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Why the New York Mets Almost Wore Pink & Black—Mystery Solved

Earlier this year I published a post which revealed that the New York Mets’ original colors came very close to being pink and black.

Why pink and black?

A truly weird color scheme, it would have been unique in the history of American Professional sports. There seemed to be no reasonable explanation of why a new Major League Baseball team in 1962 would opt for that particular pallete.

I’ve found the reason, and it makes total and complete sense:

PINK_BLACK METS

Joan Whitney Payson—the club’ s first majority stockholder—was born into great wealth. She inherited millions of dollars upon the death of her father Payne Whitney in 1927, along with the famed Greentree Stables. The stable’s silks featured salmon pink and black striped sleeves with a black cap, and were designed by Mrs. Payson’s mother, Helen, after a favorite tea dress.

With this information in hand, it now seems obvious why Mrs. Payson—known throughout her life for being superstitious—would want to carry forth the family’s aesthetic traditions when forming the expansion Mets.

Another look at what might have been:
Pink_Black_Mets

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The First Real MLB All-Star Game Logo—1952

The 85th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played on July 15 in Minneapolis. We are accustomed to contemporary sports “jewel events” being branded in a formal and cohesive way, but this was not always the case.

The first “real” MLB All-Star Game logo dates back to 1952. The game, hosted by the Philadelphia Phillies at Shibe Park, is the only Midsummer Classic to have been shortened due to rain. The first nationally televised All-Star Game witnessed a Jackie Robinson home run and a National League win over the American League, 3 to 2 in 5 innings.

The significance of the 1952 All-Star Game—at least for our purposes—lies in the fact that the event was promoted with a formal visual identity. This had never been done before. One-off “logos” may have been featured in scattered applications, but the 1952 ASG saw a true branding strategy employed by the Phillies and by Major League Baseball.

The logo was utilized in any number of ways, including on the cover of the official souvenir program:

52 ASG PROGRAM

The press pin, issued to members of the media covering the game (albeit with slight modifications:)

1952 PRESS PIN

And in this advertisement taken out by the host club:

1952 ASG AD

The 1952 logo was truly revolutionary—the concept of a “real” MLB All-Star Game logo didn’t really take off until the early 1970s. By contrast, the official 2014 All-Star Game Style Guide contains hundreds of visual assets that have been deployed in the lead-up to the big event.

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Sports Logo Case Study #9—the Lost Uniform Years of the New York Rangers

The ninth in an ongoing series of entries about vintage sports identities. Sports fans, as I have often said, are the most ardent brand loyalists on the face of the earth. There are stories to be told here at the intersection of art, commerce, history, and fandom.

The New York Rangers are in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 20 years. The Rangers’ on-ice identity has been steady and consistent since they first laced up their skates in 1926. Inspired by the color of the team’s sweaters, the Rangers have long been known as the “Broadway Blueshirts—” this reference from the New York Times dates back to their second season, 1927:

1927 BLUESHIRTS

RANGERS PROGRAM

The Rangers have worn their iconic uniforms featuring a diagonal representation of the word “Rangers” since their very first game on November 16, 1926. There have been but three seasons where they broke away from this look. In 1946-47 the Rangers became the first team to to regularly televise their home games. In a move seemingly designed to coincide with this, the team wore uniforms featuring an arched “Rangers” over player number. These lasted but a single season. And, in 1976, the Rangers streamlined their look in a big way, placing their primary shield logo front and center for the first time in team history.

76 RANGERS

New General Manager John Ferguson instituted the change, saying that “we want to project a new image…those wider stripes make an athlete look taller.” Indeed, the uniform striping was radically modernized, a total and clean break from a half century of tradition.

1976-77 RANGERS YEARBOOK

76-77 RANGERS

Success or failure for a new team aesthetic is often dictated by the success or failure of the team itself. The 1976-77 New York Rangers missed the playoffs. Though the 1977-78 squad made the postseason, Ferguson was fired. The shield jerseys were directly associated with him and were widely disliked by the fans. Thus it came as no surprise when, in July 1978, new team GM Fred Shero announced that he was scrapping the look instituted by his predecessor. Aging superstar Rod Gilbert, the team’s all-time leading scorer, was instrumental in convincing the team to return to the traditional look. The popular Gilbert was effectively forced into retirement by Ferguson in late November of 1977.

The New York Times stated in a July 18, 1978 article that “Gilbert contended that Ferguson’s uniforms had the team crest on the chest, and that made it uncomfortable for the Rangers to move their arms.” A singular example of revenge by uniform change.

Shero touted Ranger tradition at his introductory press conference, and no visual symbol was more associated with Ranger tradition then their traditional sweaters. Back they came, and they have remained there ever since, albeit with slight tweaks and the addition of a third jersey for a decade, starting in 1996.

John Ferguson went on to run the Winnipeg Jets as they entered the National Hockey League in 1979–80. He instituted uniform change there too, nearly replicating the Rangers style that he implemented a couple of seasons earlier.

While researching this post, I came across an image from a Rangers game program from their second season, 1927–28. Miss Madeline Cameron, onetime Ziegfeld Girl, Miss Hockey of New York, is wearing a very early version of the team’s shield crest. Yes, she is wearing a skirt, and no, there is no bold red and blue striping, but this sure looks like a prototype of what the Rangers wore a half-century later.

1928 MISS HOCKEY

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60 Years of Orioles Orange & Black—and a Confusing Start

2014 marks the 60th anniversary for the Baltimore Orioles. The team, previously the St. Louis Browns, played their first game against the Tigers, in Detroit, on April 13, 1954. They opened at home two days later. Baltimore fielded teams in the National League in the late 19th century. Another Orioles franchise was a charter member of the American League, playing there in 1901-02 before pulling up stakes and moving to New York (they are now the New York Yankees.) The city then hosted the Minor League Baltimore Orioles for half a century before the Browns shifted to Charm City on September 28, 1953. The Baltimore franchise has looked remarkably consistent over the past six decades. Their primary colors have been orange and black since 1954 and their white home uniforms have featured a script “Orioles” for all but three seasons over that span. But for all their visual steadiness, the team got off to a confused start in that first season. The Orioles introduced their new look in mid-February of 1954. The uniforms that the team announced are identical to the ones that saw action that season—a thin, slightly condensed black script “Orioles,” both at home and on the road.

ORIOLES_02.195454 ORIOLES UNI ANNC

However, the club wore a number of different uniforms in Spring Training that year. As seen below, there was orange lettering with a black outline and black lettering with an orange outline—both versions very different from the announced uniforms. One of the variations featured shoulder and front placket trim, seemingly recycled from the International League Baltimore Orioles who had worn similar uniforms in recent seasons.

54_Os_UNIS 03.31.1954_ORIOLES

Even the Sporting News was confused, as illustrated by this item from April 14, citing orange script lettering, trimmed in black.

54_ORIOLES_NEW FLANNELS

When the regular season got underway they trotted out what they had originally planned on. This Baltimore Sun photo depicts the home opener, April 15, 1954.

BALTIMORE SUN OPENING DAY 4.15.54

One attentive Sporting News reader noticed the discrepancy and received the following explanation:

1954 ORIOLES COLOR MIXUP

So what happened here? Scenarios like this were not unusual then. There are multiple examples of prototypes that were brought forth by teams as the real deal in those years, only to change once the season started. What makes this case particularly unique is the fact that the Orioles reverted to the prototype version after only one year, then stuck with it for the next 3+ decades (the team employed block uniform lettering from 1963-65.) This script evolved into what the team still wears today as they celebrate their 60th anniversary in Baltimore.

Os_LETTERING

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The Wearin’ of the Green in Pro Sports—5 Historical Notes

1) The 1971 ABA Floridians celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with special uniforms.

The Floridians, an ABA team that played home games in Miami Beach, Tampa, and Jacksonville, did not wear green. They did wear black, magenta, and orange. And they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in style on March 17, 1971 when they played the Utah Stars at Madison Square Garden in New York. The team added an “O” to the last name of every player that night in what could have been the first uniformed celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the history of American professional sports.

FLORIDIANS_1971 1971_FLORIDIANS

2) The 1918 Chicago Cubs wore green.

Over the past 140+ years very few Major League Baseball clubs have featured green as a primary color. The National League’s Troy Trojans of 1882 wore green, as did the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies. The 1918 Chicago Cubs—eventual NL pennant winners—wore green, at least on the road. The New York Times referred to them as “Green Sox” on multiple occasions that year.

CUBS_GREEN

3) The 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers wore green.

Other than the green of the grass, MLB was a land without greenery for nearly two decades following the 1918 Cubs’ use of the color. That all changed in 1937 when the Brooklyn Dodgers went green. They stayed that way for only one season, then switched to the now-familiar blue look that they have retained ever since.

GREEN_DODGERS

4) The New York Jets wear green because of St. Patrick’s Day.

When the American Football League’s New York Titans changed their name to “Jets” they adopted green and white as their official colors. The change, announced on April 15, 1963, featured some classic public relations bloviation in the form of a statement by team spokesman Ted Deglin, who said that “New York is a green-conscious town, from the dividing stripe down Fifth Avenue to the verdant hills and dales of Westchester to the beautifully landscaped parks of Long Island.”

The real reason for the Jets’ switch to green in 1963 is that team president David A. “Sonny” Werblin was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1910. A 1965 Sports Illustrated profile of Werblin stated that:

Sonny was born on St. Patrick’s Day, and his favorite color is green. His Jet office has a green rug. Jet Stream, the team’s house organ, which is given to such superlatives as JETS SIGN THE BEST, NAMATH, HUARTE LEAD THE PARADE, is printed in green ink. The team colors are green and white. When Sonny signed Namath he gave him a green Lincoln Continental.

He once said that the green and white were assigned to the team “because they’re my colors.”

NYJETS_63

5) The Cincinnati Reds debuted the first St. Pat’s Day uniforms in front of a pissed-off George M. Steinbrenner in 1978.

This New York Times article says it all.

The Reds gave birth to tradition on March 17, 1978 when they trotted out wearing green-clad uniforms for their exhibition game against the New York Yankees in Tampa.

George M. Steinbrenner III is quoted as saying “I think the green uniforms matched my complexion after seeing the inadequacies of the team that is supposed to be world champion.”

1978_REDS

What about the famously green (and gold) Kansas City and Oakland Athletics? Watch this space.

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First Stylish MLB Uniforms—the 1883 New York Gothams

Today’s San Francisco Giants trace their roots back to New York, where they played from 1883 until moving to California in 1958. That first 1883 Giants team—known as the New York Gothams—wore this amazing emblem on their uniforms:

83_GOTHAMS

This original patch resides at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

While it’s certainly an incredible object to look at, it’s significant too. It could well be the first non-typographic decoration of any kind on a Major League Baseball uniform.

1883_NYGIANTS

The National League was founded in 1876; this emblem dates back to its eighth season of play. Prior to then (and for many years thereafter,) MLB uniforms were fairly well devoid of decoration or visual embellishment—with the exception of typography. This example is fairly typical—simple block lettering, centered on the front of the jersey in a radial arch.

CARD_BOSTON

Today, the seal of the City of New York is virtually unchanged from the Gothams’ uniform decoration (other than the fact that artistic license was employed in reinterpreting it as a silk-embroidered patch.)

NYC SEAL

The city’s official colors are orange and blue—adopted in 1962 by the New York Mets, themselves a replacement for the departed Giants (as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

Here is a description of the seal, according to the City of New York:

Arms: Upon a shield, saltire wise, the sails of a windmill. Between the sails, in chief a beaver, in base a beaver, and on each flank a flour barrel.

Supporters: Dexter, a sailor, his right arm bent, and holding in his right hand a plummet; his left arm bent, his left hand resting on the top of the shield; above his right shoulder, a cross-staff. Sinister, an Indian of Manhattan, his right arm bent, his right hand resting on top of the shield, his left hand holding the upper end of a bow, the lower end of which rests on the ground. Shield and supporters rest upon a horizontal laurel branch.

Date: Beneath the horizontal laurel branch the date 1625, being the year of the establishment of New Amsterdam.

Crest: An American eagle with wings displayed, upon a hemisphere.

Legend: Upon a ribbon encircling the lower half of the design the words “Sigillum Civitatis Novi Eboraci,” meaning Seal of the City of New York.

The whole is encircled by a laurel wreath.

Lots of symbolism there.

As for the Gothams, they won their first ever game, played at the Polo Grounds in New York, located at 110th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, directly across 110th Street from the northeast corner of Central Park. They defeated the Boston Red Stockings—today’s Atlanta Braves—7 to 5. These same two franchises are scheduled to play one another on May 2 this season, 131 years and one day after their first meeting. While we cannot predict the outcome, we can say with some certainty that the Giants’ uniforms will not be as interesting or as symbolic as those of their Gothams ancestors.

GOTHAMS_FIRST GAME

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The Mystery of Cincinnati’s Mr. Red and His Number 27—Solved

REDS_27_68_LOGO

One of the most enduring sports logo mysteries involves the Cincinnati Reds’ “Mr. Red” that the club utilized from 1968 until 1992. Mr. Red wore the number 27 throughout these years, a golden era which saw the club win five National League pennants.

Mr. Red was so closely identified with the number that no Reds player was assigned uniform number 27 from 1968 until 1973.

The connection between Mr. Red and uniform number 27 is well known, but has never been explained. The enigma is so deep that no plausible explanation has, to my knowledge, ever even been floated.

Now, 46 years later, the mystery of Mr. Red and uniform number 27 has been solved.

I obtained this information from an unimpeachable source, someone with first-hand knowledge—so here goes:

The Reds’ Running Man logo was unveiled in 1968 with the coming of the new team ownership, a large group of local-based partners who pledged to keep the team in Cincinnati after there were rumors of it going elsewhere (they also changed the uniforms from the vests to the early pinstriped version of the “Big Red Machine” unis). Head of the group was Francis Dale, a prominent local businessman and, among other things, the publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer.  Francis Dale’s young son was a rabid baseball fan — his favorite player (as unlikely as it sounds) was Cardinals utility infielder Dal Maxvill, who wore no. 27.

REDS-HOT

Some additional details—on December 5, 1966, a deal was announced in which Reds owner Bill DeWitt sold the club to a syndicate of Cincinnati businessmen, led by Cincinnati Enquirer publisher Francis L. Dale. The sale of the team was contingent upon an agreement that the city would build a new downtown stadium—later Riverfront Stadium—and that the Reds would commit to a 40-year lease there.

The Reds future in Cincinnati was thereby secured after nearly a decade of uncertainty. Beginning in the late 1950s, the club was rumored to be on the move to cities such as Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and New York.

REDS SALEDALE_REDS

Francis Dale was president of the Reds from 1967 to 1973. In addition to his roles with the Reds and the Enquirer, Dale later served as United States representative to the United Nations and as commissioner of the Major Indoor Soccer League. He passed away in 1993.

Dal Maxvill was a slick-fielding infielder for the St Louis Cardinals—he saw action in every World Series game for the Cardinals’ 1964, 1967, and 1968 pennant winners. He later served as the team’s general manager, from 1985 to 1994. Despite a career .217 batting average, Maxvill played 14 seasons in the majors.

(For more on Mr. Red, take a look at my definitive history which contains additional images of him and his now no-longer mysterious number 27.)

Mystery solved.

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