By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Another baseball season, another round of uniform changes to digest. Leaving aside a host of smaller revisions (not even Uni Watch can get excited about the Devil Rays changing their home stirrups from purple to black), here are the new season's primary trends and developments:
In the latest example of the branding spree currently infesting professional sports, Major League Baseball's front office has mandated that the MLB silhouetted-batter logo, which has already appeared on caps for several seasons, will now also appear on the back of all jerseys, just below the collar. Sadly, it's a bum movethe logo looks badly out of place amidst the player-surname typography that already inhabits this region of most jerseys and also ruins the clean look that the Yankees and Red Sox had maintained on their nameless unis.
The Astros and Brewers have undergone complete makeoversnew logos, new cap and jersey designs, and, for the 'Stros, new team colors. Houston's overhaul is a keeper, with the club's handsome brick-black-gold color scheme finally completing the franchise's long aesthetic metamorphosis from eyesore to eye candy. But Milwaukee's new look strikes Uni Watch as a bland, design-by-numbers effort and is also marred by an unfortunate hint of corporate encroachment: The M on the team's new cap bears a suspicious resemblance to the M used in the logo of the Miller Brewing Company, which just happens to hold the naming rights to the team's new stadium. Coincidence? Yeah, sure.
Speaking of corporate encroachment, the season-opening Mets-Cubs series in Japan marked the first regular-season use of corporate-sponsorship logos on team uniforms. Batting helmets carried the logo of the convenience-store chain AM/PM, and the insurance company AIU had a big logo patch on jersey sleeves (rulebook section 1.11(h), which prohibits "patches or designs relating to commercial advertisements," was apparently suspended for the occasion). MLB commish Bud Selig has described this as "a one-time deal," but Uni Watch doesn't believe itbaseball's licensing office has been exploring the possibility of selling ad space on uniforms for some time now. When a McDonald's or Visa logo patch shows up on Sammy Sosa's sleeve, as it inevitably will, remember that this Japanese series is where it all started.
The "We Had 13 Design Meetings Just for This?" award goes to the Giants, who've changed their home unis from white to ever-so-barely off-white, slightly tweaked their jersey typography, added inconspicuous piping to their collars, and slightly narrowed the piping on their pants and sleeves. It's all so subtle that the cumulative effect is nil.
The Rangers, who've never quite figured out whether their primary team color is blue or red, have decided to have it both ways. Their home unis remain trimmed in red, but every colored element of their road outfitcap, jersey insignia, belt, stirrups, pipingis now blue. The addition of the road cap is bad news for reliever John Wetteland, who'll have to shelve his habit of wearing a single sweat-stained cap throughout the season. No word yet on whether Wettelandwho until now has managed to pitch only for teams that employ a single cap designhas demanded a trade.
Commemorative sleeve patches continue to be the game's best-designed visual details. This year's sharp-looking crop pays tribute to an assortment of franchise anniversaries (the Twins' 40th, the A's 100th), championship anniversaries (of the Reds' '75 and '90 titles), stadium anniversaries (30 years of the Pirates playing in Three Rivers), and stadium inaugurations (Astros, Tigers, Giants).
The Mets, who seem determined to make their uniform situation as confusing as possible, have taken the unique step of designating their black alternate jerseys as their "preferred" outfits. How can something simultaneously be alternate and preferred? MLB guidelines require each team's primary home and road uniforms to be white and gray, respectively, so the Mets have no choice but to grudgingly list their white and gray unis as the club's official haberdashery, thereby relegating the black jerseys to alternate status. But there's no rule keeping a team from wearing its alternate uni more often than its primary unihence the "preferred" designation for the black threads. Memo to Mets management: Why not just dress the team in clown suits and get it over with?
In other alternate-jersey silliness, eight teams are unveiling new designs. Oakland's black model makes a strong bid for worst-in-show honors, but the real prize is Colorado's spectacularly garish solid-purple design (Uni Watch hereby vows to hop the first flight out of the country if the Rockies and Diamondbacks ever wear their purple jerseys in the same game).
The alternate-cap trend may finally have peaked. Although five teams have added alternate lids, two others have discontinued theirs (and Minnesota's entry is actually just a revival of their old TC cap, a franchise staple from 1961 to 1986). Most telling of all, for the first time since 1996 the Mets are entering the season without a new alternate-cap design. In today's merch-obsessed uni environment, that counts as progress.