How 'Kate Upton sweater' made it from Astrodome to stores: The secret few people know
HOUSTON – When Justin Verlander brought his legendary pitching arm to Houston, he also brought Kate Upton. She's a supermodel, a super fan and a super trendsetter.
While fans look to him for wins, they look to her for fashion.
That was evident after the American League Championship Series in 2017. Game 7 was a game-changer. Not only did the Astros advance to the World Series, but Upton hit a home run with her sweater. From that point on, it was a must-have for fans.
Fans looked everywhere for the sweater. And those who found one wears it like a badge of honor.
The sweater was an addition to the uniform from the late 1970s and into the 1980s. It wasn't about fashion back then. It was about function. The sweater was designed to keep players, like Astros legend Art Howe, warm in the chilly Astrodome.
"It was a little cool in there because of the air conditioning units in center field," Howe said.
Mike Acosta, the manager of authentication for the Astros, confirmed it was cold in the Dome.
"When the Astrodome was built, they ran the air conditioning constantly, even when the team wasn't in there," Acosta said.
That's where the sweaters came into play, especially for pitchers.
"There's been a lot of pictures of Nolan Ryan wearing it, primarily because he's a pitcher and guys like to keep their arms warm," Acosta said.
It was a uniform piece born out of necessity. Now it's a wardrobe staple for many Astros fans. So how did it get from the Astrodome to fans? That is a secret very few people have known. Until now.
The secret centers around on Major League Baseball scout Gordon Lakey.
Lakey is a legend in baseball circles. In his 49-year career, he has worked for the Astros, the Toronto Blue Jays and now works for the Philadelphia Phillies.
When he was with the Astros, he saw the sweater in action. The team even gave him one. It's an original with his named stitched into it.
When Lakey learned about the sweater's resurgence due to Kate Upton, he decided it was time to reveal what he's known about the sweater for decades.
"I knew the true story behind the sweater. And she was getting all the credit for the sweater," Lakey said.
In the early 1990s, Lakey told a friend, Joanne Graham, about the sweater. Graham just happened to work for the sports clothing company Mitchel & Ness.
"She asked me about some ideas and I told her I had this sweater. I sent it to her and she reproduced it," Lakey said.
That was over 20 years ago, and while Mitchell & Ness did sell some of the sweaters during that time, Lakey acknowledges the "Kate Upton factor" helped.
"I don't know why it didn't sell initially. It took last year for it to take off," Lakey said.
Without Lakey, the Astros sweater probably never would have made it to Kate Upton or to your closet. But he refuses to take any credit.
"It was a positive thing for Mitchell & Ness. It obviously became a positive thing for the Astros. And that's fine, I don't need the credit for it," Lakey said.
But maybe there's one regret? "Well, I probably should have had stock in it," Lakey laughed.
Now you know the sweater's historical significance and how it became the sports world's most sought-after sweater. But there's still one more question to ask: Who wore it better? Kate Upton or Nolan Ryan?
"Nolan Ryan. He won more games. He's also in the Hall of Fame," Lakey said.
"Kate Upton," Acosta said.
"Kate Upton. 'Noley' didn't look too good in anything," Howe laughed.
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