Picking the Yankees' best look was easy.
Frank Abagnale Sr.: You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
Frank Abagnale, Jr.: 'Cause they have Mickey Mantle?
Frank Abagnale Sr.: No, it's 'cause the other teams can't stop staring at those damn pinstripes.
It may not be true, but for years, fans and broadcasters have talked about the Yankee mystique. Walking onto a baseball diamond is a different experience when you look into the opposing dugout and see those pinstripes, and the overlaid initials "NY" emblazoned on the chest. The Yankees have worn their pinstriped uniforms without interruption since 1915, and in fact, have changed the home uniform in exactly zero substantial ways since 1936. The uniform is part of their home-fioeld advantage.
So it goes with some teams. With others, mystique is less important than making a statement. Consider the Padres' camouflage uniforms, worn as an homage to the military population in San Diego. The Tampa Bay Rays (nee Devil) sensed a turnaround coming in 2008, and changed their uniforms to reflect a brighter outlook. Home uniforms are more than shirts and pants. That's why managers wear them, too. They are meant to ensure unity of purpose, and the good ones never fail to do so. Ranked from best to worst, now, the best home jersey in each team's history.
Note: Many of the photos, and some of the information, found here are courtesy of Dressed to the Nines, an online exhibit of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Yankees' pinstriped, plain and classy look is the cleanest and best in big-league history, and it began with this version in 1912. Until then, the interlocking logo had been on the shoulder of the uniform. For the three years thereafter, the logo disappeared again, and when it came back, the pinstripes were gone for a few years, but eventually, the team returned to more or less this scheme, and have stuck with it ever since.
The 1960 Pirates may not have had better uniforms than the Yankees, but they managed to beat the New Yorkers where it counted: in Game 7 of a ho-hum World Series that became legendary with one swing of Bill Mazeroski's bat.
The cut-off look worked much better in those days than it does in the 21st century. The black sleeves under a cream-colored top seemed to ooze the sort of blue-collar ethos that Pittsburghers love.
After nearly a decade of wearing hideous, logo-centric NBA-style jerseys, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays saw the need for a change in the winter of 2008. They dropped the 'Devil' from their moniker; swapped their sea-foam green and gray color scheme for shades of blue and highlights of yellow; and began handing out contract extensions.
The result is familiar to all baseball fans, and while that turnaround is hardly attributable to their new digs, they looked much better and seemed to have the renewed energy and professionalism that came with their classier new design.
As I began researching this article, I knew almost for certain that I would rate the Indians' current uniforms as the best home jerseys in their history. I love the classic look, the blockish 'C' on their navy caps and their throwback feel.
But then I found this. How delightfully arrogant must an organization be to plaster itself with a proclamation of themselves as 'Worlds Champions'? The Indians did win the World Series in 1920, so they had a rightful claim to it, but the temerity of the gesture is not diminished.
The war over, baseball joined the rest of the country in 1946 in stepping forward into the modern era. The Phillies' uniforms that year reflected that trend, transitioning into a new era but maintaining simplicity, elegance and decorum. These unis also seem to have inspired the team's excellent new throwback outfits.
The Barry Bonds era was great and terrible to the Giants' legacy, but his breakout season in 2001 did yield the coolest uniform in the team's history. The black-on-black scheme with orange trim looked sleek, but the style of the numbers and lettering remained classic. Bonds wore it best of all: The uniform made him look like a hulking machine of pitchers' death.
I'm a sucker for a clever logo. I loath those (even my Cubs') that contain only a boring rendition of the initial of the team's nickname or hometown. So it's only natural that the Brewers (of the Harvey's Wallbangers years) would find their way into the top third of this list.
The ball-and-glove in blue and yellow is aesthetically pleasing enough. But the true joy comes from the formation of an 'm' and a 'b' within the illustration. It's impossible not to love. That the team still wears the retro digs for some of their home games is worth a few points in my book.
The Mariners of the 1990s would switch to uniforms very in keeping with the times: sleek, metallic, futuristic in style and intent. Those uniforms are still in use, and they're boring and drab.
But in 1989, that change had yet to occur. They still wore blue and yellow, and occasionally broke out the trident-shaped 'm' logo. That year, both Ken Griffey and Omar Vizquel made their debuts in these uniforms.
No team had ever put each player's number on the front of their jersey before. When the Dodgers started the custom, it was not all that well-received. But in the end, it stuck, and now the odd discord of red numbers on the front and blue on the back have become an endearing and unique symbol of the Dodgers' special place in baseball history. So Frank McCourt will probably do away with them soon.
The Giants' new orange alternates are awful. They miss the mark altogether and make the team look like they got dressed in the dark.
But the color is not the problem. The problem is a lack of commitment. The Giants still wear white pants with their orange jerseys. No team since the Orioles, in fact, has had the audacity to go all-out and don a full outfit of some god-awful color without more than occasional trimming. Baltimore's dedication to the cause of early-1970s gaudiness is complete and impressive.
For too long, the Royals had an apparent identity crisis. Seemingly under the illusion that their nickname referred to a royal shade of blue, the team wore a string of loud but bland brightly-colored tops over white pants. Their historical predilection for powder-blue seemed all but gone.
But the team is looking to turn a new page this year as their parade of elite prospects ascends to the parent club, and so they have returned to their roots. In point of fact, their sobriquet is an homage to the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, who wore a color more akin to the baby blues also donned by the great 1980s Royals clubs. Therefore, Kansas City now wears alternate powder-blue unis at home on occasion. They're awesome.
Add this one to the growing list of welcome changes after misguided expansion franchise design schemes.
The Diamondbacks wore a rather goofy collection of gold, green and purple during their first several seasons. Their colors and uniforms in no way evoked their serpentine mascots or their desert home. That changed prior to 2007, when the team went to a smarter blend of black and a copper- or brick-red. The added intimidation, along with nine double-digit home-run hitters and a dominant bullpen, helped them win the NL West.
The market dynamics of uniforms and team names are fascinating case studies in civic pride. The New Jersey Nets want to move to Brooklyn in order to take advantage of a huge market for any merchandise bearing the Brooklyn name. The Florida Marlins are eager to move into their new ballpark so as to tap the market for the name Miami. And this season, the Texas Rangers showed remarkable savvy by removing their nickname from the home jerseys and making all their uniforms feature the word 'TEXAS' across their chests. Texans love chances to remind others they are from Texas, and by declaring themselves a Texas team, the Rangers have made a bold stride toward winning over some football-only fans, and even in stealing some market segments from the rival Astros.
St. Louis's logo is one of the greats. Two birds and a bat, and all that.
In 1964, though, they completed a terrific look by adding individual players' numbers to the bottom left quadrant of their shirts. They wore them all the way to a World Series title.
The bright and smoothly-designed shoulder decorations that adorned this uniform made it attention-grabbing. The red trim measured perfectly against blue letters and numbers made it classy. Hank Aaron's 715th home run made it indelible and historic.
In my view, the large 'S' engulfing the rest of the Sox moniker was more creative and pleasing to the eye than the current diagonal, interlocking configurations. I also love cream-colored home jerseys, and vertical piping alongside the buttons at the shirt front. This uniform put it all together, and the Sox looked better than they would for the next 50 years in these. Thereafter, they embarked on the AL's longest-ever streak of awful style choices.
The Twins' new home at Target Field is beautiful, but the aesthetic is most complete when the team suits up to match the limestone-rich, retro park. Their uniforms, just off-white, bear a very old-fashioned script on the front, and numbers without player names on the back. Very light pinstripes complete the understated picture.
The Jays' new steely color mix (and the new, meaner rendition of the Blue Jay itself) does not endear the team to its fan base, nor to the majority of easygoing baseball fans. Most people probably wish the team would go back to these uniforms, with ample blue trim in two shades but also plenty of white, and a friendly but intense Blue Jay just under each player's heart. It doesn't hurt the nostalgic vibe that Toronto won back-to-back World Series in these get-ups.
Like most of the league's cornerstone franchises, the Sox have changed fairly little over the past several decades. Their uniforms all look pretty close to the same, so the things that make certain versions stand out are the landmarks. Despite the two World Series they have won in the past decade, the standout moment for any given uniform remains Carlton Fisk's home run in the 1975 World Series. In that era of the pullover, Boston wore it as well as anyone.
A uniform can be a simple thing: a logo, a number, and a clever means of working in your team's colors. The Reds did it well in the 1950s, and their cutoff tops with red undershirts looked good without pushing any boundaries whatever. That the uniforms are slightly boring is not a disproportionate reflection of the city of Cincinnati itself, and it was really around this time that the Reds began to win over that fan base in earnest.
Teams frequently struggle to load their uniforms with the right amount of color, sometimes going too bland, sometimes making the whole thing look too busy and cluttered or splashy. But when the Mets put together this uniform, loaded with their signature orange and blue from the shoulders and legs to the pinstripes down the entire get-up, they found the perfect balance.
Detroit has used the Olde English 'D' for longer than anyone reading this has been alive, and there have been very few variations on the theme among home uniforms for them. Arbitrarily, then, let's recognize the last team to don the 'D' in the World Series. Led by Kenny Rogers, Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Leyland, the 2006 Tigers did the city very proud, though they faltered in the Fall Classic and allowed perhaps the least deserving champion of all time, the 2006 Cardinals, to sneak away with the title.
Florida has been flaky with its uniforms over the years, but one great look that has come and gone a few times is the pinstriped white, with black letters and green trim. The black sleeves finish off the look, and surely helped keep them cool in 1997 as they stormed toward a World Series win. Edgar Renteria and Craig Counsell secured the position of this apparel in Marlins lore.
Ron Santo was immortalized in bronze outside Wrigley Field Wednesday evening, and in it, he is wearing more or less this uniform. The Cubs began wearing essentially this outfit in 1962, featuring pinstripes, a big and somewhat elementary version of the standard Cubs logo and the Cubbie bear on the left sleeve. They were classic, but with a slight flavor of something different, and the Cubs of those years played in a similar fashion.
The Nats have tried a few things since arriving in town in 2005, but although all of them looked better than the dreadful Expos uniforms that preceded them, Washington has finally found something worthwhile in 2011. The simplicity is great. The color is bold but not overwhelming. Whatever the team was going for, I contend that they have found it.
From 1962 to 2001, the Astros held the title of worst uniform in the league almost every season. The parade of bad ideas seemed endless. Finally, as the team moved into a new century and a new ballpark, they wised up a bit and went to the orange-and-black color scheme with curving shape in the logos.
but something was missing. They finally put it all together when they added pinstripes to the look in 2004, and lo! they won the Wild Card and began the ascent that led them to the 2005 World Series. Okay, the linkage there is awfully dubious. But the team did finally look good, even on days when they lost.
You're beginning to find my pattern: I like cutoff tops with pinstripes and simple designs. The Rockies rank this low because they have not, as wiser expansion clubs have, done away with the strangely non-traditional colors they chose upon entering the league. But they have made the best of their purple-and-silver existence by using this uniform more and more over the past few years.
Uniforms that make statements are cool. And after years of miserably strange and disco-fresh uniforms, the Padres have made some very positive statements with their home unis lately. The camo look makes a generous gesture to the local community, and their color scheme--navy and gold replacing some bad efforts in previous years--just fits the laid-back motif of the city at large.
Now if only their jerseys could hit.
The Angels represent a new contingency every few years, but pretty well stay put in terms of actual location. Similarly, they change things every now and then on their uniform, but the idea remains mostly static. One thing that once set them apart, though, was the halo around the 'A' in Angels. That was fun. It gave life and humor to the look without taking up space or looking gaudy. And the Angels won the AL West in 1986.
More cutoff tops, this time with a bit of a menu in accompaniment. The A's wore long sleeves under their tops, the last team to do it on a regular basis. They had both yellow- and green-lettered uniforms, depending, I guess, on the color of the starting pitcher's eyes. Though ghastly in retrospect, those Oakland uniforms were fun at the time and lent a visual embodiment to the team's open rebellion against MLB.
Matt Trueblood runs two independent blogs and is an MLB featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on twitter @MattTrueblood.