Every generation or so there's a uniform, or a uniform set, that breaks the mold and announces, "You know how things have been done a certain way and everyone has just assumed that that's the only way? We've decided not to do it that way anymore." The Houston Astros and their 1970s "tequila sunrise" design, the Denver Broncos and their Nike-fied 1997 design, the Atlanta Hawks and their current uni set, any number of Oregon football uniforms -- all of them fit into this category.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have just joined that club.
Love 'em or hate 'em -- there will surely be many fans in each camp -- the D-backs' eight (yes, eight) new uniforms definitely represent a departure from many established MLB norms. Here's a rundown of some of the more unusual features:
1. The snakeskin: In a move that will probably generate more reaction than any other, the uniforms have been given sublimated diamond gradation patterns, meant to evoke snakeskin, on parts of the caps, jerseys, and pants:
Good view of the Dbacks' new snakeskin on jersey. pic.twitter.com/19RnHFxmI9— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
This marks the first time an MLB team has used sublimation, a process that involves injecting dye into the fabric. The NBA and NHL experimented with sublimation in the mid-1990s and the results were generally poor, but the process has been improved since then.
Uni Watch assessment: Feels gimmicky (especially on the caps, which look like the kind of "wacky" designs you see at the mall), but that's almost always true of anything that breaks the mold. Let's see how it looks on the field. The biggest problem is that the snakeskin runs down the sides of the jerseys and creates the illusion of a shoulder yoke, both of which are the kind of tacky design elements that should be reserved for batting practice jerseys.
2. The pant cuffs. As you can see in that last photo, the snakeskin on the back of the pant cuffs blends in with the shoe colors. The D-backs even have an assortment of shoe colors to match the snakeskin colors:
This is similar to what the Oregon football team did with its shoes and socks for the 2011 national championship game. It also raises a question: What about players who like to wear their pants high-cuffed, exposing their colored socks? In a Uni Watch interview, team president and CEO Derrick Hall said players who prefer to go that route will be permitted to continue doing so, but only the longer, full-length pants will have the snakeskin pattern.
Uni Watch assessment: The way the snakeskin blends into the shoe color is interesting, but pajama-style pants always look awful, snakeskin or no snakeskin.
3. The dark-gray road uniforms: MLB road uniforms have been rendered in a fairly consistent shade of light gray for many years, but the Diamondbacks are going with a much darker color that borders on charcoal:
Dbacks using much darker shade of gray for road uni. pic.twitter.com/JCpnhRvi6s— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
There's a precedent for a team wearing a darker shade of gray on the road, but you have to go back more than a century to find it: the 1913-15 Boston Braves. "We wanted a different look from the existing two shades of gray that have historically been used in baseball," Hall said. "We also liked how the darker gray complemented our trim colors. We saw some success with this color in our 2015 branding campaign and were excited about a chance to incorporate it into our uniforms for 2016."
Uni Watch assessment: This feels like just the latest version of teams being obsessed with wearing black, or something close to black. It doesn't help that all of the press photos show the uniforms being worn against a black background -- maybe it won't look quite so stark on the field.
4. The truncated pants piping: Piping on baseball pants usually runs the full length of the pant leg, from hip to cuff. But the piping on the D-backs' four new pant designs starts at mid-thigh:
"This was originally proposed by Majestic [MLB's uniform outfitter] as a unique design feature, and we liked it once we saw it," Hall said. No other MLB team has worn this type of truncated piping, although it's worth noting that similar designs have been showing up on the football field. This is another element that raises questions about players who prefer to go high-cuffed, because they'll have only a sliver of piping, from mid-thigh to just below the knee.
Uni Watch assessment: Hate it. Either wear piping or don't, but you can't have it both ways.
Who came up with all of these elements: Majestic? The team? An outside design firm? "The design was completed entirely by our in-house multimedia productions team in conjunction with MLB design services," Hall said. "We began this process more than 18 months ago and have involved our players significantly throughout, as well as some of our fans. We also relied heavily on input from MLB Authentic Collection licensees such as Majestic, Nike and New Era, but our team took the lead with strong support from the MLB design team."
OK, now that we've seen the unusual elements, let's look at the eight uniforms:
The new home uniform: The basic home uni sticks to the team's previous color scheme of black and red and can be paired with a whopping five different caps:
Front, back, and side views of Dbacks new primary home uni. pic.twitter.com/kkbuqbb0u5— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
Well, at least they'll be wearing white at home. But the jersey really feels like a BP design, especially when viewed from the side or the back. Interesting side note: The gold Nike swoosh on the shoes looks good, so imagine how some gold might have enlivened this design. Grade: C-
The new home alternate: There's a second set of home whites, this one with teal trim and gray snakeskin. The cap shown here is the only one intended for this uniform:
Front, back, and side views of the Dbacks new alternate home uni, with teal trim and gray shoes. pic.twitter.com/0edAgCzfgP— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
This is the best new design of the batch. The snakeskin is more subtle, the gray shoes work surprisingly well, and the return of teal to the team's color palette helps to brighten things up a bit. Grade: B
The new road uniform: The primary road grays, charcoals or whatever we're going to call them, can be paired with the same five caps as the primary home whites:
Front, back, and side views of the Dbacks new primary road uni. pic.twitter.com/MKsvM75R4J— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
Ugh. Using black snakeskin on a design that's already so dark feels like a major misstep, although the black mannequin and black background probably make this uni look worse than it actually is. Definitely need to see this one on the field, since it's a color that has never appeared on the diamond before. Grade: Incomplete, but the early indications are not good
The new road alternate: If you're going to have a teal-trimmed alternate at home, why not have a teal-trimmed alternate for the road as well? That was apparently the thinking behind this design:
Front, back and side views of Dbacks new alternate road uniform, with teal trim. pic.twitter.com/hG0KAPDMvm— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
Double-ugh. The teal trim against the charcoal background creates a glow-in-the-dark effect. Maybe that's exactly what they were going for, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Again, let's see it on the field first. Grade: Incomplete, but it looks radioactive
The red alternate: There's a red alternate jersey, which can be worn either at home or on the road. It can be paired with the same five caps as the primary home whites:
Front, back, and side views of Dbacks red alternate, which can be worn at home and on road. pic.twitter.com/gr9lsfoQT7— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
The jersey still feels too BP-ish, but this is a decent look, especially when they wear one of the red caps. A red belt would make it even better. Grade: B-
The black alternate: There's a black alternate jersey. Much like the red jersey, it can be worn either at home or on the road. And in a move that will no doubt bring a sigh of relief from the equipment manager's office, it can be paired with only three caps:
Front, back, and side views of Dbacks black alternate, which can be worn at home and on road. pic.twitter.com/l2l0h2qMqG— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
It's nice that the Diamondbacks have stuck with their original "A" logo throughout their assorted uniform changes over the years, but come on -- this one really looks like a BP jersey. Grade: D+
The Hispanic heritage jersey: The Diamondbacks have worn a Hispanic-themed jersey each season since 2008. Here's the latest one:
Front, back, and side views of "Los D-Backs" jersey, which can be worn at home and on road. pic.twitter.com/fipbfaLiSR— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) December 4, 2015
Qué lástima. Looks as bad as the black alternate, plus the "Los" trope is so played out. Why not use "Serpientes" (Spanish for "Snakes")? Grade: D-
The throwback: Last season the D-backs revived their old purple-and-teal uniform with the sleeveless jerseys, a design closely associated with the team's 2001 World Series championship, and wore it for Throwback Thursday promotions. They'll continue to do that in 2016:
This design has aged extremely well and now feels classic while still feeling contemporary -- a winning combination. Grade: A
Will this uniform set age as well as the current throwback has? It's possible (who would have thought in 1975 that the Astros' rainbow stripes would end up being thought of as a classic of their era?), but the feeling here at Uni Watch HQ is that it's unlikely. Most of the unusual design elements feel more contrived than innovative. Still, sometimes it's good for a team to shake things up and remind us that there's more than one way to get from here to there. In that regard, the Diamondbacks have performed a public service, even if these particular designs don't turn out to be all that successful.
One final thought: This uniform set was obviously meant to signify as modern, maybe even futuristic. If that's what you're after, why stick with baseball's most antiquated design feature, the button-front jersey? Button-fronts make sense for teams with legacy designs (think Yankees, Tigers, Dodgers, etc.), but a uni set like this one would have benefited from pullovers -- especially since the letter "A" or "Z" is awkwardly split across the placket on several of the jerseys. Something to think about going forward.
Paul Lukas can only imagine how much work is in store for the Diamondbacks' equipment staff next season. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.