It’s no secret that I’m more than a bit uniform obsessive. I’ve collected baseball and hockey jerseys for some time, focusing mostly in the Boston area but branching out from time to time. I’m an appreciator of the unique elements of each team, and I have a healthy disdain of anything that I deem to be cheap, gimmicky or tacky.
While baseball jerseys may not have the iconic pull of the hockey sweater, they may be the most functional item of clothing in the sports world. Really, it’s just a button-up t-shirt, free of collars, and, for the most part, absent loud graphics. Some have pinstripes, some have piping running from the neck down past the buttons, some have a wordmark across the chest, some have an emblem asymmetrically placed instead.
I have my favorites, and I enjoy putting things in order, sort of an exercise in organizing every aspect of my life, so why not rank every uniform top in baseball? It’s still early in the season; early enough that wearing short sleeves comfortably is still something of a pipe dream here in Massachusetts, and the hope is that this might inspire some of those pre-Opening Day baseball highs to carry over through the chilly days of April.
Breaking it down by league, we’ll call age before beauty and give the senior circuit the first look. What follows are the National League jerseys, ranked from 16 to 1.
A final note: Only the club’s primary home and road jerseys will be on display here. The glut of alternates would cloud the entire exercise, and I hold a healthy belief that the home team should wear white and the road team should wear gray (with some rare exceptions). Not to say I don’t like and appreciate some alternate jerseys, but for the purposes of this exercise, I’m sticking with the two.
16. San Diego Padres
A healthy discovery upon the research for this exercise was that there was no one jersey that seemed instantly aesthetically repulsive. Every team has their look, and for the most part, it works for them.
The Padres’ current look doesn’t exactly work for me. I was disappointed to learn that they switched the color on their road jersey from that sandy color to a standard gray — it gave them a bit of local color and a different feel that wasn’t garish or tacky. As it is, the whole package feels a little generic.
15. Houston Astros
While I like their red hat with the star logo, their uniforms are a little disjointed. Just looking at the home and road set, they don’t seem to go together too naturally. Houston, like San Diego, have been searching for an identity for some time, ranging from forgettable early uniforms to the insane rainbow combination, then space-themed, and now, what you see above, sort of a combination of everything. Not bad, but not necessarily great.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona is another team who are still in search of a visual identity. It seemed like they had a good thing going with the purple, even if every other aspect of that uniform set (the pinstripes, the sleeves, the numbers, etc.). And while this isn’t bad (I especially like the “Arizona” road jersey), it’s not great.
The biggest problem is the “nickname of a nickname” use, with “D-Backs” being too easy to make fun of. As a result, their best jersey is actually their black shirt, which they wear at Saturday home games, with the “A” logo on the left chest. But we’re not counting those, and the Diamondbacks’ status as my favorite National League team couldn’t get them any higher than 14th place.
13. Colorado Rockies
It’s fine, there’s nothing offensive here, and they’ve more or less stuck with this look since coming into the league in 1993. But this has always felt a little “baseball-by-numbers” in assembly, like a National League Yankees. If we factor in their space-agey black jersey or their purple one, they start to look worse.
12. Florida Marlins
Florida got caught up in the teal/black craze of the 1990s, but to their credit, they’ve stuck with it and made it work, and they’ve had two teams reach immortality wearing a variation on this look. But, this is the final year of the “Florida” Marlins. With the team moving into a new, state-funded stadium next summer, the Florida designator will be replaced with “Miami,” and new uniforms are sure to follow.
11. Cincinnati Reds
I’m not crazy about black backdrop shadows in baseball, and this is an area where Cincinnati can’t seem to stop themselves in the past 20 years. Also, while this set is better than their previous look, I’m not crazy about the name/number font. Simpler would have been better, and anything that recalls the Big Red Machine would’ve been best.
10. New York Mets
The Mets used to look much better, but years of losing and identity crises have left the team in a state of flux. Originally, the team’s uniforms were a combination of their New York predecessors: their hat logo and the orange came from the Giants, the blue and script came from the Dodgers, and the pinstripes from the Yankees. The pinstripes are gone on their primary jersey now, and like the Reds, they insist on a black backdrop.
They’ve tried to fix this with alternates and whatnot, but that’s a cheap way out.
9. Washington Nationals
The Nationals have gotten much better for 2011 than when they first pulled up roots from Montreal. Their entire uniform set now matches the “W” logo on their hats and it’s a nice, clean look. Not the greatest, but there are no major quibbles now.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have gone through some changes over the years, but in the early 1990s, they settled on their current look, a variation on their classic uniforms from the Richie Ashburn era. It’s solid, I like the stars, and I like that they’re the only team in the majors with their uniform numbers on the sleeve.
7. Atlanta Braves
The Braves are another team whose uniform roots stretch pretty far back. They had some weird moments in the 1970s, but otherwise, this look dates to their Boston days. Unlike the Cleveland Indians, there’s nothing overtly racist, as the head of the native was taken off the sleeve decades ago (though the tomahawk is suspect, I suppose). It’s their look, and I imagine it will remain their look for some time.
6. Milwaukee Brewers
While it’s absent my favorite logo in baseball, the Brewers have a cool, wheaty look that is certainly distinct and lends character. Not relying on copying a red, white and blue template the way the Nationals did, Milwaukee has created, and, just as importantly, stuck with a look that has become all their own.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Black and gold is the name of the game in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates have worn the colors well, even if their last winning season came in Tim Wakefield’s rookie year. There have been different looks, from Roberto Clemente to Dave Parker, but the distinct font and the colors themselves stand out in a league where so many teams are just trying to fit in. If the players were as good as the jerseys, the Pirates would win about 95 games every year.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a look that has inspired countless softball, high school and American Legion teams, all wanting their own version of their iconic script. The look transferred from Brooklyn to Los Angeles pretty well (though I don’t know there were every any trolley dodgers in Hollywood), and has lasted through the years, with only slight variations to the road uniform. There’s nothing to nit pick here; the Dodgers look great.
3. Chicago Cubs
Make all the jokes you want about the Cubs, but their look is timeless. The home uniform, with its almost childlike logo adorning the chest and its pinstripes, just feels like summer. Add in a sharp road jersey, a great font and number set and the prettiest backdrop in baseball, and the Cubs are winners.
At least, they are if we’re talking about uniforms.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Aside from a few minor tweaks over the years to adjust to different materials, cuts and styles, this is essentially the same uniform that Dizzy and Daffy Dean wore in the 1930s, that Country Slaughter wore as he drove a steak in Johnny Pesky’s heart. The red jumps off the front (“pops,” as they say), the cardinals sit on the bat with grace. It’s about as classy as a baseball shirt can look, really.
1. San Francisco Giants
Before I started getting all of the graphics in place for this exercise in baseball obsession, I assumed the Cardinals would take the pennant in the National League uniform rankings. But the Giants’ jerseys kept pulling me in. Maybe it’s the brown and black, a unique look in baseball since the demise of the St. Louis Browns. Maybe it’s that off-white in the home jersey; not relegated to a gimmicky alternate (like the Phillies and Mets have done), but embraced as their look of choice. Add in the font, their bold block numbers, and the lack of last names on the home jerseys, and the Giants have a classic look all around.
Fitting, I believe. In the season of their World Series defense, a title they won in rather surprising fashion, that they should creep up again and win the National League uniform rankings.
On deck: The American League.