The New York Mets are making their first postseason run since 2006 and are headed to their first World Series appearance since 2000. In some ways, they look the same now as they did during those previous postseason runs -- same interlocking "NY" cap logo, same "Mets" script on the home jerseys, same "New York" lettering on the road.
But there's one very significant difference between then and now: The Mets no longer wear black.
In case you've somehow forgotten, the Mets added a lot of black to their uniforms in the late 1990s. How much? This much:
• They introduced two black alternate jerseys, one for home and one for the road. (At one point the official Major League Baseball Style Guide actually listed these black jerseys as "club preferred," even though they were supposedly alternates. Meanwhile, the team's pinstriped jersey, which was supposedly its primary home design, fell into near-disuse.)
• They introduced two different black alternate caps, both of which they began wearing far more often than their blue primary cap.
• They changed their undershirts, socks and belts from blue to black for all road games and most home games.
• And for good measure, they added a black version of their skyline logo.
Who came up with all of this? Someone in the Mets' marketing department? Someone at Major League Baseball? A hotshot designer hired to overhaul the team's look?
Nope. The key figure in the Mets' black makeover was a guy named Bob Halfacre, who worked for a uniform manufacturer called AIS, which supplied the Mets' uniforms at the time. (This was when teams were free to cut their own deals with individual suppliers. Nowadays, Majestic Athletic has the contract to supply uniforms for all 30 MLB teams.) In a 2011 Uni Watch interview, Halfacre explained how the Mets' marketing department had wanted to add black to the team's look but hadn't been able to come up with a good design.
"My thought was this," Halfacre said at the time. "I've only been to New York three or four times in my life, but what I remember is shadows. You have all these skyscrapers, so everything has shadows. City of shadows. One side of the street is sunny and warm, the other side is in shadow and cold. Everywhere you go in New York, there's shadows. So I thought it was the perfect logo for a drop shadow, just to add a bit of depth.
"I didn't even draw it; I just cut it out of twill [fabric]. I took a Mets logo, dropped some black on it, hand-cut the whole thing, put it on a sample uniform, popped it in a FedEx box, and there you go."
The Mets liked the sample, and that's how the black drop shadow became part of the team's look (although Halfacre's "City of Shadows" narrative was never incorporated into the promotional pitch). Halfacre later helped create the team's black alternate jersey as well. You can read the full 2011 interview him here.
The Mets dropped most of the black elements -- the drop shadows, caps, undersleeves, socks, and belts -- and returned to their classic look in 2012 to coincide with the team's 50th anniversary. The black alternate home jersey was worn twice in 2012 and technically remained part of the team's wardrobe for the following two years despite not being worn during those seasons. It was officially retired this year.
Halfacre now works as part of the equipment staff for the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and runs his own uniform shop, Bobcat Athletic. Uni Watch caught up with him the other day for a quick follow-up interview.
Uni Watch: Are you disappointed that your design elements weren't retained as part of the team's permanent look?
Halfacre: Nah. I don't think they ever needed black in the first place. Frankly, I thought the whole idea was kinda silly to start with; I only did it because they wanted it. There's nothing wrong with the classic Mets look. They were the worst team in the world and the best team in the world, all in that uniform. If they had gone to a whole new uniform design, I might've been disappointed. But going back to what they looked like from the very beginning? There's no disappointment there -- it's a really good uniform. Honestly, I think the lettering's more visible, the numbers are easier to read, and the logo stands out a little better.
Sure, but this was your baby -- "City of Shadows" and all that. Weren't you a little bummed when they stopped using your design?
I was proud of the home and away uniforms [with the drop shadows], but then they got carried away with it and it took on a life of its own. And then the Reds did it, the Royals did it, everyone did it. I mean, it's flattering when people copy your idea, but still.
The black elements were very controversial among large portions of the team's fan base. Did you take any of that personally?
No, not at all. It's like a piece of art -- some people might like it, some people might not. If we all agreed, the world would be so boring.
It seems reasonable to assume that the black alternate jersey will be revived at some point as a throwback option. Would you like to see that happen?
Sure, I'll get a chuckle out of it and see if people enjoy it. I hope they do.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas, a lifelong Mets fan, will simply note that the team's theme song, "Meet the Mets," includes the line "The fans are true to the orange and blue" and leave it at that. 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.