The Kansas City Royals are the reigning World Series champions, and earlier this week they began the defense of their title in a familiar way, at least for recent Fall Classic winners: They wore gold-trimmed uniforms for their first two games of the season.
Good look at gold elements in Royals' champions uni (worn for 1st 2 games): script, back number, helmet/cap logos. pic.twitter.com/lxJf5iNNGn— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 4, 2016
Wearing gold-trimmed unis to open the season has been a common move for most World Series champs over the past decade or so (but not for all of them, as we'll see in a minute). How did that trend start? And before going for the gold became the standard design trope, did teams use their uniforms to celebrate their Series titles in any other way?
We'll answer the second question first. As it turns out, the practice of World Series champs peacocking with their uniforms dates back more than a century. It began with the 1906 New York Giants, who marked their '05 title by wearing "World's Champions" jerseys. And this design wasn't just for the first few games of the season -- the Giants wore it all year long:
It was 15 years before another team tried anything similar. That's when the 1921 Cleveland Indians celebrated their title by wearing "Worlds Champions" jerseys.
Note that the Cleveland jersey had "Worlds" (as opposed to "World's," with an apostrophe). It's unclear whether the team was claiming dominion over multiple planets or if someone was just a bit sloppy with the lack of punctuation.
The wording changed yet again, if ever so slightly, in 1927, when the St. Louis Cardinals wore "World Champions" uniforms.
Good view of the 1927 Cardinals' "World Champion" jerseys. pic.twitter.com/RshWAwNfpk— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 4, 2016
After that, the idea of a team wearing a special championship uniform went into hibernation for nearly eight decades. It was revived in 2005, when the Boston Red Sox, who had won the 2004 World Series, pioneered the idea of wearing gold-trimmed jerseys. One thing that has been largely forgotten since then, however, is that the Sox only wore the gold-accented design for their pregame ring ceremony -- the idea was that the gold trim on the uniforms matched the gold on the rings. They changed into their regular jerseys for the game.
1st gold-trimmed championship jerseys were worn by Red Sox in 2005. Worn for pregame ring ceremony but not for game. pic.twitter.com/7GWxHXypBz— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 4, 2016
Boston's gold-accented ring jerseys were a small part of a much larger team- and city-wide celebration, the product of decades' worth of pent-up pain over the franchise's fabled curse. It was generally understood and accepted throughout the baseball world -- and the uniform world, for that matter -- that the Sox and their fans were entitled to strut a bit after such a long wait, but nobody expected other teams to copy the gold-trimmed jerseys.
And at first, no team did. After the Chicago White Sox won the 2005 Series, they wore their regular uniforms to open the 2006 season. But after the Cardinals won the '06 title, someone in St. Louis must have said, "Hey, that thing the Red Sox did with the gold trim was pretty nice." And that's how we ended up with this:
Cards' 2007 season-opening uni had gold trim on front number, back name/number, and MLB logo (but not script). pic.twitter.com/baEDxCoqjS— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
The Cardinals took things two steps further than the Red Sox had. First, they wore their gold-trimmed uni for game action, not just for their ring ceremony. And they wore the design for the first three games of the '07 season, not just for one game.
After the Red Sox won the Series again in 2007, they saw no reason to repeat the gold gimmick when opening the 2008 season. But after the Phillies won the title that fall, they brought back the gold for the start of the '09 campaign.
Phillies' season-opening uni in 2009 had gold trim on just about everything. pic.twitter.com/OD7VoNPHLH— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
Unlike the Cardinals, who'd worn their gold-trimmed design for three games, the Phils wore theirs for their season opener and then switched to their standard uni.
The New York Yankees won the 2009 World Series, and you know they'd never monkey with their design by adding gold to it. But every World Series winner since then has gone for the gold -- including the San Francisco Giants three separate times:
2011: Giants open season with gold-lettered/numbered uniforms. Gold cap logo, too. pic.twitter.com/PSObgaDsOL— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
2012: Cardinals open season with gold-numbered/lettered uniforms. Gold cap logo, too. pic.twitter.com/68JMd3QfSE— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
2013: Giants open season with a new gold-accented uniform (different from the one they wore in 2011). pic.twitter.com/HOMiz2qjEh— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
2014: Red Sox open season with gold-trimmed unis. Same design as '05, but worn in game, not just for ring ceremony. pic.twitter.com/uj80dTkMwQ— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
2015: Giants open season with yet another gold-accented uni design (different than the ones from 2011 and 2013). pic.twitter.com/psJqTJcQeS— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2016
That brings us up to date. As you can see, the gold elements have gone from being subtle outline trim to not-so-subtle design features. You can decide for yourself if that's a good thing. The feeling here at Uni Watch HQ is that it has turned out OK in some cases and not so well in others. The latest design, from the Royals, was one of the better ones, because gold is already one of the team's official colors, so the championship design didn't feel forced.
World Series champs have also used other, more understated ways of celebrating their titles. Lots of them have worn championship sleeve patches, for example. And then there were the 1981 Phillies, who commemorated their 1980 title by wearing "World Champion" warm-ups -- an MLB first (and, presumably, last):
Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the gold-trimmed bandwagon isn't limited to the big leagues. Several minor league champions have now hopped aboard as well. The Pacific Coast League's Fresno Grizzlies, for example, won the Triple-A title last year and aren't being shy about reminding people of their championship status:
Once a trend jumps from the majors to the minors, it rarely stops there. So could the gold-digging phenomenon end up trickling down through the lower minors, to college and high school ball, and even to Little League? The likelihood might not be quite as good as gold, but it wouldn't be surprising either.
Finally there's this: When the Royals wore their gold-trimmed uni for their Opening Night game against the New York Mets, many fans mistakenly thought the Mets were wearing silvered-trimmed jerseys -- a silver medal to go with the Royals' gold medal, so to speak. But the Mets' blue road jerseys are trimmed in gray, not silver (the gray is supposed to match the shade of their pants). It's their standard road alternate jersey, and they've been wearing it since 2013.
So no, MLB has never had a silver-accented consolation-prize jersey -- yet.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas wishes the Giants had celebrated one of their recent titles by wearing their 1906 "World's Champions" design as a throwback, instead of going for the gold. 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.