Baseball has long been a game of color. Green infields and colorful ballpark advertising has been a staple for most of the game’s history. The 1947 Boston Braves produced “The Braves Family,” the first color and sound film ever made about Major League baseball. That same year, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the ‘color barrier’ by integrating the game at the Major League level. But arguably one of the most evident and important aspects of color is the choice that a team makes when they take the field – I am referring to the color of their uniforms.
For some teams, their uniform colors just make sense. Would the Cincinnati Reds wear yellow and orange? Would the corporate Yankees look good in anything other than business pinstripes and gray? But what about the choices teams make when they move or relocate. Let’s look at a few of examples.
The 1950’s are remembered romantically as a time when all was right with America. This may have been true unless you were a National League fan living in New York. Prior to the 1958 season, both the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and the New Giants left the Empire State for greener pastures…or at least the warmer ones of California. It was not until 1962 that the Mets brought National League baseball back to the city, and at first, back to the Polo Grounds. Fans identify themselves with their team and their team’s colors. Why did the Metropolitans decide on the blue and orange color scheme that they did? The answer is very simple…they had two popular team fan bases to court and maybe even a few to lure away with the choice home pinstripes. As you can see the road jerseys combined both color and style.
One thing that the Mets had in common with the Yankees rather than the Dodgers and Giants predecessors was that they had a choice of manufacturers for their jerseys. Like the Yankees, the Mets opted to have their uniforms made by Wilson and Spalding instead of the diamond duds of Rawlings and MacGregor, who outfitted the Dodgers and Giants for a good portion of the 1950’s. The one thing that set them apart from all the other New York teams was the decision to add a very colorful and popular shoulder patch as a standard. Mets flannels remain very popular among collectors because of their visual appeal and comparative rarity. The early team was also popular in addition to their colorful jerseys because of a combination of colorful players as well.
An earlier move that seemed to involve far less emotion involved bringing baseball back to Baltimore in 1954. I say “back” to Baltimore because the Orioles left after the 1903 season to become the present day Yankees. (No, George Steinbrenner did not buy the whole team). The present day O’s came from the mid-west in the form of the hapless St. Louis Browns. The Browns jersey’s featured the predictable color brown, but they also featured a very complimentary orange that the Orioles decided to keep. The Orioles also incorporated a couple of other features that the Browns adorned, zippers and a cool sleeve patch. “Brownie” was replaced by the “Bird.” The Orioles also decided, for the most, part to leave the Brown’s hometown St. Louis manufacturer, Rawlings, out of the locker room until they decided to usher in double knits for the American League in 1971.
Speaking of ushering in and ushering out, 1969 was truly a year for moves. Man moved to the moon, the Mets moved into a place of prominence in World Series history, and baseball moved briefly to the Pacific Northwest…enter the Seattle Pilots. Teams have traditionally worn uniforms from the previous season for Spring training. A problem arises when you don’t have a previous season from which to draw uniforms for Spring training. The Pilots opted for the generic colorless Wilson product featuring PILOTS in blue and little else. That choice changed with the regular season. The Pilot’s home and road uniforms are some of the most colorful and unique ensembles in history, albeit the short history that it was. Guys whose Major League careers last that long are said to have “been up for a cup of coffee.” The Pilot’s tenure was more like a cup of decaf. (Pardon the coffee analogy with reference to the SEATTLE Pilots, lest I digress).
The Pilots quickly packed up at the close of the 1969 season and moved to bring American League baseball back to Milwaukee. The early 20th Century Brewers left town after the 1901 season to become the St. Louis Browns (wait a minute… the Browns who became the Orioles or the Orioles who became the Yankees…Who’s On First?) Like the previously mentioned transition teams, the current Brewers team opted to adopt both the color schemes and the manufacturers, Wilson (home) and Spalding (road). This changed in 1974 when the team featured Sand Knit for the road jerseys followed by a switch for home jerseys in 1976.
1n 1977, baseball expanded, once again, to add teams in both Toronto and Seattle. The Toronto Blue Jays had no real history to speak of from which to draw a color scheme, but the Seattle Mariners did. While the first couple of years seemed rather bland for Seattle, 1979 showed a return to the blue & gold with wide sleeve trim from the Pilots and early Brewers.
Another switch of homes that I would like to mention involved our Nation’s Capital. The Montreal Expos were another of the expansion teams added for the 1969 season. When America’s Pastime went North of the border, our colors went with them. The 1969 Expos home uniforms were red, white and blue; right down to the 100th Anniversary Patch. In an e-mail exchange last winter with long time hobbyist, writer, uniform expert, and just plain good guy Phil Wood (I am a Phil Wood fan, promise, my last digression), we discussed which colors the Washington Nationals would bring back to D.C. While I made the point that the Nat’s might, in all likelihood, keep the Expos colors, Phil made the point that any carry over will probably have more to do with where they are playing now versus where they came from.
It may be worth some time discussing the influence that the Washington Senators had on not just one, but two cities. When the Senators left for Minnesota in 1961, they took the pinstripes with them. The expansion Senators kept them as well, changing to a very popular script front in 1963. When they left D.C for the second time after the 1971 season, the Rangers opted for the colors of the Texas State Flag.
While I realize I have omitted the migration of the A’s from Philadelphia to Kansas City and then to Oakland and the Braves path from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta (sounds like a flight route out of Dulles), the fact of the matter remains the same -baseball teams move around. The uniforms they wear, the fans they attract and the hearts they break along the way are all a part of both our national game and larger national fabric (no uniform pun intended). America has been and will remain a society “on the move.” The interesting thing to witness is the elements of our national fiber reflected in the colorful fabrics of something we can refer to as “The Color of Baseball.”