Ebbets Field back home

Three years after selling cataloger Ebbets Field Flannels to Seattle-based sporting goods manufacturer Stall & Dean, the two cofounders have reacquired the catalog’s assets, including its brand name and mailing list.

Founded by Jerry Cohen and his then-wife, Lisa Cooper, in 1988, Ebbets Field Flannels produces replicas of uniforms from obscure baseball teams, including jerseys from the Negro Leagues, the Federal League of 1914-1915, former minor leagues, and the old Cuban and Latin American leagues. The founders sold the catalog to Stall & Dean in late 2001.

The reacquisition is a victory of sorts for Cohen, who shortly after selling the catalog clashed with Stall & Dean over the direction of the business. For one thing, Cohen says, fads were threatening the business. For instance, when colors such as teal became popular, manufacturers and marketers flooded the market with teal sports apparel. That wasn’t an option for Ebbets Field, as teal didn’t exist on the uniforms of yesteryear. “I didn’t think catering to a fad was best for the business,” Cohen says.

Also, the vintage baseball jerseys had become fashionable with rap stars and hip-hop artists. Over Cohen’s objections, Stall & Dean ventured into the urban-lifestyle clothing market, wholesaling the jerseys to retailers. According to Joe Cuff, chief operating officer at Stall & Dean, the market has been a lucrative one for the company. As a result, Ebbets Field Flannels no longer fit into Stall & Dean’s game plan.

Cohen was happy to take back Ebbets Field. Save for some sporadic drops, he says, Stall & Dean had ceased mailing the catalog and applied the brakes on prospecting. So Cohen’s first priority was to get the book back in play. He dropped 40,000 copies of a 24-page Ebbets Field Flannels catalog on April 22, primarily to house file names, and plans to mail another 80,000 copies. The company also has its own Website, in addition to still fulfilling merchandise ordered at the Stall & Dean Website.

Beyond replicated jerseys

While the new Ebbets Field catalog sells authentically replicated vintage baseball jerseys, caps, and jackets, Cohen plans to expand into other vintage-inspired sportswear, such as old roller-derby uniforms, filling-station attendant apparel, and women’s softball shirts, in the fall.

Why add nonsports apparel to this niche merchandise line? “The traditional sports fan wanting to wear his favorite team’s gear isn’t our customer,” Cohen says. “We’ve found that people buy our hats and jerseys because they want something that represents a unique piece of sports history.”

What’s more, Cohen says, the clothes are conversation starters: “If a customer is wearing a 1930s Atlanta Crackers jersey or a hat from the 1955 San Francisco Seals, someone else will almost inevitably ask him or her about it.”

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