In Memoriam: Marc Okkonen

Marc OkkonenMuch of what we know about the history of baseball uniforms we owe to Marc Okkonen, a giant in the baseball research community.

A public relations consultant, freelance artist and writer professionally, Okkonen exhaustively cataloged major league uniforms dating back to 1900, research he turned into a groundbreaking book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide. Okkonen also produced a series of books titled Baseball Memories using a distinctive collection of photographs and illustrations to capture various decades in the twentieth century. 

Okkonen, who died at the age of 85 on Monday, May 27, 2019, was a recipient of SABR’s Henry Chadwick Award for his efforts.

“Marc was an inspiration to me with the pictorial books he had produced. Without Marc’s lead, I would never have thought it possible to be able to track down photos of so many obscure major-league players,” said Bill Hickman, longtime chair of SABR’s Pictorial History Committee. “But even beyond that, he became a personal friend who was unbelievably helpful in providing guidance on how to conduct certain aspects of baseball research. Marc was filled with ideas on what he wanted to research, and it was a pleasure to have a chance to get a glimpse of him at his craft. We have lost one of the great ones.”

Okkonen also authored the first book on the Federal League, an achievement and resource that stands the test of time with a matchless collection of photographs, ballpark information and drawings, and front office and roster information. Okkonen also created the invaluable 2,000 Cups of Coffee, containing images of players whose major-league careers lasted for 10 or fewer games during the 1900-1949 era.

Baseball Uniforms of the 20th CenturyBorn on July 21, 1933, in Muskegon, Michigan, Okkonen spent his entire life there and his greatest passion was documenting the history of his hometown, on and off the playing field. He served on the board of directors for the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame and wrote two books — Baseball in Muskegon and Muskegon Stories — and many articles on his beloved Port City. After graduating from Muskegon High School in 1951, he served in the US Army during the Korean War and later earned his college degree from the University of Michigan at Dearborn. A longtime Detroit Tigers fan, he had a special interest in the various Detroit baseball stadiums that stood at Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, the only twentieth century location at which the Tigers played until the coming of Comerica Park.

In 1984 when his Tigers won a World Series championship, seeing Bernard Malamud’s novel The Natural get turned into a movie helped catalyze Okkonen’s interest in investigating baseball uniforms. “I knew some of them were wrong. I think that was the spark that sent me on my research,” said Okkonen, who published his first edition of Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century in 1991. He continually revised and updated his work based on additional research and his book serves as the basis for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Dressed to the Nines online exhibit on baseball uniforms.

By following his curiosity and pursuing his passion, Marc Okkonen left baseball researchers with a singular legacy.

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Originally published: May 29, 2019. Last Updated: May 29, 2019.