Uni Watch Column Leads to On-Field Change (probably)

Two weeks ago I had an ESPN column on MLB logo inconsistencies. One of those inconsistencies involved the Braves, whose helmet logo has always been fatter than their cap logo. When I was doing the reporting for that story, a Braves spokesperson acknowledged the discrepancy but said, “It’s been that way for as long as we can remember. It’s just the helmet logo that we use.”

Correction: It’s the helmet logo they used to use. As you can see above, the Braves have now updated their helmet logo to match the cap logo. The new helmet mark debuted during last night’s Braves/Bosox game at Fenway and was quickly spotted by quite a few fans. Personally, I think it’s a big improvement. Here’s a crisper view of it:

new logo

I assume the Braves will also be making the change to their home helmets, which still had the old logo for Tuesday night’s game in Atlanta. They don’t play at home again until next Tuesday, so we’ll have to wait until then to see for sure.

I’ve contacted the Braves to see if the change was directly related to my recent column (no response yet), but I think it’s safe to say that it was. Just to be clear, while I approve of the change, I didn’t lobby for it or suggest that they should do it — I just asked about the cap/helmet inconsistency. But I could tell that they were a bit concerned about it once I brought it up, so I’m not all that surprised by what’s happened. This isn’t the first time Uni Watch has led to an on-field uniform adjustment, but I still get a kick out of it when it happens.

Speaking of the Braves, infielder Tommy LaStella made his big league debut last night, and they gave him SCOB — that’s small cap on back:

That conveniently plays into my new ESPN column, which is about the use of lowercase letters and small caps on NOBs. Check it out here.

(My thanks to all contributors, including Mike Nessen, Andrew Wagner, and of course Phil. And super-duper thanks to Jim Santel, who first pointed out the Braves’ logo inconsistency to me a few weeks ago.)

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Anniversary reminders: Monday was the 15th anniversary of the very first Uni Watch column. If you missed the news on that, get the full scoop here.

Three quick reminders related to the anniversary:

• There’s going to be a 15th-anniversary party on Tuesday, June 10, 7:30pm, in the back room of Sheep Station in Brooklyn. Phil and I will both be there, and we hope you will be too.

• See that anniversary logo at right? If there’s enough demand, I’ll make it available as an embroidered patch. So if that interests you, please let me know.

• The anniversary logo is also available now on a T-shirt.

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Tick-Tock: Today’s Ticker was compiled and written by Garrett McGrath.

Baseball News: “Oyo Sportstoys (those licensed Lego-compatible mini figures) just released a new generation of Baseball Hall of Fame figures, says Alan Filipczak. “The most uni-notable figure is probably Nolan Ryan’s Astros ‘rainbow’ uniform.” You can buy them here. … MLB and the Twins unveiled this year’s All-Star game statues and figurines, which feature Peanuts characters in various Twins unis. Additional information here (thanks, Paul). … The Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, will be wearing uniforms based Toronto’s classic 1980s look on June 21 and 22. … Here are some Lehigh Valley IronPigs prototype logo designs that never made it to the field. … The Yakima Valley Pippins, a new team in the West Coast League, showed off their new unis for the first time (from David Goltry).

Football News: President Obama will be hosting a “Concussion Summit” today at the White House. … Looks like Giants rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr. will be going with JrOB (from Chris Flinn). … The new Big 12 patch was posted on a West Virginia University uniform yesterday. … The Bellin Health ads on the Packers’ practice jerseys appear to be bigger than last year (from Nathan Gruber). … Looks like the Jaguars are going with new 3-D nose bumper wordmarks this year (from Alex Lawler).

Hockey News: Even though they are still the Phoenix Coyotes for another month, the team unveiled the Arizona Coyotes patch they will be wearing next season. … On Monday night, Rene Bourque’s hat trick was celebrated by hats falling down on the Bell Centre ice. It also turns out that Habs fans gave Bourque’s parents’ lawn a hat trick treatment in the town of Lac La Biche, Alberta. … Philadelphia-area men’s league hockey team the Rippers have Full House-inspired sweaters. Have Mercy! (From Mikey Brethauer.)

Soccer News: For the USA’s friendly against Azerbaijan last night, a Nike soccer ball was used instead of the heavily promoted Adidas model. I wonder if the USA will be using it for all =their pre-World Cup friendlies (from Derek Linn). … Versace has designed — to put it bluntly — a fucking crazy-looking shirt to commemorate the 2014 World Cup. A steal at $690 (from Tommy Turner).

NBA News: “Grantland did an accompanying piece to the 30 for 30 Short Posterized, which is about hoop posters,” says Luke McCarnan. “It includes some great stuff on uniforms specifically a SLAM cover photo of Allen Iverson.”

Grab Bag: Camo we can all support: A mother whose son was killed in action in Afghanistan has started a project making teddy bears out of fallen service members’ combat uniforms for military children, nieces, and nephews (from Brian Wulff). … John Schmitt saw yesterday’s post about tennis player David Ferrer’s black cover-up patch at the French Open and did a little research. He found that it was in the place of a patch from watchmaking company Bovet Fleurier SA. “A cancelled deal seems unlikely, as he is wearing the same logo on both sleeves. I was able to find out that the patches are supplied to Ferrer and he is responsible to sew them onto his shirt (in most photos they do look rather shoddy and poorly attached). My guess is that it is likely just a wardrobe malfunction of some nature.”

Head Games

When I was seven years old, my big brother Roy, who was then 22, began teaching me about hockey. Roy was a rabid Rangers fan, and I’m sure he assumed I’d be a Rangers fan as well. But he made a slight miscalculation: He gave me a hockey magazine (I no longer recall which one) that had Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden on the cover. I was fascinated by Dryden’s mask — so fascinated that I instantly became a Canadiens fan. No, that’s not particularly rational, but sports loyalties rarely are.

I soon became obsessed with the Canadiens. I learned how to pronounce “Cournoyer”; I learned the difference between Jacques Lemaire and Jacques Laperrière, between Guy Lapointe and Guy Lafleur; I drew endless pictures of Ken Dryden (never quite capturing the badass essence of his mask). Meanwhile, the Rangers became my No. 2 team. I obviously got to see lots more Rangers games than Canadiens games, but I was still a Habs fan first and foremost. And when the two teams played each other, I always rooted for Montreal.

Forty-three years later, Roy is still a rabid Rangers fan, and I’m still a Canadiens fan (although I don’t follow hockey as closely as I once did). With our two teams now facing each other in the playoffs, it seemed like a good time to invite him over to my place for dinner and a hockey game, so that’s what I recently did. Roy sometimes forgets certain things, so when I emailed him to invite him over, I made sure to say, “One caveat: I’m not sure if you remember this, but I’m actually a Canadiens fan (mainly because you gave me a hockey magazine with Ken Dryden on the cover when I was very young), so that’s who I’ll be rooting for.”

His response was funny: “Sir, you are a traitor and your sorry attempt to implicate me in your treason will prove to be of no avail.” Then he said sure, he’d come over.

I love my brother very much. But for various reasons, none of which are worth going into here, we’re not close. We have very different sensibilities and styles, one small example of which is that he doesn’t get (and, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t give a shit about) Uni Watch. I know he respects that I work hard and have achieved a certain measure of professional success, but, like many people, he sometimes seems upset by the very notion of Uni Watch, because it reminds him that there are people out there — including but not limited to his little brother — who don’t share his hierarchy of priorities. So when he came over last night, I had to remind myself not to voice any uni-related observations or point out any uni-related quirks during the game, because his response would likely be somewhere between indifference and annoyance.

As we sat down on the couch a few minutes before the game started, the TV showed Rangers center Derek Stepan, who was returning to action after having broken his jaw two games earlier. As you can see above, he was wearing a faceguard with some extra padding.

When my brother saw Stepan’s headgear, he pointed at the TV and broke into this wheezy laugh of his, which is his aural signature. I’ve heard this laugh enough times over the years to know how to translate it, and this one translated to, “Look at that crazy thing he’s wearing! And he’s going to play — with a broken jaw! I’m tellin’ ya, hockey players are something else.”

Later on, at some point during the game, he said, “When I first started watching hockey, the red line was always a checkerboard pattern. That’s because people had black-and-white TVs, so you needed a way to tell the red line from the two blue lines.” I knew that the red line had traditionally been checkerboarded (and still is at some arenas), but I hadn’t thought about the reason for it — an excellent Uni Watch-ish observation. Maybe our priorities and sensibilities aren’t so different after all.

Stepan scored two goals, broken jaw and all, which made Roy happy. But the Canadiens won, so I was happy. And the Rangers are still leading the series, three games to two, so Roy wasn’t too upset. He gave me some shit as he left: “You’re a lousy host — you’re supposed to arrange it so my team wins.” I laughed, hugged him, and wished him a safe trip home.

Just imagine how different everything would be if he had given me a magazine with an L.A. Kings player on the cover.

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browns

Collector’s Corner

By Brinke Guthrie

It’s not often that you see the Browns’ phantom “CB” logo and Brownie the Elf on the same item, but that’s the case with this Technigraph helmet plaque! And as long as we’re talking about the Browns, here’s a Brownie mascot seat cushion from the 1960s.

Can’t talk about the Browns without giving equal time to the Bengals. I bought one of these Pom Pom Ski Caps in the fall of 1972 when I moved to Cincinnati, and here’s a Bengals Technigraph plaque, too.

Okay, now for some non-Ohio stuff:

• This 1960s KC Chiefs T-shirt is pretty low-key as far as design goes, so I’m not sure it’s worth over $900.

• I had a low-cut pair of these Apex turf shoes — incredibly comfortable. (Knew a fellow at Apex.) And in a nice use of negative space, look closely at the stripes on the side: that’s a “1.” The company was originally Apex One, then they shortened it to Apex. Boy, did they make nice stuff. They were the official shoe of the NFL, so they were allowed to use the shield. Converse bought these guys for the license, then shut them down. Bye-bye, freebies.

• Back in the day, the Sony Watchman was the gadget to have — and this one comes adorned with the LA Rams logo.

• Found another one of the 1969 Chiquita NFL pocket transistor radios, right here.

• Here’s an early-1970s NFL tumbler. I’ve seen (and have) the thermal mug version but never spotted this style before.

• This late-1960s/early-1970s Vikings bobble is in positively perfect shape.

• Nice artwork on this 1971 San Francisco Giants poster. Note how the classic Juan Marichal pose has No. 12 rather than No. 27. And since I am featuring the Giants, let’s also mention this Dodgers poster. I’ve seen a photo of Maury Wills in that very pose, but here he is wearing No. 31 instead of No. 30.

• Interesting early-1970s electric football game — this one says “Gotham Official Electric Football.” Like … Gotham City? Didn’t realize the NFL had a franchise there.

• Can’t say that I’ve ever seen an NHL bubblegum card locker before.

Seen something on eBay or Etsy that you think would make good Collector’s Corner fodder? Send your submissions here.

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PermaRec update: My obsession with vintage employee photo I.D. badges has veered into an unexpected place: the old “Rosie the Riveter” poster. Get the full scoop over on Permanent Record.

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’Skins Watch: The National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation are sending letters to every NFL player, urging them to speak out against the ’Skins name. Further info here (thanks, Phil).

Baseball News: If you’re among those who’ve been waiting for the Padres to bring back brown and gold, you appear to be out of luck (blame Phil). … Not sure I’ve seen a high school team using the Phillies’ 1970s-era “P” logo before. That’s Pleasure Ridge Park High in Kentucky (from Matt Dowell). … Also from Matt: The Rochester Red Wings wore 1971 throwbacks on Monday, in honor of former manager/broadcaster Joe Altobelli’s 82nd birthday. … While looking for something else, I came across an old shot of Tony LaRussa from his White Sox days, wearing a BP jersey with the uni number sewn onto its own “nameplate,” so to speak. I checked Bill Henderson’s jersey guide and found that, sure enough, that’s what they sometimes did. … Jack-o-lantern-themed jerseys on tap for the New Britain Rock Cats on May 31, I guess because it’s five months before Halloween or some such (thanks, Phil). … Jason Hillyer tipped me wise to this book about Japanese baseball uniforms. Tempting, but pricey. Hey, Mark in Shiga, can you get your hands on a copy for a more reasonable price? … Nice retro uniforms the other day for Indiana (from Pat Karasek). … Here’s a uni-based guide to the College World Series (thanks, Phil). … Here’s a soda display of Harmon Killebrew the MLB logo. “I think a white bat would have looked better, but you have to give the root beer some love too, I guess,” says Dave Sizer. … Here’s the latest on the signage plans for Wrigley Field (from Dave Flapan). … Bob Dlotkowski spotted these Brewers ball-in-glove logo cookies at the Milwaukee Public Market. … Why would a fan in St. Looie be wearing a Cardinals jersey with a Wrigley Field centennial patch? Because it’s a joke patch (thanks, Phil).

NFL News: Love this old ad for football knee pads. Note that the players are wearing neckties! (Big thanks to Jonathan Daniel.) … You’ve probably heard at one time or another that the Panthers’ logo is shaped like the outline of the Carolinas. But is it? Scroll down a bit to find the answer (from Yusuke Toyoda).

College Football News: Wowee zowee, look at this amazing Ohio State football photo from 1961. So many great details! (Big thanks, Phil.)

NBA News: Here’s designer Alexander Julian talking about the Hornets’ original uniforms — and the new ones, which will be unveiled on June 19 (thanks, Phil). … The NBA has inked a deal with the fashion company Peace Love World to beef up the league’s women’s apparel line (from Tommy Turner). … Fascinating article about how Adidas brand-polices WNBA and D-League footwear. Douchebags (from Kyle Hanks).

Soccer News: Real Madrid’s new jerseys will feature pink (thanks, Phil). … Spain has a new white third kit for the World Cup. According to that article, “[W]e could see more not-yet-unveiled shirts in the 2014 World Cup starting next month. Cameroon, in a friendly yesterday, already wore a [previously] unknown white kit, which could possibly have been requested for the match against Mexico in Brazil.” … With Landon Donovan gone, the USA team has been facing a quandary over who should wear No. 10 (thanks, Brinke). … All 72 teams in the Football League — that’s the three divisions below the Premier League — will feature Prostate Cancer UK’s logo on their uniform numbers (from Yusuke Toyoda). … Even better than de-Chiefing: de-swooshing (thanks, Phil). … Whoa, check out the exterior design of the plane for Brazil’s World Cup team. Further info here (from Gil Neumann).

Grab Bag: Hmmm, why does tennis player David Ferrer have a black cover-up patch on his shirt at the French Open? “Maybe an endorsement deal that went south,” speculates Brinke. … David Firestone has written a piece on how events 50 years ago helped lead to the development of the Nomex firesuit. … Sad news yesterday from the graphic design world, as Massimo Vignelli, the man who created one of New York’s best subway maps (among many other career highlights) passed away.

... And Not All Ballplayers Are Superheroes

stanton1

When I wrote about the difference between uniforms and equipment last Friday, I neglected to mention compression sleeves. The rules surrounding them make no sense: On the one hand, your undershirt sleeves have to be a certain color (unless you’re David Wright); on the other hand, you can wear a compression sleeve — which looks just like an undersleeve — of just about any color. Which is how we ended up with Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton wearing a stars/stripes compression sleeve yesterday.

Stanton’s sleeve hit the trifecta of stupid: the flag-desecration thing, the superhero thing, and the “I don’t actually understand what this holiday is about” thing. It was the low point in a brutal day for MLB aesthetics, as all 30 clubs went G.I. Joe. You can see each team’s uniform in the slideshow below (if you can’t see the slideshow on your mobile device and/or would prefer to see the photos as a gallery, click here):

As you may have noticed in that slideshow, the Blue Jays had a different camouflage pattern than the other teams, based on what the Canadian military wears. That’s nice — except that they still had to wear the military costume on an American holiday, which doesn’t make much sense, a fact not lost on The Globe & Mail’s Cathal Kelly, who wrote, “Why are we paying fealty to a neighbour? And especially in this way? We are the United States’ global partner, not its kid brother.” Kelly then continued:

Seeing your heroes running around in camo is neither heartening nor instructive. It’s toying with politics. Cheering in that environment is a mandate of the hive mind, because are you going to be the one guy who sits on his hands while everyone is standing? No matter how good the intention, it’s coercive and arbitrary.

When you don the trappings of war in an environment that has nothing to do with real battle, you are play-acting. I’m not sure what the sight of 17 Americans, five Dominicans, a Venezuelan and an Australian wearing the distinctive camo of the Canadian military is supposed to mean to Canadians. The only guy who makes any sense is [Canadian-born] Brett Lawrie.

Well put.

A few additional notes:

• The umpires got into the act, wearing G.I. Joe caps.

• The “LA” logo on the back of the Dodger Stadium mound went G.I. Joe as well.

• The Rays apparently couldn’t wait for Memorial Day and wore their G.I. Joe caps — but not the jerseys — on Sunday.

• The Mets and Pirates, who are both wearing Ralph Kiner memorial patches on their right sleeves this season, played each other yesterday. Interestingly, the Mets included the Kiner patch but the Pirates did not:

Were any other patches missing from yesterday’s jerseys?

(My thanks to all contributors, including Mark Coale for the Globe & Mail article, Brian Skokowski for spotting the Kiner patch omission, and of course Phil.)

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The lowercase chronicles, continued: A uni-centric subtext to yesterday’s Pirates/Mets tilt was that the Mets had called up outfielder Matt den Dekker prior to the game. He entered the game in the 9th inning and, as you can see at left (and can click to enlarge), had lowercase letters on his NOB, just like Jacob deGrom and Travis d’Arnaud.

This is at least the third different NOB format den Dekker has had as a pro ballplayer. Last year the Mets rendered his name in all-caps; at triple-A Las Vegas, he’s had just a lowercase d.

d’Arnaud is currently on the DL but is expected to be activated tomorrow. When that happens, the Mets will have all three of their lowercase-NOB players on the active roster at the same time. Or to put it another way, they will be playing in 3-d.

Interestingly, when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, the Mets gave him a jersey with all-caps lettering.

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In case you missed it, yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the very first Uni Watch column. I had a lot to say about this in yesterday’s entry. If you didn’t catch that, I urge you to check it out here.

Meanwhile, here are a few more more anniversary-related developments:

• When I unveiled that anniversary logo yesterday (designed by our own Scott M.X. Turner, don’tcha know), several people asked if it could be made available on a T-shirt. Sure can — look here.

• Some people have also asked about having the logo made into a sleeve patch. I’m looking into that, but it might depend on how much demand there is — would you be interested in purchasing such a patch? If so, please let me know. Thanks.

• We’re going to have an anniversary party at Sheep Station on the evening of Tuesday, June 10, 7:30pm. This is the first time we’ve done a Brooklyn party on a weeknight, and I realize it may not be as convenient as a weekend for some of you, but circumstances (i.e., my schedule and Phil’s schedule) left us with no other options. Hope to see you there.

• I’m having the anniversary logo printed onto a large-ish banner, which will be on display at the party on June 10. If you want to organize a UW party in your town, let me know and I can ship the banner to you (as long as you send it back, natch). Not quite the same as showing up myself, but still not bad, right?

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Attention NYC-area readers: I’ve mentioned Jody Avirgan’s excellent “Ask Roulette” events several times over the past year. It’s a simple premise — strangers get up onstage and ask each other questions — but it ends up being more entertaining than the sum of its parts, because Jody is an unusually witty host and there are always “celebrity” guest participants. (I was one of the celebrities last year. You can check out my segment in the Dec. 24 entry here.)

Ask Roulette is coming to the Bell House tonight, 8pm. The special guests include Chuck Klosterman and Jay Smooth. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend (I have a longstanding date with my brother tonight), but Ask Roulette is totally worth your time — you should go!

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PermaRec update: There’s been a new development in the story about that 1975 high school ring that I’ve been trying to return to its owner. Get the story over on Permanent Record.

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Baseball/Softball News: You knew this was going to happen: The Dodgers wore their “Dodgers” gray jerseys on Sunday — except for coach Davey Lopes, who wore the “Los Angeles” jersey (thanks, Phil). … Sunday was Dominican Mother’s Day, so the Blue Jays’ Dominican players wore pink accessories. The sad thing is that most fans probably thought it was a breast cancer thing (from Casey Levene). … Great story on the guy who paints the signs at Spokane’s minor league stadium (from Kenny Ocker). … Phil had good coverage on Sunday of Saturday’s Mariners/Astros throwback game, but here’s a photo gallery for those who want more (from Tim Dunn). … Another team wearing solid-orange: Oklahoma State (from Mark Rybczyk). … Very nice uniforms the other day, complete with vertical placket lettering, for Southeastern Louisiana (from John Schmitt). … The U. of Florida softball team was wearing white stirrups over white sannies the other day. Love those stripes (from Jaime Galindo). … “I saw the highlights of Sunday’s Red Sox/Rays ” brawl,” says Scott Turner. “When Johnny Gomes was ejected, he handed his glove to Mike Carp, his replacement in the outfield. I know Carp is a first baseman, but he’s played outfield so presumably he’d have a fielder’s glove.” Odd. … Pablo Sandoval wore a Batman undershirt yesterday. To honor the troops, I guess (from Sean Robbins). … Speaking of honoring the troops, the Jacksonville Suns observed the holiday yesterday with this tasteful jersey design. Classy! … This isn’t the first time we’ve noted Hunter Pence’s super-high pants, but man — those pants are super-high! The White Sox should trade for him and then do a Sox-in-shorts throwback game just for him (screen shots by Scott Novosel). … New logo set for the 2014 Korean All-Star Game (from Dan Kurtz).

NFL News: DeSean Jackson, recently acquired by the ’Skins, says Robert Griffin III offered to change his uni number so Jackson could wear No. 10, but the league “was too invested” in having Griffin keep his number. Hmmmm (from Yusuke Toyoda). … Here’s a mid-1960s photo of 49ers Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson — No. 37 — wearing the wrong jersey design. Those shoulder stripes were only part of the Niners’ uniform program from 1959 through ’63, so Johnson must have been wearing an old jersey (good spot by Tom Farley).

Hockey News: Derick Brassard of the Rangers was missing his front helmet number during Sunday night’s playoff game against the Canadiens. Gotta say, I liked it better when the helmets didn’t have those numbers, which often look too cluttered (screen shot by Mikey Brethauer).

Soccer News: Here’s a great behind-the-scenes photo of Italy’s jerseys being prepared for pre-World Cup friendlies (from Joe Hickey). … ESPN has created really nice poster designs for all 32 World Cup teams. … Here are some thoughts about Brazil, Nike, and hype. … Real Madrid celebrated “La Decima” — its 10th European Cup title — with this shirsey (from Yusuke Toyoda). … Also from Yusuke: “On Saturday, Queens Park Rangers won the promotion playoff to move up to the Premier League while wearing their red and black away kit, but put on their home colors for the post-match celebrations with ‘R’s are going up’ printed on the back. … The rest of these are from Trevor Williams: New kits for Ireland, Indonesia, Recife, Sevilla, and new reversible kits for five Penalty-outfitted clubs.

Grab Bag: Last week I mentioned and linked to a couple of new sock manufacturers. One of those operations, American Trench (whose main product is trenchcoats but also makes socks), sent me three pairs of striped sock samples, and I’m happy to report that they’re wonderful — really comfortable, tight enough to stay up but not too tight, and I love the stripe patterns. The blue/gray design is supposedly inspired by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ uniform and the red/gray one is supposedly Red Sox-inspired, both of which frankly seem like a bit of a reach to me, but whatever — they’re just great socks. American-made, too. Uni Watch’s highest rating! You can buy them in various configurations here and here. … “A little boy had an accident and his favorite Under Armour shirt was ruined,” says Kelly Duncan. “His mom wrote a letter to UA, trying to find a replacement, and the company came through in a really nice way.” … It’s not that unusual for members of a rock band to wear matching outfits, but I particularly like that the bassist and guitarist of the excellent Atlanta garage band the Woggles, who I saw on Friday night, both have “W”-emblazoned straps and white amp cords. Nice details. … The U.S. military has been policing its trademarks a bit more aggressively lately. … Here’s an article/video on the guy who makes the WWE championship belts in his garage. … The Denver/Duke NCAA lacrosse semifinal game featured several uni-notable details, as both teams wore two-tone helmets. As you can see in that shot, Denver wore the NCAA tourney patch on the clavicle, but Duke wore it on the rear collar. And Denver’s uni numbers had a Rocky Mountain theme (all this from Jared Buccola). … Super-teeny-tiny logo adjustment for Google (from Laurence Holland). … … Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrated his victory with his very young son — who wore a suit modeled after daddy’s. “Awwww,” says David Firestone. … You mess with the swoosh and the swoosh will mess with you. Douchebags. … Would you wear flip-flops to meet the President of the United States? Some members of the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team did just that in 2005 (from Tommy Turner). … I knew baseball umps used to wear formal suits, but I didn’t know basketball refs wore suits until I saw this 1921 high school basketball photo. Amazing! Lots more photos of a similar ilk here (great stuff from Chris Wheeler). … All 18 indigenous-themed uniforms for the Australian Football League have now been released. “All were designed by indigenous artists — that’s how you honor native peoples, Mr. Snyder,” says Lew Strawn Jr. You can watch the Indigenous round for free here. … Absolutley faaaascinating article on airport runway fonts and graphics. Highly recommended (big thanks to Paul Lee).

It Was Fifteen Years Ago Today

Toward the end of 1998, I got an idea.

I had spent the previous five years writing about detail-obsessive aspects of consumer culture, marketing, advertising, branding, and design, and I had spent most of my life maintaining a detail-obsessive interest in sports uniforms. At some point it began occurring to me that I could — that I should — combine the two.

The idea took shape in stages. At first I thought I’d write a short piece about baseball stirrup styles. (I think I actually pitched this idea to The New York Times Magazine, where it was quickly declined.) Then I thought, “No, that’s too limited” and decided to write a long, feature-length piece on baseball uniforms. I spent a few weeks tinkering with that.

Then I thought, “Why do just one article? Why not create a column devoted to uniform and logo design?” True, nothing like that had ever been done before, but that made the idea all the more intriguing. It fit squarely into the realm of what I called “inconspicuous consumption” — the small details that infiltrate our brains and shape our lives, often without our even being aware of them. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that a column about uniforms was the ideal project for me. On Jan. 1, 1999, I made the first (and still only) New Year’s resolution of my life: “I will create and place a column devoted to sports uniforms.”

I had plenty of contacts at design magazines and could have pitched the idea to them. But I didn’t want to create a design column that focused on sports; I wanted to create a sports column that focused on design. I wanted to make the world of uniforms and logos into a legitimate sports beat.

So I began cold-calling sports editors. Some of them dismissed the idea out of hand. A few were interested in the concept, but only as a one-off novelty or as comic relief, which wasn’t what I had in mind. Weeks turned into months, and by the spring of 1999 I was getting a bit frustrated. I still believed in the idea, but I was having trouble finding a sports editor who was willing to take it seriously.

I had been focusing primarily on big, high-profile sports media outlets — Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, The Sporting News, The New York Times, and so on. Since those weren’t working out, I reluctantly decided to set my sights a bit lower, which meant it was time to contact Miles Seligman, the sports editor of The Village Voice. The bad news was that the Voice was a local alternative weekly with a teeny sports section that was buried amidst the phone sex ads in the back of the paper; the good news was that its sports section was unusually creative and intelligent. They had a column devoted to hockey fights (that may not sound like a big deal now, in the blog/YouTube era, but in 1999 it was a brilliantly demented idea), they had some of the smartest baseball writers I’d ever read, and they routinely called bullshit as bullshit.

As it turned out, Miles was familiar with my work and loved the idea of a uniform column. He had only one concern.

“We can do this once every four weeks,” he said. “But are you sure there’s actually enough uniform-related material out there to support that?”

“I think so,” I said, trying to sound confident. In fact, I had no idea.

The column needed a name. I don’t remember the specifics of my discussions with Miles, but I do recall that I suggested “Uni Watch” sort of as a fallback — something we’d use only if we couldn’t come up with something better. I know we kicked around a few other possibilities (one of them was some sort of riff on “The Emperor’s New Clothes”), but none of them seemed better than Uni Watch, so that’s what we used. I remember feeling a bit disappointed by that at the time because I thought it was a rather boring, cop-out name. (I’ve since come to like the name just fine.)

So that’s how Uni Watch was born. The first installment was published on May 26, 1999 — 15 years ago today. It was essentially the first iteration of my annual MLB season-“preview” column, even though it was published nearly two months after the season had already begun (click to enlarge):

Thanks to assorted developments in the media world, Uni Watch eventually moved from the Voice to Slate.com (in 2003) and then to ESPN.com (2004), and along the way it spun off this blog (2006). While I’ve always believed in Uni Watch, I never imagined it would turn out to be such a durable project, or that its frequency would increase to bi-weekly, and then weekly, and then daily. (With each jump in frequency, there was a editor who said, “Are you sure there’s enough material out there to support that?” And each time I responded, “I think so,” trying to sound confident, when in fact I had no idea.)

After doing this for 15 years, have I achieved my goal of turning the uni-verse into a legitimate sports beat? Yes and no. On the plus side, uniforms get much more attention — from fans, from broadcasters, from the rest of the media — than they did 15 years ago. Unveilings are big events, teams routinely tweet photos of the jerseys they’ll be wearing for upcoming games, and so on. And of course the mere fact that I still have this gig (and that the gig has kept growing) indicates that the project has achieved a certain legitimacy.

On the other hand, much of the uniform coverage out there from the “regular” sports media still carries an undertone of condescension or even apology — like, “Okay, we’re going to talk about this now because apparently somebody cares about it, but we’re not going to take it seriously.” And when I tell people what I do for a living, they often do a double take and then need a minute to sort of process it. I guess that makes sense, because I’m still the only full-time big-media uniform journalist. There’s no counterpart to me at SI, or at Yahoo Sports, or any of the other major sports media outlets, a state of affairs I find both surprising (you’d think someone else would have come along by now) and disappointing (additional voices would create some healthy competition and would help to further legitimize the beat).

Compare that situation to the role of sports media critics — the guys who critique the broadcasters. A generation ago, the notion of paying someone to watch games on TV seemed absurd. Nowadays, just about every major newspaper has a guy who does that. That beat has been accepted as legitimate sports journalism. But the uniform/logo beat hasn’t yet achieved that status. So while Uni Watch has come a long way, I’d say it still has a way to go.

But anniversaries are for celebrations, not ruminations. Uni Watch may not have achieved everything I was hoping for, but it has nonetheless been a tremendously successful and satisfying project — much more so than I had any reason to expect when I launched it.

A lot of that success, of course, is due to the amazing contributions of Uni Watch readers, who’ve served as my auxiliary eyes and ears almost from the start. So that 15th-anniversary logo you see at the top of this entry isn’t just for me — it’s for all of us, including you (yes, even the trolls). I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. Hope you are too.

I’ll have a bit more anniversary-related news tomorrow — stay tuned.

(Doubleplusthanks to Scott M.X. Turner for designing the anniversary logo.)

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Today is also Memorial Day. If you’re mourning a fallen military member, please accept my condolences on his or her loss. If you’re working, thanks for keeping the world spinning while the rest of us have the day off. If you fall into neither of those categories, count yourself fortunate and enjoy the day. — Paul