When the Cardinals recently unveiled their new home alternate jersey and announced some other uniform tweaks, the guy emceeing the event was team president Bill DeWitt III. A few hours after the unveiling, I was made aware that DeWitt happens to be a Uni Watch fan and that he’d be open to discussing the Cards’ uniforms with me. By the end of the afternoon, we were chatting on the phone.
DeWitt isn’t like any other baseball executive I’ve ever encountered. Less than two minutes into our conversation, he casually mentioned Marc Okkonen. He has a graphic arts background (as well as an MBA from Harvard), and he’s had a large role in the design of the Cardinals’ new ballpark and the team’s championship rings. As you’ll see in this transcript of our discussion, he Gets It™ — he’s one of us.
Uni Watch: How big a role did you personally have in the development of this new alternate uniform design?
Bill DeWitt III: A big one. I led the whole effort.
UW: What sorts of things did you consider along the way that ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak?
BD: Going back a bit, when we redesigned our logos in 1998, at that time we’d been using a circular primary logo with a cartoon bird. I always thought it was crazy that we had a cartoon bird for our primary logo and a different kind of bird on our uniform. That led to a redesign of the bird, which we then used on our uniforms and for a new logo and for some other things. It was a good refresh of our brand at that time.
In the 14 years since then, there have always been little things about that 1998 redesign that bugged me, but none of them bugged me enough to go through the effort of changing them. Along the way, though, I gathered ideas of things I’d like to see. I love that [placket] piping on old retro jerseys, I love the old “St. Louis” script we had back in ’32, I love off-white cream jerseys that teams like the Giants, Phillies, and Indians have used. And I thought, rather than messing with perfection by altering our home and road jerseys, let’s have an alternate jersey that incorporates some of these older, archival elements that go well together.
So what didn’t we do? At one point there was some thought about doing a black bat, instead of yellow, because that’s what we used to have. We considered doing the really thick piping on the shoulders, we could have done belt piping, those types of things. But you don’t want to overload the Christmas tree.
UW: In the announcements and press releases and so on about the new uniform, there were these quotes from you, and I could almost feel the tension between your desire to be thought of as one of the old-school franchises that don’t dabble in alternate uniforms, like the Yankees and Dodgers and Tigers, while also wanting to do something new. Was that a difficult internal conflict for you?
BD: There’s no question about it. You nailed it. We proudly consider ourselves to be among those elite few who don’t change just for change. So that tension was clearly there. For part of me, it was almost like my wedding day — like, “Are we really unveiling a third jersey today?”
UW: I’m sure your wife will be happy to hear that comparison.
BD: I should be okay as long as she doesn’t read Uni Watch. But to get back to your point, yes, there’s some tension there. But the announcement “Cardinals Do Third Jersey” — that’s not the whole story. Once people see the jersey, they’ll see that this is still in keeping with who we are and what we’re about.
UW: I’ll tell you one aspect of the design that disappoints me: Although the overall design is very retro, the birds on the bat are the exact same birds, in the exact same poses, as the ones on your home and road jerseys. Since the inspiration for the jersey comes from the early 1930s, why not go back to the version of the birds on the bat that was used in that era?
BD: You’re referring to the tails-up birds, as we call them. And it’s funny you say that, because we gave that a little thought. But remember, this isn’t a throwback — it’s a modern uniform, and it’s part of our portfolio of modern uniforms. The guys are gonna be wearing it every Saturday. So for that reason, I thought the birds had to be modern. Also, we have this enhanced stitching technology that allows for better detailing of the birds themselves, and we think the modern birds showcase that better than the tails-up birds. And then finally, those older birds are much smaller, and that causes problems with the proportion of the birds compared to the script and the bat. So you’d either have to enlarge the birds, in order to fit the modern size of our bat and script, or you’d have to shrink the bat and script. So it’s a good thought, but it has a bit of a Pandora’s Box element to it.
UW: There’s a lot of confusion among my readership regarding this “enhanced stitching” and how it differs from the old-school chain-stitching that you guys have used. Can you clarify that, and are you still using chain-stitching?
BD: We are clearly using the old-school method. It’s still direct-embroidered chain-stitching, the same way it’s always been done since 1922. It takes them longer to do one of our jerseys than any other MLB jersey by far — about an hour.
UW: So what’s the “enhancement”?
BD: I’ve been trying to get more information from Majestic on that. I’m not sure if it’s still 100% hand-done from scratch, or if the machine does part of it now. But if you look at the graphic version of our logos — like on a computer or on a printed page — it has more detail than our chain-stitched uniforms, and until I recently I always thought that was just the cost of doing business with chain-stitching.
Early this year, though, we were pushing Majestic to tighten up a few other problems we’d seen. Basically, they were getting sloppy: The wings were kinda sticking out funny, the birds were drooping, the beaks didn’t look right. So we were pushing them on that, and then I asked for a sample showing that they’d fixed all these things, and it came back just unbelievably more detailed. Like, I didn’t even ask for that! It didn’t just tighten up the problems we had singled out — it went way beyond that. It completely blew me away.
That was really the impetus to go ahead with this new third jersey. Every year, MLB Design Services is on me — “Okay, if you want to do something new, it has to be ready by March 1st.” And every year I said, “Nah, we’ll wait another year.” But once I saw this sample with the enhancements, that was it. Now we could do the alternate, improve the home and road, the whole thing.
UW: As long as we’re talking about small details, one thing I’ve always found amusing is the color of the birds’ beaks. You show them in yellow. And there was that one time when you made them red, and of course that’s more accurate, because a cardinal’s beak really is red. But man, there’s no denying it, it looks so much better in yellow!
BD: It’s funny you say that. That was part of that logo redesign in 1998 — I lived in suburban St. Louis, and we had bird feeders, and I saw lots of Cardinals, and their beaks were red, so I said, “Let’s change the beak color, to make it ornithologically correct.” And we made the eye yellow, just to keep some yellow in that area of the design, to go along with the yellow bat.
So we did it, and I soon regretted it. And then, lo and behold, I started noticing that about 10% of cardinals actually do have much lighter-colored beaks.
UW: Yeah, but yellow?
BD: It’s kinda orange. We actually experimented a bit with an orange yarn, and the MLB Design Services people were like, “Are you kidding?”
UW: Of course, the Arizona Cardinals, their logo has a yellow beak. And the Louisville Cardinals logo has a yellow beak…
BD: Every cardinal in every team sport has a yellow beak. But seriously, I have seen actual cardinal birds with beaks that are really close to yellow. Like, you wouldn’t call it yellow, but yellow-ish orange. They’re rare, but they’re out there. We can kinda hang our hats on that: These birds are rare, and the Cardinals are rare players.
UW: One thing I’ve noticed in recent years, and my readers have noticed it too, is that the birds on the bat insignia seems to be sitting lower and lower on the jersey. And this isn’t just an optical illusion — some collectors have done measurements, and its position has clearly been lowered. First, why has that happened? And second, is that why you made the front uniform numbers smaller, because the space underneath the bat has gotten more compressed?
BD: The slipping down of the chest logo is one of the things we were noticing and were annoyed by. In fact, with some of the shorter players that were wearing baggy jerseys…
UW: Their front uniform numbers were getting tucked into their pants, right? I’ve noticed that too!
BD: Yeah. It was really annoying. That was one of those little things we wanted Majestic to fix.
UW: So that wasn’t intentional, at least not from your perspective.
BD: No, that was something that slipped over the years in terms of quality control. Even if they hadn’t come back to use with the enhanced stitching and all that, at some point we would’ve pushed for them to move the logo back up on the jersey.
UW: So that’s fixed for next season?
BD: Oh, yeah.
UW: Okay, then that’s not why you’re making the front uni numbers smaller, since you’re restoring that space under the chest logo. So why are you making the numbers smaller?
BD: It just felt out of balance to me, especially with double-digit numbers. And we don’t have many single-digit numbers left, because of number retirements. I just thought it competed too much with the birds. And this wasn’t a new problem — if you look at old photos of Bob Gibson, that “45” is so big, it dominates. You don’t even see the birds. So we made it a little smaller in ’98, and now we’ve made it a little smaller again. And now I think it’s finally perfectly proportioned relative to the rest of the logo.
BD: Yes. But we’re keeping the blue hat in our portfolio as an alternate. At the moment, we’re kind of indifferent to how it’s used. It could be used as a Sunday-getaway cap; it could be used just when we play other teams that wear red, as a point of differentiation; it could be worn on alternating road trips. We may actually get some fan feedback on this.
UW: Most teams are busy adding new caps. Why did you decide to eliminate one, or at least downgrade its status?
BD: I just love the red cap on the road. We’re a red team, and when we’re on the road wearing blue and gray, you know…
UW: You must love spring training, because you guys always wear the red caps on the road for Grapefruit League games.
BD: Yes, I love how that looks in spring training. Another problem with our road look is you have blue hat, blue belt, red shoes. And I’ve gone down that road of asking, “Can’t we get blue shoes, or dark blue?” And then you’re told, “We don’t control the shoes — the licensee does. So you could make the licensee provide blue shoes, but they’re all gonna be different, because one guy’s Nike, one guy’s Reebok.” So you’re really putting the equipment manager in a tight spot. Basically, life’s too short on that one. So I gave up that fight a long time ago.
UW: So instead, you’ll change the cap. Will you change to a red belt on the road too?
BD: Yes. Red cap, red belt, red shoes. So now all our accessories will match. And when we do wear the blue hat, we’ll use the blue belt, but we’ll still have red shoes.
UW: Speaking of the road uniform: Since you’ve now come up with a “St. Louis” script, for the alternate jersey, why not put St. Louis on your road grays, instead on the new home alternate?
BD: Great question. And that was my original thought, to wear “St. Louis” on the road. It certainly would make it more consistent with the way other clubs do it. But remember, we’ve had “Cardinals” on the road jersey for longer than most teams have even existed, so I don’t think we just have to do what everyone else does.
Also, if we put the retro “St. Louis” script on our regular road jersey, are we also going to put placket piping on the road? Are we going to use the cream-colored fabric on the road? We had all these elements [including the retro “St. Louis” script] that I thought made sense as a kind of montage third uniform, and I thought it looked cleaner and tighter keep all of these retro elements together as a home alternate, while keeping our tradition of wearing “Cardinals” on our home and road uniforms. I mean, everyone knows we’re from St. Louis.
UW: Yeah, you’ve said that before. Are you aware that some fans think there’s a certain cockiness, or even arrogance, in that last statement?
BD [laughing]: Okay. I guess that’s fair. But here’s another thing: I always like it when the cap represents the city and the jersey represents the team. So our cap and jersey spell out, “StL Cardinals.” Just like “SF Giants” or “NY Yankees.” [Slight pause.] Wait, they don’t actually do that — they’re “NY NY.” Which is one of my problems with the Yankees.
UW: And for their road look, which would be “NY New York,” you see that as redundant?
BD: Yes, that’s redundant! I don’t like redundancy. So this is a pet peeve of mine. It’s a quirk, even though nobody else probably cares. Well, probably you do. Anyway, I love how that “StL Cardinals” flows and makes sense, and I think that’s just as valid on the road as it is at home.
UW: What’s the situation with the Sunday cap? Is that being retained?
UW: One last question: You guys have these gorgeous striped socks, but most of your players wear their pants down around their shoetops. Does that bug you?
BD: Uh, yes. [Chuckles.] Didn’t you already know the answer to that?
UW: I hoped I knew the answer to that.
BD: But you know what’s really great about our current team? The vast majority of them feel the same way. They did this “Getaway Socks Day” last season — I think six of the nine guys out there did it, and it really looked great. I think the peer pressure’s starting to build. I’m hoping for a day when they all do it. For me, it’s a great look, but I actually find it bothersome if only one guy does it. It exposes a lot of color and really changes the uniform.
UW: So you’d rather have consistency, even if it’s…
BD: Let’s put it this way: I’d prefer that everyone does it one day a week, and then nobody does it the rest of the week, instead of a few guys doing it here and there once in a while.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, the annual Uni Watch Holiday Gift Guide is up now on ESPN.
And if you’re intrigued by Sean Kane’s painted baseball gloves (the first entry on the Gift Guide list), you’ll want to check out this interview with him.
Live presentation reminder: I’ll be doing a live lecture/slideshow thingie about the Permanent Record Project next Wednesday, Dec. 5, 7pm, the Housing Works Bookstore Café in Manhattan. Admission is free. Details here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: NC State will wear Jim Valvano tribute jerseys next week in the Jimmy V Classic. … Vince Moore sent along a great photo of himself and his big brother, Van, wearing their first baseball jerseys, which they received as Christmas gifts. “I’m the Cardinals fan (#29 for Vince Coleman), and my brother is the Rangers fan (#9 for Pete O’Brien),” he says. “The 2011 World Series was a big deal for us!” I love how the uni number on Vince’s jersey is almost as big as the chest insignia. … Remember when American League umps wore maroon blazers? One of those uniforms is now up for auction (from Bruce Menard). … Are the Sacramento Kings moving to Virginia? Maybe. “Seems like it’d be good news for the uni-verse as the Kings have nowhere to go but up,” says Sam Belk. If the Kings move, it would also mark the sixth incarnation of this franchise, following the Rochester Royals, the Cincinnati Royals, the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, the Kansas City Kings, and the Sacramento Kings. … Speaking of the Rochester Royals, check out this 1945-46 team portrait. The guy in the front row, third from the left, is none other than Otto Graham! I hadn’t realized that he played basketball as well as football (from Leo Strawn). … I don’t know anything about the show Go On, but David Muir provides a uni-centric overview: “Matthew Perry plays a sports talk radio host, and his producer doesn’t know that much about sports. In last week’s episode, Perry’s character decides to help the producer appear like he knows about sports and gets him a hockey sweater of the new Slovenian prospect who’s going to tear up the league.” … Get this: When Arizona wore solid-red against Arizona State last weekend, ASU had wanted to wear solid-black, but their request was denied (from Duncan Wilson). … In the latest example of advertising encroaching where it doesn’t belong, the Houston Police Department used some yellow crime scene tape imprinted with the URL of a floor-coating company (from Paul Kennedy). … Here’s a great half-hour video about the NHL from 1917- 1967. “There’s some really cool footage featuring all kinds of old NHL uniforms,” says Scott Barkett. “Beyond that, it’s got a bunch of interviews with guys like Conn Smyth, Jack Adams, etc. They tell some really cool stories, including one about Gordie Howe being upset he didn’t get a Red Wings jacket that he was promised in his contract. What a difference from today!” … How close was Shane Doan to becoming a Flyer? This close (from John Muir). … Rick Reilly said Notre Dame had no chance of beating USC, and that he’d go to South Bend to shine helmets if they pulled it off. He has now made good on that pledge (from Warren Junium). … You know those 1970s NFL helmet plaques that Brinke is always featuring in Collector’s Corner? Patrick Sharon has found something similar, only for hockey. Never seen that before. … Reprinted from last night’s comments: The Ravens will wear their black alts this Sunday against the Steelers. … Did the Clippers really misspell their own team name on their own media backdrop? I doubt it — has to be a Photoshop job, right? But it’s worth sharing just for Todd Radom’s quip: “They must be getting ready for the holiday season: No L.” … Saint Louis University’s equipment manager forgot to pack junior center Rob Loe’s #51 jersey for the trip to Washington, so he wore a NNOB #33 jersey last night (from Patarick Walsh). … New change kit for the Wigan Warriors (from George Chilvers).