In 1976 my family moved to Cincinnati. At the time I was a Tigers fan, a disciple of the American League.
That changed damn quick.
I guess you can say I stepped into a good thing and 31 years later I’m still waiting for that same feeling to return, a feeling of sustained greatness, a feeling that doesn’t feign surprise at its power, nor arrogance at its success. In short it was baseball nirvana and that was the cement that sealed me in this game’s endless cycle of season-off-season-season mantra. But as the summer ends and the Reds battle to deliver the 19th season of at least a .500 record during my fandom, I tend to wander in thought concerning the game and the events that make it up, because in essence data may be king but metadata is god and this game is awash in metadata.
Major League Baseball is in its 136th season and there is a mess of history that criss-crosses and makes up the base of the game. Throughout the years, the men that were involved in it have been having their lives (or deaths) noted by future generations and from what I can tell we are seeing a LOT of that these days, for if you watch closely you’ll have noticed that the players are wearing that fact on their sleeves.
Of course I’m talking about “Uniform Patches” or “Commemorative Patches” and if you are like me you watch a lot of baseball, not just the Reds, not just the NL Central, but a lot of baseball. If so then you must have noticed the plethora of uniform patches that are appearing on players sleeves in almost every game that hits the airwaves.
Example number one: the recent death of Mike Flanagan is being currently honored by the Orioles with what is the fifteenth patch to grace a MLB uniform this summer. This is easily the record number of teams that are honoring the fallen from the games past (2007 might be the previous record holder with 11 commemorative uniform notations). If you have seen a patch on the Reds sleeve be aware it’s in honor of the recently deceased Sparky Anderson; the Tigers also have a patch commemorating Sparky. In fact most patches are in honor of fallen players and recently we’re seeing ones for announcers, as the Mariners honor Dave Niehouse and Atlanta, Ernie Johnson this season with patches that have a microphone on them.
You might struggle to remember the ones on the sleeves of the boys from Cincinnati, probably because the Reds have a short history when it comes to wearing commemorative patches for fallen comrades. The first instance was in 1940 when catcher Willard Hershberger took his own life. In that era (and the many eras prior) these sort of events were honored with a traditional black armband. The second patch of this kind that graced a Reds uniform was on the sleeve of the 1961 team in honor of fallen owner Powell Crosley.
It was another 27 years before the next was worn in 1988 in honor of Ted Kluszewski; this move was also a graceful black band on the sleeve. The next “in honor” patch was donned in honor of the Old Lefthander, Joe Nuxhall, in 2008 and this is essentially the most popular style of patch that you see around the league these days, a black circular patch with a white name of the fallen. In the Reds case it said “NUXY” and was placed on the right uniform sleeve.
Other uniform patches have graced the Reds uniforms throughout the years, and not all are concerned with honoring the dead. Some are league wide, including ones that commemorated the 50th season of the National League in 1925 and the “Centennial of baseball” in 1939, and the 100th year of the National League in 1976. Oddly enough the Reds won the Pennant in 4 of the years that they sported a commemorative piece of fabric on their sleeve.
So look a little closer at those uniforms as the season winds down, chances are you might see something that stirs your memory, something that reminds you of the people in the game and the impact that they might have had on you or your fellow fans, and savor that moment, because baseball is made up of millions of those memories, not just wins and losses.