[Editor’s Note: Paul is on his annual August break from site (although he’s still writing his weekly Bulletin column and may pop up here on the blog occasionally). Deputy editor Phil Hecken is in charge from now through the end of the month.]
A good morning Uni Watch nation. It’s hump day!
I’m once again joined by UW stalwart Walter Helfer, who’s back to finish his intricate look at the Major League Baseball teams who sported pullover jerseys, which became de rigueur once baseball began to change from wool flannel uniforms to polyester. About a week and a half ago, Walter graced us with Part I of his overview, and today he’ll give us his Top 10. Now…let’s take a final look at Walter’s…
Greatest Hits of the MLB Pullover Era (Part I)
by Walter Helfer
I began following baseball in the ’70s, a singular age in professional sports where experimentation and color triumphed briefly over tradition. Of baseball’s 30 teams, 23 wore pullovers and I rank my favorites from worst to first.
#10. 1977 San Francisco Giants
Why it’s great: THAT AMAZING LETTERING. Orange jersey was occasional home uniform, too. Orange sanitaries; white cleats.
Why it’s not: Could have been the basis of a great grey uniform. Vertically-arched player names came a year later.
#9. 1980 Seattle Mariners
Why it’s great: The blue-yellow-blue pattern is repeated consistently all over the uniform, right up to the 3-color player names. The team doubled down on its excellent trident logo.
Why it’s not: One year of fancy player names was enough; they were gone in 1981. A white-paneled hat was warranted, given the complexity of the hat emblem.
#8. 1976 Cleveland Indians
Why it’s great: Navy jerseys with white pants created iconic Indians’ color scheme. Hat still commands attention. “Greek Diner Takeout Coffee Cup” lettering looks like the typeface on wooden National Park signage.
Why it’s not: Red shoes were perhaps a bridge too far. Team’s won/loss record was atrocious.
#7. Pittsburgh Pirates
Why it’s great: Giddy and ready for fun. The appearance of “We Are Family” and “Stargell’s Stars”. Black and yellow are my favorite team colors.
Why it’s not: Vertical pinstripes and horizontal hat stripes? They must not have checked their Garanimals’ tags. Taste was not a consideration; run it past Alexander Julian, next time.
#6. 1976 Milwaukee Brewers
Why it’s great: Deepest shade of robin’s egg blue in MLB. Hat with yellow panels became Milwaukee tradition on away uniforms. Vertical arching on chest script. Number on the back; NO NAMES. Simplicity.
Why it’s not: Good Lord did this team suck out loud. Unwatchable baseball.
#5. 1980 San Diego Padres
Why it’s great: Tortillas, taco sauce, spicy beef, and sour cream; is anybody hungry, yet? Festive hat with gold “Mission Bell” design. Vertical arching of player names. Gorgeous V-neck mitering. 3-color University Gothic numbers.
Why it’s not: When San Diego finally became ready for prime time, the crucial V-neck and Sansabelt had been jettisoned. This jersey was not meant for buttons.
#4. 1977 Toronto Blue Jays
Why it’s great: One of history’s greatest logos. Pleasing color scheme. Cohesive numbers and letters. Centering the insignia on the jersey front was a genius move.
Why it’s not: A hazy night in Spring Training deprived us of the original TORONTO lettering. You can see the difference right away.
#3. 1976 California Angels
Why it’s great: Best ever V-neck trim. One of baseball’s better sleeve patches. McAuliffe numerals…front and back! Stunning hat. Sparkled under the lights.
Why it’s not: They never appeared to play in prime time. I’m an East Coaster, dammit! Nolan Ryan couldn’t seem to lead this bunch to success.
#2. 1977 Houston Astros
Why it’s great. Pure imagination. The pants are just as outside-the-box as the jersey. And the hat still managed to command attention over the whole outfit. No away uniform needed to be made.
Why it’s not: We were denied the pleasure of that orange road uniform which purportedly remained on the drawing board. The Stros’ poor play cemented the canard that Houston was a gimmick team playing inside a gimmick stadium.
#1. 1972 Oakland Athletics
Why it’s great: Each color is used equally, simultaneously focusing attention on the head, torso, legs, and feet. Bursts of color at the ankles, jersey, and hat. The A’s played like champs, making these uniforms iconic. The doubled trim at the sleeve ends. The great Expos-style number on the chest was a one-year feature.
Why it’s not: We were denied the pleasure of seeing the solid-green uniform with professional tailoring.
Thanks, Walter! Great stuff as always. Please give Walter a big “THANKS” in the comments below for this thought piece and all his other contributions to the site!
As I was reading, I was mentally trying to figure what hadn’t been said. This was well done. Also, I learned that the Giants “SAN FRANCISCO” was rendered in the same font as was used in New York but one I have always associated with the Pirates.
Bonus points to the A’s, Giants and Brewers for team-color sannies. This needs to come back and I don’t mean 2-in-1s or whatever nonsense Stance is foisting on us these days.
In the 1990s the Giants had a similar treatment for their grey jerseys. The arch was shallower and the orange outline was all run together, but their hearts were in the right place.
“Purported Orange Uniform?” I’ve never read anything about that. And many of the people who have been nicking the Astros theme for urban/rapwear haven’t gotten close to an all-orange version. Mostly navy and grey for the shoulders.
Rumors are all that exist so let your imagination run wild. I pictured orange pants and jersey with the familiar rainbow; player name, Astros lettering and pants number in white; navy cap with orange bill and squatchee; v-neck in red and white.
Great countdown (I agree totally with the order) and as much as I prefer button down baseball jerseys I would love to have all 10 of these. Plus the Astros, Brewers, Angels and Cleveland hats. Very nice article indeed. Saw this orange Houston hat in a vintage store yesterday but in size 7, way too small…
I can attest finding an orange Astros’ cap is like pulling teeth. You may need to resort to the internet, as I did.
#7 Pirates pullover – colors are black and gold. Gold.
Comme çi, comme ça.
I’m no Pirates fan…but I am a big fan of their 1970 pullover set with the ‘yellow’ cap.
Actually the uniform colors of the New Orleans Saints!
never get why they went away from pullovers you’d think they’d allow for better range of motion than a tucked in button down
I’d say that retail merchandise has a lot to do with that. The Big Hair and Plastic Grass era didn’t age well, and fans wanted traditional uniforms and playing surfaces. But, I agree with your conclusion that pullovers would be more functional, as they are in most other sports.
Here’s an interesting sidebar: One of my favorite uniforms of the era was the Phillies’. Technically, it WAS a uniform of the Pullover Era, but it was not a pullover. Excellent design, Great colors.
Agreed. I liked the Phillies racing stripe uniforms. Same for the Mets and Expos. As you say the were in that era, but not of it.
The Mariners jersey was 1981, not 1980. And the 3 color names were gone by 1982, not 1981.
My Achilles’ Heel is precise dating. For me it’s always been more of a neighborhood play. But I’m grateful for the correct information!
Garvey didn’t join the padres until ‘83 so I think that’s not the 1980 Padres
Correct, but that uni made its’ debut in ’80…Garvey wore it well!
I think what bothered me back then wasn’t the pullover jerseys, but rather the Sansabelt pants. Really, pullovers make more sense with the chest lettering. I’d like to see many of these come back, but coupled with belted pants.
Some uniforms put a hidden leather belt inside the Sansabelt; the giveaway was the off-center snaps.
From a design point of view (as opposed to a baseball POV) the Sansabelt neatly cut the player in half, making colored jerseys less out-of-place. I wouldn’t want to contemplate the A’s, Astros, Pirates or Indians with belted pants. I’m pretty sure I called out all pullover teams that wore belts; it’s dissonant.
Interesting. Conversely, the old belts and loops didn’t cut the player in half, which is why all the pre-1930 uniforms in sollid blue or black look correct.
Sorry don’t agree. These pullovers would look great with belts. The Sansabelt waist looked like an old man’s pants from the 1970s, or the pants from one of those lame leisure suits from that era. They really date these uniforms, we as the pullover could work for this era without looking like a costume from that decade.
Wish I had a leisure suit!
Great job with these posts Walter! That ’77 Giants uniform was fantastic.
My only quibble with the list is that the 1982 Brewers away uni is better because of the “ball in glove” logo but it might just be a matter of personal taste.
Unfortunately, the ball-in-glove’s success came at the expense of the full-block “M”, which has always been my favorite.
The photo for the 1980 padres is of Steve Garvey, who didn’t join the team until 1983. I believe the look changed slightly during that time, including the inclusion of “San Diego” over the “Padres” word mark.
The jersey bearing the complete “San Diego Padres” name was a one-year aberration for that season’s All-Star Game, a phenomenon that reoccurred a few years ago. The 1978 team utilized saddle shoulders across the board, lifting a detail from the previous years’ road uniform. The raglan sleeves were long gone when Steve Garvey signed on.
The Cleveland BLUE tops (which per dressed to the nines were introduced in 1975, not 1976)? Nope. I’ll take the RED tops introduced in 1974 and then in 1975 were paired with red pants for the infamous “Blood Clots”.
Oh, I like the red tops! It’s just that I like the blue ones better.
Really don’t think whether or not the team is good or not should have anything to do with whether or not the uniforms are good. Lots of bad teams have had nice uniforms that we just didn’t get to see, while lots of good teams have had their uniforms grossly overrated because they happen to be visible more often.
I fretted over the inclusion of team performance as a factor in the attractiveness of a uniform. But it has an inescapable effect on the visibility of the squad (frequent appearances on Game of the Week as opposed to one token player in an All-Star Game). It affected the Mets in an odd way: I opted for the 1978 road uniform while they were mired in last place, over the 1987 road uniform, which signaled the onset of “The Worst Team Money Could Buy”. Choose your poison.
That Angels get-up is like 1000x better than the nonsense they wear nowadays.
Another good installment!
I consider the ’78 Padres pullovers as their best…I’m sure the Tampa Bay Rays would agree ; )
Believe it or not, the San Diego choice was VERY close between the 1980 home uniform and the 1976 road uniform: I always loved the way the yellow raglan sleeves echoed the spinnaker shape on the front of the cap, and the “San Diego” lettering in Windsor Condensed is one of my all-time favorites.
I would love it if MLB unis were as distinctive as NHL sweaters, where you could ID a team from a distance or just at a casual glance at the TV at the bar. The Field of Dreams game showed that baseball need not have the color contrast that the other sports require. Even with overrepresented colors like red and blue, each team could “claim” a particular shade or lettering/numbering color.
And then Nike would f*** it up. Still though.
Might just be the photo, but the pinstriped Pirates uniforms (if those even qualify as pinstripes) look odd. It almost has Brewers Barrel Man effect.
Thank you Walter for a tremendous article. As a fellow Westchester person (Rye Brook) who grew up in the 70s, this piece really hit home for me. I share your love of vertically arched letters, but there is one thing that always bugged the hell out of me. When a team made an in-season acquisition (Braves, Phillies, Pirates gold, etc.), they could never pull off the vertical arch. My guess is that all the proper vertically arched jerseys came directly from the manufacturer for opening day so any players acquired during the season were out of luck.
Yes, that is plainly a factor in the disappearing profile of vertical arching; it was always easy to tell who the mid-season acquisitions were. Time is a crucial element, made worse by every team having 3 or 4 jerseys to letter..
Great article. No disagreements here.
I know this didn’t factor into your rankings at all but pullover uniforms (including sansabelt) look 100% to 200% better on astroturf. That Dave Stieb picture on indoor-outdoor carpet sums up the era perfectly.
You’re right that the Mariners needed a panel cap. I did an August piece a few years back for Phil on the rise and fall of panel caps and IIRC the Mariners were the odd team out that had the panel helmets but not the caps.
The 1978 Brewers opted for a white-fronted helmet when the visiting cap was yellow-paneled and the home hat was solid blue. I remember being disappointed Milwaukee didn’t use the spinnaker shape of Toronto’s or Baltimore’s helmets.
Re: Indians Blue Top
Story goes the players purchased the blue jersey with their own money as they were sick of wearing the all red outfit