Throwback Threads

nostalgia over success on the field impacts what we find in our closets

Luc Anthony

In the summer of 1999, I found my target on the Internet, my holy grail of baseball jerseys: the red/orange/yellow rainbow-striped 1970s/’80s-era Houston Astros home top, in this case with the number and name of the most-recognizable player to don the “Tequila sunrise,” Nolan Ryan. For a little over $100, I could finally possess the most-garish of the “double knit” period of baseball uniforms and a full-on guilty pleasure of mine. Alas, the price seemed a little out of range for my college-age budget, and I passed.

I should have splurged when I did: Not only do “authentic” throwback jerseys now regularly go for $250, but that particular style of Astros uniform is, for some reason, not manufactured. Yet the market for wearable sports memorabilia is perhaps as strong as at any point in athletic history. Throwbacks, currents, alternates, “fashion jerseys” (not the sort you would see in Paris, rather a “fashionable” take on a regular design), replicas, shirts – you almost certainly own one of the above.

Safety also drives such retro shopping. Buying a throwback means avoiding a current star player (i.e., Ryan Braun) sending you into a state of embarrassment because of the name on the back. Barring an O.J. Simpson-style surprise, retired players are pretty well established for who they are.Why? Why do we purchase this memorabilia? The obvious answer is that this is the manner in which we best display our fandom. Are you a Packers fan? Wear a Packers jersey – this seems simple-enough. Where this becomes more complex is when we go beyond the clear choices of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews: What motivates one to purchase a jersey of a retired player, a defunct team, or a much-derided color scheme?

My formative sports year was 1985, when I got my first Topps baseball cards and watched Brewers TV games on the road from my house in Grafton. (Back then, home games could never be televised since everything aired on free broadcast television and the Brew Crew did not want to cannibalize County Stadium ticket sales, especially when considering the mediocrity of the mid-’80s Brewers.) There was a lot of powder blue, a lot of vibrant colors – this was, unwittingly, part of what sold me on sports. This became my nostalgia.

Thus, nostalgia bias drives our sartorial athletic shopping. The same website that incredibly could not stock the most famous/infamous jersey of baseball’s “plastic” time frame did stock a 1982 Paul Molitor Brewers road jersey, and a $100 all-jersey sale last June led me to finally get myself a throwback. Of course, I firmly believe Milwaukee should fully-adopt this uni set, but that’s nostalgia bias for you.
Safety also drives such retro shopping. Buying a throwback means avoiding a current star player (i.e., Ryan Braun) sending you into a state of embarrassment because of the name on the back. Barring an O.J. Simpson-style surprise, retired players are pretty-well established for who they are.

The other safe bet? Championship shirts. For me, they serve as banners of sorts. Since I lack room to hang such banners from the rafters of the Luc Anthony Estate, I wear T-shirts of division titles and national championships of my favorite teams. Wearing a regular jersey tells the observer of your preferred team; wearing a championship shirt says something good happened to that team. I am often reminded of this seeing those Mardi Gras-inspired Super Bowl XXXI hat logos from the Packers’ 1996 Super Bowl run – a symbol of the ongoing success of our state’s team, and my favorite team’s lack thereof.

I would think the market for such gear has expanded such that Chippewa Valley high schools could print up shirts for their football/basketball tourney runs and get some decent sales. If the aim of new UW-Eau Claire Athletic Director Dan Schumacher comes to fruition and the Blugolds become Whitewater North with a wave of Division III championships, we ought to see a bunch of appropriate shirts in Eau Claire.

The proliferation of the sports merchandise industry, combined with ever-more leagues and divisions within leagues, mean there will be more and more championship shirts and hats for you to squeeze into your closet in coming years. The combination of validation and immortality – success and nostalgia – will give you plenty of opportunities to show off the awesomeness of your team from a special moment in time. Just make sure you buy them before they disappear from the stores – and truly become artifacts of history.

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