[Editor’s Note: Paul is on his annual August break from site. Deputy editor Phil Hecken is in charge from now through Aug. 25, although Paul is still on the clock over at ESPN and may be popping up here occasionally.]
By Phil Hecken, with Jerry Wolper
There was once a time, not that long ago (although in the uni-verse, that’s the stone age) when teams would get new uniforms to little or no fanfare. This may seem like a quaint concept today, when even a new cap, helmet or pair of socks seems to be accompanied by massive social media saturation, a hype video (fortunately no longer set to an Imagine Dragons piece) and usually a bunch of press. But back in the day, many times teams walked off the field one year wearing one set of uniforms, and retook the field the next year wearing a brand new outfit, often to the surprise (and sometimes consternation) of the fans.
Our pal, and frequent Uni Watch contributor, Jerry Wolper (who has worked on several articles with me, and who is responsible for the AMAZING Buc-Tracker Project [writeup] and [project]) will take us back to that time today. Jerry is, among other things, an incredible researcher — frequently scouring hundreds (probably thousands) of archived articles to document his research. We’ll check in with him now as he documents the (lack of) hype over the “Bumblebee” Pirate uniform introductions in the late 1970s. Here’s Jerry
Let’s just wear new uniforms
By Jerry Wolper
The world has changed a lot in the last forty years. Now, when a team is going to wear a new set of uniforms, it’s a major event, which is nice for those of us who care, even with all the marketing nonsense. When the Pirates switched to their mix-and-match set in 1977, it just happened. I went through the archives of the Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette sports sections in the 1976-77 offseason, and here’s what I found:
One October 8, 1976 column about upcoming changes mentioned that the Pirates “will wear new uniforms in 1977,” but the rest of the piece was about personnel moves. And that was it until spring training. The photos of new players (and a new manager) at introductory press conferences had them holding up 1976 jerseys:
When the beat writers got to Bradenton for spring training, they wrote brief descriptions of the new unis; in the Feb. 24 Post-Gazette, Charley Feeney wrote, “[Pirates Vice-President Joe] O’Toole said the Pirates will wear the three uniforms both at home and on the road. The uniform colors are gold shirts and black pants, black shirts and gold pants, and a striped black and gold. The two caps, not included in the uniform price, will be black with gold piping and gold with black piping.”
In that day’s Press, Bob Smizik wrote, “With not one, not two, but three different sets of flashy new uniforms awaiting them, with an enthusiastic new manager greeting them but still without a third baseman, they began. Almost.” since rain kept them off the field. Smizik also quoted O’Toole about charges by the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers that the team was being un-American by ordering uniforms from Japan. “We bought three sets. One was made by an American firm and the other two by a Japanese company. They came up with the best uniform for us. They’ll probably cost us more, but we were interested in quality.”
In a March 1 column, Smizik wrote, “The Pirates will be wearing new uniforms during the coming season and they could pose problems. There are three basic outfits, solid gold, solid black, and a white with a gold and black stripe. But by switching around tops and bottoms (a gold top with black bottoms, etc.) and adding two different colored sweatshirts and hats the Pirates figure they’ll have nine outfits.” He wondered if pitchers, or the team, would become superstitious about wearing unis they’d won in. There was a day where the prototypes were worn and photographed; the AP sent out a picture…
…and the April 3 Pittsburgh Press Sunday Roto Magazine had some color photos with other players still wearing the old uniforms; the magazine article itself was about the team. Unfortunately, some tweets with those Roto photos have disappeared.
In the April 6 Press baseball preview, Smizik wrote:
“As for the threads, in one attempt to bring back the fans, the Pirates have gone to three new and completely different sets of uniforms. There is a solid black, a solid gold, and a white with a gold and black pinstrip[sic].
“All three can be worn with each other, and when two different colored hats and sweatshirts are thrown in, the Pirates will be attired as they’ve never been attired before.”
In a Pirate ad in the same preview, new uniforms are apparently a selling point.
On Opening Day, April 7, Feeney wrote in the Post-Gazette:
“The Pirates will be a three-uniform team this season.
“The uniform colors are pin-stripe, black and gold. For today’s inaugural, the players will wear pin-stripe uniform[sic] with black hats and black socks.”
In that afternoon’s Press, Pat Livingston’s column started with
As the Pirates frolicked listlessly through the abbreviated drill that, due to the chilly weather, had been substituted for the regular workout, Jerry Reuss took a dispassionate view of the babel of colors streaking across the tartan-turf outfield.
To accommodate television, which wanted a preview of the Bucs’ tri-color mix-and-match uniforms, Tony Bartirome had outfitted half the squad in the colorful garb the Pirates will wear this year.
Willie Stargell dressed out in solid black. Bill Robinson was in gold pants and a striped jersey. Tommy Helms wore a black shirt over gold pants. Mario Mendoza was in stripes.
“Creeping Finley-ism,” snorted Reuss, the blond iconoclast who started today’s opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Hey, that’s a good line,” a reporter remarked. “I’m going to use it.”
“If you use it,” cautioned Reuss, “credit it to the right person. It’s not my line.”
“It’s not! Whose is it?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Reuss. “Somebody in Boston. A couple of years ago, when they wanted to put an electronic scoreboard in Fenway Park, the Red Sox turned it down. ‘We don’t want that thing’, somebody said. ‘That’s creeping Finleyism.'”
The column ended with:
“Suppose Jerry Reuss were to win six in a row wearing the striped uniform, a writer wondered. What would happen if, on the day of his seventh start, the front office dictated black as the uniform of the day?
“Tanner didn’t hesitate, even to ponder the question.
“‘If any pitcher wins six in a row wearing stripes and he wants to wear stripes, we’ll all wear stripes on the day he pitches,’ declared the Pirate manager.”
Then the season started, and the uniforms didn’t get much attention. There’s much more attention at www.buctracker.us.
Great job on that Jerry — thanks for researching and investigating this matter. For a set of uniforms that would become “iconic” it’s amazing just how little fanfare was associated with their introduction. We appreciate your bringing this chapter in Pirates uniform history to the fore!
By Brinke Guthrie
Both NYC football teams represented today. This New York Jets helmet buggy in great shape! And wouldn’t this look nice at Uni Watch HQ in Brooklyn. This is a “Cosmo Electric” 14″ New York Giants wall clock , and it “ticks when the battery is inserted,” which is always a plus. But it has “not been tested for accuracy,” so there’s a drawback. Now for the rest of the week:
• Here’s a 1970s MLB “Cricket” table lighter made by Gillette, with all the National League team logos. Don’t know if it works, though.
• For 1970s MLB retro greatness, you can’t beat the Tequila Sunrise AND the Atlanta Braves feather pullover, shown here as part of Majestic’s Cooperstown line.
• Love the helmet looks on these 1970s NFL stickers.
• IMO, the Mariners should have never ditched this logo. Their 1980s trident is showcased on this promo seat cushion.
• This 1970s Phillies mascot doll (Phil) is still in fine shape given his age.
• Nice looking set of 1970s Houston Oilers wristbands, still in the package.
• Interesting wooden drink coasters with drawings of NFL players from the 1970s, including Terry Bradshaw of the…Pittsburg Steelers.
• This Canada Dry bumper sticker says, “PATS FEVER: Together We Can Make It.” It doesn’t say what the “it” is, though.
• More Pats: here’s a set of those smoked drink glasses that every NFL team had in the 1970s- these are for the Patriots and include a sticker for Schaefer Stadium. The interesting thing there to me is that I didn’t know for the longest time that Schaefer was a beer. Same thing with Rich (dairy) Stadium in Buffalo, and Ericsson (cell) Stadium in Charlotte. Schaefer and Rich were regional naming rights deals, and Ericsson phones hadn’t landed in my market as yet.
• Here’s a 1970s NFL brass belt buckle– who could the QB be for #16? It would be too early for Montana.
Griffins Jersey Contest Reminder – LAST CALL
In case you missed it, I’m again hosting a jersey design contest in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Griffins (an AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings). All the details are contained in this post.
The deadline for getting your submission in to me is TODAY August 15 (at 6:00 pm Eastern Time), and we’ll have reader voting on the concept jerseys beginning on August 17th! Last year we had 85 entries and I’d expect we’ll equal or surpass that this year. Prizes include a custom jersey based on your design and tickets to the game that the Griffins will be playing in the jerseys you designed! No entries will be accepted after the 6:00 EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME deadline. Thanks!
StripeRite discount reminder: Paul here. In case you missed it yesterday, you can now use the checkout code uniwatch to get a 15% discount on any orders from the first, second, and third batches of StripeRite socks. The code is good through Aug. 31.
Word to the wise: We have low stock on most of the designs from the first two batches. Once those are gone, they are likely gone for good.
LAST CALL for the Titans contest: Paul here (again). Today is the final day to submit entries for my Titans-redesign contest. Full details here.
By Mike Chamernik
Baseball News: Blue Jays infielder Ryan Goins said that the team has decided to stop wearing its Sunday red jerseys. He said the team’s 2-7 record in red this year is to blame. The Jays are actually 3-5 in the alternates, but several of the losses were particularly lopsided (from Michael Duffy). … In case we missed it, the Astros and Rangers wore 1999 throwbacks on Saturday to honor their respective newly inducted hall of famers, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Delino DeShields, Jr., seems to have worn his regular Rangers home uniform, though (from Michael Miller and @igTXSalazar). … Last Friday, the Akron RubberDucks wore jerseys that were designed by patients at a local children’s hospital (from David Fisher). … A little late, but Brent Fountain created a few jersey T-shirt mashups for a Red Sox-Astros game during Fathers’ Day weekend.
NFL News: New Rams WR Sammy Watkins is wearing No. 2 this preseason. Single-digit numbers are not allowed for receivers during the regular season (from Tris Wykes). … Unlike the regular season, NFL teams have locally produced preseason telecasts that feature different graphics and on-screen scoreboards depending on what station on which they are airing. … As you can see in this video clip from 1983, the Giants wore black armband stripes that season as a memorial to Bob Ledbetter, the offensive backfield coach of the Giants, who died during that October. Here’s another look at the stripe (from Brian Wulff).
College Football News: Hawaii has new green matte helmets (from Phil). … New unis for Louisiana Monroe. … New gold jerseys for Texas State (from Brant Freeman). … New away uniforms for Colgate (from Andrew DeFrank). … Tennessee QB Quinten Dormady says he’ll wear loose sleeves this season, much like what Peyton Manning used to do when he was a Volunteer (from @keyvon212). … Ohio State QB JT Barrett IV will go RNOB this year. He did not last year (from Mark McClure).
Hockey News: New jerseys for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. I dig that cartoonish logo, plus that OHL logo is delightfully dated (from Wade Heidt). … Also from Wade: New jerseys for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.
NBA News: Bruno Mars had an outdated customized Pacers jersey for his show in Indianapolis on Sunday night. Mars and his fellow performers wore jerseys at previous stops along the 24K Magic World Tour (from Alex). … The NBA released the season schedule yesterday. The Magic used a lot of whipped cream pies to reveal theirs.
College Hoops News: You can vote for your favorite Syracuse basketball uniform. The Derrick Coleman-era orange unis were pretty good (from Phil). … The University of Illinois simplified its logo.
I remember when the Vancouver Canucks switched to their yellow “V” jerseys. Even the the players didn’t know it was coming. They went out for warmups, & while they were on the ice, the equipment staff hung the new units in their stalls. They came off the ice after warmups &…. surprise!
They skated out for the game in the new units, to the complete astonishment of everyone in attendance. Definitely couldn’t pull that off today
That’s what Georgia did for the original “blackout” game. Only the captains knew about the jerseys before the game as they put the reds on over the top of the black when they went out for the coin toss. Then the rest of the team came out of the tunnel in black.
Seems another Vancouver-based team in 2013 drew influence by what the Canucks had done.
The BC Lions wore their regular white helmets, orange jerseys, and white pants out for warm-ups. Then surprisingly emerged for their CFL game against Calgary unveiling the mono gun-metal grey third uniforms. They had not been seen until the Lions took the field:
The lead photograph is from the 1977 Pirates Yearbook, it was a full page, but no corresponding story about the new uniforms. Also, you can tell those three uniforms are prototypes, because the solid black version was altered sometime before the regular season began. The white outline which bracketed the gold “Pirates”, and player number disappeared on the black jersey.
The Phillies switched to their current set in 1992. I remember seeing a 1-minute local news clip about it the day before Opening Day but that was about it.
Funny to read about the idea of pitchers choosing uniforms back in the 70s.
I can remember when the Eagles switched to their new uniforms in the 90s. It was covered on local news, and that was about it. New uniforms would get a quick mention on sportscenter when they did the highlights for their first game wearing them (back when it was a highlights show), but really only if it was a dramatic departure from the previous look, like a new color or something. I’m guessing I am showing my age and being a traditionalist here, but it has all gotten a bit tedious lately. The corporate speak, the one off sets, the crazy alternates… give me white and team color uniform, in classic designs for each sport, and call it a day.
The corporate speak, especially. Every time I hear it, I wonder who it is they actually view as the audience for that language?
“Here’s a 1970s NFL brass belt buckle— who could the QB be for #16? It would be too early for Montana.”
George Blanda, maybe?
Dang, you beat me to it!
shoot, try this
My guess is Jim Plunkett
I was thinking that too; looks a lot like Blanda.
Back in the ’70s, I used to anticipate the Halftime Highlights on MNF (Howard Cosell) – not only to see if my Cardinals were actually included, but also to see if any teams had changed uniforms from the prior season.
You see many animal related logos in junior hockey get updated, but the Sudbury Wolves logo has stood the test of time. Was worn even back in the days when the Wolves wore green and yellow. They did switch to blue and silver in the 1980s:
Loved the Sudbury Wolves logo when it had a drop of blood coming from its mouth.
Those wooden NFL “coasters” are actually woodburning art/items.
sort of like these:
That’s what I thought of as soon as I saw them. We received a wood burning kit for Christmas when I was a kid and it came with similar templates.
It was fun, but I tell ya what, you only make the mistake of sliding your fingers down too far once!
…or burning the table,…..or the rug.
“What’s that smell?”
Geez, I imagine that’s gone the way of Jarts?
Re: Delino wearing his regular home whites – pregmame the Rangers had a ceremony for Pudge, and part of that included introducing other Rangers who had worn #7 previously, and Delino wore #7 his first couple of years here (he also posted a photo on instagram with the #7 jersey next to his throwback #3 that he wore for the game that night). I think at that point he was staying in the dugout watching the pregame ceremony before going back into the clubhouse to make a quick wardrobe change prior to the game getting started.
Thanks for explaining that!
Tremendous story today on those ’77 Pirates uniforms, fun to see how the media covered uni events back in the day – even got some Jerry Reuss quotes in there!
I love how Reuss is referred to as “the blond iconoclast.”
This quote from Reuss is so ironic:
“I don’t know,” admitted Reuss. “Somebody in Boston. A couple of years ago, when they wanted to put an electronic scoreboard in Fenway Park, the Red Sox turned it down. ‘We don’t want that thing’, somebody said. ‘That’s creeping Finleyism.’”
That person would probably be horrified at the multiple hi-def screens that are installed at Fenway now.
The Illinois logo article can’t show before and after comparisons of the old and new logos?
The old logo is the academic logo that we wouldn’t necessarily see in the context of this site, replaced by the one we know from the athletics program.
Remember in the mid-nineties when the Colts had the blue pants for like 3 games. They just sprung that on everyone (along with a blue facemask) then as soon as they were introduced, they were gone. WHY???
I’m not really a fan of them as I like the clean look of the all white uniforms, but I’m still curious as to why they would have them only briefly.
Yep, in those days you’d hear about a new uniform only in the context of if a team changed it’s logo / colors. New pants, changing stripe patterns, etc those little things just happened and showed up on the field. Didn’t require a press conference full of nonsense focus group buzz words. It all has to do with the jersey sales stuff, it wasn’t until the jerseys sales became big that the teams started letting you know about every little uniform change.
Though somehow Baltimore was able sneak their gold pants under the radar until gameday two years ago.
Most Ravens fans are still fuming about those gold pants. They were a horrific shock, haha.
Blame Bill Veeck for starting the process of uni-unveiling when he turned the reveal of the shorts and disco collars into a PR moment.
That man was a genius.
The Japanese company in question that made the Pirates uniforms in that article is the Descente firm, which has made many uniforms for teams in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Which two of the three did Descente make?
Descente made the solid black and the white pinstriped uniforms. The unusual Descente block numerals give it away; if memory serves, the black jerseys were mesh fabric. I have a hunch the design of the fat “bumblebee” pinstripes confounded Wilson Sporting Goods. By any metric that’s an unusual pattern. But Japan League teams had a reputation for avant-garde uniforms, and likely caught the eye of somebody high up in the Pirates’ organization.
Thanks for the info! Am I correct in assuming Wilson or Rawlings made the yellow?
Yes, Wilson did the gold suits, and when the Bucs adopted player names on the back the following season, Wilson provided an appealing vertical arch to their jerseys. Descente, you’ll recall, utilized three different alphabets for their uniforms; do you recall Ed O-T-T and Lee L-A-C-Y? There were also condensed letters for long names, and regular ones for regular guys.
So, in actually watching the Magic’s pie-in-the-face-palooza, they don’t have time to show all of the teams? Or is it just bait to find out which teams they forgot, or when they are to play the Wizards? It was interesting seeing the shirts/logos for the teams they chose. “Sacra”- bleu!
Well, they went in alphabetical order right?
He gives the Heat a double face-full, so he maybe didn’t have one for Washington.
I’m taking a shot here…after seeing the Patriots smoked glasses, I figure what the heck.
I have actually collected ALL BUT 3 of those smoked glasses, including the two-bar facemask models of the Bucs and the Seahawks, which actually came along AFTER these glasses were produced.
I am short the Bills, the Lions, and the Bengals. I collect the smaller of the two styles (forgive me for not knowing the dimensions)…I am curious if anyone out there in Uni-Watch Land has any of these teams that they might be willing to sell? If so, I would love to get in touch.
Here are the Lions
Buffalo Bills link here
I remember seeing a picture from when Drew Bledsoe was drafted in the newspaper. It was black and white but I could tell it was different. I also obsessively watched highlights trying to see it once the season started. I hated it too because that meant I had to go on a quest to get my gumball football helmet collection back up to par. That’s alot of quarters.
I remember seeing the splash picture when it first appeared in ’77, and was wondering why Chuck Tanner was wearing Larry Demery’s number, and why Jim Rooker was wearing Tanner’s number.
I was 4 at the time.
Re Sammy Watkins wearing #2 in training camp – Receiver Tavon Austin of the Rams wears #1 during training camp (but is normally #11), so maybe Sammy got the idea from Tavon.
Once again, Jerry Wolper was right on the mark with the history of the mix-and-match era of Pirates uniforms. I remember saying the line back then never knowing that I would read the quote forty years later. The rolodex in my mind spins as I recall a number of great memories regarding those days!
IMO, the Mariners should have never ditched this logo.
The M’s have wadded up and thrown out a bunch of identities that would look good on the field even today. Their throwback uniforms, no matter what era, always look spiffy.
Mind you, and this is nit-picky, I could have been kinder to the Griffey rookie-year set of uniforms had they added blue and yellow layers to the rear number, and yellow layers to the player name and front number.
You can vote for your favorite Syracuse basketball uniform.
Louie and Bouie Show, 1978.
I remember watching a George Michael Sports Machine early in the 1989 (?) season and seeing highlights of the Astros wearing jerseys with buttons and pants with belts. While the overhaul wasn’t dramatic, it was great to see the team look like real ballplayers for the first time in a long time.
Nice ! Thanks for sharing.
I really enjoyed the article about the Pirates and their jerseys. As I was reading, I began to wonder how the Pittsburgh team came to be referred to as the “Bucs” and if there are anymore teams that have multiple or even alternate nicknames.
List of all NFL players who wore #16…