[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.]
(If you want to jump to the Grand Rapids Griffins Fauxback Contest Voting, Scroll Down)
By Phil Hecken, with Bill Henderson
Back before I started my weekday run for the month of August (well before I knew Nike and the NBA would eat up 1/3rd of my time by bleeding out their jersey reveals) I had asked Uni Watch friend (and legend) Bill Henderson if he’d be interested in penning a few pieces for our viewing pleasure during the month of August. Unfortunately, I have set up a number of posts with other artists, designers and readers (some of which I just won’t be able to get to during August), and I only have room for one Bill Henderson piece, but it’s a great one, and it’s below. Bill and I had discussed a number of topics which would be of great interest to the UW reader, and the first (and now as it turns out, only) one is on the lost art of vertically arched lettering (VAL).
As many of you are aware, Bill produces the incredible Game Worn Guide to MLB Jerseys, the latest iteration being his eighth edition. If you don’t own a digital copy, you’re missing out bigly. It’s a MUST OWN for any baseball fan and particularly any uni watcher.
So, without further ado, I’m pleased to present this great article by Bill Henderson. Enjoy (you can click any image to enlarge).
Vertical Arched player names — A lost design element that should make a comeback
By Bill Henderson
It disappeared from MLB in 2006, and most people never noticed it was gone, let alone lamented its passing. But I noticed, and I suspect that looking back, many of you did as well. 2005 was the last year that any team used a vertical arched player name on back. The team was the Atlanta Braves, and without fanfare they simply stopped doing it. But looking back to the years between 1977 and 1984, of the 26 teams in baseball that used player names on back, 11, or nearly half of them used vertical arch some or all the time.
Let’s back up and do some explaining. Our topic today is to deeply explore a lost detail in jersey design that we think is due for a reprise: The Vertical Arched player NOB. I will explain what it is, how it is done, why it disappeared, and why it should return.
The jersey pictured here has its player NOB “Radially arched”, the style used exclusively today in MLB. That means the letters have been grabbed from a pattern, cut out, arranged on an arc, then sewn in place. All the letters are straight up and down and there is nothing fancy. Today in MLB, every team that has a name on back of their jerseys uses radially arched NOB. Simple, straightforward and no frills.
Now, look at this jersey back. Even if you are not a graphic designer, you will notice the difference. The name has a swoopy, powerful, emphasis to it. There’s a real presence; even personality. Let’s compare vertical arch to “Italic” print, something that we all are familiar with. When a word is written in italics, the vertical strokes of each letter leans forward slightly, imparting a sense of urgency. This sentence is written using an italic font.
The Vertical Arch style is family-related to italic print. But instead of italic’s characteristic of the vertical stroke of every letter leaning forward, in vertical arch, instead the horizontal strokes of every letter are drawn to follow the arc on which they are placed, and the verticals are all perfectly upright. Look closely you’ll notice that unlike the radially arched name, with vertical arch, every letter in the arc has its own unique characteristics depending on where it falls in the word. It’s easier to see than to explain.
I created the graphic below using Adobe Illustrator, a professional tool used by graphic designers and one that is nearly incomprehensibly complicated to anyone else.
The top example is radially arched on a 33-degree arc. All the letters are identical, and their bottoms are laid flat against the arc.
The middle example is also on a 33-degree arc, but it is vertically arched. All letters are the same height, but each letter is slanted uniquely from any other. Using Illustrator, this effect can be applied automatically with just a few keystrokes.
The bottom example has a simple artistic modification, where the arc at the bottom of the name is a tighter radius than the one at the top. The letters at the ends of the name are therefore stretched taller and the bottoms of those letters are individually tweaked to make them follow the tighter arc. It seems like a small thing, but when viewed in the cloth, the tweaked example looks more balanced. Without it, the optical illusion makes the name seem fatter in the middle and too narrow at the ends.
Now that we’ve explained what it is, let’s talk about how such a thing was done back in the old days of the 1980s, before a powerful computer sat on every desk and also ran every piece of office and factory machinery. Back then, people instead depended on an individual who was a skilled graphic artist to either create each player name “from scratch”, or more likely to create a set of templates like the example below, my own historical recreation of the Philadelphia Phillies’ player name font of the 1970s and early 1980s. When creating such a template, each letter of the alphabet would be rendered by the artist in vertical arch, and in every possible position of the name arc. Now, when it came time to create a player nameplate, using the templates, a more marginally skilled worker could lay out the name, by simply finding the center of the word, then choosing the appropriately positioned letters from the arc of each template. He or she would then trace them on cloth and cut each letter out by hand to be then sewn on the jersey (or to a nameplate).
This all was quite a lot of work! And for teams with two-color NOB (like the San Francisco Giants and California Angels) outline layers had to be created on templates as well, then two layers of cloth traced and cut. But the effect was attractive and popular and perhaps it was done this way”¦ well maybe because it always had been done this way. MLB has always been very slow to change, and frankly, uniforms often seemed like an afterthought, from the people I’ve interviewed over the years who were a part of the process. They often did things this year because that’s the way they were done last year.
You might wonder, why couldn’t MLB just share a single version of alphabet templates among them, after all, wasn’t one vertical arch NOB the same as another? Well- no, they were not. In fact, nearly every team’s NOB font was different. The Angels’ font was different than the Royals than the Giants than the Twins or the Phillies. And in the manual-labor, pre-computer era of the 1970s and 1980s, creating a new physical copy of a template was not a point/click/drag/drop function with a computer mouse; it instead involved tracing the original pattern onto card stock and cutting all the letters from the cards with an art knife. Who had time for that, even if teams were in the mood for sharing with each other, which few did?
Timing was a problem too. While some teams did their own player name/number lettering themselves using a local shop, others depended on Rawlings or Wilson to do the sewing for them at the factory. The team’s first set of uniforms would arrive at the start of the season beautifully lettered and ready for use. But, what if a player joined the team midseason as a trade, or was called up from the minors, as often happened? Unless the team had enough lead-time to order him a jersey from the factory, or had the skills to letter his name with vertical arch locally, that player often got a jersey with plain, radially-arched NOB. Not perfect, maybe, but who was going to notice?
The jersey at left was most likely lettered by Wilson at the factory, as part of the team’s opening day set of uniforms. The “Jackson” jersey at right belonged to Roy Lee Jackson, a relief pitcher who appears to have joined the team in late May 1986. It is probable that this jersey was lettered locally, and therefore didn’t get the vertical arch NOB.
Photo credit: Sports Investors LLC
Bo Jackson was called up by the Royals to the majors late in the 1986 season. This is his jersey from that year, original and unaltered. It lacks a vertical arch NOB because most likely it was lettered locally in Kansas City. At left is a Royals road jersey from the team’s beginning-of-the-year set, most likely lettered at the factory by Wilson with the team’s correct vertical arch name font. An interesting note; the Royals as a policy stripped player names off of jerseys sent to the minors (and to the hobby), and a great percentage of them that surface today have been restored incorrectly with standard, radial arched names.
Now, let’s instead look at the jersey lettering process when radially arched (not vertical arch) player names are created. The shop tells the cutting machine (or the guy with the cutting die or the scissors) to cut 100 each of every letter in the alphabet, and 300 extra of each of the vowels. These cut letters are dumped into 26 bins, one for each. When a jersey is to be lettered, the relatively unskilled worker pulls the letters out of the bins, arranges them in an arch using a simple cardboard template, and heat-presses them in place. That’s it… the whole pre-sewing process, explained in two sentences. And that alone explains why teams stopped using vertical arch. It was just too darn much trouble.
One by one, teams stopped doing it. For example, the Expos stopped after 1979, The Orioles after 1983, The Padres and Pirates in 1984, The Angels, Twins and Phillies in 1986, the Royals in 1993, the Giants in 1999 and finally the Braves, the last team in MLB to still use it, in 2005, now twelve seasons ago.
Vertical arch has not disappeared completely from professional sports. It is still used by the New York Rangers of the NHL
It seems is especially ironic to me that just about the time that computers and automated cutting equipment were becoming common, accessible and inexpensive, MLB gave up on vertical arched player name lettering. If they had held on for just a couple more years, the technology would have been right there to automate the process without missing a step. But now that’s it’s gone someone would have to make a decision to bring it back.
Just like any font can be made italic, any font can be vertically arched. I’ve created a few so you can see what today’s jerseys might look like. There are 29 teams in MLB that currently use NOB. I challenge just one of them to bring back Vertical Arch player names to revive a nostalgic part of the past.
Thanks, Bill! Tremendous job as always. Hopefully we’ll be able to run some of those planned articles in the near future!
Today we vote on the fourth and final group of contestants for the Grand Rapids Griffins “Fauxback Design” contest. In case you missed it, the contest parameters and rules were laid out here.
I received a whopping 119 Entries in this contest, so the voting will be broken down as follows. Thursday: First 30 entrants (you may click here to view that post); Friday: Second 30 entrants (click here to see that post); Yesterday: Third 30 entrants (click here to see that); and Today: Final 29 entrants. As in previous contests, the submissions will be listed alphabetically. The TOP THREE contestants receiving votes in each group will move on to the final group (for a total of 12 finalists — three from each group), from which the Griffins will make a decision and declare the winner who I will announce on Friday, August 25.
We’re using a new polling system, which we hope will eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) any fraud or shenanigans. You will be permitted to vote for as many designs as you would like, but you may only vote ONCE. As you glance over the designs, be sure to write down the name and number of your favorite(s) and then cast your votes in the poll which follows the submissions. The poll(s) will close approximately twenty-four (24) hours after being posted — the TOP THREE vote recipients will move into the final group (the winner of which will be chosen by the Griffins).
REMINDER: The Griffins set out the following parameters for designing an alternate (fauxback) jersey. Please use them to guide you as you make your decision(s) below:
• Create a brand new design for a Griffins alternate jersey (remember: you are ONLY designing a jersey, not a full uniform).
• DO NOT USE current or previous Grand Rapids Griffins logos or previous Griffins jersey design contest winning logo designs. Your work must be original.
• The jersey color must be red or black.
• This jersey will be part of an ’80s Fauxback Theme Night. If the Griffins existed in the 1980s, what would the jerseys have looked like?
• Use official team colors ”“ CMYK Colors: Red 12/100/92/3, Gray 31/25/26/0, Gold 43/49/76/21, Black 75/68/67/90, White 0/0/0/0.
And now, the final 29 contestants (click any design to enlarge):
1. Ryan Schnabel
2. Michael Schonhoff
3. David Shaw
4. Brendan Shively
5. Skyler Silvis
6. Will Sinnott
7. Kevin Sousa
8. Brandon Sprague
9. Alexa Stanton
10. Ryan Stiner
11. Alex Stockman
12. Peter Tessin
13. Luke Thomas
14. Ryan Tinnerman
15. Jay Tuohey
16. Colin Turner
17. Mark Ureel
18. Lucas VanderBilt
19. Ryan Vorpagel
20. Jeff Wall
21. John Waller
22. Patrick Walters
23. Marissa Wichtowski
24. Steve Williams
25. David Wittenberg
26. Cameron Wolf
27. Johnny Woods
28. Dustin Wright
29. Diego Yanez
By Brinke Guthrie
Being an ABA fan from way back (Colonels, Chaps) I absolutely love the look on this Carolina Cougars ABA T-shirt. It’s a repro, not vintage, but so what. A simple line drawing, and most effective when you drop the ABA ball in there. The ABA teams did some nice design work- teams like the Colonels and Pacers, Floridians, the New Virginia Squires (looked like a burger logo) and who could forget the Spirits of St. Louis! We won’t say anything about the Memphis Tams, whose logo was drawn by a second-grader. Now for the rest of the week~
• This 1970s New York Rangers hockey skate bottle opener is MIB! (Or as the eBay denizens say, “mint in box.”)
• I’ve just never seen this before. Look at this Cincinnati “BENGALS” helmet plaque. Is this a DIY? Kinda looks like one of those bicycle helmet deals. The seller also has the Jets and Oilers for sale. (*Update: Earl Shores of the Unforgettable Buzz agrees. “Don’t think that is for real. Pretty sure that’s the right half of the NFL helmets that went on your bicycle. From the 1970 NFLP catalog.”
• Nice selection of 1970s NFL Slurpee cups including the cool “double NY” Giants helmet. (At least that’s what I call it.)
• Got a few here from The Pack: notice the G on the helmet of this 1970s ground crew (not grounds crew) jacket is reversed!
• And how about the look of this 1960s-1970s? era boys Packers sweatshirt!
• Check out this 1980s Toronto Maple Leafs wall clock!
• Did you know Pete Rose had his own chocolate drink? He did, and it was called, predictably, PETE. Here’s a can (no contents) if you’re interested.
• Look at the simplicity of this 1960s Philadelphia Eagles helmet decal from WIP Radio.
• I’m including this 1965 SI cover of the Niners because 1) Ken Willard is PL’s guy, and 2) the Niners secretly changed their sleeve striping to more resemble these. Now we have two stripes, not the three, but at least they’re not that truncated set any longer. BTW, Mr. B.B. Foster of 3743 Ninth Street in Philadelphia, your subscription ran out in November of 1966. Please call customer service.
By Mike Chamernik
Baseball News: The Memphis Redbirds, Charleston RiverDogs, and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes wore eclipse jerseys yesterday (from many readers). … The Uni-President Lions, a team in Taiwan, will wear Hero uniforms in September (from @GraveyardBall).
NFL News: A few Chargers players had their bolts on the wrong sides of their helmets. This picture shows what I mean, with the incorrect version in the foreground, and the correct orientation in the background (from @mikelewismusic and Russell Goutierez). … The Patriots have narrower shoulder stripes with their new uni template. Some stripes are thinner than others, though (from Joseph Pizziferri). … Judging by the inconsistent block shadows, the 8 is upside-down on Browns WR Kenny Britt’s jersey (from several readers).
College Football News: Marvel Comics created comic book covers for six college football kickoff weekend matchups: Ohio State-Indiana, Michigan-Florida, Florida State-Alabama, BYU-LSU, West Virginia-Virginia Tech, and Tennessee-Georgia Tech (from Andrew Cosentino). … Maryland unveiled new yellow jerseys. The uniform is inspired by what the Terps wore during the 1940s (from many readers). … Western Carolina will wear black unis for a game in September (from Ryan Dowd). … Georgia Tech is expected to announce a new apparel deal with Adidas today (from Mike Cole). … Do you know the history of the penalty flag? It was created by a referee and his wife back in 1941. Before flags, officials used horns and whistles to call infractions (from William Yurasko).
Soccer News: Goalkeepers in England typically have three color options for their jerseys throughout the season, but Arsenal keepers have four, and sometimes as many as seven (from Denis Hurley).
Grab Bag: New uniforms for TimrÃ¥ IK, a Swedish hockey team (from Roy Ellingsen). … South Carolina’s women’s basketball team will have pink uniforms for breast cancer awareness (from Andy Shain). … New logo for SUNY Plattsburgh. … The Vatican released a logo for the Pope’s trip to Chile in January. … The town of Greenwood, La., has a new tree logo.