Yesterday’s ESPN column about the different versions of the Tigers’ old English D logo (which, incidentally, should have included a shout-out to Jeffrey Sak, who first brought this issue to my attention about a year and a half ago) prompted a really fascinating response from Steve Diamond, a product designer at Nike (yes, Nike). Check it out:
I’ve been designing MLB product for a long time now, and your article about the Detroit “D” was funny, but also sad. Funny because I know how MLB works and the mess they have created, but sad because there are even more variations to the “D,” as well as the fact that there are 29 other teams that have similar or even worse problems.
Basically, years ago logos were not passed from vendor to vendor in formats such as embroidery tapes (what an embroidery machine uses to create the artwork for a cap logo or chain-stitch a jersey logo) and die patterns (like a cookie cutter that cuts out tackle twill to be appliquï¿½d to a jersey). A new vendor typically had to copy an existing jersey to get it right. So, essentially the jersey/caps of today are copies of copies of copies.
MLB and the clubs never kept accurate records, so [in the 1990s] MLB attempted to compile a “style guide” to digitally keep records of each team’s logos, in an effort to alleviate this problem. (This was also a legal move to accurately register each team’s trademarks.) However, they created marks that looked good for printing and web usage but never attempted to duplicate the actual marks used on the caps and jerseys. This added to the mix of logos being used by different manufacturers, furthering the mess.
Going back to Detroit, currently there are at least four Detroit “D” logos that I have seen — two used on the field and two that MLB created for their style guide.
You also touched on the Cardinals and Yankees. As you can see, the Cardinals have similar problems with the use of the “StL,” and the Yanks top all teams with five different versions of the “NY” in circulation.
As Majestic moves more and more of its Authentic jersey production overseas, the uniforms and logos will become more standardized, but we will lose the uniqueness and beauty of crafted chain-stitching and zig-zag stitching that is hard to duplicate in Asia.
On the other hand, New Era still makes all of its Authentic 5950 caps in the U.S., but their problem is the opposite: They have such a mix of old and varied machines that all their caps fit so different. Go check out a store with a Yankees Authentic 5950 and compare a handful in your size. Then look at the logos on all of them. Youï¿½ll see a variety of embroideries — the same basic NY, but some skinny, some fat, etc. This is due to older embroidery machines stitching “loose” and brand-new machines stitching “tight.” Again, overseas you would find rooms filled with all the same year, same model machines churning out consistency.
Hope that helps. Unfortunately for me, I can’t enjoy a baseball game, as I constantly think about junk like this. I’m just glad you didnï¿½t talk about color — don’t get me started on that.
Wow — please join me in thanking Steve for all that great info.
The lesson, of course, is that logos aren’t quite so immutable as we like to think they are, especially when rendered in fabric. And as the preceding account suggests, the sports world has been a particularly poor steward of its own graphic heritage, especially when compared to other industries. Small example: Back when I worked in book publishing, about 15 years ago, I edited a book that included a short interview with the great Paul Rand, who designed a slew of iconic corporate logos. Asked if there was anything he wished he could go back and change, he said he’d drawn the little bow in the UPS logo by hand and regretted not using a compass — but when he’d asked UPS if he could go back and tweak the design, they’d said no. And that’s precisely how you avoid having multiple old English Ds floating around.
Then again, this all points to a big reason why I started Uni Watch in the first place: to help document the sports world’s design history. So we should be glad that the teams and leagues have left us with such an entertaining mess to untangle.
Research Request: I was out of the house last night and didn’t catch the Giants/Cowboys game, but lots of people wrote in to say that Terry Glenn had an Ohio State buckeye merit decal on the back of his helmet. Unfortunately, I can’t find a photo of this. If anyone DVR’d the game and can get us a screen grab, that’d be swell. Apparently the best views came during pregame warm-ups and after the Giants intercepted Drew Bledsoe with 1:33 left in the first half.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Speaking of the Tigers’ various logos, this guy‘s pretty on top of the “D-lemma,” as he calls it. … There’s a poll here on the best NFL logos. … The Phillies signed 700-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer to a two-year extension yesterday, which as many readers have already noted means two more years of exposure for Philly’s seldom seen Liberty Bell stirrups. … Bit of speculation here about why the Vikings weren’t wearing their purple pants on Sunday. … In case you missed it in yesterday’s Comments section: Baseball players aren’t the only ones to wear windbreakers under their jerseys. Check out Steve Grogan! … Also from yesterday’s Comments section: a close-up of the little eyelet-equipped jersey patch that the Cowboys use to tie down their jerseys to their pads. … Contrary to what I wrote in yesterday’s ESPN column, the Astros do not chain-stitch their jersey insignia onto a patch and then sew that onto the jersey. They embroider directly onto the jersey (just like the Cardinals do), as seen in this shot, provided by longtime Uni Watch contributor Kevin Gee. (Here’s another view.) … Mizzou will be wearing solid-gold uniforms this weekend. … The Bears will be wearing their orange alt jerseys this Sunday. … Bonus points to the first Comments section contributor who can explain why I referenced Emerson in today’s entry title. … Even more bonus points for anyone who can explain why the hell there’s a Warhol-ized Emerson portrait floating around on the web (which you must admit looks very nice at the top of the page).