On uniforms, redesigns and the game

There is something about being at the ballpark and standing at the top step of your section before heading down to your seats. On an afternoon under the sun, you feel as though you have been connected to the great moments of years past. Whether you are in a classic park, a dome or the opening game for a new stadium altogether, when you take in the scenery you could just as easily be at the Polo Grounds all those years ago.

Baseball is a game, yet it feels bigger than just that one word. As much as it is pitching, catching and batting, it is just as much a gateway to the past—a living history—and when the modern game fails to pay credance to that, well, it just feels off.

With three prominent re-branding efforts within the last month, there was a fairly evident mixed reaction between those that honored and adapted baseball’s history and those that attempted to create a new archetype.

The uniform alterations made by the Baltimore Orioles were slight, re-integrating the cartoon bird of 1970 and 1983 back into their home and away caps. While many reacted with a collective shrug of the shoulders, it ultimately underscored a franchise desperately seeking an identity to match its seemingly endless transition phase.

The bird is iconic in a way, with its dimensions and smile. In many ways it underscores the youth of this current Orioles club while acknowledging the franchise’s history. The team is longing for a current crop of stars to rival those which once donned the cartoon bird.

Much like the steps at the top of a stadium bringing you back to the time when baseball was played by men in flannel uniforms and high stockings, the long-time Orioles fan is now reminded of the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan.

While there is no guarantee that Zach Britton, Matt Wieters or Adam Jones will ever leave a legacy that lasting in the minds of fans, they are now bound to legends past by something as simple as a cartoon bird, temporarily freeing them from the ties which bound them to the frustrations fans have become accustomed to and unified them with champions of a past era. That tie is the power of the game.

In Toronto, a franchise that has been the subject of jeers for its flexible identity, the Blue Jays have gone back to their roots, and the timing could not have been better. With 2011 Hall of Fame inductees Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick now to their credit, the Jays have wrestled with their image for years. It is a careful balance to strike between reliving the “Glory Jays” of the late 1980s and early 1990s while maintaining some sense of progress.

From rearranging the original logo to adding their own touch to that of the Texas Rangers to seemingly abandoning blue altogether, the Blue Jays have flown home to the image that works while striking a balance between past, present and future.

The juxtaposition of the bird they wore 15 seasons ago with what they will sport in 2012 is clear. This franchise is ready to return to the pinnacle and is bringing a new intensity with it. The new streamlined Blue Jay has a focus and determination previously absent from the original incarnation.

By unifying the image, the Jays have now tied Alomar to their current icon, Jose Bautista, and the other pieces with which they intend to complete their mission. More than that, they have reinvigorated their fanbase by reminding them of a time when the Blue Jays were Toronto and baseball was what mattered.

Speaking to a friend reacting to the unveiling, he put it simply, “We look like a baseball team again.” It’s hard to put it any better than that. In what other sport can someone look at their team and say they embody the game?

For a team in season 18, the Florida Marlins could not have asked for a much better series of results. A World Series in year five, followed by a second in year 11. It certainly wasn’t the conventional way to build a championship team, but they did it, and it worked.

With a pitching staff anchored by Kevin Brown in 1997 and a heroic World Series performance by Josh Beckett in 2003, there is no shortage of anecdotes for a Marlins fan to recall. This is a franchise that has faltered many times but still found a way to succeed where it matters. Yet in 2011, the Marlins are distancing themselves from their entire history with a look that commonly ellicits a raised eyebrow and confused mutter.

Perhaps these Marlins are the Blue Jays of seven years ago, uprooting themselves from their past only to return. Perhaps like the Orioles, those true fans will once again yearn to be reminded of their Ripkens, Palmers and Flanagans. If there is anything to be taken away from the game, it is the inherent connection with those days gone by that fortify a franchise and its fan base.

Come April, they won’t look like the Marlins you once knew, but one day they will. You cannot break the bonds of your history. Not in baseball.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

newest oldest most voted
Garret Craig
Garret Craig

Beautifully written and insightful too. I enjoyed reading this.

Chris Lund
Chris Lund

Jim – Great point on Hernandez, reason I didn’t mention him was more just to focus on some of the star power of the era. That being said, do they win the World Series without him? Who knows? Probably not by my guess. His NLCS performance was unbelievable. Can’t fault anyone for being an ROY runner up. As far as the colour scheme, I’m expecting (hoping?) that they tone it down at some point going forward. Four strikingly different colours is a little excessive for a baseball team, though I can’t fault them for engaging their cultural community, particularly in… Read more »

Jim C
Jim C

I agree completely with your assessment of the Orioles and Blue Jays new/old uniforms. However, as to the Marlins, I would suggest that Livan Hernandez had at least as much to do with the success of the ‘97 team as Kevin Brown. The colors of their new uniforms constitute a perhaps desperate attempt to finally draw more fans from their Latin American community, containing as they do the colors of the flags of both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.