Step Back in Time with Ebbets Field Flannels’ Vintage Jerseys

Step Back in Time with Ebbets Field Flannels’ Vintage Jerseys

More than any other major league sport, the history of baseball is intimately connected to graphic design. Think Yankee pinstripes, Dodger blue, and the Tigers’ Old English D. As a young boy growing up in 1960s Brooklyn, Jerry Cohen was well aware of that connection: While most of his friends were tearing open new packs of baseball cards in search of their favorite players, Cohen was focused on the uniforms, the logos, and the colors.

Fast forward to Seattle, 1987. Cohen is searching for an original wool baseball uniform to wear onstage while performing with his rock-and-roll band. When he finally realizes he’ll need to make it himself, he discovers a warehouse in Rockport, New York, with yards of baseball flannel dating back to the 1940s. Cohen made a few of his own jerseys, and before too long, people were asking to buy the shirts off his back. And Ebbets Field Flannels was born.

Three years later, Sports Illustrated highlighted the company, which quickly led to celebrity commissions from Spike Lee and David Letterman. Ebbets Field Flannels provided jerseys for 42 (the Jackie Robinson biopic), and outfitted Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and other Hall of Famers at the closing ceremonies for Yankee Stadium in 2008. A die-hard Mets fan who now oversees 22 employees, Cohen recently added football and hockey jerseys to EFF’s collection, but vintage minor-league and Negro-League uniforms will always form the heart of the lineup, along with those from the historic international baseball hubs of Japan and Cuba.

When you decide to create a “new” product, where do you start?

I’m not like most clothing designers who think, “What will people like next season?” I follow history. It’s my job to be a curator and accurately take a two-dimensional form—often a black and white photo—and turn it into a three-dimensional form, which is a living, breathing piece of clothing. If I have any talent, that’s what it is.

I’m a little cagey on the subject of research; I don’t like to tell people about my methods because I have a lot of competition, and I’m not going to make it easy for anyone else. But I’ve collected a lot of reference materials over the years, and sometimes it’s very serendipitous—stuff comes across my desk and I follow leads, like any good detective.

What’s the most difficult thing about recreating these uniforms?

In many ways, it’s harder to do a simple thing than a complicated thing. Today’s graphic designers go their entire lives using Photoshop or Illustrator and many of them don’t understand the elegance and simplicity [of doing things by hand]. If you look at baseball graphics or athletic uniforms of today, the general approach is more—more colors, more layers, more of everything crammed into a very small space. But back in 1915 or 1945, it was the opposite; design literally meant someone drawing with a pencil in a sporting goods store, then someone else rendering that illustration into dies that were used to cut felt lettering.

Describe your typical customer.

When we started, there were still plenty of old timers who went to the games of the San Francisco Seals, let’s say, so that was our original market. Five or six years ago, we discovered a new market—much younger people who are driven by the craftsmanship of the products as much as they are by the history and the teams.

Now, our audience is much more diverse—we’re working with ACE Hotel and other contemporary brands [including Jack White’s Third Man Records], who seem to like our vintage approach. With so much cynicism in marketing—particularly in sports-related products—everything is so “of the moment,” but when the moment changes, all that stuff really seems obsolete. We try to sell timelessness.

Designers are always trying to connect people to brands, but it’s hard to think of a brand more powerful than baseball—simple letters and numbers and the words “New York” seem to add up to a lot more. True?  

That’s where the history comes in—putting the letters and the colors in the context of history, finding those touchstones, and even bringing a story to people that they may not be aware of. If you could describe the Ebbets approach, it’s not, “Here’s a Yankees hat like they wore in the World Series,” because that’s been done. From the beginning, back in 1988, it was, “Do you know about the Negro Leagues? Did you know this whole other universe existed and it was wonderful and rich, full of all these amazing characters?”

As historians, we’re always trying to find those little stories, so that every product we make has some emotional connection or historical resonance. It’s not always possible to discover all the details about some of the more obscure teams, but I always try to find one or two things, even if it’s just a couple of interesting statistics from an old class B minor-league team from the ’30s. Because you have to give people something to sink their teeth into, beyond a black hat with a white “A” on it.

In one interview, you point out how much you love design from the ’30s to the ’60s, and although you’ve considered creating uniforms from the ’80s or ’90s, you’re not in any hurry. What was it about that earlier era?

I’m sure there are people who would respond to something from the ’80s or ’90s just as powerfully as I respond to something from the ’50s. But to me, the ’80s is when designs became dispensable and transient, with polyester materials and logos changing constantly, so I tend to lose interest.  

Right around the ’70s is when you see regional domestic manufacturers get phased out of athletic garments, and big guys like Nike take over and it becomes more about marketing opportunities. Then the computer programs kicked in and everyone had to have their own Pantone color; it wasn’t just red anymore. We’ve recently started making more vintage collegiate uniforms and we have to explain to the schools that back in the day, there were really just seven or eight colors that everyone used; they didn’t make felt out of Harvard’s burgundy Pantone—those specs just didn’t exist. And there’s something I like about that.

It’s like playing music: Today you can have 64 digital tracks on top of one another, and the ability to make any sound you want, or you could hand someone an acoustic guitar and say, “You have to do it with this.” For me, it’s more interesting to work with a limited set of tools.

Today, no new professional sports team would choose to do something as simple as what the Yankees still wear: a one-color interlocking monogram. And yet, you can’t measure the value of that Yankees logo because it has 70 or 80 years of history behind it and it hasn’t really changed. I don’t mean to sound like everything was better “back in the day,” because that’s not true, but there’s something about American style from 1935-1972 that, for my taste, represents something really special.

You’ve been at this 30 years. Have there been any special moments when you were struck by the impact that your company has had?

The kind of people who buy our stuff are the kind of people I’d like to hang out with—experts in other fields. Early on, Spike Lee adopted us, before the Sports Illustrated article even came out—you’d open a magazine and see him wearing one of our Negro League jerseys. I remember opening up a copy of the Sunday New York Times, and seeing documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney in the section where they ask notable people what they’re watching and listening to, and under “What I’m Wearing” it says “Ebbets Fields Flannels”; I had no idea we’d be in the New York Times when I woke up that morning. I’m a huge Beatles fan, and 20 years ago Michael Lindsay, the director of the Beatles documentary “Let it Be,” called us out of the blue and asked to be put on our mailing list—and we still still talk to him. I love it when that sort of thing happens.

And of course, working on uniforms for 42 was a great experience for me personally. Jackie Robinson is part of the DNA of our company: Growing up in Brooklyn, my dad would tell me stories of Jackie Robinson and from there I learned about the Negro Leagues; it’s a springboard to everything we do. So getting to work on that movie, taking my dad to the premier, and seeing our work up on the screen—that was really special.

from 99U99U

How to Work with Assholes: A Survivor’s Guide   

How to Work with Assholes: A Survivor’s Guide   

Robert Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford and one of the founders of the Stanford He is also the world’s leading authority on assholes in the workplace. We sat down with him in Palo Alto to discuss his new book, The Asshole Survival Guide.

The Asshole Survival Guide is the second volume of your research on the subject. Can you give us a brief synopsis of vol. 1? What is the “No Asshole Rule?”

There is a rule, and also a lot of sub-rules, but it basically comes down to this: Don’t hire assholes. These are people whose behavior damages their fellow workers, fellow human beings, and ultimately themselves. They are the jerks and bullies and two-faced backstabbers who make you feel oppressed, humiliated, disrespected, or belittled. We all have stories about these people, but my original motivation was actually more positive: What does it take to build a truly civilized workplace?

That’s what led me to the new book, The Asshole Survival Guide. Given that you are likely to encounter one of these unpleasant people sooner or later, what can be done about them? I analyze the roots of their behavior and offer some strategies for dealing with them.

What can be done about them?

First, keep your distance. A surprising amount of research indicates that the easiest solution is also the most effective: The closer you sit to a toxic personality, the more likely you are to be infected. Bad behavior is contagious. Even an extra 10 feet can help. Second, slow the rhythm. I did a study once of telephone bill collectors who had to deal with abusive behaviors every day. The most effective ones had mastered the art of introducing long pauses before answering. Wait as long as you can before replying to hostile e-mails; find ways to postpone meetings. Third, look in the mirror. This is not so easy, but make sure there’s nothing in your own behavior that might be provoking others to behave in aggressive, insulting, or demeaning ways.

Most of the business books I’ve read talk about the secrets of visionary leaders, the “seven habits” of successful entrepreneurs, and so on. You talk about assholes. How did you come to be so interested in this view of business?

I remember my father coming home one day and describing some guy at work and punctuating his story with, “What an asshole!” How many times have we all heard that—and remarked at how perfectly it captures the essence of an interaction? What triggered my initial essay was the daily experience of my wife, who was managing partner in a law firm: She described her job as “asshole management.”

My “legitimate” field of research is organizational dysfunction, and the more I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that these individuals are a major source not just of unpleasantness but of inefficiencies: They are bad for business. I’m not talking here about someone who loses his temper once in a while or who might just be having a bad day—I’m talking about “certified assholes” whose behavior is an enduring personality characteristic.

The Asshole Survival Guide mixes charming anecdotes, case studies, earnest how-to advice, and some very hard-headed behavioral science. Was it hard to bring these voices into alignment?

Not really. I’ve been a professor for more than thirty years and the thought of writing one more peer-reviewed article for some academic journal was starting to demoralize me. The “research” for this book was actually pretty easy because my readers basically did it for me. In the ten years since The No Asshole Rule was published I’ve received something like eight thousand e-mails from people who wrote to tell me their stories, ask for advice, or just vent. True, there’s a lot of storytelling in the book, but it’s grounded in a pretty wide-ranging scientific literature.

Although you draw upon scholars at universities around the world, most of your focus is on the assholes in America. But is there a difference between American assholes and assholes from other countries?

Good question, and it does point to the cultural specificity of certain behaviors. I’d prefer to say that we are at a moment, historically speaking, that could be called “peak asshole.” All the well-documented forces that turn people into jerks are in place: power imbalance, sleep deprivation, people who are overworked, overcrowded, and in a hurry. What we can say is that largely on account of social media, asshole behavior and the ability to fight it are escalating in tandem.

You make it clear that your main concern is the workplace but that the principles you present are applicable to subway riders, sports events, even nonprofits, and more. Would you say that it’s also applicable to politics?

Well, I do have a section on how to deal with the narcissistic personality: “Narcissists crave constant praise and flattery; they desperately need to believe they are beloved. Although narcissists are often abusive and insulting, they are thin-skinned and don’t tolerate people who question their judgment.” I think I’ll leave it at that.

If you had to compress your decade of research into a single mantra, what would it be?

Easy: “Be slow to label others as assholes, be quick to label yourself as one.”

from 99U99U

The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex

The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex

As editor of 99U, my inbox is (thankfully) filled with pitches of all kinds. Mainly, writers who’d like to contribute to this site and speakers who’d like to throw their hat in the ring for our yearly 99U Conference.

And most times, when we dig deeper into a specific person’s pitch, his or her purported authority is more of a facade to make them appear authoritative — and any ideas are actually a mosaic of people also trying to appear authoritative in a disconcerting house of cards.

They are what philosopher Harry Frankfurt would call “bullshitters.” Those that are giving advice for the sake of giving advice, without any regard as to how it is actually implemented, if it can even be implemented at all. “It’s not important to [the bullshitter] what the world really is like,” he says in a short video documentary about the phenomenon (below). “What is important is how he’d like to represent himself.”

BULLSHIT! (H/T Oliver Burkeman).

In these pitches there’s nothing to suggest the person has any original experience or research or insight to offer said advice. Instead they choose to quote other people who quote other people and the insights can often be traced back in a recursive loop. Their interest is not in making the reader’s life any better, it is in building their own profile as some kind of influencer or thought leader. Or, most frustratingly, they all reference the same company case studies (Hello, Apple and Pixar!), the same writers, or the same internet thinkers. I often encounter writers that share “success advice” learned from a blogger who was quoting a book that interviewed a notable prolific person.

The bullshit industrial complex is a pyramid of groups that goes something like this:

Group 1: People actually shipping ideas, launching businesses, doing creative work, taking risks and sharing first-hand learnings.

Group 2: People writing about group 1 in clear, concise, accessible language.

[And here rests the line of bullshit demarcation…]

Group 3: People aggregating the learnings of group 2, passing it off as first-hand wisdom.

Group 4: People aggregating the learnings of group 3, believing they are as worthy of praise as the people in group 1.

Groups 5+: And downward….

The Complex eventually becomes a full fledged self-sufficient ecosystem when people in group 4 are reviewing books by people in group 3 who are only tweeting people in group 2 who are appearing on the podcasts started by people in group 3.

This Bullshit Industrial Complex has always existed. But thanks to the precarious economics and job prospects of the creative person, it is often in a creative’s financial interest to climb the bullshit pyramid. In the short term, it’s creating a class of (often young) creatives deluded into thinking they are doing something meaningful by sharing “advice.” Long term, it’s robbing us of a creative talent.


Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Being quiet and slowly building mastery and expertise doesn’t pay off much at first. So many creatives must make a calculation: Do I want the short term, could-go-viral-at-any-second thrill of being a vocal expert in my field? Or am I more content playing the long game? More people are incentivized to choose the former — and it’s getting crowded in here.

It’s not our fault. We are set up to reward those proclaiming to have the answers. Sometimes the rewards are higher than those for actually doing the creating, as creatives are getting squeezed. Technology can rob you of your mastery. Automation can rob you of your value. Fickle clients can rob you of a paycheck. But once you’re perceived as an expert on the core premises of creativity? You’re in! Mostly.

There are TEDx events spreading from city to city, websites (like this one!) always seeking out voices to share their views and content to stock newsletters and make the social media rounds. Many sites like Medium are, yes, rich with intelligent essays, but also rich with people giving generic advice in the hopes of selling the next ebook containing aggregated advice from other advice givers. And as more of us are tasked with appearing as experts, we’re incentivized to look the other way. For all of the cynicism around something as innocent as a goddamn logo redesign, the creative world sure looks the other way when someone tells us that the key to creativity is just “shipping.”

As someone who edits a website, there are red flags. The person will claim that they’ve written for site x and site y and have z twitter followers. This is coded language for “take me seriously, because other people have!” Sites like ForbesHuffington Post, and Entrepreneur Magazine have “open contributor” policies where almost anyone can get published with little or no editorial oversight. And the reason they have those policies? Because more content equals more advertising dollars. The incentive structure for both sides makes this credibility hopscotch arrangement appealing. It’s the Complex at work.

Book publishers, the ultimate authority vehicle, are the capstone of the Complex but are just as victim to changing economics as any blog. Responses to book pitches often do not involve a thorough deconstruction of your idea and its substance. Instead, they will ask “How can you market this book?” Which really means “How big is your mailing list?” No one has the time or incentive to make sure their ideas advance the conversation. Or are even realistic. I know because every day a book arrives at the 99U offices with ideas as recursive as a rushed Medium blog post.


Above: Advice in an actual published (and popular!) book.

Creative people often despise those that criticize work without having work of their own. Something Teddy Roosevelt referred to as “being in the arena.” We respect opinions from those that are in the trenches with us, doing the hard things that we try to do. But this creative expert class is worse than any critic, offering other people creative salvation in an attempt to find their own. We despise critics with no skin in the game but we’ve handed them the keys to our kingdom and the space on our library bookshelf.

Make Room at the Top

The cynic in you may wonder, “Who cares? The more bullshitters out there, the more the non-bullshitters like me will be valued.” But what is frightening is those among us who consider success as bullshitter as actual success.

Let’s be clear here: Those who write books, speak at conferences, or write essays are not all bullshitters. Many (if not most!) are offering advice that takes its audience into consideration. This is not bullshit. This is good.

What I’m referring to are those that believe being “industry famous” in the creative world is success in of itself. Especially those that start out with that goal in mind. This is where the Complex can poison talent. Being industry famous should be the result of some contribution to the world that the industry respects and wishes to learn from. Or insights unique and useful that it genuinely makes people’s lives better.

Increasingly “creative coaches” and people with “keynote speaker” in their Twitter bios are making their quest to earn authority a higher priority than the very reason they got into this in the first place. Fueling the Complex is alluring catnip that feels like you’re advancing your career the same way answering a bunch of emails just feels productive.

If someone cares more about what their industry peers think of them than the problems they are solving, they’re a bullshitter. If the idea of being “known” is barometer of their success above user (or reader) success stories, they’re a bullshitter. They are the internet’s equivalent of a reality TV star, taking advantage of the attention economy by catering to our worst instincts in lieu of substance.

The “first principle” of why people willingly join the Complex is a matter of external versus internal motivation. If you’re fueled primarily by external validation, the best way to get it is by surrounding yourself with people like you and writing as an “expert” for that group. Voila, here come a thundering stampede of people ready to tell you to follow your passion. And when you make choices based on what others will think about you, you lose yourself along the way, and the world loses another creative mind that would otherwise share something original. And then, we’re stuck with the same voices at the top of the Complex. We all deserve better.

from 99U99U