By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

If God, as they say, is in the details, then the 2005 baseball season should be positively holy, because this year's uniform changes are super-subtle, even by Uni Watch standards. Seriously, people, we're talking a minutia fetishist's dream, a geekfest par excellence. Here's a rundown of what's in store, in roughly descending order of obsessive specificity:

• Last year, half the teams had their uniforms manufactured by Russell Athletic and the other half by Majestic. But Majestic is now handling all 30 teams, so clubs that used to have the Russell "R" logo at the base of their left sleeve will now have Majestic's stylized "M" instead. (Uni Watch's long-held position, of course, is that corporate sportswear logos don't belong on a uniform in the first place. The Yankees keep their left sleeve logo-free – why can't the other teams?)

• In a brilliantly inconspicuous move that earns Uni Watch's highest rating, the Dodgers have changed the buttons on their road jersey from blue to gray. One can only imagine the number of forms that had to be filled out in triplicate in order to facilitate this change (and if anyone has access to that paper trail, you know where to send it).

• Back in 1997, in one of the most classically sublime uni revisions of all time, the Angels broke ranks with the rest of Major League Baseball by changing their undervisor – that's the underside of the cap's brim – from gray to black. (For more background on that move, look here.) They kept the black undervisor when they overhauled their uniforms in 2002, and now they've finally got company on the dark side: The Rangers have switched to a black underbill, as well.

• The Giants have added an extremely faint gold drop shadow to their road jersey lettering. Take a good look at it here, because it's probably the only time you'll be able to see it.

• Speaking of gold detailing, the Red Sox have created a special gold-accented jersey, complete with a championship sleeve patch, which they will wear just once: on April 11, their home opener, against the Yankees. Uni Watch confesses to being a bit conflicted about this move. On the one hand, the gold highlights and patch design look pretty sharp; on the other, a one-day jersey really scales new heights in needless alterna-dressing. Also: Look closely and you'll see that the the sleeve patch has a trademark symbol after the words "World Series Champions" – which seems like, um, a bit much. Memo to the MLB legal team: Relax already.

• The Devil Rays have tweaked the typography on their road jerseys, going from this to this. (In a more salient development, they've also added a green alternate jersey.)

• The Reds have ever so slightly revised their red alternate jersey, changing from this to this.

• It's a good time to be a scorecard vendor, because as Uni Watch has previously reported, the Dodgers have removed the player names from their home and road jerseys. The Cubs recently decided to do this, too, but only at home.

• Catchers who wear the goalie-style mask are starting to challenge their hockey brethren when it comes to flashy graphics. For a case study, let's chart the progression of Expos/Nationals backstop Brian Schneider: As a rookie in 2000, he wore a mask with the then-standard baseball laces design. By 2002, the team's logo and wordmark had appeared on his mask, and things got bigger and louder in 2003. But check out what he's wearing this season – yowza! While several other catchers were still using the 2003 design template in spring training, at least one other catcher – Toronto's Gregg Zaun – appears to be following Schneider's lead. An MLB-wide trend seems inevitable. (Special thanks to reader Asher Smith, who brought Schneider's new mask to Uni Watch's attention.)

In more conventional developments, there are new alternate caps for the Orioles and Braves, and the Pirates have a new pinstriped Sunday uni – in short, the usual merch-driven shell games. The real eye-opener is Atlanta's new alternate jersey, which has enough bad aesthetic karma to single-handedly derail the team's string of division titles. And just when you thought the Rockies couldn't look any more embarrassing, they've added – get this – a black alternate vest, which will be paired with purple undersleeves. Uni Watch has been unable to procure a photo of this ensemble, presumably because it melts camera lenses.

This year's sleeve patches generally look good, although the commemorative occasions have gotten rather predictable – a stadium closing here, a pennant anniversary there, and the now-obligatory patch for this year's All-Star Game hosts.

That leaves us with the season's one brand-new design: the Expos-turned-Nationals, whose wardrobe is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it's cool that they've patterned the home and road caps after the ones worn by the old Washington Senators in the mid and late 1960s. But the cap logo doesn't match up well with the jersey typography, and the overall effect feels a tad clunky. The road jersey has a really nice sleeve patch, but Uni Watch has major issues with the "Established 1905" slogan on the home sleeve patch, which is more than a little disingenuous. Bottom line: This could've been worse, but there's room for improvement. And most of the top entries in last year's Uni Watch design contest were at least as good.

Several readers have written in regarding the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, who gave this year's NCAA Tournament a bit of visual flair by positioning their player surnames beneath their uni numbers.

Just for the record, while this number/name format is unusual, it's hardly unprecedented. The first team to employ it, surprisingly enough, appears to have been the Cincinnati Reds, usually considered one of the more tradition-bound franchises. They adopted the drop-name style in 1964 – red lettering at home, navy on the road – and used it for three seasons before switching to the more conventional format in 1967.

In the NBA, the Hawks put player names (and sometimes nicknames) beneath uni numbers in the early 1970s, and so did the Kings. And in the NHL, the World team used the drop-name format in the 2000 All-Star Game, where it was apparently such a hit that they did it again in 2001.

If anyone knows of additional examples, Uni Watch is all ears.

The topic of coaching attire, which Uni Watch explored in some detail last fall, has been revived by Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who was recently fined by the NBA for wearing a jersey over his turtleneck during a throwback game against the Wizards.

The best part is that Karl finished off his look with navy sweatpants and sneakers. Uni Watch has been unable to confirm whether he also tried to coach the game while reclining on a sofa with a remote control in one hand and a bag of Doritos in the other.

All of which serves as a convenient excuse to revisit the subject of baseball managers wearing civilian clothes. Although the classic example is Connie Mack, it turns out he had plenty of company. Frank Vaccaro of the Society for American Baseball Research recently compiled this listing of other 20th-century managers in civvies (an asterisk indicates that the manager was known to don a uniform on occasion):

  • Bob Allen, Reds, 1900
  • Horace Fogel, Giants, 1902
  • Tom Loftus, Senators, 1902-03
  • Bill Armour, Indians, 1902-04; Tigers, 1905-06
  • Frank Selee, Cubs, 1902-05
  • Ed Barrow, Tigers, 1903-04; Red Sox, 1918-20
  • John McClosky*, Cardinals, 1906-08
  • Hank O'Day, Reds, 1912; Cubs, 1914 (note that he appears to have worn spikes with his suit!)
  • George Stallings, Braves, 1913-20
  • Hugo Bezdek, Pirates, 1917-19
  • Clark Griffith*, Nationals, 1917-20
  • Branch Rickey*, Cardinals, 1919-25
  • John McGraw*, Giants, 1921-32 (before 1921, though, he usually wore a uniform)
  • Wilbert Robinson*, Dodgers, 1928-31
  • Burt Shotton, Dodgers, 1947-50

Note that no manager has worn civvies since 1950, which means we're overdue. And let's face it, there are at least a few skippers out there whose body types, shall we say, aren't ideally served by a polyester baseball uni. Care to nominate an MLB manager whose visage might be improved by a trip to the menswear shop? Send your suggestions and clothing-fund donations this-a-way.

Paul Lukas, by fairly astonishing coincidence, ended up sitting next to the Mets' uniform stitcher on Opening Day last year, so he can't wait to see who'll be sitting next to him this time around. Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.

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