think about what music you might hum to yourself while you’re at the game waiting for something to happen.  And so to get ready for the new season, I browsed the Baseball Sheet Music Archive, one of the digital collections of the Library of Congress’ online Performing Arts Encyclopedia.  Among other things, these scans from the late-19th and early-20th centuries shed light on an innocent time, an era when baseball moves hadn’t yet developed into a kind of crude code for specific kinds of sexual activity.  Take the song “Base Ball Game of Love” by Edith Barbier and Arthur Longbrake, whose cover is pictured.  After some corny lines that we might imagine A-Rod telling Cameron Diaz (“When first I gaz’d into your eyes, Your image made a home run to my heart,/ I tried to tag the feeling which into my heart was stealing,…”), things get racier to modern ears, especially with the chorus:

I was on first and you on second,

Cupid held the third base down,

He coax’d me to lead off and catch you,

But you saw me start I found;

And as we two reach’d third together,

Cupid gave me such a shove,

That we both slid for the home plate,

In our baseball game of love.


And from the cover, Monroe Rosenfeld’s “I’m on the right side of the right girl at the right time and place,” would seem to have nothing to do with baseball.  But only a few seconds in, it starts to sound like a high-school cafeteria conversation:

I have been as far as Third Base,

That’s as far as I ever got;

It’s a Home Run this trip,

I’ll take care not to slip,

It means winning or losing a lot!

And that’s all before the chorus.

If music isn’t your thing, you can always chew gum during the next string of 30 foul balls.  And if you’re like I was as a young Baltimore Orioles fan, you got some of that sugar-coated, rock-hard gum in packs of baseball cards that you bought to make you forget that your heroes made absurd salaries for standing around spitting and doing other unsightly things with their bodies for three or more hours a day (except for Cal Ripken, Jr., the greatest player of all time).  As a kid, Senator Richard B. Russell had a similar idea, but his cards seem to have gotten him into smoking, not gum-chewing.  The late Georgia politician’s collection of American Tobacco Company cards from 1909-1911, “Forgotten Heroes of the Dead-Ball Era,” resides online at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Science at the University of Georgia.  (By the way, it’s called the “dead-ball era” because the games — believe it or not — were even less exciting than they are today.)

Here, I perked up my hometown spirit by searching for John McGraw, an early Orioles legend who shared a nickname with me: Mugsy.  As the archive’s section “It Aint’ Cheatin’ If You Don’t Get Caught” notes, Mugsy — who in this card looks a bit like George W. Bush — “routinely cut inside bases, impeded baserunners by blocking them or pulling on their belts, and maddened umpires and the opposition with his short fuse and sharp tongue.”  Russell’s six McGraw cards depict Mugsy as manager of the New York Giants.  Mugsy’s antics as manager, we find out from the archive, apparently got him ejected 131 times.  If only Mugsy’d had access to the Library of Congress’ baseball sheet music collection, he could have sung “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth.  Or maybe Mugsy secretly wrote the song.

Sadly, in the years of Russell’s collection, my Orioles were a minor league team.  The modern pro Orioles would migrate from St. Louis in 1954; the previous pro Orioles had moved to New York in 1903 and eventually became today’s New York Yankees.  I can’t imagine collecting minor-league cards, but it wasn’t so ridiculous in Russell’s day.  Aside from players on teams you’ve probably never heard of — like the Southern Association’s Nashville Volunteers — I found nine Orioles in the senator’s stockpile.  This includes Jack Dunn, shown here because it’s one of those unusual cards that shows the subject actually doing something baseball-related.  This guy ran the Orioles and was responsible for having sold the great Babe Ruth from the O’s to the Red Sox in 1914.  (For a nice account of this disaster, see Kal Wagenheim’s Babe Ruth, pp. 24-25).  So here’s to you, Jack, for starting an Orioles’ tradition — acquiring and then getting rid of good players.  The baseball sheet music collection has a few Babe Ruth songs, but you can bet Mr. Dunn never reached first base with any of them.

Baltimoronically yours,

Matthew Mugmon

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