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:
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.
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.
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.)
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.