By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

The big news over the weekend in the uniform world, just like everywhere else, was Hurricane Katrina. In the NCAA, Southern Miss wore a little hurricane warning flag decal on the back of their helmets, several other schools wore helmet decals showing the outlined shapes of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and LSU added a fleur-de-lis for good measure. But the most conspicuous display was in Major League Baseball, where teams wore the Red Cross logo on their batting helmets.

MLB teams have commemorated tragedies before, like when the Rockies wore a "CHS" sleeve patch after the Columbine High School shootings, the Mets responded to the 9/11 attacks by wearing special sleeve embroidery and first responder caps (which they've continued to wear on 9/11's anniversary, including yesterday), and the Astros wore a space shuttle patch after the Columbia disaster. But those displays honored the dead, while the Red Cross logo (which the Yankees are supplementing with a Salvation Army patch on their right sleeves) is about providing support and relief for the living -- a much less common uni-borne sentiment.

The closest thing to a precedent for this is the use of flag-based imagery during wartime. That tradition dates back to World War I, when several teams wore American flag sleeve patches and patriotically striped armbands and stockings. In 1942, teams supported America's entry into World War II by wearing the star-spangled Hale America "HEALTH" logo, and most teams switched to a more conventional flag-patterned patch the following year. The Reds and A's supported the troops in the first Gulf War by wearing American flag chest patches in the 1990 World Series. And after the 9/11 attacks, all teams added an American flag patch to their rear jersey collars for the balance of the 2001 season.

But the Red Cross logo's unmistakable prominence dwarfs all of these previous displays. Along with the NCAA helmet decals, it's also a heartening sign that Americans are capable of showing their support for a cause without reflexively resorting to the increasingly mindless ribbon template. And here's an unexpected bonus: At least for now, one small part of Vlad Guerrero's helmet looks clean.

Paul Lukas' Little League All-Star game was postponed by Hurricane Belle in 1976, but no commemorative insignia were worn when the game was rescheduled. Archives of his regular "Uni Watch" column, which appears on Page 2 every other Thursday, are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.


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