Thursday, September 22, 2016

Backstory: From Socks to Sweaters...

In the spring of 2011, I received what might be called an... um... urgent phone call from the HOF's Senior Curator, Tom Shieber. They were putting together a summer exhibit called "One for the Books," which focused on the sorts of baseball records that don't usually appear on a stat sheet.

Among other things, the display included the uniform of Eddie Gaedel, the shortest man to ever play MLB. His signing was essentially a publicity stunt by St. Louis Browns' owner Bill Veeck, but at 3'7", Gaedel's impossibly small strike zone enabled him to get a walk in his only plate appearance. (Naturally, he was immediately switched out for a pinch runner. :)

Pic credit: Tom Shieber
The problem was that Gaedel's uniform lacked socks. Considering the short-legged style worn in 1951, their lack would make the display look incomplete. With three weeks' notice, Tom asked me if I could knit a reasonably accurate pair of replica stirrup socks. All I had to go on was the knitting gauge (the number of
stitches and rows per inch) from a pair of 1952 socks and this collage:

Eddie Gaedel's uniform, OFTB exhibit, 2011
Fortunately, one of the photos showed Gaedel standing up, meaning I could scale the stripes and the length to his 3'7" frame. Two weeks later, I had a finished pair of stirrup socks; I even had a friend's son try them on to double-check the sizing.

As it turned out, the socks were perfect. At the same time, I discovered the joy and the challenge of creating vintage replicas. Now that I had "the bug," I wanted to try my hand at other baseball regalia. When I visited Cooperstown that summer, I was given the opportunity to delve into the HOF's vaults, in hopes of finding something else to duplicate.

With Tom's assistance--okay, it was his idea, and he nailed it--we decided on the Ty Cobb Sweater. It was reasonably simple (at these things go) and, because Cobb had donated it personally, we were sure of its authenticity.

The afternoon I spent in the bowels of the HOF was some of the most fun I've ever had. Not only did I get to look through stacks--and I means stacks--of other historical items, but I had the opportunity to handle the sweater and get the sort of information impossible to glean from a photograph. (Don't worry. I promise to go into lots of detail on that in upcoming posts. :)

That visit was my real transition from "design contest winner" to "baseball replica knitter." I didn't want to make any old replica; I wanted something as close to the original as possible--same construction, same size, same gauge, same weight, same materials. Now I had a project, and a goal, and a challenge. Little did I realize how much of a challenge that would turn out to be...

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