The first MLB season I followed pretty much from beginning to end was 1972, when I was eight years old. The Cubs had an odd road jersey that year — the front uni number was centered, sort of like what you’d expect to see on a basketball jersey. I’m pretty sure it’s the only design of its type in MLB history.
I wish I could say I noticed this during the 1972 season, but I didn’t — my uni-watching skills were still embryonic. Two guys who did notice it, however, were NBC Baseball Game of the Week play-by-play man Jim Simpson and color analyst Tony Kubek, who called attention to the Cubbies’ unusual road grays — and explained how the design came about — during a broadcast on June 10, 1972 (the uni discussion starts at the 25:55 mark):
In case the video ever gets taken down, here’s a transcript of what Simpson and Kubek had to say:
Tony Kubek: The Cubs have got a little something different, a number right in the center. You don’t see any other team with that.
Jim Simpson: Kind of reminds me of a basketball uniform. … Talking to some of the Cubs, Tony, they said that the manufacturer of these nifty-looking double-knits here put the number there, instead of offsetting it as on most uniforms, and when they got it back to the Chicago Cubs front offices, some of the people there looked at it and said, “I like it!” So they kept it there. But they have no number at all on the front of their at-home jersey, only on the away, and it’s in the center. I have not seen that anyplace else.
So according to this account, the centered uni numbers were the result of a manufacturer’s mistake, or at least a misunderstanding. Interesting!
According to Bill Henderson’s jersey guide, the Cubs’ uniform outfitter in 1972 was Wilson. I know from past experience that neither Wilson nor the Cubs have an institutional memory that goes back to the early ’70s, so there’s no way to confirm Simpson’s account, but he specifically said he got the story by “talking to some of the Cubs,” which provides at least a halfway-decent patina of legitimate sourcing.
It’s easy to see why no team ever had a centered number prior to the ’72 Cubs. In the flannel era, all jerseys had either zippers or buttons, and you wouldn’t want a single-digit uni number to be split in two as it crossed the placket. But when pullovers were introduced in 1970, that problem vanished — no more placket to worry about. Still, the Cubs went back to a more traditional number placement in 1973, which lends further credence to the notion that the ’72 design may have been a manufacturer’s glitch.
The Blue Jays’ inaugural design was was somewhat similar, substituting a centered logo for the centered number. And who made those Jays’ uniforms? It would be great if the answer were Wilson, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. As you can see, Wilson made the home unis for the first seven years of the team’s existence, while Rawlings made the road grays. (This type of arrangement seems bizarre by today’s standards, but it wasn’t all that uncommon at the time.)
It’s also worth noting that the Cubs’ uni timeline includes a different sort of centered design. Check out their 1957 road uni! So unusual to see the city name and team name both included like that.
The story of the Cubs’ ’72 road grays brings to mind our recent revelation about the Dodgers red numbers. In that case, the story was printed right there for everyone to see in The Sporting News, but for some reason it never gained traction in the historical record and was forgotten until uni designer Todd Radom came upon the old news clipping. In the case of the ’72 Cubs, the story was plainly stated during a nationally televised broadcast that was presumably watched by hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people, possibly including my eight-year-old self, but then it vanished into the ether, just like the Dodgers story.
And speaking of Todd Radom, he just uncovered two more gems, neither as important as the Dodgers or Cubs stories but both plenty interesting:
• If you look at Dressed to the Nines, you’ll see that the A’s are listed has having worn white undersleeves in 1981. It turns out that the white sleeves prompted Brewers manager Buck Rodgers to protest a game. It’s all very reminiscent of the white war of 1967.
• The Rockies were considering wearing black jerseys as their primary home and road look in the run-up to the team’s 1993 on-field debut.
It’s amazing how much history like this has been forgotten or lost and is just waiting to be (re)discovered. It all brings to mind an important maxim: The past is what actually happened; history is how we catalog and retell what happened. It’s worth remembering that the latter is never a perfect mirror of the former.
(Special thanks to Dan Fuller for bringing that Cubs broadcast to my attention.)
Going, going…: This hasn’t been officially announced yet, but I have it on good authority that the Indians are poised to change their logo designations for 2014. The block-C will become the primary and Chief Wahoo will be relegated to secondary status.
There’s no change to the uniforms — Wahoo will still be on the home cap and on the left sleeve of all the team’s jerseys, at least for 2014 — so the logo redesignations are largely symbolic for now. But symbolism matters, especially in a debate about something like Wahoo, which is a symbol to begin with. Moreover, there will be some practical ramifications, because the logo redesignation should mean that media outlets, from SportsCenter to newspapers, will start using the block-C, instead of Wahoo, as their visual shorthand for the team (although if history is any guide, that changeover will likely come slowly and inconsistently). In any case, this would appear to be the latest step in the now well-established path toward Wahoo’s inevitable mothballing.
After I tweeted the logo-redesignation news yesterday, the Indians’ PR department denied it. But I got the information from a source I trust, and later in the day Chris Creamer confirmed it. I stand by it.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column is a brief history of nickNOBs, and I don’t mind saying it’s a pretty fun piece.
A few follow-ups to that column:
• At one point I mentioned that I wasn’t aware of any nickNOB examples from the world of college football, but reader Sam Kitchens sent in a good one. In 2009, Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts wore “Nick” on his back. Why? Because Tech coach Mike Leach wanted him to play like Nick Reid, a former linebacker at Kansas. So this nickNOB was also a “Nick” NOB!
• I neglected to mention Chad Johnson’s infamous “Ocho Cinco” cover-up nickNOB, which he wore during pregame warm-ups. Of course, he later legally changed his surname to Ochocinco (without the space) and wore that as his standard NOB.
• I also left out Jason Isringhausen’s “Izzy” nickNOB, which was part of the Mets’ 1999 “Mercury Mets” promotion.
Troll reminder: Another thing you might have missed yesterday is that there’s a new entry on My Pet Troll.
Tick-Tock: Today’s Ticker was compiled and written by Mike Chamernik.
Baseball News: The Corpus Christi Hooks will have a logo for their 10th season. They also have a new alternate jersey (from Mike Vamosi). … Might the White Sox be changing their number fonts? Thomas Juettner found that the Sox’s new BP uniform number font is slightly different than their typical numbers. … The Nashville Sounds have a new logo for their final season at Greer Stadium (from Lee David Wilds). … The original concept for Kansas City’s Truman Sports Complex was for a retractable roof to be shared between the Chiefs’ and Royals’ stadiums.
NFL News: As you’ve probably heard, Chargers fans are rallying around Philip Rivers’s bolo tie. Longtime Uni Watch reader/contributor Brady Phelps is quoted in that article, plus he blogged about the bolo and got a Pixar artist to do a great Philip Rivers illustration. … Also from Brady and also regarding the Chargers, free safety Eric Weddle’s beard is now on T-shirts. For the super cheap, if you want to cover up the captaincy patch and Twitter handle, the shirt could be used to honor James Harden too if you happen to be a Rockets fan.
Hockey News: Yesterday we showed former Kings’ goalie Gary Edwards wearing gloves under his gloves for extra padding. Roberto Zanzi notes that former Islanders goalie Kelly Hrudey did the same thing. … No pictures, but Seth Horowitz says that “on the Rangers-Blachawks game on NBCSN, they just announced that Mike McPherson, the linesman, is wearing 85 tonight. He usually wears 83 but all of his equipment was lost in transit, so he is wearing a borrowed sweater, pants, skates, pads, etc.” … Here’s a great quick video showing the making of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs sweaters for the Winter Classic (from Bobby Pinkham). … The Rangers’ pants striping is inconsistent (from Corey Minerva).
Soccer News: A Los Angeles Galaxy blog spoke with Alexi Lalas about the team’s re-branding in 2007 (from Phillip Foose). … Two items from Yusuke Toyoda: Zamalek of Egypt changed from pink jerseys to white jerseys at halftime of a game Tuesday, and the Palestine Football Club in Chile has replaced the 1s on their jerseys to maps of Israel, which has caused an uproar. … It seems that USA Soccer has altered its shade of blue in its crest. The Twitter avatar is different than the current logo on SportsLogos.net, and even the home website has undergone some changes in recent days (great spot by Jay Winkler).
NBA News: According to Deadspin, Brooklyn’s Andrei Kirilenko will have his nickNOB jersey in Cyrillic. … New Cavalier Luol Deng asked rookie teammate Matthew Dellavedova to give up No. 9. Dellavedova will now wear No. 8. Deng wears the number because he’s one of nine brothers and sisters (from Samuel Selker). … The Bulls’ logo is being used by a high school in Indiana (from Kurt Esposito).
College Hoops News: LSU and Tennessee played a color-on-color game Tuesday night (from David Steinle). … IU Kokomo held Military Appreciation Night last week. The Indiana National Guard donated jerseys for the game, and the players had different words on the fronts of their jerseys (Honor, Respect, Loyalty, Service, Duty, Courage, Integrity), with Indiana National Guard on the back. Full gallery here (from Tyler McClure). … Hannibal-Lagrange (MO) of the NAIA has some seriously funky shorts striping. Fortunately no one was at the game to see it (from Dustin Semore).
Grab Bag: “It’s been historically cold here in Iowa (and everywhere else) lately,” says Jesse Gavin, “but you still don’t see this very often: high school basketball players from Cedar Rapids Prairie going with long-sleeved undershirts.” … “It looks like no sport is safe from going pink,” says Matt Busch. “They even used pink wickets. Yikes!” … Who’s No. 44 in this photo? None other than Bob Einstein, also known as Marty Funkhouser and Super Dave Osbourne! Awesome sleeved jersey, striped socks and block numbers with drop shadows (thanks, Scott Novosel). … Juan Martin del Potro will only have two rackets for the Australian Open, and if they both break, he’ll ask to borrow one from Roger Federer. How quaint (from Brinke). … The Melbourne Cricket Ground has a warped concentric squares mow pattern for today’s match between the Melbourne Stars and Adelaide Strikers (from Leo Strawn Jr.).
did last night will be doing today: Busy day ahead, beginning with a dental appointment in the early afternoon. My dentist’s office is near Bryant Park, so then I’m gonna go ice skating at the Bryant Park rink. Then maybe a movie, and then I’m meeting friends for dinner.
All of which is a lengthy way of saying, “Please go easy on the Ticker submissions today,” because I won’t be near a computer from about noon until at least 10pm. Thanks.