Archive for the 'Baseball Fashion' Category

Uniforms in Retrograde

The Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles have each announced that they will revert to previously employed uniform logos. The Blue Jays will go with a slightly modified version of the bird head silhouette they sported from 1977 – 1996, a design that for me is indelibly linked to Joe Carter’s 1993 home run. The Orioles, on the other hand, return to the cartoon version of their titular bird, which I and I’m guessing many other would quickly connect to Earl Weaver and his successes in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Those changes, together with the new look of the Miami Marlins, have brought the aesthetics of baseball uniforms to the front of the hot stove conversation.

The first trend that comes to mind, obviously, are the reversions to old logo and uniform designs by Toronto and Baltimore. These choices reflect a broad trend toward designs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, spurred, on one level, by the Internet and all of its brilliant highways and bi-ways. One of the most common currencies online today is any reference to old and nostalgic media products–from TV shows and movies, to toys and fashion. Functioning much the way such references do in live conversation, allusions to a shared childhood or past experience create a quick bond between strangers, and tap into a collective sense of childhood or adolescent or at least past sense of well-being, ie. nostalgia. There is no greater compendium of nostalgia than baseball, and the Internet has allowed us–P&P, with our 1990s First Basemen Week and our tumblr are right in the thick of it, after all–to share the love with breathtaking speed and efficiency.

Simon Reynolds in his book Retromania describes a fixation on retro matters as slowing down time itself. Describing the 2000s: “The sensation of moving forward grew fainter as the decade unfurled. Time itself seemed to become sluggish….” One factor he cites is the wide availability of content from every era. iPods act as oldies stations, according to Reynolds. Pop culture struggles to move forward with its eyes cast continually backward at “our own immediate past.” Eerily, Reynolds asks, “what happens when we run out of past?” The answer seems to be: we become a culture of snakes eating their own tales, a culture so self-referential that it stagnates into a narcissistic morass. Maybe we’re already there. Have you seen Glee?

Clearly, in the case of the Blue Jays at least, team management catered to the desires of their fans. A series of terrible logos sealed their fate, and public distaste for the steel-blue logos featuring highly emotional birds was rampant. Emma Yardley commented, via Infield Fly, that “The modern uniforms look, well, cheesy. While I do actually prefer the black, navy and slate grey (the classic uniforms should lose the red in my opinion), the lettering font is dated and no style-conscious person would ever put that on their body. It makes me ask, why did they change it in the first place?” I have yet to find anyone of a disparate opinion.

Something needed to be done, and twice the Blue Jays created new designs (let’s not forget the short-lived juiced Jay of 2003) that flopped hard. What else but to throw the grounded pick-up truck into reverse? Lots of baseball conversations revolve around the idea of risk, and risk aversion. The Blue Jays have succumbed to aesthetic risk aversion. They are done crafting new ideas, new design, and it’s back to the visual identity that taps into the Blue Jays fan’s pleasure sensors. A team of 25 Joe Carter’s will trot out onto the field in 2012.

As for the Orioles, I admit to having zero awareness of Baltimore or the nation’s call for a change to what I considered the classy design of the Orioles logo and jersey. ‘Duk of Big League Stew, however, hails the return of the cartoon bird, going so far as to call it “triumphant.” He goes on, however, to keenly highlight the risk and reward dynamic of the baseball uniform: “But given the choice between the O’s bowing to a fan-requested nostalgia trip and the San Diego Padres ignoring the wishes of their fans, it’s an easy decision every time.” The Padres’ resistance of the retro wave washing over the clubs whose logos aren’t timeless enough to keep has led to a general backlash. That, in my opinion, has more to do with the specific choices–ie. the uniforms are non-descript and repulsive at the same time–than simply the shock of creating something new.

In Baltimore, as many commenters have noted, the switch to an old design, though charming, means little as long as they field such a shabby team. Such a notion denies the importance of aesthetics, putting visual design several levels behind performance in baseball’s aesthetic hierarchy. This being Pitchers & Poets, I’m not ready to accept that hierarchy. I see baseball culture more as a galaxy, filled with planets of varying sizes and gravitational pulls and orbits. One planet is performance, another a team’s logo, yet more for architecture, history, radio broadcasters, etc. etc.

In Miami, of course, nostalgic relics are more elusive. Marlin World Series victories fit into what I’d put under the “recent” umbrella, unlike the Orioles’ generations ago dominance and the Blue Jays generation-ago run, and besides, during their heyday the Marlins had the same uniforms and logos that they do now. What element of visual culture could they bring back, besides a Gary Sheffield bobblehead doll? With a mostly shifting roster lacking sufficient bulletproof stars to bind the generations–Hanley Ramirez has come close, but he was absent for the World Series wins that have thus far defined the team. Josh Beckett would have done the job had he stuck around–and with poor fan support and a dire need for new energy with a new stadium, the Miami Marlins are a fine petry dish for design innovation, and they have jumped off of the yacht into strange waters. Orange, yellow, and blue waters.

One could argue that the audacious neon of the new design recalls the 1990s and its hypercolor shirts fluorescent kidswear and Zubaz pants. The eyeless Marlin would not look out of place on an OC Surfwear t-shirt. But also there’s the culture of Miami itself, the pastel brilliance of art deco architecture and Caribbean culture. The logo, to my mind, smartly walks the line, without committing itself to one or another vision of itself. An art deco hotel’s facade, the sun setting on the water, a Daytona surf shop: the design is complex enough to compel the viewer/consumer to dream a little.

The questions is: do these designs stop time? Are they inhibiting some more crucial, life-affirming advance into the future? Yeah, probably. Or maybe not. What am I, some kind of genius?

Each design has a relationship with time, however. Aesthetically, the Orioles and the Blue Jays are telling their fans, with their designs: think about this particular time period in the past, when this player and that player played, and how we should be like them. The Marlins, on the other hand, aren’t telling. They are requesting the favor of viewership and trust, and a future that features those favors. Like any situation requiring trust, there will be resistance. And maybe not all that much resistance. This review of the new uniforms by Ted Hill at Fishstripes is a reasoned consideration, and he even calls for a more bold use of the new color scheme.

(A fascinating aside would be a consideration of the remarkable amount of influence baseball fans have had over changes in uniform. Maybe it’s the market making the choices, and drops in sales preceded the Orioles and Jays changes, but it certainly feels like public sentiment is at an all-time aesthetic high. Then again, the Padres went their own way.)

Like a work of art, a baseball uniform is something that you’ve got to live with before rendering any final judgment. Time and experience ferment or sour the mix. Speedy judgements lack the richness of experience. In that sense, the Orioles and Blue Jays reversions deny fans the opportunity to learn about something new, or to mine a new aesthetic experience. To paraphrase Donny Rumsfeld, the silhouetted blue jay and the cartoon Oriole are known knowns.

Why Couldn’t I Buy A Dodger Hat at Dodger Stadium?

I don’t live in LA anymore. Because of that, I’ve lost touch with the city and the Dodgers in some ways. I’m beginning to suspect that this is a good thing. Until going to a game on Friday I was, if not blissfully, then at least quietly ignorant of the malaise that has set in at Chavez Ravine. The McCourt family, the Bryan Stow tragedy, the on-field injuries, the front office follies: these things have done serious damage to Dodger fans in ways that became much clearer to me.

On Friday, I intended to buy a fitted blue and white Dodger cap at Dodger Stadium. There was nothing strange or difficult about the circumstances. I would only be at one game this year. I knew I needed a new hat. I wanted to take advantage of a friend’s employee discount. But at Dodger Stadium, Dodger caps have become an endangered species.

Before the game, my friends and brother and I wandered into a merchandise store located outside one of the field level entrances. We noticed something strange about the hat selection: there were tons of batting practice caps, tons of Lakers purple and gold LA hats, tons of pink and black and other odd varieties on the Dodger cap, but there were hardly any traditional ones. And the few that store did carry were in odd sizes like 6 7/8 or 7 ¾. No big deal, we figured. They’ll have more inside.

Inside was quiet. “Safeco-esque,” I thought. We sat directly beneath a security camera. There were so many security personnel around that I kept on perking up, thinking incidents were occurring in the area near our seats. But nothing was happening. The beefed up security presence and the thinned out attendance combine to give Dodger Stadium the feel of an empty prison camp where hollow-eyed inmates find slivers of hope in balks by opposing pitchers and chant out MVP for Matt Kemp as if he’s all they have left to cling to.

I realized that on nights when Kershaw isn’t pitching, Kemp actually is all Dodger fans have to cling to. He didn’t disappoint, either, hitting his 30th home run to join Raul Mondesi in the Dodgers 30-30 club and accelerate his run at an unlikely triple crown.

Around the fourth or fifth inning, we set out again to buy a cap on the club level, where a small store is located behind home plate. (The employee discount only applies at the club level and top deck stores). In the club level store there was not a single regular Dodger cap. “This is weird,” said my employee friend, who used to work in merchandising. “We should have caps here.”

We rode the elevator to the top deck, where the concourse was empty and the breeze almost made you feel like you weren’t in the stadium anymore. In past years, especially on Friday nights toward the end of the season, there have been lines to merely enter the Dodgers team store. On this night there were maybe three other fans in the entire place. It was empty. On the television we watched Vin Scully wave cookies around and announce that he was returning for another season. Great news. But once again, only a handful of Dodger caps. None in my size.

At this point, my employee friend explained that the team has been having problems with it’s merchandiser, Facilities Management Inc. You might remember that on August 10th, that merchandiser, FMI, requested protection from the Dodgers in federal bankruptcy court. It turns out, we learned after talking to a few retail salespeople around the stadium, that FMI stopped ordering new merchandise for this season three months ago. Due to low attendance (gate attendance is even worse than the Dodgers’ struggling paid attendance), FMI is not going to make back the $4.5 million it pays for the exclusive right to sell merchandise at Dodger stadium this season. So why sink money into apparel that won’t get sold?

A woman in hushed tones at a field level kiosk explained to me after looking around, as if checking for spies or clandestine microphones, that merchandise has been kind of an overlooked disaster, a symptom of “all this McCourt business.” She slumped her shoulders. She said that a kiosk a few aisles down had a couple of 7 1/2s earlier that night, and that they might still be there.

The kiosk did have two 7 1/2s left. But I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. The employee discount would not have applied and at that point I was too dejected to pay a full $38 for a baseball cap. Somebody else might have wanted it more. Then again, even after the Dodgers won and the vacuously ceremonial Friday night fireworks were launched over Los Angeles, probably not.

Pitchers & Poets Style Academy, Volume 1: The Best and the Worst

Fashion blogs are all over the Internet these days, from the Sartorialist’s style-making streetside photos to 1990s First Basemen Week contributor Jesse Thorn and his men’s fashion blog Put This On. Troops of professionals and weekend stylists scour the streets of Brooklyn and the world snapping portraits of youths in leather shoes and old men in double-breasted suits. I enjoy these image-heavy style blogs. Their subjects are often idiosyncratic and interesting and more bold than your average Joe. Mister Mort, one of my favorites, finds some real characters whose style often includes just one fantastic adornment amidst an ensemble of crazy.

With Mort’s work being a more extreme example, style blogs chronicle this continual tension between the traditional, the contemporary, and the futuristic. Baseball fields are another such battleground, where a few intrepid sports put heat to the glass of tradition and warp it into some novel shape. Others, in my humble opinion, succumb to the overwhelming weight of skewed tradition and/or mediocrity. In any event, I’ve got my opinions, and that’s what I’ll do here.

And so, taking my own turn at the wheel, I present the Pitchers & Poets Style Academy, Volume 1, in which I decide for myself which players’ style on-the-field sets them apart, and which players’ stand out for their sourness.

Note: In this volume, I am taking into account only on-field presentation. I am not bold enough to venture into what some of these dudes wear in their privatest times (Exhibit A).

Fashion Five: The Height of Style

Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro, whose style has personified the Japanese look in America for a solid decade now, creates harmony among the disparate elements that comprise his rig. A glint of silver in his high tops echoes the shimmer of his batting gloves, which in turn calls out to the silver in the Mariners cap. The neat crest of his pant leg where it meets the high sock, and the close fit of his jersey on his narrow frame accentuate the speed that comes with the silver lining.

Jose Reyes

Dreadlocks are more commonplace now than ever, and now that Manny Ramirez has retired, they can return to respectability as a charming style component, best displayed by Reyes, the kinetic, quick-footed shortstop. What better to trail a speedster as he takes the extra base, like built-in motion lines? Reyes’ modern baggy pants also reflect his kinetic style.

Jayson Werth

Proprietor of the beard with its own Twitter feed, Jayson Werth pulls off dramatic facial hair while maintaining a sense of decorum that a showman like Brian Wilson jettisoned long ago. While Wilson clings to the meme that began last year, letting his boot polish bristle expand, Werth doesn’t fear change, and he’s known to trim down to a soul patch (causing his Twitter doppelganger to enter SOUL PATCH MODE). Beard aside, Werth’s pants and jersey are of a full cut that looks back to an age-old style while remaining contemporary.

Vladimir Guerrero

photo by Keith Allison

For decades, now, this man mountain’s visual style has worked in perfect tandem with the way he plays baseball. Who else could successfully tuck his pant cuffs into his high tops but a player of Vlad’s trademark aggressive effectiveness. Guerrero’s giant legs help the idiosyncratic gambit succeed. Subtract batting gloves, add pine tar, finger tape, and one of the very few successful chin-only goatees, and the swing-away vision of Vlad is complete.

Mike Napoli

I don’t necessarily agree with Mike Napoli’s style. I’m not a gold chain guy. But I respect the completeness of the effort. Chain, tightly bounded beard, ornamental arm tats, hair flowing from his helmet, wide red armtape. If Russell Crowe played a major leaguer, I would expect to see the same full-bodied commitment to the aesthetic. Not since Piazza’s handlebar mustache has a catcher so boldly defied the aesthetic limitations of life behind the mask.

Honorable Mention

Derrek Lee, John Axford, Prince Fielder, B.J. Upton, Hunter Pence (with points off for magic necklace), Derek Jeter, Rickie Weeks. Please feel free to write your own suggestions in the comments.

Fashion Five Hole: The Dregs

Luke Scott

I’m not immune to the impact of Luke Scott’s politics when evaluating his look, but it seems fair to say that his style choices hint at his strange brew of ideas and behaviors. For years, his sideburns have been cut higher than a Monty Burns employee, and the snug fit of his jersey top and his devotion to gaudy Oakley sunglasses suggests an unhealthy attachment to the Reagan Era. And, of late, some kind of
mullet thing has been seen creeping out of the back of his helmet. Also, this.

Josh Beckett

Beckett is, in my eyes, the lead culprit in the disparaging trend of nausea-inducing magic necklaces and repulsive chin beards that are so common in today’s game (there are whole Houston Astros teams from 2007 to 2009 that lionize and emulate Beckett’s style the way hipster ladies look to Zooey Deschanel). Back during his rise to prominence with the Marlins in 2003, Beckett was a fresh faced young power pitcher sporting a chin disaster. Follies of youth can be excused, if only Beckett had abandoned the gaff in the interim. Instead, he’s elevated the chin beard to an art form, like a Thomas Kinkaid painting or a faded tag on a stop sign in Topeka.

C.C. Sabathia

Big men don’t have it easy when it comes to looking good in a baseball uniform. The solution, however, is not to add twenty-four square feet of additional fabric to the ensemble. Plus, he wears his cap less crooked/awesome than he used to.

Hideki Matsui

Sometimes, a single fatal flaw can sink an entire presentation. In Hideki Matsui’s case, it’s the grandpa-grade altitude of his waistline.

Shawn Marcum

With his “roadie for the WARPED tour” multi-leveled beard, his “roadie for Led Zeppelin” bell-bottom pants, and his “roadie for the Chili Peppers” necklace menagerie, Shawn Marcum could front a crappy rock band in any of three decades.

Honorable Mention

C.J. Wilson, Kevin Youkilis, Johnny Cueto, Corey Hart

Lightning Round: Steinbrenner and the Yankees Beard Ban

The P&P Lightning Round is an exercise in crowdsourcing and fast writing. Twitter suggests a topic. We spend 45 minutes writing about it. Then we post the results.

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon is barely hanging on. In pictures he looks a broken man, shoulders sagging, face weathered in new and unkind ways. In interviews he gives the desperate impression of somebody defeated, a man trying desperately to maintain some semblance of control. But Wilpon will not maintain control. A look at the recent history of the Mets indicates that he likely never truly had control. Fred Wilpon is already ruined.

George Steinbrenner, even in death, is not ruined. His post-mortem legacy maintains a tighter grip on the Yankees than a living breathing Wilpon ever could on the Mets. The years of cycling through managers and front office officials still remain fresh in the baseball consciousness. The boastful and ill-conceived statements to the media have only been further-perfected by his son Hank. The silly rules that Steinbrenner used to establish himself as unquestioned boss of the New York Yankees remain in place today.

The silliest of those rules, of course, are those applying to facial hair. And not just because facial hair is a silly thing to regulate, but because there were never actually any rules. Steinbrenner’s facial hair policy was subjective. If he felt a mustache was too long, a mustache was indeed too long. The Simpsons of course parodied this with Mr. Burns questioning the length of Don Mattingly’s sideburns to the point of absurdity.

Funny. Even funnier when Mattingly was actually suspended the next season for refusing to cut his hair. (I love the image of Mattingly as rebel. Someday I will write something about Mattingly and John Cougar Mellencamp as dual Indiana idols who seem different but are actually surprisingly similar.)

The thing about Mattingly though, is that he was Mattingly. He could afford to protest. He was a beloved figure. Steinbrenner had him suspended, but then the issue was resolved quickly. Everything went back to normal. Could you imagine a lesser player attempting something similar? Luis Sojo?

I once worked at a restaurant that required clean-shaven faces from its male staff. There was an open kitchen, so even the back-house guys had to shave. Once, I showed up with about a day’s worth of shadow – maybe even slightly less – and was scolded by a manager for it. I’m not what you would call a regular shaver, and I thought it was a stupid rule, but the job paid really, really well. I picked my battles.

In retrospect, I’m sure my manager didn’t care about my beard. It was a power-play. Steinbrenner was likely the same way. It’s hard to imagine him with strong feelings about the aesthetic value facial hair. It’s easy to imagine him maneuvering in a Machiavellian way to cement his status atop the franchise. Reds owner Marge Schott, a similar if more evil strong-armer, also had a no-beard rule.

For Steinbrenner and his imitators (Willie Randolph and Joe Girardi instituted no-beard policies with the Mets and Yankees respectively – though tellingly, Mattingly hasn’t with the Dodgers), rules can exist solely as a manifestation of power – and a reminder of who’s boss. When Danny Tartabull and Paul O’Neil shaved in the morning, they thought of George Steinbrenner. They remembered their place in the world. They remembered who was boss. It’s hard to imagine a New York Met player having a similar thought.

The Jersey Draft

In another fit of list-making compulsion, Ted sent me an email yesterday with some major league player jerseys he would actually wear. His impetus was what he called the “wave of fashion and design” this blog is riding. He sees no reason to stop, and neither do I. After all, Spring Training takes a big turn toward the boring after the St. Patty’s day uniforms get stored up for next year.

The list just came out of Majestic’s top selling jerseys for 2010. No big surprises. But not a very P&P set of players.

Sure Josh Hamilton is on there, with his crazy arm tattoos and rock n’ roll past. Sure Tim Lincecum is on there. But Jeter at no. 1 offers little in the way of excitement. So here we bring you a short jersey-wearing draft.

Eric: John Rauch

I’ve always wanted the chance to mention John Rauch on this blog. For one, he’s extremely tall. For another, he has a cool neck tattoo that I haven’t looked at closely, but from his perch on the mound distinguishes him as both a badass and a dude with better aesthetic taste than most of his fellow ballplayers.

Ted: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Stitch-for-stitch, this jersey is gonna get you the most value. This recommendation is the jersey equivalent of the little per-ounce price they put on the shelf labels at the supermarket. Ten pounds of cheese is gonna save you a bundle on the unit price. Same thing for Salty.

Eric: Milton Bradley

Once, I was merely a Dodger fan supporting his team’s center fielder. Now I am the baseball blogosphere’s most avowed Milton Bradley apologists. Also, it’s sure to be a conversation starter. As in “hey, why are you wearing a Milton Bradley jersey?” “Because he’s complicated. You should read my blog.”

Ted: Jose Valverde

Papa Grande is a real character, with a serious array of rituals and a joyfully haphazard windup. And what’s a jersey for if not to celebrate the game’s entertaining and outlandish personalities. Acceptable replacements: Big Papi, Brian Wilson, Nick Swisher.

Eric: Lance Berkman

I’m surprised Ted didn’t chose this one, as Berkman is his favorite player. I just like guys who seem to be having more fun than anybody else out on the field. Would have to be an Astros jersey though.

Ted: Bryce Harper

Yes, this could be the Mark Prior jersey of a few years from now. On the other hand, I could be getting in on the ground floor of some serious stardom. This jersey choice is the angel investment in the early days of a juggernaut. You’ve seen The Social Network, you know the deal.

Eric: Andre Ethier

Because he was once traded for Milton Bradley

Ted: Ichiro

His $1.3 million contribution to Japan’s relief efforts is just the latest evidence that Ichiro is operating on another level. You might as well jones off of his vibe (see BIRG on Ron Kaplan’s bookshelf) by wearing his jersey. Bonus: it’s got his first name on the back, which is so very European football.

Eric: Tim Lincecum

If he played for any other team, I would likely own a Lincecum jersey t-shirt already. He’s the only UW alum in the league right now, but beyond that he’s a likable character. Character.

MLB Caps: The Worst of All Time

Last week I ranked my best and worst MLB caps of today, stirring up some good conversation. Some of the best input and discussion covered the worst hats, or at least hats low on the totem pole. There was also some good discussion of old school hats, and the venerability of classic designs.

Those last two points got me thinking: was there something inherently better about the old designs? There are obviously lots of great ones, but I wanted to find some heinous caps from ages past. I succeeded. Here, with very little scientific criteria and in no particular order, is a list of some of the worst MLB baseball caps that history has to offer:

1926 Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have made some bold fashion choices over the years. Here, I can see the concept: we’ll cross the socks as though they were swords on a crest. But there’s something unnerving about the reality of it: two socks standing stiffly remind me of the recent Seattle Mariners commercial in which Jason Vargas presents a couple of lucky socks that have hardened into nauseating freestanding boots. Check out this cap on a player, who I think is Spencer Harris.

Early 1930s Boston Red Sox

Let’s get these preposterous sock hats out of the way early, shall we? This eye-burning red-striped number continues the theme of unnaturally stiff, phantom-footed socks. In this photo, Joe McCarthy sports the cap, which looks like an “L.” So it’s a cap that doesn’t look like what it wants to, which takes the team name too literally, and doesn’t even look like the misguided object it’s supposed to. It doesn’t seemed to have lasted long.

1940 Pittsburgh Pirates

The white stripe cuts across the sad figure of this cap like a sash across the wide waist of a lowly Victorian baronet who’s been begrudgingly invited to a party above his nobility.

1969 Seattle Pilots

The idea is a clever one: make the baseball cap look like a captain’s hat like this fellow is wearing. It’s also a bold use of the bill, which I can’t recall seeing elsewhere. That said, the use of the bill with the laurel leaves and the use of the terribly ungraceful bar running across the bottom of the upper combine to create a heinous panoply of ugliness. In action, sort of, on this Sean Connery lookalike.

The last word on the topic: even Ichiro can’t make this cap look good.

(date corrected, thanks ralf)

2000 Anaheim Angels

The “dark, dark Disney era,” as John called it in the comments of the cap rankings post. The Angels “A,” which is usually decorated with a subtle gold ring, is bear hugged in this design, clung to desperately by a co-dependent angel’s wing that could’ve been plucked from the main character in an epic cartoon movie. The “A” looks more like a hieroglyphic representation of a playground slide than a letter. Fly away, ugly design.

2000 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

This devil of an ugly cap was hard to track down, and it may be some kind of alternate, which would, I suppose, exempt it from serious conversation. This image, though, of Wade Boggs seems to suggest it was a regular cap. The gradient neon coloration, from pale aqua to iridescent teal to sick yellow, qualifies the Hypercolor people for some royalties.

Conclusions

This survey suggests that, while the predictable eras yielded their fair share of fugly caps, antiquity alone doesn’t exempt any cap from terribleness. The argument, therefore, that we like a hat just because it’s old doesn’t hold water.

Also, this list shows that with great risk comes great failure. The hats on this list are bold attempts to change the paradigm of hat design, and to use graphic design to rethink the way ideas can be represented on the forehead. For every bold and great cap design, like the busy late-70s to early-90s Blue Jays design and the Brewers’ much-heralded MB logo cap from the same time period, there are twenty missteps and eye sores. If anything, I applaud these blunders, and praise those who fail greatly. Except for Disney.

Final note: For epic amounts of uniform data of all kinds, check out Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s crisp, clean, and epic.

Ted’s 2011 MLB Cap Rankings: A Response

Over at The Cardboard Connection, Brett Lewis created an illustrated list ranking all of the 2011 MLB caps.

I don’t know about you, but for me, such a list represents an irresistible opportunity to piggyback on Brett’s idea and create my own. The fun of a rankings list is disagreeing with it, and the best way to right history is to make your own. So make sure to check out The Cardboard Connection, because it was his idea first, and below you’ll find my response in the form of Ted’s 2011 MLB Cap Rankings, worst to first:

30. Cleveland Indians

I’m over racist mascots, and that includes incredibly offensive caricatures of oppressed peoples right on the cap. Also, the alternative C cap has the feel of a JV high school team.

29. Arizona Diamondbacks

Snakes in the shapes of letters are for stoners.

28. Milwaukee Brewers

While they earn a few points for using the good retro design, the modern Brewers hat is playing so far below replacement level that it cancels out the throwback. I get the concept, logo designer, but the cap doesn’t have to look exactly like a Miller Light Can.

27. Tampa Bay Rays

The powder blue highlights are a bold design choice, and I can respect that (however, for more on the drop shadow see below). This cap, however, just feels stilted. The letters seem gangly and awkwardly conjoined, like two middle schoolers slow-dancing to “You Look Wonderful Tonight.”

26. Texas Rangers

These primary colors make my head hurt. I’d also like to introduce the idea of the offensive drop shadow. A drop shadow should just barely exist, offering a subtle effect without being prominent (I am not a designer, but this feels intuitive). The Rangers cap drop shadow is also one of its main colors. Worsening matters, the regular and alternative cap just flip flop colors between the main color and the drop shadow. Bleh.

25. Cincinnati Reds

At first glance, this cap looks like a venerable classic design still in use. As I stared at the logo, however, I realized that there is another offensive drop shadow! The old school C is there, but it’s laid on top of black in two versions, and white in the other, like some kind of lame Tron 3D-style reboot. Johnny Bench and Pete Rose didn’t need three dimensions, and neither do I. Also, that black cap is just ugly.

24. San Diego Padres

The Padres have slowly sapped all personality from their uniforms over the last few years, and the hats are no exception. These hats have the classic logo, which is decent, but it’s colorless; there’s no blood pumping through its veins. The only bit of spark comes from the military connection, and the camo design is bold, but it’s ruined by the fat-edged treatment of the logo, and the same sort of visual flatness.

23. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Rare is the cap that uses the same color in the logo that it does for the cap itself. For good reason, I’d argue. I find it a bit weak to use the little barbs on the sides of the A. It’s a letter, let it be a letter! There’s already a halo perched on top, why do you need to ornament it further? And with its inner glow on the A, and the halo on top and the lack of contrast, the whole cap design feels cramped and excessive.

22. Colorado Rockies

The purple is coming! Read these caps from left to right and tell me there isn’t a disturbing invasion of purple into the cap design. I’d agree with Brett that “the color scheme fits Colorado perfectly,” but that may only be a result of their stubborn commitment to the hue that made the nurple famous.

21. Houston Astros

I’ve never much liked the Astros’ brick, black, and cream color scheme, a fact that sinks the overall cap design (the star itself I don’t mind so much, even if it’s a little crowded). The color scheme was meant, I think, to mesh with the brick  of the new Enron Field, but it’s time to move back to something more worthy of space city. I’ll admit that it’s an improvement over the 90s heinousness, though if a team is ready for some retro goodness, it’s the Astros. And if it’s me wearing the hat, there’s no way I would appear in public in the all-brick alternate.

20. Chicago White Sox

This is the first hat that’s probably more a personal repulsion than one that is broadly accepted. I appreciate the nod to the past, but I don’t like the logo’s downward-falling lettering, or its jangly asymmetry. And though he likes it more than I, I’m with Brett: these look like bones hung on a wall. Or, as the typical White Sox fan would put it: perfect!

19. Washington Nationals

In a case of perhaps reaching too low, the Nationals decided to just use an old cap from the archives, and unfortunately it’s taken from a look that wasn’t all that hot to begin with. The logo’s got a bit of character in the jovial curls, but it threatens the confectionary faux pas noted below. And that alternate cap is just not very attractive.

18. Toronto Blue Jays

This cap is an easy target: it’s a bold design, with a really expressive graphic element. I really tried to dislike this hat even more than I do, but in reality there’s something likable about it that I can’t place. It looks like an arena football logo, but even that I could let pass, as I think the colors really pop. Then I looked more closely at the J. First of all, it’s a J, for “Jays.” That is a little too chummy for a major league baseball cap. Second, the J is made of metal, and third, it is wavy, with only half of a serif on top. It just gets too weird upon such closer inspection.

17. Atlanta Braves

I’m going to play the racist mascot card here again. While I’ll concede that the design of the two primary hats is nice in itself, and pretty iconic, the alternate hat, with the tomahawk, is as tasteless as the racist caricature it represents, and reminds me only of the terrible tomahawk chop chant.

16. New York Mets

I can’t get over the droopy arms on that Y, though I’ll cede that the typography is sort of charmingly anachronistic, like something you’d see on Knights of Columbus letterhead. The colors are equally challenging, urging me to dislike them. They are best served by the first cap, where the two main colors live together. As the black is introduced, and the logo darkens, it goes to hell. The alternate cap feels like staring at a photo negative.

15. Philadelphia Phillies

The blue button on top of the main Phillies cap is a quesy little M&M atop a cupcake of a cap. Try and tell me that P isn’t written in icing.

14. Seattle Mariners

The concept is strong, and the design is bold, incorporating a thematic graphic element into the typography. It could do with an update, however, I think, in agreement with Brett, who believes it’s “gone stale.” The teal is an issue (though living in Seattle I can attest it’s a big part of all of the sports teams here and is basically a fact of life), and the components are a bit jumbled.

I own a nice Mariners cap, and in person it’s shimmery in an outdated 90s way. But there’s a lot of potential, and a bit of simplification could go a ways towards rejuvenating what is a solid foundation. (On that note, it bears saying that a cap is much different up close and in real life, where the richness of the fabric and the thread makes it pop. I haven’t looked at each cap in real life, so that’s a kind of handicap in this process.)

13. Florida Marlins

I am truly conflicted over this hat. It’s fair to say that if I was a Marlins fan I would love it. I would be proud of it, for all of its hubris, for it’s improbability. Let’s look at it closely. First, the F is enormous. Second, this F is draped in the full figure of the marlin itself, like a society dame in her mink stole. Marlin can reach almost 20 feet in length. Simply put, there is a 20-foot marlin on this cap. To put that in perspective, the other MLB caps that include the full figure of the team’s mascot include two birds, a snake, and a pair of socks.

In the end, the Marlins cap leaves something to be desired with its continued use of teal, long after the rest of the world left that regrettable color choice behind, and by the black-on-black letter design and its odd scale. That said, this cap is one of the boldest entries, artistically.

Also, now is about the point where I like the hats. The vitriol is above, and below, the overall sentiment should read as positive.

12. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals red cap is an unapologetic testament to the color itself, a brilliant use of the word’s double-meaning as a color and a bird. This brash commitment renders the white logo all the more substantial. The blue cap, frankly, I can do without in either form, but the strength of the red carries the rest.

11. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates make the all-black cap look good, through the use of a simple, bold yellow logo. The high contrast and the vaguely industrial typography do well to embody the team’s general aesthetic.

10. San Francisco Giants

Color-pop and contrast, lettering intertwining like plumbing that isn’t worried about legibility, and orange and black define this cap, which is essentially the offspring of an Orioles-Pirates coupling. That’s why I’ve squeezed it between the two. More on these colors below.

9. Baltimore Orioles

Staring at the primary Orioles cap, I couldn’t quite figure out why it made me vaguely uncomfortable. Then I realized it was one of the few main caps that does not use initials or lettering. It’s just a drawing of a bird. It’s a very nice drawing, though, and the Baltimore orange continues, against the odds, to be one of the nicest colors in baseball. Again, using a great color can make the use of black in the palette an asset rather than a liability.

That said, a drawing of a bird does not make it into the upper echelon of hat designs. And the O’s alternate cap feels a bit too casual for me.

8. Kansas City Royals

Color rules in this cap, and the slim, sensible lettering doesn’t get in the way, a few clouds in a summer sky.

7. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox B lays against the navy blue clapboard of the cap like a painted sign resting against the pine wall of a neighborhood hardware store. The alternate cap design with the actual red socks on it is like a made-for-TV movie adaptation of a Salinger novel.

6. Chicago Cubs

This is a cap that will draw you in like a nice light coming from the doorway of a bar. It’s a cheerful cap, bright and inoffensive. The logo’s edges are soft, like a smile. If the Cubs won a World Series, the smile wouldn’t seem so tragic.

5. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers cap is a sharp-edged answer to the Cubs cap’s soft side. The blades of that white D come up like Cobb’s spikes, without apology, with the authority of time and tradition.

4. Minnesota Twins

This cap does what the Reds cap fails to, embracing tradition and resisting the urge to modernize an already solid design with cheesy contemporary flourishes. And think about it: the T and the C refer to the “Twin Cities.” This sounds obvious, but the initials on the cap refer to the city’s nickname. How bad-ass it is, that the cap manages to wrap its conceptual arms around a strange geographical feature! Imagine if the Rangers cap initials were “DFWMA” the Angels’ were “LAAA,” or the Marlins’ were “?”.

3. Oakland Athletics

The history of the A’s features, as much as any team, showmen and showboats, circus acts and self-aggrandizers. If there is a ball cap that contains like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp the spirits of Charlie Finley, orange baseballs, Rickey Henderson, an elephant standing on a baseball, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Herb Washington, white shoes, and the Bash Brothers, it is this glorious A’s primary cap.

The other two are compromises.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

The crooked union of the A and the L as the former dangles from the latter reminds me of the letters of the Hollywood sign and how they fluctuate with the contours of the hillside. Blue the deep color of the ocean.

1. New York Yankees

The N stretches wider than it should, to straddle the slingshot Y. Are these train lines meeting in the middle of the city? Are they skyscrapers jockeying for position on the skyline? What is the gravity that pulls the legs of the N inward, bowing them? Of all the caps, this one raises the most questions, and seems more than any to be the result of chance pressed against opportunity.

The images are from The Cardboard Connection, and again I encourage you to visit Brett’s fun list.

Visual Mixtape: The Legend of Baggy Pants

Letting it Go

When I was a kid, I wore a lot of sports apparel. A photographic retrospective of the caps and tee shirts, dugout jackets and hoodies I wore from the ages of five to seventeen would probably border on modern art. But things changed for me. There came a point I no longer wanted to give my appearance over to my sports allegiances. There would  still be a few caps and shirts,  and there would still be fandom. But I no longer wanted the teams I cheered for to define my identity, or at least the way people perceived that identity.

There are, however, people who do want that. For a million reasons, there are people who go out there every day dressed as if in surrender to the higher cause of the Boston Red Sox or Oakland Raiders. There are people who dress up in Willie Stargell jerseys because they want express their old-time love of the game and there are people who do it because they think Willie Stargell jerseys look cool. That’s all well and good.

My interest is in the complete surrender — the folks who show up to the game rocking team merchandise down to the official licensed league socks; the folks who wear a jeans, a pinstriped Jeter jersey, and a Yankee cap out on Friday night; the folks who wear the gaudiest, proudest, multi-colored tee shirts of their favorite player. The folks who would wear one of these:

shirt h/t to Robert Baly at Vin Scully is my Homeboy

You are out there. You who would wear this shirt, or a Pujols or a Mauer version outside of the ballpark or the bar.  And I want to know why that’s so (other than its ridiculous, overwhelming brilliance that leaves me undecided as to whether I’m in love or entirely disgusted).I want to know if I’m wrong in saying that surrendering to a shirt like this one — or to other varieties of full team regalia — is giving up a bit of yourself.

And if I’m not wrong,if it really is a form of surrender, then why do you do it? Why does anybody? Is it the basic appeal of being a part of something larger than yourself? Is it regional pride? Cultural identification? Sheer oblivious? Fervent, patriotic, extremely blind team love?

There are socioeconomic factors at play here, obviously. Age, class, and race have something to do with the way people dress and the way people express their fandom. Also worth considering is the fact that international sports fans have different approaches. You don’t see a lot of Italians running around on Saturday evening in Andrea Pirlo jerseys…

(Please discuss, if you’d like…)

Style Guide

Jesse Thorn is a style maven, podcaster, radio host and all-around fun person who creates a lot of great entertainment content of all kinds on the web. When he talks about baseball on his podcast, Jordan, Jesse, Go!, however, his co-host Jordan Morris makes fun of him doggedly. When he does get to talk baseball, it’s under a cloud of barely veiled boredom and tenuous tolerance. It’s nice to see him cut loose.

Dressing for the Occasion, Put This On