A couple of weeks ago, following my post on the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle, there were remarks made about the “powder blue era” in baseball (and one look at the NL All-Star team of that year shows why). Now, I grew up with the powder blues, so seeing this brought back a tide of memories (some good, some bad, and some … well … nightmares). So, I wanted to see how these powder blues would be viewed today, by three generations of Uni Watchers — and I’m joined by sexagenarian Rick Pearson (aka “Ricko”) and twenty-something and ex-pat Mike Engle, who’ll give their perspectives on this era of baseball. (Make sure to check out their pics in the by-line.) I’ll both serve as moderator and commentator, and — since I’m young enough to be Rick’s son, and old enough to be Mike’s dad — provide a three-generation view of these blue bad boys.
Rick will offer his opinions, except where noted, on how he viewed those uniforms at the time of their introduction (he notes privately to me his views have changed in his advanced age), and Mike, having never “experienced” them when they made the scene, will offer the opinions of a different generation — one that may view the blues in much the same way as my generation viewed the time before television, and Ricko’s generation viewed the time before electricity. I’ll introduce the cast of characters, first, and then we’ll look at the baby blue uniforms, by league. We’ll tackle the National League first (since the 1941-42 Cubs were the first team to sport such uniforms), today, and then move on to the American League tomorrow. Age before beauty means Ricko has the floor first:
Rick Pearson: LI Phil, inventive sort that he is, suggested a three-generation look at powder blue road unis in MLB. This is an interesting idea, though given the three folks he chose for the piece he ends up—using a MY THREE SONS template—as square-jawed Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray was C.C. Beck’s model for Captain Marvel, btw) , with Mike Engle as goofy little Ernie and Ricko as irascible old Uncle Charley. The upside of that, of course, is that if I sound opinionated, cantankerous and crusty, it’s okay; it’s only me staying in character. I’ll now turn the floor over to young Michael. Mike?
Mike Engle: Damn it, Rick and Phil, thanks for the archaic pop culture reference that goes straight over my head because Nick at Nite runs after my bedtime. That’s class. [/sarcasm] Regardless, I have to say, after
flipping through the ancient, dusty, yellowing history book scanning old pictures on the internet, wow! What an era! When I was five, I remember asking my dad, “How do the teams know what to wear?” He’d reply: “Home wears white, visitors wear gray.” A beautiful simplicity (well, usually) that does not apply today, when we’re subject to seeing teams in the buff, blue teams wearing black, teams “without” a road uniform, and even cravings for cardboard in pizza boxes pizza in cardboard boxes. Though the white v gray rule will be disregarded in this “sky blue review,” there’s plenty to see and talk about here nonetheless: uniforms from the heavens, uniforms that need to stay in the Clubhouse in the Sky, and uniforms that are, well, as unique as a blue duck. So without further ado, let’s fire up the time machine and welcome our first team down the catwalk, the 1941-42 Chicago Cubs.
The 1941-42 Chicago Cubs, who started off the powder blue ‘experiment’ (but did not begin the ‘craze’). This past week, Paul linked to this newspaper article describing the outfits in less than glowing terms. “Have the Cubs developed a pantywaist inferiority complex?” the article asks. My less than good Photoshop (actually, MS Paint) skills show how the uniform in color may have looked. (Or not, since after that mockup, Larry Bodnovich provided me with screen grabs showing the 1942 Cubs in action [here’s a closeup]. Obviously they were much closer to gray than the powder blues which would follow decades later.) But perhaps because of the comments like those contained in the article, or perhaps because polyester doubleknits hadn’t reared their ugly heads, powder blue as a replacement for a gray road uniform would not return to the baseball diamond until the 1960’s. It’s tough for me to comment on these, but just from what I’ve seen, there are pros and cons — pro: zipper! con: vest. I HATE vests. But that’s just me.
Mike Engle’s take: The powder blue vests are total flops. Just not a good look at all. (I’m not sure I particularly like the look of baseball vests at all, but powder blue vests? Gross.) The wordmark is a good idea (it was kept for the subsequent sleeved gray road uniforms, and looks pretty good), but terribly executed because it rides too low, across the belly instead of the chest. This could have been a really good uniform, but instead, it looks kind of stupid, and probably looked embarrassingly out of place and time in the early ’40s.
Ricko’s thoughts: Despite what some think, I wasn’t around for the Cubs flirtation with powder blue, but they don’t look too bad. I like the white lettering edged in royal. I suspect, though, based on the stories I’ve seen (“panty waist” unis) they might have been jussssst a bit ahead of their time. It took the coming of color TV to make baseball more…colorful. At least they hold the distinction of being the only powder blues vests ever in MLB.
And now, on to the rest of the national league.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves wore powder blues from 1980 through 1986, remaining essentially unchanged for that period. The only major change occurred after 1980, when they wore a two-toned cap and “rounded” ‘A’ in their script “Atlanta.” From 1981 through 1986, their cap was solid blue and the “A” in Atlanta was pointy. The uniforms also appeared to be a slightly darker blue.
RP: First off, I never understood the Braves dropping the red from the roads. It wouldn’t have looked all that great, but it just seemed odd to totally lop off part of the color scheme in an era of such rampant color. Other than that, what can be said other than, “the Braves wore powder blue for a while.” Zzzzzzzz … Grade: D
ME: the Hank Aaron template with the contrast raglan sleeves and the feathers would have made for a funky powder blue [that’s Phil’s attempt at how that would have looked.]. But instead, reality gives us the blandest of the powder blues). Even though technically, there are two versions of Braves powder blue, it registers as one dull, insipid time in the team’s history in between Hank Aaron and the tomahawk revival. I’ll take the “modern,” pointy A over the round A because (a) it doesn’t result in Hank Aaron’s cap getting “left over” and stuck with these lifeless duds, (b) they still have the pointy A today, so I’m used to it and I like it, (c) it flat out looks cooler, or (d) all of the above. Grade: C (everything else, relatively, is memorably good or memorably bad)
PH: I’m in agreement with both Rick and Mike on these. One thing I do like about them (and which will become apparent as the list progresses) is that I think, with very few exceptions, the only color which goes well with powder blue is actually … blue. The Braves pretty much stuck to that blue-blue script, so they are in no way shape or form on the bottom of my list. On the other hand, there’s nothing about them which stands out either (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). I prefer the seemingly deeper blue and pointy “A” to the two tone cap and rounded A. Grade: C+
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs (aside from their ‘experimentation’ from 41-42) wore powder blue from 1976 through 1981. For 1976 and 1977, they went with a solid powder blue uniform with block “CHICAGO” across the chest (1976 had the patch Bill Madlock is wearing and 1977 featured the cub head. In 1978, they changed from solid blues to pinstriped blues, (keeping the cub head and from 1979 through 1981 kept the pinstripes but added a red ring around the little bear.
ME: Without the pinstripes, they look like scrubs. Seriously, take the number off, and I see a medic for a Chicago Cub Scout troop, not a Chicago Cub ballplayer. With the pinstripes, they’re my least favorite of the powder blues. Ernie Banks would never have wanted to play two in those pajamas, he’d hope for a rain-out each and every time so he could, you know, stay in HIS classier-looking pajamas. My least favorite. Grade: F
RP: Ah, the Cubs. The solid royal roads were just kinda….they’re … not good, not bad. Just solid. But, oh those powder blues with white pins. Personally, I loved em. Not so much because they were so good-looking but they gave something unique a shot, and it sure as hell was distinctive to them. However, lest you think me a total moron, I will admit that probably was a bit too MUCH powder-and-pins. I submit a photo showing that “alts” back then might have been a good idea. Here’s Larry Bowa in a BP jersey and, when you pair those pants with a solid royal jersey … it ain’t too bad. Grade: C
PH: The Cubs weren’t exactly blessed with ‘classic’ road unis in the 1970’s — even this gray 1972 jobby, with its centered numbers (blecch) and red piping, is nothing to write home about. But the solid blue uniforms weren’t without their charm. As noted before, I prefer blue numbers and letters on a powder blue uni, and these fit the bill. Certainly not the worst of the blues, they were about average. On the other hand, these things beg the question: “Pinstripes on powder blues? Really?” Pinstripes DON’T belong on road uniforms, and they look absolutely ridiculous on powder blue. Ruins whatever good feelings I may have had from the previous two years, and totally brings these down a full grade. Not that they were starting from a very high grade to begin with. Grade: D
Montreal Expos: Yet another club with two distinct iterations of powder blue uniforms. From 1969 through 1978 the Expos wore a simple blue uniform with thin red white and blue piping on the sleeve hem and pants legs, blue numbering (and they even had button down jerseys) and black shoes. In 1979 they switched to red numerals. Then, abruptly, they changed. From 1980 through 1991, they added fat, red and blue stripes from their shoulders to their sleeves, down the sides of their jerseys and extending down their pant legs. In addition, they donned blue shoes.
PH: Well, they went from having one of the nicest uniforms to the worst. Let’s look at the good. First of all, they were born blue, (how’s this for a pre-Photoshop job?) never had much flair on the uniforms in the early years, and always kept the button down jerseys. Black shoes in the early days were a huge plus. I really have to split my grade on this uni set into two groupings — pre fat stripes and post. For the early years, I loved this uniform — Grade: A. Then, beginning in 1980, something went horribly wrong. Those fat-assed stripes turned a gorgeous uniform into a garish joke. Whatever focus group thought this was a good look must have been given one too many mushrooms. Because it’s not. Grade: C-
RP: The Expos were born in powder blue, should have stayed in powder blue til the end. Just looked so right and seemed so right, right down the tri-color hat that, at first, some smarty pants SI writer suggested was minus only a propeller to be perfect. The second version with the broad two-color stripe on the shoulder and continuing all the way down the jersey and pantlegs was the better idea. Considerably more “snap” than the original set (although the original look was worn by one of the great young outfields I ever saw: Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine). Grade: B+
ME: Got better with time. Let’s go in reverse chronological order. The ones with the long, thick stripes down the side were the best. They completed the Expos’ look, matching the tone set by the wild cap. Add the red numbers, and you have a nice balance of red and blue throughout the uniform. The earlier variations are too blue, and would have looked better with the all blue cap the last Expos wore. While the skinny piping looks nice, it’s too old school for an otherwise new school uniform. (Basically the reverse Washington Nationals, who have an overly-old school cap for a new school uniform.) The red number is better than the blue-with-white-outline number (which looks too dark to match), which is better than the original single-layer royal number. Considering their tweaks from start to finish: Grade: a steady crescendo from B- to A-.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Fightin’s wore their powder blues for a looooooonng time, basically unchanged, from 1973 through 1988 (some sleeve patches changed or disappeared, and they wore white shoes [according to Okkonen] in 1975, with reddish-maroon shoes the rest of the years. Caps and shoes were dark red, with a like colored stripe, surrounded by thin white stripes running down the shoulders and arms, inside of the jersey, and down the pant legs. In 1973, and then again in 1987 and 1988, the jerseys had buttons — the remaining years they featured zippers.
ME: My favorite powder blue?: Philadelphia Phillies, Mike Schmidt era. It’s not just my favorite powder blue uniform — It’s arguably my favorite baseball uniform ever! Maroon and powder blue look amazing together, and the Helvetica font goes perfectly with the curly P logo on the heart and cap. Add vertical arched NOB’s, a well-weighted white border to make the maroon pop out of the blue and match the piping, and REAL BELTS!, and you get an A+ awesome uniform. Grade: A+
PH: Ugh. Perhaps I’m letting my NL East prejudice creep in here, but these things were awful. First of all, the only thing that looks good with baby blue is another shade of blue, preferably dark blue. Certainly NOT burgundy (or maroon or dark red — or whateverthefuck color that is). Yeah … all you West Ham and Aston Villa fans can hate me too. And I don’t care if you think it looked great on Garry Maddox and Dick Allen (I’m not about to tell them it didn’t), but it just so pales in comparison to the current and past Phillies unis. Not a fan of the mix of blue and maroon, didn’t like the baseball in P on the cap or the jersey. Hate the head to toe stripage. Just nothing about this uni is likeable. Sorry. And Rick, they wore white shoes in 1975. Grade: D
RP: I liked the Phillies in powder blue. In my mind, burgundy and powder shouldn’t have worked but it did. Beyond obvious memories of Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton in those unis, I also think of guys like Garry Maddox, Dave Cash and Tug McGraw. Didn’t like the white shoes with them in ’76 or whenever it was. Grade: C
St. Louis Cardinals: The final National League team (yea, the Brewers are in the senior circuit now, but they weren’t when they wore powder blue) for today, the Cards wore powder blues, basically unchanged, from 1976 through 1984. (In 1976, they sported pill box caps and a patch on their left sleeve.) Their uniform was almost an exact replica of their home unis, with polyester pullover jerseys, thin, red, white and blue stripes on the sleeve hems, collars, and pant legs, and an elastic waist band also in red, white and blue. In 1979 and 1980, they wore TV numbers on their sleeves. Their wordmark was the classic Cardinals’ script with birds on bat. They wore red shoes throughout.
RP: Umm…no. Maybe because the Cardinals have such a history of classic unis, maybe because there was navy in there with the red and white…don’t know exactly why, but…just…no. Members of the Gas House Gang must have cringed during that era. Grade: F
ME: This is the “powder blue that never should have happened.” Lou Brock looks so out of place, out of time in powder blue. Dizzy Dean didn’t wear powder blue. Neither did Rogers Hornsby or Stan the Man. Thanks for trying, St. Louis, but now you know to stick to gray for the road. Grade: C-
PH: Our final selection for today. The Cards fall into the same problem as the Phillies, and that is that red doesn’t go with powder blue. Not quite as bad as the Fightin’s, but still not a good combo. Toss in the red shoes, the poly pullovers, the TV numbers … and what you have is not a good look. You can’t just toss on the classic “birds on bat” on the poly pullover and have it work. Rarely will I say that the Mets unis blow away the Cards’, but when the Cardinals wore powder blue, few teams looked as bad. Grade: C-
Well, there you have it. Day one of the true blue review. Obviously, the three of us have widely divergent opinions, as we’re sure you all do. Don’t like what we said? Think one (or all) of us is full of shit? Let’s hear about it.
You Nick asked for it: If you didn’t read the link, basically Nick asked for some mock-ups of Mets uniforms, sans all blue. This proved to be a tougher task than originally thought. And, originally, I didn’t know he had wanted to see said mock-up without a black jersey. So a black jersey is included. For my first attempt, I took a rear view of the uni, removed the blue, and kept the white outlining for the numbers. Here’s the result. Moving on, I took on a frontal view of the uniform, keeping the white outlines and removing the drop shadows. Not satisfied, I removed the white outline, just for shits and giggles, and this is the result. My verdict? The first one looks like a Giants ripoff (and not a good one at that), the second is just not a good look, and the third looks like an Orioles alternate. Not that the BFBS combo is any good anyway, but removing all blue from it is just wrong. And not an improvement.
I next moved to the snow white home uniform (also known as an alternate), but at least it’s white and a uniform, not a softball outfit. I won’t even attempt to do a mock-up on the pins, so you will just have to settle for the snow whites. Well, here is what I came up with. Again, I removed the drop shadow and replaced the blue with black. While this doesn’t look as bad as the BFBS jersey treatment, it’s still not the Mets. It’s not the Giants either, but it sure does look a lot like the G-men did when they played in New York. Again, removing the blue is not an improvement in any way. Their snow whites with blue caps and sleeves is not a bad look as it is. This is. Finally, I tacked the road grays and removed the blue (and drop shadows). The result is very interesting. I’m pretty sure I have seen that look somewhere before. I understand the Mets were trying to ‘recreate’ the old Brooklyn and New York teams who moved west when they entered the National League in 1962. It was a great look then and a great look (well, if they actually still looked like that) now. Removing the blue, in my opinion, is NOT a good way for this team to go. And that’s the end of this edition of “Phil’s Mets Uni Concepts.”
Or is it? In honor of today’s topic, I wondered how bad the Mets would have looked had they succumbed to the powder blue craze of yesteryear. Well I got my answer when I mocked that up. Thank god they stuck to the gray. Because here’s what they would have looked like in powder blue. They’d get an F.
That’s all for today, folks. Enjoy the draft. Discuss the new football unis. Tell us how bad the powder review is. But above all, enjoy your Saturday. Rick & Mike and I will be back tomorrow to discuss the American League.