Here at Classic Kicks we’re no strangers to 1980′s sports nostalgia and today we’re digging deep into the archives to highlight one of the most esoteric brands from the era. Everyone who collected baseball cards from 1986-1992 remembers the wristbands that many top players wore that featured their face embroidered on them. Childhood heroes like Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis and Barry Bonds all played in these custom sweat-stoppers that were coveted by kids everywhere but seemed impossible to find in stores.
I recently reached out to founder James Mims to ask him about the brand’s history, current archive and recent resurgence into Major League Baseball. If you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’ve been searching for these wristbands for the past thirty years and I’m glad to tell you that you can finally get your hands on a pair.
Nick Santora: When did you start Mims Wristbands?
James Mims: I started making them in 1986. Dusty Baker was my first player and it snowballed from there. He was very instrumental in getting a lot of the guys on-board. Neither of us were sure how the wristbands would be received but once some of the players got their actual wristbands they were really excited and started trading them with each other. Everyone was wearing Saranac wristbands and Franklin had just come on the scene, but I convinced Dusty to let me make him a sample. At the time he was with Oakland and a lot of guys like Carney Lansford, Tony Phillips and Steve Henderson laughed at him. Then other teams and players started to see them. Dusty came back to me and said ‘Hey man I think you got something!’ and it just took off from there. He was really the catalyst. Before I knew it I had over 100 players.
Who was the toughest player to get?
The toughest was Reggie Jackson. I said to Dusty I was going for Reggie and he said ‘Nah man, he’s a tough one.’ I was in Anaheim and waited for him after the game. Reggie being a lady’s man was talking to a few women and said to me ‘Can I help you?’ I said yeah you can help me but I’ll wait until you’re finished. After he finished up I introduced myself and told him who I was and what I had. He told me he already had wristbands and I said, well you don’t have these! I showed him a sample and he was like ‘Huh. What’s your name again?’ I said my name is James and I’ll have a sample for you at the next home-stand.
The team went on the road for a few weeks and when they came back to Anaheim I saw him pulling into the parking lot so I walked over and showed him the sample and he was like ‘Wow. I really like them. They’re like Reggie Bands.’ I said you can call them Reggie Bands or whatever you want. I just would love for you to wear them. Reggie said ‘Absolutely and I just want to thank you that you weren’t intimidated. Most people are put off by my demeanor and you weren’t.’ I said hey man, from where I grew up you’re not scary to me. I just felt that I had something that you would like and I wasn’t going to walk away without having the opportunity to introduce you to the product. He loved them and he wore them.
Afterwards I went up to Dusty and he just looked at me. He was shocked…all the players were shocked. He was like ‘Dude, you’re kidding me?’ Everyone thought he was going to be the toughest but truly he really was the easiest. I ran into him years after his playing days when he came to Dodger Stadium with the Yankees and I was down by the field and re-introduced myself to Reggie and he was like ‘Hey man. I remember you. I see you still got some of these guys wearing them. Man, I love those wristbands.’ We just had a little brief conversation and shook hands and that was the last time that I saw him. It was great to see it come full-circle and him remembering who I was twenty years later. It was pretty awesome. I laugh when I’m talking about it now. That was pretty amazing.
Were you selling these to the public back then?
The first actual store to carry them was Fan Fare. A guy by the name of Merle Harmon started those stores. I would also get calls from the ballplayers to do baseball card shows with them. Kevin Mitchell was in San Francisco at the time would ask me to bring the wristbands when he appeared at card shows. I also did that with Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry and the late Tony Gwynn. A lot of guys were open to helping me any way they could. That’s how the sales were generated.
I approached Major League Baseball because I had all the top guys but their agreement wasn’t favorable. There was no way I was going to sign such a lopsided deal, so I couldn’t sell in the stadiums.
Were you producing these by hand?
My sister does the artwork and it’s a machine that actually sews it out. The first ones I made were literally done by hand. Dusty Baker’s and Carney Lansford’s were actually hand-made. To look back and see the progression is pretty hysterical. Those are the ones that I treasure because they started the whole thing and gave guys the visualization of what it was going to look like.
What prompted you to start making them again in 2011 for current players?
With the Internet I knew there was an opportunity for the brand to go where it was capable of going. A few years ago I mentioned to people I was going to talk to Brandon Phillips and they were saying the same things they said about Reggie. I was like, man, please. I walked up to Brandon and introduced myself and asked if he wore wristbands. He said yeah. I said do you remember the wristbands with the player’s likeness and autographs on it? He turned around and his eyes lit up! He said, ‘You’re the one? Barry Larkin was my favorite player and I was always wondering where I could get them. When I came up to the Big Leagues with Cleveland I had my agent try to find you and nobody could find you.’ I said well here I am! Would you like to wear them? He said he’d be honored, so we figured out how he wanted it. I got them ready and when the Reds came to L.A. I walked into the clubhouse and he was like a kid in a candy store on Christmas.
I talked to Troy Tulowitzky who was awesome. Then I talked to CarGo and it took off from there. Also Torii Hunter who is one of the best people on earth. He’s just a phenomenal person. Austin Jackson, Denard Span, Rajai Davis, Brandon Crawford, Dee Gordon… The list goes on. Mims is their brand. Their wristband. This is a baseball card. It has everything a collector would want. It has the player’s face and autograph on it. What do people constantly ask them for? Their picture and their autograph.
I’m trying to slowly pick and choose the guys who I feel will appreciate it, wear it and never take it off. Those are the guys that I’m going for and already have. If you look at every picture of Brandon Phillips, he’s wearing them. Troy Tuliwitzki wore them in the All- Star Game. Nolan Arenado wanted them so bad that he was wearing Troy’s. Nolan is the latest player and he is just a great person who was so involved in the process with his wristbands. He’s just touching the surface with back-to-back Gold Gloves. That’s quite a feat.
Anyone can send you a picture of themselves and make their own wristbands with you now?
Yes. That’s something brand new that I’m doing. People have the option of two different color wristbands and two color emblems. They can actually have their own. I’ve done a couple already and the people have gone goo-goo-ga-ga over it.
I noticed you still have a lot of 1980′s and 90′s players available on your site.
There are all these great stories. I have a few guys who’ve bought every single player I’ve ever made. They have the whole collection. These wristbands were on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times. I’ve had seven Hall Of Famers wear them and there will be another four guys making it that have worn my wristbands. I have guys emailing me and they’re shocked. One guy couldn’t thank me enough. He was telling me how he was a huge fan of Ellis Burks as a kid and actually used to cut out a picture of himself and tape it to his wristbands! He had been looking for the Burks bands his whole life and thought he would never find them. That does my heart well. There’s a lot of history.