Something weird is going on with the Tigers (besides the fact that they’re flushing their postseason hopes down the crapper). It involves that little orange dot on the crown of their road batting helmets. Or at least it’s supposed to be there — but lately it’s been a little more complicated than that.
The most obvious problem child is Gary Sheffield, whose dot has been way off-center in recent days. Then there’s Curtis Granderson, whose dot is several inches too far forward. But at least Sheffield and Granderson have their dots — Placido Polanco‘s orange dot is missing altogether.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about the helmet dots, so here’s a quick recap: Most MLB teams use them, and they’re actually included in MLB helmet decal kits. They sort of mimic the button on the top of a cap, but that doesn’t explain why the dots are sometimes used by teams that don’t have contrast-colored cap buttons. A spokesman from Rawlings, which makes all the MLB helmets, once told me that the little dots were a visual trademark of ABC Helmet (the company that originally made the helmets) and were continued by Rawlings in the interest of continuity, even though they don’t always match the caps. To my way of thinking, the dots are a silly anachronism at best, and they make no sense at all on a CoolFlo helmet, since the newfangled lids don’t are only loosely based on caps anyway.
None of which explains the situation with the Tigers. Is it some sort of superstitious good luck charm? Is it a way of sending signals that even Bill Belichick can’t steal? Is it a way to get people to stop talking about those other helmet dots? (I still get two or three questions a day about that — incredible.) If anyone knows the deal, please fill us in.
(Special thanks to Benjamin Bonnett and intern Vince Grzegorek, who brought the Tigers situation to my attention.)
MLB 2008 Update: I have a feeling this link isn’t gonna stay up for long, but for now you can see most of the 2008 MLB uni revisions — including, yes, the new Tampa design — here. Discuss.
Typography Update: Yesterday brought still more chest/sleeve typographic inconsistencies (the first two of which were contributed by Brendon Yarian):
• Yesterday I mentioned that the Jets had inconsistent 2s in the late ’60s, but the pseudonymous Graf Zeppelin pointed out in yesterday’s comments that they apparently had a similar problem 20 years later, as seen on the cover of their 1989 yearbook. That prompted a spectacularly informative follow-up comment from sj32:
The reason there are two different typefaces is because the jerseys were made by two different manufacturers. The jersey Shuler is wearing was made by Sand Knit while the “22″ jersey was made by Champion. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, the number font on the jerseys was often determined by which company manufactured it. In that era, Sand Knit, Russell Athletic, and Champion were the primary suppliers (with King O’Shea, Southland Athletic, and Wilson supplying a couple of teams). A Champion jersey was usually identifiable by the slanted middle of the 2s and the curved 7s. Sand Knit and Russell used standard block fonts, but there were slight differences. Sand Knit produced the jerseys with the notched 5s used by Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, etc. The Russell jerseys were somewhat narrower than the Sand numbers, particularly on the sleeves.
Meanwhile, design director Scott M.X. Turner checked in with a few thoughts on the matter:
2s are the only digit where a bar — not a serif, but a bar — can shift dramatically, 45 and 90 degree angles. (7s can a bit — sometimes they’re rendered with a curve even when the number set is all straight lines.) I think that a 2’s middle bar is altered from jersey front/back to sleeve because a diagonal bar looks skinnier than a horizontal bar. Also, compressed number sets support a diagonal 2 better than a horizontal-bar 2, which tends to look squeezed when compressed. Me, I like compressed sets, but for the smaller TV numbers — either shoulder yoke or sleeve placement — it’s not as readable.
Why a team would have one variety on the home jersey and the other on its road jersey, that’s anybody’s guess. The easy default answer — that back in the day (meaning 1980 and prior, generally), the manufacturer just used whatever was lying around — works some of the time. But there have to be instances when a decision was made that one 2 looked better than another.
By the way, the very best example, of different number sets front and back is the late ’60s UCLA basketball jersey — the Lew Alcindor era. Front was a squat, boxy style, and the back was an elegant, narrow vertical style. Maybe they adopted this to make Alcindor look taller — I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Pretty sure that before Alcindor, the front style was also the back style.
Speaking of typography, a new documentary film about the typeface Helvetica (called, of course, Helvetica) is currently screening here in New York. I saw it two nights ago and loved it. No team I can think of has ever used Helvetica on its uniforms, which helps explain why the movie has no sports-related content, but there are several good interludes with graphic designer Michael Beirut, who I know has done some work for the Jets, plus plenty of detail-driven bits that should appeal to anyone who Gets It™. Recommended viewing.
Unusual Research Request: I’m looking for someone in the New York area who can read lips. Sports fan preferred; availability for watching lots of mid-October sports in the company of an ESPN reporter of my approximate height and build essential. If you know of anyone who fits the bill, please get in touch. Thanks.
Raffle Reminder: Today’s the last day to enter the raffle for the L.A. Kings jersey, the Washington Capitals T-shirt, and the bunch of MLB sleeve patches. To enter, send an e-mail to uniraffle at earthlink dot net by this 10 p.m. eastern tonight. I’ll announce the winners tomorrow. One e-mail per person, but anyone enrolled in the Uni Watch membership program by the time of the drawing will automatically get three bonus entries.
Oh, and by the way: Last month I was saying that there’d be a real doozy of a raffle in September. This isn’t it — the doozy is yet to come. Just waiting for one last piece to fall into place.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Forgot to mention that my Financial Times article about the Lelands sports memorabilia auction house (research for which was documented here) was published on Saturday. The article is here, and there’s a sidebar here. … Several unusual wristbands in this shot (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … Pat Ratliff notes that Devin Hester is up to his old double sock tricks. I forgot to mention that Giants equipment director Joe Skiba showed me something last Friday that may explain this phenomenon: Several of the Giants’ players have socks sewn into the bottom of their pants and then wear an additional pair of socks over that. That’s probably what Hester is doing. … As a big fan of green and gold, I have a soft spot for Norfolk State’s design. Go Spartans! (With thanks to Bruce Soltys.) … We’ve previously mentioned how MTSU uses huge nameplate lettering for short surnames, but you can’t fully appreciate the absurdity of it until you see this (with thanks to Chad Cate). … Brad Bierman just alerted me to a uni-related attraction I hadn’t previously been aware of: the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society Museum, which looks pretty cool. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: The Phillies used to have a raised helmet appliqué, just as the Cubs still do. … We’ve all seen baseball players who wear state or national flags on their gloves. But here’s something I haven’t seen before: Clay Buchholz wears the Texas state flag inside his glove (genius catch by Randy Williams). … Here’s a rare sight: a pitcher who wears No. 0. He’s even got it on his undershirt collar (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm).