By Phil Hecken
When we discuss baseball uniform history, occasionally the subject comes around to “monochrome” which, for lack of a better term, is a non-white or gray-based uniform, in which teams of the past have worn a matching top and bottom. There have been occasional calls for a team (or perhaps more) to return to this fashion statement over the past few years. Would this be something worth trying?
Monochrome in baseball is not as rare as you might think, being somewhat commonplace at the turn of the last century (and also somewhat common prior to 1900), lasting for a little over a decade, basically disappearing, save for a brief reemergence in the mid-1920s, only to ‘die off’ again until the mid 1960’s. There was a brief flirtation with satin uniforms in the 1940’s for nighttime use (baseball stadia first became lighted in the 1930’s and lights were nowhere near as strong as they are today — it was thought the satin might reflect the lights better under the lights). But for the most part, monochrome was limited to a few teams in the early part of the last century.
Charley Finley changed all that in 1963, introducing the now iconic kelly (now hunter) and gold to his Kansas City A’s. Slowly, a few teams would follow his lead, introducing “powder” blue road uniforms to replace the standard gray. But it wasn’t until polyester doubleknits began to take over baseball in the early 1970’s that bright colors were used for anything other than caps, piping and stirrups in a baseball uniform. The 1970’s saw the introduction of many different solid colors to the baseball uniform, some for the jersey (more of a pullover for most teams) but some went full-bore and created entire uniforms in bright (or at least, non-white and non-gray) colors. The phenomenon lasted for over a decade, with many teams introducing powder blue road uniforms in place of their standard gray, but others were bolder still.
Let’s take a look back now at monochrome in baseball since 1900. This chart represents most of the teams (although not all years) when a team wore at least one monochrome uniform. You can easily see that the chart is heavily weighted first towards the beginning of the 1900’s, then a couple teams in the 1940’s, the A’s in that seminal year of 1963, and then an explosion in the 1970’s.
As you can see by the chart, the Cincinnati (beginning 1901) and Baltimore teams (1901 only) wore dark road uniforms, joined shortly thereafter by the Chicago (American League) team and Cleveland team in 1902, who were led by Uni Watch’s patron saint, Nap Lajoie; by 1903, the New York “Highlanders” had joined them. Cincy wore their dark roadies through 1903, while Baltmore was a “one year wonder”. Chicago’s American League team, however, would “set the standard” for a dark road uniform, wearing it from 1902 through 1916 (seen here on opening day in Detroit, 1911). Cleveland would wear theirs for two years, while the New York (NL) squad wore dark in 1905 and 1906.
Detorit would wear a dark road uniform in 1905 and 1906, and the New York (AL) team would wear dark in 1904 and 1906. Washington would sport a dark away uni from 1906 through 1909, and in 1909 Cincinnati would return to a dark uniform (keeping it through 1911). In 1911 and 1912, the National League Chicago club would be dressed in dark, the National League New York team would wear black for one more season in 1911; Boston (National) would don themselves in a dark uniform with red pinstripes in 1913 and 1914, and for 1913, Chicago’s northsiders would sport a new dark roadie. But other than the White Sox (as they were known by this time), and who wore a deep navy blue (almost black) for 14 years, that was the extent of the monochrome darks.
The dark uniform would make a very brief comeback in 1925, when the White Sox sported a pinstriped dark uniform, and in 1926, when they returned to a solid dark, with white socks on their sleeve and a kind of “half” piping pattern.
Monochrome (other than white or gray, of course) would disappear from the majors for 15 years, when, in an extremely radical move at the time, the Chicago Cubs would introduce a powder blue vested uniform for the 1941 and 1942 seasons. (Their home uniform was also very unique.) While not the dark monochrome sported by the earlier clubs, the first “powder blue” salvo had been fired.
An even more radical experiment, brought upon by nighttime baseball, was tried by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944. According to Robert Edward Auctions, “This unique and very rare one-year style jersey, worn by the Dodgers only in 1944, utilizes a highly reflective satin fabric. It was designed and used strictly for night games. It was believed that the reflective properties of the fabric made the garments easier to see under the lights. Night baseball was in its infancy in the early 1940s and it is understandable that teams would try to make adjustments to take into account the new conditions presented by playing games at night. Apparently, the benefits were not great or the style was not popular with the players, as the satin uniforms were retired following the 1944 season, never to return.”
Brief mention must be made here of the 1936 Cincinnati Reds, who, while not sporting a monochrome uniform, did have an “alternate” pair of red pants. As with the Dodgers experiment, they proved none too popular with the players.
Following World War II and all through the 1950’s, baseball fashion remained fairly stoic from the uniform standpoint, with all teams featuring only a home white and gray road uniform. However, stirrups, caps and piping were all that was needed to distinguish the teams. It would not be until the early 1960’s, and the very early stages of color television, that baseball fashion would really change. In 1963, Kansas City A’s’ colorful owner Charley Finley would unleash upon the world the first yellow and kelly team, uniforms which they’d wear both at home and on the road. In 1964, the A’s would return to gray road uniforms, but keep the gold uniform for home. They’d also add gold sanitaries and white shoes to the mix by 1967. We’ll have more on the A’s after their move to Oakland.
Meanwhile, the team who wore a dark alternate for the longest time, the Chicago White Sox, decided in 1964 that gray was no longer de rigeur for a road uniform, and they began wearing powder blue. They’d keep the powder blue with a block “CHICAGO” for three seasons, switching to a script Chicago in 1967 and 1968.
Uniforms at this time were still wool flannel or cotton, and the powder blue was much “lighter” in appearance. In 1969, two new entries to the major leagues, the Seattle Pilots and the Montreal Expos would be “born” in powder blue. The “baby blue” craze had begun. We won’t look at the powder blue uniforms in this post, but if you’re interested, they were detailed extensively last April. Suffice it to say, the White Sox and the A’s had made it “OK” to wear something other than white or gray (although not all teams would do so). However, with the advent of polyester uniforms in the 1970s, baseball would really rediscover the dark (or colorful) tops, and occasionally, the full monochrome uniform.
While many teams would enter the polyester era (or even before) sporting powder blues (Milwaukee upon
stealing receiving the Seattle team in 1970, the Royals, Twins and Phillies in 1973, the Rangers, Cubs and Cardinals in 1976, the expansion Mariners and Blue Jays in 1977, and the Braves in 1980), a few teams took their cues from the Oakland A’s as the 1970’s opened.
Surprisingly, it was the Baltimore Orioles who fired the first salvo in 1971. Wearing their all orange, Brooks Robinson-designed uniforms, the Orioles wore them a very limited number of times (some say as many as four times), they were quickly and quitely retired after everyone (probably including Brooks himself) thought them too garish.
With several teams in both leagues now sporting powder, and the A’s still in their gold, 1972 would see the Atlanta Braves introduce a dark road jersey, worn only with white pants. On the other side of the country the San Diego Padres would be the second team to introduce a solid yellow (although theirs was more mustard than the A’s gold). They would also only have one color uniform (including pants) for both home and away. They’d wear this uniform for 3 seasons. It would prove, if not popular, at least cultishly-popular, and the Pods would wear it for a throwback game in 2007 against the Cardinals.
Up Interstate 5 in Oakland, Charley Finley must have been curious about his little unique flirtation with color being not-so-unique anymore. So, in 1972, with his team now wearing polyester pullovers, he dropped the gold pants and added a green jersey. But they were no longer in monochrome. He must have sensed the “error” of his ways, because in 1973, he upped the ante again, returning not only the gold pants, but adding a set of green pants (for a monochrome kelly look) to go along with the all gold. I don’t believe the all-green was worn very often, but it was a very bold statement indeed.
With the floodgates on color now open, in 1974, the Cleveland Indians added a bright red top to their aresenal. But that was just the beginning. In 1975 (through 1977), they would make possibly the boldest ever statement in MLB by a blue top AND red pants to their repertoire. The “bloodclots,” as they became known, were worn occasionally throughout their three-year run. Even poor Boog Powell (who in theory wore the Orioles all-orange get-up), couldn’t escape the red menace. The Indians also mixed and matched their red pants, wearing both the white top, and in what may have been the worst uniform combo in history, at least once donned blue over red. Wow. Like the Padres, the bloodclots must have achieved some kind of cult-like status in Cleveland, as the Indians reprised them for a (sans sanis) for a 2004 throwback game.
Obviously not satisfied with their (by now powder and red) roadies, the Chicago White Sox, they with the longest history of having worn dark monochrome, turned the baseball fashion world upside down (again) in 1976, introducing an early century fauxback uniform featuring tab collars, no stirrups and a throwback font. They would actually have a season or two of mix-and-match tops and bottoms, and wore a different sock pattern in several of those years. Amazingly (or perhaps not), the Chisox would wear this uniform set from 1976 through 1981.
No longer unique, one might think the monochrome fad would be restricted to the previously aforementioned teams. But you’d be wrong. In 1977, in the ultimate color-me…um, something…move, the Pittsburgh Pirates introduced their “Bumblebee Set,” which featured both a black and a gold monochrome set, plus a thick pinstriped number. With seemingly little rhyme or reason, the Pirates would mix and match at will, featuring at least nine different combinations. Except while batting, the Bucs would always wear a constrasting color cap and stirrups with their monochromes. They would wear that uniform when the won the 1979 World Series, and keep on wearing it through 1984 (although they’d drop the pinstripes after 1979).
Meanwhile…the San Diego Padres, who so famously introduced the world to monochrome mustard from 1972-1974, thought one more mustard uni wouldn’t be overkill. So, in 1978, they reintroduced the world to monochrome yellow, and having already joined the hoardes of mix and match teams of the late 70’s, sometimes with intersting results.
Last, but certainly not least, is our “one-hit wonder,” the Philadelphia Phillies of 1979, who sported their “Saturday Night Special” all-dark red uniforms for their May 17, 1979 game, and never wore them again. I wonder why.
There you have it. A look back a monochrome worn in the past. What do you think of the phenomenon? Good, bad, awful?
But what about the “future” of monochrome in baseball. Is it now time, in the age of multiple alternates for a team (or teams) to reintroduce a monochrome uniform? If so, who? We’ve seen MLB monochrome throwbacks, and we’ve even seen teams wear Negro League monochrome throwbacks on occasion.
And what about the styles today? With players wearing their pants, for the most part, pajama style, would we even want to see a monochrome uniform? Sure, it’s fun to see a powder blue throwback…until you the ankle length pants and the baggy unis. Could such a style work with monochrome? Would we get something like this or this? Or would they break out the stirrups for a somewhat more complete look?
The floor is yours dear readers. Part II will take a stab at some future monochrome uniforms, but your suggestions as to which team or teams (if any) should give it a shot. Let’s hear what you got.
[Special thanks to Steve’s Baseball Pages for many of the monochrome uniform shots.]
In the third installment of the first week of Benchies, the boys quickly turn their attention to the more important pasttimes. Here’s Rick:
So you’re telling yourself that all this new freedom is gonna be spectacular. That being being single again will have it benefits, Like a big ol’ honey bee you’ll just wander from flower to flower. And the first thing you’ll need is a friend to introduce you into that magical place where all those, um, blossoms are blooming. Right? Right.
Here’s your very special Thursday Benchies.
[Benchies appears every Saturday and Sunday on Uni Watch.]
Uni Watch News Ticker: Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Is Steven Strasburg the next Honus Wagner? (thanks to Jim Vilk). … On Tuesday night, notes Jeff Simon, the US did not wear their world cup socks. They did, however, wear the jersey and shorts. … Third String Goalie‘s own Jeff Barak found a half hour film on the creation of the Quebec Nordiques leading up to their first ever game. Not only does it include footage of their original jerseys, but an interview with the designer who created the logo and the uniforms for the team at the 13 minute mark that lasts a minute and a half. Also briefly shown are the “Alberta” Oilers and their short-lived orange jerseys they wore for their first two seasons. … Soccer continues to make big news in the uni-world, with a Fury As Protea Left Off Bafana’s ‘Away’ Jersey (thanks to Alex Washburn). Says Alex, “My favorite part of this story might be ‘Adidas will be letting us down as a nation’.” … Wayne Edward Koehler notes “NBA logos in Weird Places.” He’s not sure when this was originally posted, but he found this on USA Today’s photo gallery. … Brewers fan Andrew Schroeder noticed this old SI cover and states, “I don’t think the Brewers hat in question ever existed and is simply an artists rendition replacing the S from the Pilots hat with an M, but the Brewers famously couldn’t get new uniforms in time for their inaugural season, so who knows.” Any Brewer historians (*coughchancemichaelscough*) know the full story? … Despite all the recent love for UA’s throwbackish treatment of some college unis with the introduction of “legend gray,” Darin Nelson has given us another reason to rethink their designs. Darin noticed these uniforms Tuesday night as Utah played in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. “They are made by Under Armour but the pants caught me off guard. Wierd vent or stripe above the knee.” … Blair Thompson sent in this pugilistic pose with the statement “The Bennett Sisters. Your guess is as good as mine.” Comes from this linky. Anyone know more? … Grant Goldman mentions if you go to this page and go to around the 1:18 mark, you will see a top prospect for the MLB draft wearing a Rawlings Coolflow Helmet with a large UnderArmour mark on the front. … UW graphics guru “Pretty Boy Paulie” Soto noticed some strange fan jersey occurrences a few weeks ago at Wrigley Field. “Sadly,” Paulie remarks, “it’s taken me this long to send them to you. First is a gentleman wearing a bizarre Cubs/Bears hybrid jersey. Second, I spotted a guy rocking a White Sox road jersey with a 2005 World Series patch, Kosuke Fukudome’s name and the number read “01”. WRONG on so many levels.” … Pacific Rim Correspondent Jeremy Brahm checks in with the NPB (Japanese) All-Star Practice uniforms. … What happens when the swooshectomy doesn’t take? Obviously the mark of the beast reappears (thanks to Brinkie Guthrie). … Even when he’s across the pond, Paul Lukas is in the news (gracias, Anthony Zogas, for the linkie). … Dan Byrne saw yesterday’s genius World Cup uniforms by Danny Finocchio, and loved it. However, “looking at the tweak for the England kit made me think about this story from a couple years ago which explains why England, or any other team, can never wear that jersey. This guy may have been a crank,” says Dan, “but I remember the story being at least a little real. Probably better to not bring up the Crusades these days. I enjoy the website more than you know.” … And finally, also from Brinke, the Giants will be retiring Monte Irvin’s Number 20.
The Pirates of the late 70’s and early 80’s set the uniform standard for adult slow pitch softball leagues across the country. — Russ Clay (posted here)