Time was when a baseball team’s uniform was, y’know, uniform, staying relatively constant for years at a clip. But now, thanks to the huge revenue stream provided by sales of licensed merchandise, teams update their uni designs— and sometimes even their logos and team colors— on a near-annual basis, hoping to entice you into buying the latest version of their official sportswear. One of the best places to observe this phenomenon is here in New York, where the Mets are among the most prolific exemplars of the trend as the Yankees continue to buck it (see chart).
While no 1999 uni alteration is quite as sublime as the Orioles’ 1998 move to make the bird on their cap more ornithologically correct, or as inexplicable as when the Mets changed the little button on their cap from blue to orange in 1997, this season nonetheless features its share of uniform tweaks. Among the more notable trends and developments:
E The Reds have essentially become the Blacks. They’ve unveiled a pair of new black-themed caps (their traditional all-crimson design has been relegated to alternate status), they now wear black sleeves as often as red underneath their vest jerseys, the interior of their familiar “C-Reds” chest emblem has changed from red to black, and just about every graphic element in their wardrobe is now accented with a black drop shadow. Even the team’s old Reds Running Man character, who’s been resurrected for 1999, isn’t immune— he’s wearing a black-brimmed cap. Why the black barrage? “Black is popular from a marketing standpoint,” says a team spokesman, noting that sales of Reds merch have already increased. “Plus black just looks good with red.”
E It’s a big year for new sleeve emblems. With several older ballparks earmarked for the glue factory, the Astros, Brewers, Giants, and Tigers are wearing sleeve patches commemorating their outgoing stadia. (The Giants’ patch, interestingly, is dedicated to “The ‘Stick,” not to 3Com Park— a rare repudiation of the corporate newspeak that now dominates stadium naming.) Other new sleeve insignia: a 30th-
anniversary patch for the Padres, a series of garish “Dodger Heroes” patches for Los Angeles, and a nifty All-Star Game patch for this year’s hosts, the Red Sox. Custom dictates that sleeves are also where deaths are memorialized, with this season’s entries including a Gene Autry patch for the Angels, a numeral 5 for the Yankees (in memory of Joe D.), a numeral 7 for the Orioles (for former coach Cal Ripken Sr.), and the initials CHS for the Rockies (in memory of those killed at nearby Columbine High School).
E The alternate uniform craze continues unabated, particularly in the realm of caps, with the Reds, Padres, Dodgers, and Mets all adding new lids. Twenty-two of the 30 teams now have at least two cap designs (luckily for John Wetteland, who likes to wear the same cap all season long, he’s played on the Expos, Yankees, and Rangers— three of the eight teams that have only one cap style). Similarly, 18 clubs have solid-color alternate jerseys, reducing to a quaint memory the once-
sacred rule of wearing white at home, gray on the road. Just in case players didn’t have enough apparel items to keep track of— or in case stores still had a few unused inches of shelf space— teams have also introduced a new series of mesh-cloth batting-practice caps, which scale new heights in hideous design and dubious functional specificity. Uni Watch asks: Can the postgame interview cap be far behind?
|Possible Home Uniform Combinations||144||1|
|Possible Road Uniform Combinations||48||1|
Uniform Changes This Season
Yankees: Added black numeral 5 to left sleeve in honor of Joe DiMaggio. Mets: Added black alternate road jersey; added black alternate cap; added black drop shadow to home pinstripe jersey; replaced blue-skyline logo sleeve patch with alternate black-skyline logo sleeve patch on black jerseys; removed player surnames from back of home jerseys for more “classic” look.
*3 if you count John Franco’s orange NY Sanitation Department T-shirts.