For sports fans, imitation has always been the most popular form of flattery. One generation of fans gobbles up No. 7 jerseys in honor of Mickey Mantle, and the next wipes out stocks of jerseys bearing Joe Namath's No. 12. But people longing for jerseys actually worn by their heroes have usually been out of luck; teams in major sports routinely wear out old uniforms in practice sessions or pass them along to rookies or minor-leaguers.
But now fans can get their hands on the real thing, thanks to Martin Friedman, who runs a Baltimore mail-order business specializing in major league baseball apparel, new and used. Friedman has done a great deal of serious swapping with general managers (e.g., new jackets for old jerseys) and players, and he has amassed an inventory of more than 300 jerseys that have been worn in games.
Friedman's current catalog lists shirts off the backs of such biggies as Mantle, Hank Aaron and Pete Rose, all at the top price of $275, and jerseys of somewhat lesser lights at prices down to $99—the cost of a Carlton Fisk or a Tug McGraw. He also has potluck group offerings (complete uniforms of the Boston Red Sox) and some choice non-baseball jerseys, including several worn by Namath ($275) and Bobby Orr ($175).
Fans should be forewarned that Friedman's listings change often, because he's continually acquiring new items and because his sales, especially of coveted Yankee and Dodger jerseys, have been brisk. According to Friedman, the roll call of his customers includes show-biz people like Linda Ronstadt and John Travolta; nostalgic fans displaced from the teams they root for; doctors, lawyers and business executives; guys who claim, "I know this player personally and I'm his biggest fan"; bars and sports-oriented restaurants; groupies; and fans in Japan and Germany.
Anyone who'd like to acquire a lived-in souvenir can be put on Friedman's mailing list by sending $1 to: M. Friedman Specialty Co., P.O. Box 5777 (S), Baltimore, Md. 21208.