The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox recently announced that they'll be honoring Ernie Banks and Minnie Minoso by wearing late-1950s throwback uniforms when they play each other on July 12 and again on Aug. 14. It's a nice gesture, and it fits comfortably within the well-established routine of teams honoring their past by wearing throwback designs.
That routine is commemorating a momentous anniversary. On July 11, 1990 -- 25 years ago today -- the White Sox staged pro sports' first "Turn Back the Clock" game and took the field wearing modified versions of their 1917 uniforms. At the time, it was seen as a somewhat wacky experiment, but fans loved it and other teams soon followed suit (as did the NFL, NBA and NHL). A quarter-century later, throwback games are an entrenched part of the sports world and the uni-verse.
Nitpickers like to point out flaws or discrepancies in throwback uniforms: The numbers aren't quite the right font, or the team didn't go the extra mile by creating a new set of batting helmets, or the effect was ruined by the players wearing their pants too long. But a good throwback uniform is often as much about the fun of the idea as it is about the execution. Sure, you want the details to be as accurate as possible, but you shouldn't let a minor glitch distract you from the big picture, which is to appreciate the sport's rich visual past.
With that in mind, here are the Uni Watch picks for the best throwback uniforms, along with some honorable mentions, worn by all 30 MLB teams over the past 25 years.
Jump to: American League
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
It doesn't get any more '70s than the Braves' old "feather" throwbacks, which they've worn on several occasions through the years:
Honorable Mentions: There was a very odd throwback game in Milwaukee in 1998, as the Braves dressed up as the 1958 road Milwaukee Braves and the Brewers dressed as the 1958 home Milwaukee Braves, creating a bizarre Braves versus Braves game. The two teams repeated this stunt in 2004 and again in 2005. ... Another oddity: In 2010 the Braves wore 1984 throwbacks on Jackie Robinson Day, so the retro jerseys all had No. 42. ... If the Braves were smart, they'd do a throwback version of their 1970s nickname jerseys (further info here), a gimmick that's just begging for a revival.
As a relatively young team, the Marlins haven't engaged in too many throwback games. Their best retro effort came in 2013, when they dressed up as the 1956 Miami Marlins, a minor league team:
Honorable Mention: The Marlins celebrated the 10th anniversary of their 1997 championship by breaking out the 1997 vests. Now that the team has moved to a completely different look, the teal-era designs will probably start reappearing as throwbacks with greater frequency.
The Mets' uniforms have changed relatively little over the years, so their best throwback is for a Negro Leagues team -- the 1905 Brooklyn Royal Giants. And hey, they kept to the Mets' color scheme of orange and blue:
Honorable Mention: One of the more underrated uniforms in Mets history was the late-1980s road pullover that was revived in 2012. ... The Mets have also dressed up as the New York Cubans, a Negro Leagues squad.
The Nats have only existed for 10 years -- not long enough for a look back at their own history. Their best throwback look has honored the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues:
Honorable Mention: The Nats have worn Washington Senators throwbacks several times. The thing is, the Sens had some of the plainest uniforms in big league history, so the throwbacks have been almost comically underwhelming, as you can see here, here and here. ... The Nationals franchise previously operated in Montreal as the Expos, and during that time they wore some very nice Expos throwbacks. The Nats haven't yet acknowledged their franchise history by wearing Expos throwbacks during their tenure in D.C., however.
No team looked better in their 1970s powder-blue road uniforms than the Phillies, and that look still worked for them when they revived it for a 2002 throwback game:
Honorable Mention: The Phils' 1970s home design was pretty sharp as well, as fans were reminded during this 2003 throwback game. ... You've heard of the Tigers' old English "D"? You might not realize that the Phillies used to wear an old English "P"! ... The Phils have also dressed up as the Negro Leagues' Philadelphia Stars.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
There were several minor league teams called the Milwaukee Brewers long before the big league team came along, and at least one of them had extremely classy uniforms, judging by the throwbacks that the modern-day Brew Crew wore in 1993:
Honorable Mention: On several occasions the Brewers have dressed up as the 1950s Milwaukee Braves while facing the Atlanta Braves, creating a surreal Braves versus Braves scenario. ... The Brewers' franchise originally entered the majors as the Seattle Pilots before moving to Milwaukee, so the team has worn Pilots throwbacks -- and has even worn Pilots spring training throwbacks. ... The Brewers have also worn Negro Leagues throwbacks, honoring the old Milwaukee Bears, several times. ... The Brewers' 1980s-style "ball in glove" throwbacks have been part of the team's regular uniform rotation since 2006. They're currently worn for Friday home games.
The Cardinals have worn several different variations of their "birds on the bat" chest insignia over the years, none better than the version that appeared on the 1944 throwback that the Cards wore in 2003:
Honorable Mention: Another good-looking variation on the Cards' chest insignia can be seen on these 1953 throwbacks. ... Last year the Cards wore 1929 throwbacks featuring a seldom-seen tailoring format: a four-button henley pullover. Very nice cap, too. ... Speaking of caps, check out the beauty worn with this 1931 Negro Leagues throwback. ... In the dishonorable mention category, the Cards have worn some throwbacks with glaring inaccuracies -- surprising for such a history-minded franchise.
The Cubbies have worn so many excellent throwbacks (including 10 different designs in 2014, when they were celebrating Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary) that it's hard to pick just one, but we'll give the nod to the tremendous 1942 vest that they trotted out last year:
Honorable Mention: It's always a little weird when a team wears a road throwback design at home, but the Cubs' late-'70s reverse-pinstripe powder blues deserved their Wrigley showcase. ... You have to like any uniform that has lettering down the length of the button placket. ... This 1918 throwback, worn in 2011, featured a very underrated logo from the Cubs' past. ... People think home whites and road grays are traditional, but big league teams often wore solid-colored uniforms back in the day, like this 1912 solid-navy design that the Cubs revived a few years ago.
The Pirates' 1970s mix-and-match "bumblebee" uniforms offer all sorts of fun throwback possibilities. The best version they've done was a solid-black uni in 2010, which was all the better because their opponents, the Oakland A's, were wearing solid gold:
Honorable Mention: Other throwbacks from the Buccos' bumblebee era have included gold over black and gold pinstripes. ... Here's a rarity: The Pirates have worn two different throwback designs with point-collared jerseys -- one from 1903 and one from 1909. ... Speaking of collars, check out the groovy sun collar on these very nice Pittsburgh Crawfords Negro Leagues throwbacks. ... The Pirates currently wear early-'70s pullover throwbacks for Sunday home games.
Back in the mid-1960s, when putting players' names on the back of their jerseys was still a new thing, the Reds took the unusual step of putting the names under the numbers, instead of above. It looked endearingly weird back in the day and looked that way again when the team wore 1964 throwbacks in 2009:
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
The D-backs are a young franchise, but that hasn't kept them flexing their throwback muscles. They've brought back just about every design from their original purple-and-teal era, the most interesting of which is this 1999 uni with the white cap that -- admit it -- you'd probably forgotten about:
Honorable Mention: The D-backs first revived their classic vests in 2011. They're wearing that design this season for Thursday home games. ... Arizona has also worn throwback versions of its old purple and black jerseys.
The Dodgers initially resisted the throwback trend -- they didn't turn back the clock until 2005. But they fully embraced the retro phenomenon in 2011, when they let fans vote on three different throwback options. The winner was a 1944 Brooklyn Dodgers powder blue design, which was originally rendered in satin for greater visibility during night games. Even in plain old polyester, it still looked pretty good:
Honorable Mention: The Dodgers haven't shown much interest in historical accuracy. Their first-ever throwback game featured white jerseys with a "Brooklyn" script, even though the team never wore home whites with the word "Brooklyn." Even odder, the game was billed as a tribute to Jackie Robinson, but Robinson never wore "Brooklyn" on any jersey, home or road, during his time with the Dodgers. Two years later, they saluted their 1955 World Series team with "Brooklyn" flannels, even though the '55 team wore "Dodgers" at home and on the road.
The Giants' colors are black and orange, so it makes sense that the most gorgeous throwbacks they've ever worn also featured black and orange -- even if that design was originally worn by a Negro Leagues team, the 1927 Brooklyn Royal Giants:
Honorable Mention: People forget that the Giants' colors were once red and blue, as seen in these snazzy 1942 throwbacks. ... The Giants have worn several different throwback jerseys that were blank on the front but had huge "NY" sleeve logos, one white and one black. ... Gotta love the massive National League Golden Jubilee patch and the pinstriped caps on these 1925 throwbacks. ... The Giants have also looked good dressing up as the San Francisco Seals and the San Francisco Sea Lions.
When you think of Padres throwbacks, it's good to keep one iron-clad rule in mind: They have to include brown. They've worn lots of throwbacks that follow that guideline, but the best one is the Steve Garvey-era "Taco Bell" design, which they revived a few years ago:
Honorable Mention: The Padres have turned back the clock to lots of other brown-centric periods from their past, including 1978 (home and road), 1976 (a very underrated design, incidentally) and -- wait for it -- 1972. Each was glorious in its own tacky way. Or should that be tacky in its own glorious way? ... Before big league baseball came to San Diego, the Pacific Coast League had a team called the San Diego Padres. The modern-day Padres have dressed up as their minor league forebears several times.
The Rockies have played only one throwback game in their history, but at least they made it interesting. On April 16, 2013, they marked the 20th anniversary of their first game by wearing 1993 throwbacks. But since that first game in '93 had been played on the road, the Rockies wore road throwbacks -- even though the throwback game was played at home:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Ah, the Jays' late-1970s road unis -- the powder blues, the white-paneled caps, the weird inlined lettering, the centered chest logo. Perfect for an expansion team, and perfect for reviving as a throwback:
Honorable Mention: In 2009 the Jays wore early-'90s throwbacks. Three years later they came out with a new home uni that was basically an updated version of that early-'90s design. They still wear that home design today.
The Orioles briefly wore vests in 1968 and '69. The look didn't catch on over the long-term, but it sure looked great when the team dusted it off for a throwback game in 2004:
Honorable Mention: In the "so bad it's good" category, the O's revived their solid-orange look a few years ago. That uniform had been worn for a handful of games in the early 1970s. ... The Orioles' franchise was originally known as the St. Louis Browns, and the team acknowledged its lineage by wearing Browns throwbacks in 2003. ... Before the Browns moved to Baltimore, there were several minor league teams called the Baltimore Orioles, and the modern-day O's have worn throwbacks from those teams too. The best of them featured a design with a Cardinals-style chest insignia. ... The Orioles have also played several Negro Leagues throwback games, usually dressing as the Baltimore Elite Giants or the Baltimore Black Sox.
The Rays didn't come into existence until 1998, but that didn't stop them from hopping right aboard the throwback bandwagon. In 1999 they dressed up as the Tampa Tarpons, a minor league team from the 1960s. It was a great look, especially the logo of the little fish holding a baseball bat:
Honorable Mention: The Rays deserve credit for their 1970s-style fauxback -- a fun way for them to participate in the retro craze, although it's not a true throwback. They've even worn an alternate version of it. ... The Rays' inaugural uniforms were arguably the worst MLB uniforms of all time, which made them perfect for a throwback showcase. ... The Rays like turning back the clock so much that they've worn minor league, Negro League and even senior league throwbacks.
In August of 1997, the Bosox wore a 1908 design that is arguably the greatest throwback ever worn in a MLB game. The chest logo, the lace-up collar, the overall feel -- all perfect:
Honorable Mention: The Sox have also worn a road version of that uni with the lace-up collar. ... In 2011 the Sox wore a throwback that was blank on the front. The following year they wore one that was blank on the back, marking the first time a throwback game had been played without uniform numbers -- a historically accurate detail that no doubt drove the broadcasters nuts.
The Yankees have only played in two throwback games (somewhat understandable, given how little their uniforms have changed in the past 80 years), and they were the road team on both occasions. The more notable of the two came in 2012, when they helped celebrate Fenway Park's centennial by wearing 1912 throwbacks. Like the Red Sox, the Yanks went without uniform numbers for that game:
Honorable Mention: The Yankees' only other throwback game was in 1996, when they wore Negro League uniforms for a game against the Tigers in Detroit.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Sometimes the uniforms that seem the most ridiculous in their own era make for the best throwbacks. That's the case with Cleveland's mid-1970s "blood clot" look, which the team revived in 2004:
Honorable Mention: A few years ago the Indians wore 1920 throwbacks with a key detail -- a black armband for Ray Chapman, who died in 1920 after having been hit in the head by a pitch and remains the only player to have died from an on-field injury in MLB history. ... The Indians have dressed up as the Negro Leagues' Cleveland Buckeyes several times over the years.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in Kansas City, so the Royals have been at the forefront of the Negro Leagues throwback movement. In fact, they held the very first Negro Leagues throwback game, in 1994. They usually dress up in one of the many designs worn over the years by the Kansas City Monarchs, and it's hard to argue with the version they wore in 2004, with the giant "KC" across the chest:
The Tigers have been holding an annual Negro Leagues throwback game since 1995. They usually dress as the Detroit Stars and wear that team's very handsome 1920 design:
Honorable Mention: The Tigers have also wore a 1930 version of the Stars' uni, and it's almost as handsome as the 1920 design. ... The Tigers haven't often dipped into their own historical wardrobe, but they looked pretty cool in this 1909 outfit. Hey, it still has the old English "D," so you know it's the Tigers!
Sometimes a team breaks out the powder blues and it feels just right. That was the case last year when the Twins suited up in their 1984 road uniforms:
Honorable Mention: The Twins have paid tribute to the Twin Cities' baseball past by dressing up as the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Gophers (look at that crazy chest emblem!). ... Strange move by the Twins in 2012, as they wore their old pinstriped grays. They called them "1994 throwbacks," to match what the Rangers were wearing that day, but this design had actually been their regular road uni just three years earlier! This might qualify as the smallest degree to which the clock has been turned back in a throwback game.
Chicago White Sox
The team that got the throwback ball rolling has had plenty of interesting looks to choose from, but there has always been something endearing about the audacity of putting white letters and numbers on a gray uniform. That design looked surprisingly good back in the day, and it looked just as snappy when the Sox brought it back in 1999:
Honorable Mention: On several occasions the Sox have worn solid-navy throwbacks -- sometimes with pinstripes and sometimes without. ... The Sox have frequently dipped into their apparel archives and used a throwback as their standard look for Sunday home games. For the past several years their 1983 "beach blanket" design has had the honors. Prior to that, the Sunday showcase featured designs from 1917, 1906, and 1972. ... Nope, no throwback of the infamous "Sox in shorts" uniform -- at least not yet. But it's got to happen someday, right?
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
The A's have a rich visual history to choose from when planning throwback promotions, but they really outdid themselves in 2010, when they dressed in solid-gold 1970s threads -- which looked even better because their opponents, the Pirates, were wearing solid-black throwbacks of their own:
In 2011, the Angels celebrated their 50th anniversary by reviving several uniforms from their past. The best one was this 1970s home throwback, which featured the one-two punch of the great California sleeve patch and all-lowercase chest lettering:
Honorable Mention: The Angels have also looked good when dressing up as the old Los Angeles Angels from the Pacific Coast League. ... The Angels' best throwback detail (although it was part of a fairly boring uniform): the old halo-topped caps.
There was some controversy in 2012, when the Astros announced plans to wear throwbacks honoring the franchise's original incarnation, the Houston Colt .45s. Just one problem: They weren't going to include the pistol on the chest (which made no sense, because then the wisp of smoke that formed the "C" wouldn't be emanating from anything). Fortunately, fan outcry was so strong that the pistol was restored, allowing current fans to see one of the better uniforms in MLB history:
Honorable Mention: The Astros have worn their 1970s "tequila sunrise" throwbacks several times. The best version was in 2006, when they included the 1976 National League centennial patch. ... The 'Stros have also worn their awesome 1960s "shooting star" design as a throwback. The little star on the stirrups is a nice touch.
The Mariners absolutely nailed it in 2006, when they dressed up as Seattle's first MLB franchise, the 1969 Seattle Pilots. The striped sleeves, striped stirrups, "scrambled eggs" on the cap brim, MLB centennial patch -- it all looked perfect:
Honorable Mention: The M's have dressed up several times as the Pacific Coast League's Seattle Rainiers, wearing several different Rainiers uni designs. They've all looked sensational, as you can see here, here, here and here. ... Fans who feel nostalgic about the Mariners' inaugural 1977 home uniforms got to see them revived in 2007. A year later the team dusted off its early road uniform.
The Rangers' original chest lettering looks almost goofy by modern standards, but it felt just right in the early 1970s, and it was great to see it again when the team brought it out of mothballs as part of its 40th-anniversary celebration in 2012. Fun fact: The capital "R" and "S" that bookend the chest mark were also meant as a nod to then-owner Robert Short.
Honorable Mention: The Rangers have taken some odd approaches to retro uniforms over the years. Their first throwback, worn in 1993, was actually a fauxback -- a uniform based on a retro-ish style but that had never been worn before (and then they wore it again three years later). And since the Rangers used to be the Washington Senators, in 1994 they wore a Rangers jersey in the style of an old Senators jersey. In more recent years they've gotten with the program and worn throwbacks based on real uniforms from the past. ... One of the best Negro Leagues throwbacks any MLB team has ever worn is this sensational Fort Worth Black Panthers uni.
(Special thanks to William F. Henderson, whose indispensable Game Worn Guide to MLB Jerseys was the source for many of the throwback images linked in this piece.)
Paul Lukas loves a good throwback game. 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.