By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

The start of the Major League Baseball season is just a few days away, which can only mean three things: Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are headed for the DL; you'd better finally get started on that tax return; and it's time for Uni Watch's MLB season preview, now in its eighth annual edition.

Uni Watch has already covered the season's most visible change: those annoying new CoolFlo batting helmets, which are being worn by the Cubs, Angels, Diamondbacks, Devil Rays, Orioles, Dodgers, Mets, Twins, A's, Braves and Padres. Fortunately, most of this year's other changes are more benign, and several are quite laudable. Here's the breakdown:

• The Royals are going back to their roots. No, not these roots -- sorry, powder blue fans. But the black drop shadow and black undersleeves are gone (let's hope the Mets and Reds are taking notes), and so are the vests. Here's the team's new jersey breakdown: home, road, home alternate and road alternate. Well, three out of four ain't bad. And the undersleeves are blue again, as they should have been all along.

• The White Sox are honoring the 100th anniversary of their 1906 championship team with a Sunday throwback design that features a henley-style pullover jersey and -- get this -- a blank cap. What, no shirt collars, like the 1906 originals? Well, Uni Watch supposes you can't have everything.

• In another retro move -- one that doesn't reach quite so far back into the past -- the Brewers are reviving their old ball-in-glove "mb" logo, which will be featured on their new Sunday throwback uni.

• The Nationals have a new alternate jersey and cap. Gotta love that "DC" logo (works so much better with the team's other graphics than the script "W"), but man, that red jersey has Uni Watch reaching for the Ray-Bans. Too bad they didn't make this alternate attire blue, like the team's current batting practice design.

• The Twins have a new alternate home vest, which strikes Uni Watch as a waste of time because it's just a sleeveless duplication of the team's regular jersey. If they really wanna have a vest, how about ditching the pinstripes (which always look weird on a vest, anyway) and using the team's original script insignia. Or, better yet, just slap the "TC" logo on the chest, like on the team's BP jersey.

• Uni Watch has written in the past about the problems with teams that wear vests and left-undersleeve patches, because some players inevitably end up wearing off-brand, patch-free sleeves, leading to non-uniform uniforms (which is why many vested teams over the years have chosen to wear patches on their chests instead of their sleeves, as the Pirates are doing this season with their All-Star Game patch). The Reds finally have wised up to this problem by eliminating their left-sleeve patch altogether.

• Speaking of sleeve patches, several teams are wearing new ones this season, including the Astros, Braves, Cards, Blue Jays (who'll also be wearing a memorial tribute to broadcaster Tom Cheek, although Uni Watch hasn't yet seen that design) and A's (a "Holy Toledo" memorial tribute to broadcaster Bill King -- no photos yet).

• Addition by subtraction, Part 1: The Blue Jays, who stopped wearing their gray home cap toward the end of last season, have eliminated it. They'll wear their black cap -- formerly their road cap -- for all games.

• Addition by subtraction, Part 2: The Pirates have eliminated their black jersey and yellow-brimmed cap.

• In what might end up being the year's subtlest change, the Rangers are adding blue piping to their belt tunnels -- at least that's what the official MLB Style Guide says. But there has been no sign of the blue-lined loops during spring training, and Uni Watch has been unable to confirm whether the team is saving the new pants for regular-season games or has just scrapped the idea. If the Rangers go ahead with it, they'd be just the second current team with piping-adorned loops (the other one being, of course, the Braves). Meanwhile, Texas also is adding an alternate road vest.

• Speaking of subtleties, check out this great catch by reader Jeff Scott, who has noticed that the Cardinals appear to have their player names sewn directly onto their home jerseys this spring -- a big improvement over their longtime practice of putting the letters on a nameplate that's then sewn onto the jersey. Assuming this carries over into the regular season, it'll mark the first time the Cards have used the direct-application lettering style since 1988.

And one other item of note: Last week, Uni Watch wondered whether Ichiro, who adopted the high-cuffs look in the WBC, would maintain that style upon rejoining the Mariners. The answer? A resounding yes. Looks good -- now let's play ball!

Far East Meets West
Uni Watch readers continue to amaze your humble columnist by going way above and beyond the call of duty. Latest case in point: Last week, Uni Watch raved about the illustrations in this book about the history of Japanese baseball uniforms and asked whether anyone might be able to translate some of the text, which is in Japanese. That request was only semi-serious, but more than a dozen readers promptly offered their services, including Brian Schuch, who took it upon himself to translate the captions on several of the sample pages Uni Watch had displayed -- then Photoshopped the translations into the pages! The results are here, here, here and here.

Several readers also translated this page, including Ryuji Yamaguchi (his English version of the text is here), who, as it turns out, lives just a few blocks from Uni Watch HQ. Convenient, right? So Uni Watch has temporarily turned the book over to Yamaguchi, who has promised to report back with translations, or least summations, of particularly noteworthy passages. XXXXXL-sized thanks go to him, to Brian Schuch and to everyone who responded on this one. Uni Watch is blown away by your devotion and generosity.

One last note on this front: Mark Rosa reports that the Japanese book's author, Ritomo Tsunashima, has his own Web site. It's in Japanese, natch, but a bit of investigative clicking reveals that Tsunashima is actually selling T-shirts featuring Japanese uniform history lessons! An awestruck Uni Watch can only bow in admiration.

Uni Watch News Ticker
Ichiro isn't the only one hiking up his pants. Check out the scene at the Mets' minor league camp (with thanks to Matt Fitzpatrick). … More high-cuffs news: Livan Hernandez, of all people -- who was using those under-the-shoe elastic straps for a good chunk of last year -- has been showing a lot of sock during spring training. But he needs a bit of help with his technique. … Ramon Castro has traded in his garish chest protector for a less objectionable model (no photo, but the orange Cingular-esque section in the center is now black). … Speaking of catchers, interesting spring training observation from Bob Weston: "Mike Lieberthal wears those lame catcher's squat-cheaters on his calves -- but at two different heights." Some quick Uni Watch photo research reveals that Lieberthal has actually been doing this for a while. Anyone know of other catchers who wear the pads at different heights? … Is it just Uni Watch, or does Gary Sheffield's cap look a little weird here? … Logo Creep Alert, courtesy of Sharon Steig: Michigan's Chris Hunter wears three pairs of socks. Is it just for the extra cushioning, or is he going out of his way to create a swoosh-o-rama effect? … The explosion of logo creep on statues is particularly disturbing. Latest example: Bobby Bowden with a swoosh on his chest (with thanks to Emanuel Caros). … And you know logo creep has really gone around the bend when even these guys have the Reebok logo on their sleeves (gold star to Scott Mason). … Weird case of logo anti-creep: UCLA's Cedric Bozeman normally has the adidas logo visible just below his undershirt collar (here's a slightly better view). But during Saturday's UCLA/Memphis game, the logo had been snipped out, leaving a little hole. … Speaking of undershirts, maybe Adam Morrison's season wouldn't have ended like this if he hadn't suddenly decided to wear a T-shirt against UCLA. … Ryan Gray notes that Alabama coach Mark Gottfried matched his attire to his team's unis during the NCAA tourney. … Meanwhile, this article predicts the Final Four results on the basis of the teams' uniforms. … Cool historical move by Wild goalie Josh Harding, whose mask features classic masks from the past. … Speaking of which, add another entry to the list of masked basketball players: Marianna Camargo, a freshman point guard who plays for Oral Roberts (good catch by Aaron Leavitt). … Japan's Yakult Swallows have unveiled new uniforms: home and road (kudos to Jeremy Brahm). … Great question posed by reader Jason Graham, who writes: "Texas A&M guard Acie Law is in fact Acie Law 'the fourth,' which is reflected quite clearly on the back of his jersey. My friends and I were scratching our heads to come up with another time we'd seen a roman numeral as part of a player's name on his uni. Would you be able to help us out with this conundrum?" Uni Watch can't think of any comparable examples. Can anyone else? … Speaking of names on jerseys, Braves catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whose last name is 14 letters long, didn't make Atlanta's final roster cut. So the MLB record for the longest surname, at least until Saltalamacchia gets called up to the bigs (expected to happen no later than next year), remains 13 letters, a mark shared by Todd Hollandsworth, William VanLandingham, Steve Wojciechowski, Ossee Schreckengost (who played in the days before names appeared on jerseys), Lou Schiappacasse (who played two games in 1902), and of course the ever-popular Tim Spooneybarger (whose name is so entertaining that Uni Watch can't resist showing it again). … Still more nameplate news: Donovan Moore (president of the Society for Sports Uniforms Research) reports that the Arizona Cardinals, whose nameplate lettering previously has been white, appear to be switching to white outlined with black. … Meanwhile, Uni Watch's recent manifesto on vertically arched lettering has created a legion of typography buffs, including Blane Ridings, who writes: "The Tennessee baseball team uses vertical arching on their alternate home jersey but not on their other jerseys. If they're going to do it, they might as well do it right." Indeed. … Classic Manny Ramirez story: According to several reports, Manny was planning to stay in Red Sox camp instead of traveling up to Tampa to play an exhibition game against the Yankees last week. Then, at the last minute, he decided to go -- but forgot to grab his jersey (which apparently hadn't been packed by the equipment manager because Manny wasn't originally slated to make the trip). So he had to wear a generic No. 95 jersey for the game. No photos, alas. … Interesting observation by Stephen Owens and Brett Robertson, the latter of whom writes: "I'm currently watching a Braves-Indians spring training game, and the teams are wearing strikingly similar uniforms. Both have navy blue jerseys with red trim, as well as navy caps." Imagine if those two teams played in a round-robin arrangement with the Nationals -- sheer chaos! … Good overview here of the stories behind certain NBA players' uniform numbers. … UK soccer news: Everton's James Beattie and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard changed their uni numbers from 8 to 08 on March 25 to promote a tourism program. … The Devils retired Ken Daneyko's number on March 24 and wore "3" shoulder patches for the occasion. … Last month, Uni Watch noted that Canucks goalie Alex Auld doesn't bother to wear the team's socks under his goalie pads. Neither, it turns out, does University of Wisconsin goalie Brian Elliott. The club's legwear usually looks like this, but check out Elliott's (with thanks to Dustin Pomprowitz).

Follow-Up Roundup
While writing about St. Paddy's Day uniforms last week, Uni Watch noted that the NHL generally hasn't marked the holiday with emerald attire. But several readers pointed out that the Maple Leafs have a major St. Patrick's connection in their team history. Dominic J. Litten explains:

"During a long losing streak in 1919, the Toronto Arenas (whose colors were blue and white) changed their name to the Toronto St. Patricks and went to green uniforms. In 1926, Conn Smythe purchased the St. Pats and renamed them the Maple Leafs. He kept the St. Pats' green uniforms for one year, as a nod to the team's fans. But the next season, the Leafs switched to the blue (for the Canadian skies) and white (for snow) they've worn ever since."

Leigh MacArthur picks up the story from there: "The Leafs wanted to commemorate their 75th anniversary by wearing green St. Pat's throwback jerseys for one game on March 2, 2002. The NHL office was originally not going to allow it, because they thought it was just a St. Paddy's Day publicity stunt, because of the proximity to the holiday." Eventually, though, they came around (thanks to Veronica Majewski for the photo).

Special mention also goes to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, a minor league team that has existed for only seven years but, as Jeremy Mohler points out, has managed to wear four different St. Patrick's Day jerseys in that period: 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004. (Check out the team's full uni history here.)

Meanwhile, back on the diamond, at least one college team had St. Paddy's gear: Arizona State, which had special caps and socks (an extra plate of corned beef and cabbage goes to Rob Montoya).

In other follow-up news:

• Several readers explained that the pant-leg diamond pattern in this photo is unique to Japanese pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe. It's an extra bit of padding that's sewn into his pants because of his leg-scraping delivery (with thanks to Bob Timmermann for the photo).

• Last week's column included a report -- but no photo -- that the Thrashers had gotten in the habit of turning their helmets around, rally cap-style, during shootouts. Matthew Kosmala has kindly forwarded a photo of this unfortunate phenomenon, which might set back the cause of hockey by 50 years.

• Another item from last week -- about Jorge Cantu's elastic-free pant cuffs in the World Baseball Classic -- drew this rather disturbing response from Andrew Luttrell, an assistant coach at California Lutheran University: "A lot of companies are starting to design their pants this way, because players like to wear the pants so low. We ordered about half with elastic and half without this year." Too bad, but it could be worse -- remember a few years back when players were keeping their pants down low by tying them to their shoetops?

• Last week, Uni Watch noted that the 1969 set of Topps basketball cards showed Knicks players with their names on the front while other teams simply had blank jerseys. Uni Watch realized that Topps didn't have a licensing arrangement with the NBA in those days and therefore couldn't show front-jersey team logos, but why were the Knicks shown with their names on the front? Were they wearing their jerseys backward or what?

Longtime Uni Watch enthusiast the Rev. NÝrb has supplied the answer by providing photos of his 1971 NBA cards (not quite the same as the '69 set, but close enough for our purposes). If you look at the cards -- here, here, here and here -- a few conclusions can be drawn: (1) Although Topps wasn't permitted to show NBA team names on the front of a jersey, it was kosher to show city names. (2) Judging by all the abnormally high necklines, it's pretty clear that many players dealt with the team-name issue simply by wearing their jerseys backward, so that's no doubt what the Knicks were doing in the '69 cards. Other players donned warm-up jackets, were shown only from the shoulders up or were subjected to sloppy airbrushing. And the Cincinnati Royals, whose team name appeared down the left side of the jersey, were simply photographed from the right side. (3) Most NBA teams didn't yet have player names on their jerseys in those days. (4) The ABA wasn't as uptight about all this as the NBA was.

Brooklyn Globetrotter
The Uni Watch Athletics Aesthetics Party T-shirt, featuring this fine design by Scott Turner, is going global, or at least transhemispheric. That news comes from longtime reader Joe Heaps Nelson, who checks in with this report: "I proudly wore my Uni Watch T-shirt to work last week at a Manhattan art gallery, where I was installing the work of Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Le. Apparently he's very famous in Asia, because there was a crew from Singapore filming a TV documentary about him. They filmed me as I hung up pictures, climbed ladders, etc., so Uni Watch may have a cameo on Singapore TV soon!"

A few of these fine garments are still available. So if you too would like to look sharp on Asian television -- or just around town -- get in touch.

Paul Lukas did his taxes and underwent a root canal on Opening Day 2004, but all his pain went away when Kaz Matsui hit the season's first pitch out of the park. His answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.