2017 World Series: The history behind Dodgers and Astros uniforms
One's a classic, and one's a story of uniform evolution
HOUSTON -- One is timeless to the extent that we can apply to term to a modern endeavor like baseball. The other is a bit of "fashion neoclassicism" from a club known for pushing boundaries via the jersey and pant. The 2017 World Series will of course be appreciated as it unfurls and remembered for what happens on the field. After all, the Dodgers can break an almost three-decade championship interregnum, and if they don't then the Astros will win the World Series for the very first time.
This, though, is a signature event, and that means we must drill down to the loam under the discussed-to-excess pitching match-ups and lineups and injuries and on-field trends and get to something even the least bit distinct -- like, for instance, the two teams' uniforms. They're different you know, these teams and what they wear …
It's one of the most recognizable and time-honored looks in sports …
When you think about the Dodgers you think about that billowy script across the jersey front, the deep shade of azure that's come to be known as Dodger Blue, and the distinctive red numerals on the front. It wasn't always that way, though. For a swath of their early history (back when they were known as the Brooklyn Superbas and Brooklyn Robins), they wore pinstripes. In 1910, they had vertical lettering on their jerseys. Then they were the first team to wear a checked pattern. In 1938, though, that changed.
As Dodgers director of graphic design Ross Yoshida tells CBS Sports, when Larry MacPhail took over the struggling team in 1938, he commissioned a new uniform design. Absent one innovative flourish (more on that in a moment), blue hats at home, and the whole Brooklyn/Los Angeles distinction, it's pretty much the uniform you see, say, Clayton Kershaw's wearing today. Here's a look at the jersey ...
Of note: That's the '38 home jersey of Babe Ruth, who served as the Dodgers' first base coach that year.
That was the seminal moment in Dodgers' uniform history. A smaller shift occurred prior to the 1952 season, and it's still with us ...
That's Yu Darvish's No. 21, and that's a close-up of the red numerals that Dodgers first began wearing on the jersey fronts back in '52. As graphic designer Todd Radom unearthed, the Dodgers initially had plans to unveil those red numerals during the 1951 World Series. As you know, though, they wound up blowing a 4.5-game lead with 11 games to play, and they wound up losing the pennant to the Giants on Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World." So those eye-catching five-inch numbers on the lower left of the jersey front would have to wait until the following season.
As for what motivated the innovation, here's this via the April 30, 1952 edition of the Sporting News:
"This is another idea of Walter O'Malley, president of the club, and is of particular benefit to television fans who often obtain only a front view of the player passes out of the camera range ..."
The World Series had been televised since 1947, so the Dodgers' presumed appearance in the '51 Fall Classic, which as noted never came to pass, was the likely impetus. There's also precedent for putting red in the Dodgers' uniforms. Going back as far as the franchise's "Superba" days back in 1900, the club had red jersey lettering and red stockings as part of their home kits. As well, the famous Dodger logo, which predates the red numerals, of course incorporates red "chem trails" emanating from that baseball in flight. Red would come and go as a complementary hue over the years before finding a permanent home on the jersey front.
That's the uniform the Dodgers still wear today. In 1999, they put "Los Angeles" on the jerseys for the first time in thirty years, a decision that Yoshida explained as "having something to do with the new FOX ownership, who were not as adamant about having a road jersey that said 'Dodgers' as the O'Malley family was."
Regardless of the tweaks at the margins, when you look at the Dodgers' uniforms today ...
You see a look that's persisted across decades and generations and even survived a searing relocation to the other side of the country. Radom (@ToddRadom on Twitter) sums it up nicely for CBS Sports:
"It really embodies so many of the classic qualities that we think of when we think of what a baseball uniform looks like—the script lettering, perfectly angled. The clean presentation, devoid of any trim, the colors, and, of course, the red numbers—all of these contribute to a timeless look that Steve Garvey famously compared to the American flag."
When it comes to Houston's uniforms, they're known for boldness, but its complicated and meandering evolution to where they are today. They were the Houston Colt .45s for the first three years of their existence (coincidentally, the Colt .45s played their first regular season game on the same day that Dodger Stadium hosted its first regular season game).
In 1965, though, the Colt .45s became the Astros -- thanks in part to Colt's demand for royalties from the team -- and that occasioned a new look ...
You've got the H set against a five-pointed star, that at once evokes the city's aerospace ties and a Texas lawman. On the jersey, you've got the familiar shooting star. Here's color glimpse of a Jimmy Wynn replica available for sale ($300) at Minute Maid Park ...
The Astros' orange and blue palette wasn't new to baseball -- the Mets had already gone there -- but one can argue it's more strongly linked with the Astros. That's mostly because in 1975, the Astros became the first team to feature orange as its primary uniform color. You know the look ...
When you think of Astros, you likely think of those "rainbow" unis. Starting in 1980, the Astros stepped back a bit from the kaleidoscopic precipice, starting with more muted road uniforms. By 1986, the rainbow jersey was relegated to alternate status, and the following year, the rainbow look was confined to some vertical striping on the sleeves.
The most dramatic shift would take place after Drayton McLane purchased the team in 1993. Soon after McLane took the reigns, the Astros began looking like this ...
That's the "sumo squat" stance of Jeff Bagwell (as Dodger Stadium, no less), and those are the uniforms that the Astros wore from 1995 through 1999. As Astros historian Mike Acosta told CBS Sports, those blue and gold Astros uniforms were originally supposed t be blue and orange. However, the idea was to capture a shooting star in the night sky, so it became gold set against midnight blue. As you'll note, it's an open star and not the five-point Lone Star of yore. The forward-leaning font still speaks to the "futurist" vision of Astros uniforms, and out of context there's nothing terrible about the ensemble. However, it's just not Astrosian enough to these eyes.
Speaking of which, the next Houston unis were rich with inspiration but also missed those Astrosian notes ...
When the Astros moved into the infelicitously named Enron Field (now, of course, it's Minute Maid Field), it was time for another reboot. As noted before in this space,. McLane's vision was to tie these uniforms to the new park. The red is brick red, a nod to the brickwork and Texas limestone of Enron Field. The black is train smoke -- a tip of the cap to Union Station and Houston's history as a railway hub. As Acosta also explained, "Red was the favorite color of our new owner [McLane]." Also, the team wore pinstripes for the first time.
Not long after Jim Crane bought the Astros for a reported $680 million in 2011, it was time once again for changes. "One of the first things that was discussed internally was that we need orange and navy back, and we need the 'H' on the star," Acosta said.
Acosta brought in samples from every past uniform, and pretty much everyone involved in the decision-making process -- including a number of front-office types who hailed from Houston and grew up on the Astros -- gravitated toward those first Astro uniforms -- the Jimmy Wynn-era "shooting star" assemblage you saw above.
Relative to thos unis, the font went from sans serif to serif, and some piping was added. Overall, though, what the Astros now wear very much echoes those early post-.Colt .45 days, even down to the arched script on the jersey ...
Throw in the orange alternate jerseys, and you've got a look that's at once classic and vividly in keeping with the "fashion boldness" for which the organization is known. Radom sums it up:
"The Astros' current look is a solid one, with deep local resonance. The updated 'H-Star' and the orange and navy blue colors seem right, and the inclusion of the signature rainbow stripes on the club's alternate jerseys is a nice tribute to the most joyous uniform in the history of Major League Baseball. The club started out with orange and navy as the Colt .45s, built upon that with the rainbows, then wandered for a couple of decades—now they are back where they belong."
And with that the 2017 World Series gives us two outstanding baseball looks, arrived at by very different means.
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