By Phil Hecken
Today I have another really special article for you fine readers. Like many guests whose stories I feature on here, the story of this began with a simple e-mail following a different guest writer’s article. This one stemmed from a recent post on the controversy over the “pointed W” on the Washington Senators caps. Reader Oliver Kodner originally sent me his e-mail after reading that article.
“It got under my skin because I know how frustrating it is with MLB, Majestic, New Era, and most other companies who make ‘authentic’ items that really aren’t all that authentic,” said Oliver. He further went on to explain that this is not uncommon in MLB. Then came the sections that really piqued my interest:
It is more common to see incorrect logos these days than correct logos, and it’s getting out of hand.
I first started to notice it in Marc Okkonen’s book ‘Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century,’ the same graphics used on Dressed To The Nines. Bill DeWitt III started a major project to ACCURATELY catalog the history of St. Louis Cardinals graphics and this was a good source to start with. However it was noticed how many things Okkonen got wrong. To his credit though, he has put in more research than anyone else in that field, and some inaccuracies are expected. This project has been spinning behind the scenes for about 2 years and the amount of errors, extending way past Okkonen’s book, is unbelievable. Unfortunately my knowledge stretches just to the Cardinals organization, as I have seen XL sized binders of logos and uniform designs being created.
XL sized binders? Wait…what?!?!? He continued,
What we’re finding these days is that Majestic themselves are making merchandise that doesn’t look a damn thing like the real graphics. We’re seeing things like this, where the birds are way too small, and the bird on the right is too far away from everything. Or these birds. I see those birds come into Busch every single home game. The bad graphics and bad merchandise is coming straight from the top, from Majestic and MLB.
One of the problems here is that MLB doesn’t care. When the Cardinals went to MLB to fix the jerseys for 2013, we kind of had to push and shove to show Majestic and MLB how their stitching of the jerseys before 2013 was wrong. Even when trying to update the style guide, MLB pushed it aside and failed to see what the problem was. It took a lot of work to get inside MLB’s ear and tell them what they were posting on their style guide was wrong, and their response to all of this was something along the lines of, “there are 30 teams in MLB, and you guys are the only ones who seem to care this much about it.”
“OK,” I thought, “this guy is a fountain of knowledge and this is totally worth pursuing.” I e-mailed Oliver back and asked him if he could get in touch with the Cardinals’ “go-to” designer.
Oliver immediately replied with, “I talked to Bill’s go-to graphic designer a few seconds ago, he’s my father.”
Fantastic! This is going to be a gem of an article I mused, and I was not disappointed. I asked Oliver if he could “interview” his father and provide an article detailing everything we’d discussed, and he has obliged. One last bit from Oliver before the article as a final setup:
I know about it first hand watching my dad work with Bill DeWitt and exchanging numerous phone calls and emails with Major League Baseball about getting the graphics correct. Being able to watch my father work with Bill DeWitt on these projects for the past 15 years or so, and see him accurately recreate historical graphics provided me with a lot of knowledge on the subject of St. Louis Cardinals graphics. After contacting you, you recommended that this would be a good story to write about, so I went to my father and told him that no one has really heard his story. To this point not many people know who the freelance graphic designer is that has been working with the Cardinals since his days in the 80s at Busch Creative. He wrote up those paragraphs about his work directly with the organization starting in 1997 with the rebranding project. And is still working with the organization on numerous projects today. He sounds pretty level headed and articulate by the way he writes, but this is a man who has always referred to himself as a “simple caveman artist.”
So, with that, please sit back and enjoy a chat with …
interview by Oliver Kodner
Its an honor and privilege to design for the best franchise in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. And it helps to have a client who shares my interest in tradition, design, application, and preservation of a great brand. It also helps to be working with one of the most colorful and successful franchises in MLB history. –Gary Kodner
The Birds on Bat
The “Birds on Bat” is one of the most recognized and prominent graphics in all of sports. It is synonymous with a great and storied franchise. Originally called the Perfectos in 1899 and outfitted with red striped stockings along with red-trimmed uniforms, sportswriter Willie McHale overheard a fan remark, “what a lovely shade of cardinal. The name caught on when McHale used this new nickname in his column. In 1900 the team officially changed their name to Cardinals, however it wasn’t until 1922 that a Cardinal bird first appeared on a uniform. The birds have remained on the front of the jersey to this day, with the exception of the 1956 season.
From 1922 through 2013 there were many changes to the birds on bat, some intentional, some accidental. A study of history will reveal that some changes were due to the manufacturing process, change in vendor, or evolutionary drift. These circumstances occurred through the early years as well as modern times. A prominent example being from 2002 to 2011, as Rawlings and Majestic were both used to create what was supposed to be the same graphic on the jersey.
The birds have had a red beak, a yellow beak, pointed and round beaks. The bat has been black and it has been yellow. The birds have perched in different angles and positions, and the rendering of the birds has evolved throughout history. But the basic design of the jersey remains intact.
How I Got Involved
In 1997 I was contacted by Bill DeWitt III to consult with him on his idea and desire to refresh and contemporize the Cardinals catalog of logos. He had already kicked off a design process with MLB and sought my input on the preliminary designs that were being presented. Rather than critique some one else’s work, or tell a designer in New York how to design the Cardinals logo, I suggested that we design the logo here in St. Louis. Bill and I would work through the details, draw the birds, and present the new logo to the Cardinals ownership and MLB for approval and adoption.
There are a few reasons why the Cardinals went through a branding update in 1997 and ’98. One, a new ownership group headed by the DeWitt Family acquired the Cardinals. Two, the logo graphics throughout the catalog were inconsistent. Different Birds were being used for various logo applications; primary logo, uniform logo, print logo, etc. And third, merchandising. The Cardinals needed graphics that would be stronger on various apparel applications and promotional merchandise.
In 1998 when the Cardinals first donned the new current design, the beaks were red. I argued that real Cardinal birds have red beaks, not yellow. I won that argument for only one season as we changed back to yellow beaks in 1999. We also made the birds legs thinner. In 2013 the birds became larger, and a new computerized process allowed the embroidery to become more accurate and include details in the eyes and bat that had been left out in previous years due to the limited ability of older stitching capabilities. Due to the hand embroidery technique the Cardinals have traditionally used, the birds on bat was simplified. Details such as the birds eye, the lines on the bat barrel and knob are less detailed than the print version. The updated technology being used in 2013 lead to a gorgeous reproduction of the graphic that is still chain stitched onto the jersey.
Another “tweak” to the logo catalog will come with the single bird on bat graphic. We designed an alternate version where the bat is rotated counter clockwise to create more of an X shape design. This provides greater balance to this logo for use other than its placement on the two tone, red brimmed “Sunday Cap.”
Something that often isn’t talked about is our Minor League affiliates. They’re graphic identities are just as important to the big league club and a winning tradition. The Springfield Cardinals and Palm Beach Cardinals graphics were updated sometime around 1999 or 2000 to follow and emulate the graphics of the updated Cardinals.
Creating a Historical Catalog
Uniforms of the past are often lost to history. Few are kept, but many are known by archival black and white photographs. Those that have survived are often bleached and tattered. Tracing the Cardinals uniform history takes us back to pre-1900. Uniforms were far different in those days. They lacked color, variety, special emblems, etc. Like most teams of that era, the Cardinals featured a “type only” solution for the jersey. Simple block fonts or a fancier victorian, celtic, or old english looking fonts were used.
Recent years have experienced a resurgence in the use of old and nostalgic graphics. MLB features a Cooperstown Collection in their style guide catalog. Many merchandise licensees have created a variety of products, mostly apparel that feature nostalgic Cardinals graphics. This has not only spawned renewed interest and merchandising opportunities it has also produced a number of misrepresentations, mistakes, and poor graphics that lack accuracy to the originals.
Most fans who are not familiar with the original graphics often end up buying and wearing something that is far less than authentic. The Cardinals, under DeWitt’s leadership and persistence have set out to restoring authenticity and respect for historical accuracy. This will be accomplished by two major initiatives. One, acquiring vintage uniforms for their museum collection, and two, researching each uniform and graphic so they can be redrawn using contemporary digitized techniques. These newly created, correct and authentic, graphics can be accurately displayed and reproduced.
We all owe a lot to Mark Okkonen, who has done the most research and brought us closer to authenticity of MLB uniforms of the past. His catalog of illustrations and documentation give us a solid platform to build on when we embark on recreating an accurate history of the logos and uniforms. The Cardinals historic catalog took more than a year to produce. Working closely with Cardinals president and their museum curators, digital vector drawings were created of each Cardinals logos and emblems that appeared on uniform jerseys, jackets and sweaters, caps, sleeve patches, and pins. All done with the purpose of restoring historic accuracy, a respect for Cardinals tradition, and an insistence that the vendors, merchandisers, and MLB would get it right.
Wow. And there you have it readers. Fantastic job by both Oliver and his dad, Gary. And a tremendous “Thank You!” from me is due for this interview. We here at Uni Watch greatly appreciate ALL you do and a tip of the cap to the St. Louis Cardinals organization for having such caring and quality people working for the club.
NCAAFB Uniform News & Updates
This will be a semi-recurring column on Uni Watch and will appear whenever there is any news or updates on the College Football uniform front.
If you have ANY new NCAAFB news, follow and tweet me at @PhilHecken (and you’ll get your tweet in lights on here). You can also e-mail me (Phil (dot) Hecken (at) Gmail (dot) com) or send/cc: Paul to the following address: NewCollegeUni (at) Gmail (dot) com. OK? OK! (for any image, click to enlarge):
• New Mexico State Aggies (helmets):
This speaks for itself. (h/t to Paul for the slideshow.
• Oakland University Golden Grizzlies:
Who? Exactly. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of the Grizz because this is their first year playing football! Founded in 1957, the school finally has a football program and “team will compete in the National Club Football Association’s Great Lakes Conference” (a club-level sport for now). You can read more about it here.
• Texas A&M Aggies:
Nothing “new” or major to see here (unless perhaps you’ve thought of buying a Johnny Football jersey), but the new uniforms have the adidas trademark treadmarks on the shoulders. I should trademark that “trademark treadmark” line. (h/t to Matt Brown).
That’s it for the college uni news for today. Keep the tips coming folks!
UWFFL Preseason Week 2: The Harvest War
By Rob Holecko
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love you
In this Harvest War
Okay, that may not exactly be the words to Neil Young’s 1992 song Harvest Moon, but it’s kinda close. Likewise the UWFFL may not exactly be fantasy football, but we showed last week that this concept might just be a pretty neat thing as well. We kicked off our first ever weekend of action, and over a thousand people voted in our kickoff game, The Founders’ Bowl, as Atlanta defeated San Francisco 645 to 492. Other than the Founders’ Bowl, the rest of the preseason action will see the 12 UWFFL teams facing some tough competition as they go head-to-head against their minor league counterparts. While Tampa and San Diego won their games, the big winner last week was the minor league Anchorage Orcas who upset the UWFFL Seattle Superbeasts, and it wasn’t even close. Voters seemed to really like Andrew Seagraves’ Orcas design and they easily won, 465 to 193.
Now onto this week’s action. We see our first full slate of eight games with some more new teams taking the field for you to vote on them for the first time. We get our first look at the Uni Watch endorsed, Paul Lukas’ approved Brooklyn Uni Watchers (He’s right — those do make good uniform colors), the debut of the upper peninsula of Michigan’s Eagle Harbor Portals (whose gradient uniform clashes with neither white nor color clad opponents — they intend on wearing it every week of the season), and also the debuts of new minor league franchises in Montreal, Sacramento, San Antonio as well as a second Brooklyn franchise. These Brooklynites — the Mariners — make their debut wearing their alternate uniform set that features a white helmet over a monoblack ensemble, while the UWFFL Texas Timberwolves make their 2013 debut going all-white stormtrooper at home.
But the headline of preseason week 2 is the Harvest War – a rivalry game being contested for the very first time between the St. Louis Slaughter of the UWFFL and the Kansas City Crop Dusters of the Central League. Like college rivalry games — the Old Oaken Bucket, the Little Brown Jug and Paul Bunyan’s Axe to name a few — the UWFFL will also see it’s share of geographically and otherwised based rivalries. This one is the brainchild of Kansas City owner Brady Ivie who wanted to strike up a rivalry with the Crop Duster’s I-70 rivals on the other side of Missouri, the UWFFL’s Slaughter. Okay, it’s not quite as important as the 1985 “I-70” World Series between the Royals and the Cardinals was, but let’s hope this will grow into a heated rivalry full of tradition and memories. (And let’s hope Don Denkinger doesn’t show up and ruin it.) Both teams are wearing a patch with the rivalry logo on the front of their uniform, and Kansas City has a special faux-leather helmet with player number on the side.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the first weekend of games and remember, it’s not too late to join yourself. Now here’s this week’s games to vote on, click on the uniforms for a better look, and we’ll see you next week:
Uni Watch News Ticker: What would the “Shamrock Series” be without Shamrock Series merch? “The usual crap,” says Warren Junium. … Reader Scott Hord went to the HOF game over the weekend with my son, and noticed “the angle of the new dolphin is not consistent throughout all the players’ helmets. It appears that the “official” angle is around the 10 o’clock angle of a clock face. I snapped some photos of the players after they headed back to the locker room after pre-game warmups. Seems though the angle of the dolphin on Kenny Stafford’s helmet is around 11 o’clock, while the angle on Philip Wheeler’s helmet is around the normal angle.” … According to Steve Woj, the most exciting thing that happened as a result of Julio Teheran hitting Bryce Harper on Tuesday night was the interesting discovery that not only do the Braves undershirts have the Swoosh located up high, they have a Griffey Swingman logo in the center. Steve asks, “Any idea is this is the standard issue undershirt or something else? The swoosh on the regular undershirts seems to be on the collar, but this one is a little lower.” … Here’s a look at Chelsea FC’s change kits (thanks to Bryan Justman). … In yesterday’s ticker, I linked to a photo of the 1952 Kansas City Blues, and now Terry Proctor sends in a photo of 1952 Little World Series ring won by the Rochester Red Wings. The Blues’ photo comes from this wonderful website, run by reader BSmile. … Things have been fairly quiet on the Washington football name controversy, but now, the Packers CEO says the ‘skins name is “very derogatory to a lot of people” (with thanks to Tommy Turner). … Tonight, the Greensboro Grasshoppers are holding a Tropical Jersey Night (for a good cause, of course) — check out the video for a look at the jersey. … If you watch the video embedded in this article, you’ll see NBA rookies wearing this year’s jerseys. … Remember when the Toronto Star held a contest to let fans redesign the Toronto Raptors’ uni? Yeah, that may have been a bad idea. … In yesterday’s ticker, I linked to an article on the new “Yahoo” logo. Tom Mulgrew says Yahoo announced further that this will be a month-long event, with multiple teases. “Apparently, Yahoo firmly belies that they are still relevant, and that anyone would wait more than 30 minutes, let alone be held in suspense for 30 days to see their new logo,” says Tom. … There is still lots of commentary on the NCAA’s hypocrisy regarding player jerseys, autographs, and money, but this NY Times article by Lynn Zinser is really good. … And, it looks like Johnny Manziel may not be the only one in trouble (with thanks to Andrew Cosentino) … Esquire magazine has weighed in on sports fashion, with an article on the 17 Best Sports Uniforms of all time (Tommy Turner, again). … Just two words from Brinke: “EXcellent commercial.” … Here is a “sneak peek” at the Harvard Men’s soccer jerseys for the fall (h/t Sully @pal3327). … Michigan has a sports logo contest run by the FreeP, says TheSeanGohman (@TheSeanGohman), who submitted, “Everything wrong with logos today can be seen in current results.” … Thomas Juettner asks, “Is it just me or is Buck Showalter wearing an older model of the standard dugout jacket with the sleeves cut off? It’s even hemmed at the cuffs. Very Belichik.” … Good article with slideshow from NESN on the evolution of the Boston Bruins uniforms over the years. … Good eye by Alan Borock, who noticed that apparently the Dolphins and Eagles have fans in Nairobi, Kenya. … Great old photos (ATTENTION COLORIZERS!) from David Bivin who writes, “During the late 40’s and early 50’s Auburn football teams wore a mixture of orange helmets and blue helmets depending on the player’s position (orange for backs, blue for linemen). What I’ve never noticed before is the two-toned pants that they wore. The front of the pants appears to be a different color and texture than the back half of the pants. You can really see it in the kneeling player. Player #34 is wearing an orange helmet and blue jersey. The front of his pants looks like it matches his helmet, but I don’t know. Have you ever seen this before? This picture is from the 1951 Auburn Glomerata (yearbook). I would love to see this colorized.” … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments (and we’ve posted this before but it never hurts to see it again) — here is the Prototype uniform for the Padres move to Washignton, DC. That prompted some discussion and yielded a larger version of the photo. Full story is here. … Check out these sweet custom bat knob decals for Cam Garfield! (Sully again). And another from Sully: Looks like Clemson BP balls have a new look. … To answer a question from yesterday’s ticker, “The initials on his (Alex Morgan’s) hat were for a buddy of his who was in a coma after getting into some sort of an accident recently,” says Mike Monaghan. … The Ravens upgraded their stadium a bit. “It’s definitely an improvement,” says submitter Andrew Cosentino. … Good spot by Zach Bennett who noticed the Fox Sports South Braves Live show is using the Nationals logo that was phased out in 2010. … Nice gallery of NFL Cheer unis through the years from the SF Gate (thanks, Brinke). … Josh Claywell saw this “KY” logo at a gas station near where he lives. “This is the first time I’ve seen a University of Kentucky logo like this,” says Josh. “Not sure why they couldn’t use it when a Louisville Cardinals logo is right above it.” … Nice grab by TommyTheCPA from The New York Times: “Warehouse of Baseball Memories Could Be Left Stranded.” … Anyone know what that is around David Ortiz’ neck, from last night’s game, (good spot by Kris Hunt). … Is there going to be a new gray facemask and stripe on UVa helmets? That’s the question posed by Jason DeHart, who says “Look at the blue helmets over Coach London’s helmet.” … I drove to UW headquarters last night to watch the movie “42” with Paul, who asked me if I heard about the vandalism to the Jackie Robinson statue in Brooklyn. Sheepishly, I replied I hadn’t and he told me about it. As if there were a bug in the room, Ricko Pearson shot me this article detailing the vandalism. Eerie. … Nathan Haas found this sweet Tennessee checkered polo while looking at lacrosse gear. Nice! I bet Jim Vilk would wear that. … And finally, there was a time when the idea of military pomp at a Canadian sporting event would have seemed absurdly out of place — that was an American thing. Oh, how the times have changed (with thanks to Mike Styczen).
Phew! That’s a biggun for today, I know, but it was just one of those chock-full kinda days! Big, HUGE thanks again to Oliver and Gary Kodner for that fantastic look at the Birds on Bat. Got another super post lined up tomorrow from Morris Levin to take you to the weekend, plus much more uni goodness. Hope you guys are enjoying things while Paul continues his blog-cation!
Everyone have a great Thursday — the weekend is almost here!
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken.
“I tend to give credit also to looks that made a team particularly distinctive. All in all, the Phillies of today probably represent the team’s most successful era, but their current uniforms are ‘blah’ at best. Hey, look, a red cap with a white letter! How unique, right?”
–R. Scott Rogers