In recent years it has become standard media practice to refer to the Atlanta Braves, with their decade-plus run of on-field success, as “a first-class organization.” But aesthetes know better—not only are the Braves decidedly second-tier, but they’re inferior to the Mets, at least in one facet of the game.
Uni Watch is referring, of course, to the application of players’ surnames to the backs of jerseys. The Mets, under the direction of their longtime equipment manager, Charlie Samuels, sew the letters of the names directly onto the jerseys. But the Braves sew the letters onto an arced strip of fabric—known in the trade as a nameplate—and then sew that onto the jersey. The nameplate style is easier for clubhouse staffers to work with, but it looks like crap. Sometimes the nameplate is wrinkled or puckered, and it creates the impression of a patch, instead of a seamlessly designed garment. In short, it’s the lazy man’s approach, and it sullies the Braves’ profile, no matter how many division titles they rack up.
Major League Baseball, alas, has no official policy on nameplates versus direct-sewn lettering. The 29 teams that put names on jerseys (including the Giants and Red Sox, who use names only on their road unis) are split roughly down the middle on the two styles, but an exact breakdown is tricky, because some teams switch back and forth depending on which uniform they’re wearing. The Astros, for example, use nameplates on their road uniforms and solid-color alternate jerseys, but they go the direct-sewn route for their home pinstripe unis, because the nameplate would interrupt the flow of the pinstripes.
The first generation of name-adorned jerseys, beginning with the 1960 Chicago White Sox, used the direct-sewn method. Repeated inquiries of baseball officials and historians failed to establish precisely when the nameplate concept debuted, although Uni Watch recalls it as a late-1970s or early-1980s phenomenon. Hopefully, nameplates will eventually suffer the same fate as other now extinct trends from that sorry period, like buttonless pullover jerseys and elastic-waistband pants.
Of course, there’s one team that remains above the fray on this matter: the Yankees, who are the only team in baseball—or in any of the major sports—not to clutter up their uniforms with players’ names. Now that’s first-class.