Ranking The Top 10 Negro League Uniforms

By Phil Hecken

A little over a year ago, I prepared a list of my “Top 10” best uniforms for Negro League teams for my friend Rob Brown of Team Brown Apparel (I also did a second set of the next best 10 NLB unis). That original list had been run by Dave Barr in a two-a-day format on his blog.

I’d always planned to turn that list into a column for Uni Watch, but never got around to it. With the NCAA hoops tournament kicking off last week, Rob asked if he could use my rankings to create an “elimination” bracket, NCAA style, on his own blog, which has been running this week and which he’s been tweeting as well:

As you can see — the Championship has now been set.

You guys know I love when MLB teams throw back to NLB uniforms — but the originals were still the best. Many of those unis still look great today (as you can see when MLB teams throw back) and I think if ever I did a ranking that includes both MLB and NLB uniforms, many of the Negro League unis would rank ahead of MLB teams. You guys also (hopefully) know I think the St. Louis Cardinals have the greatest uniform in MLB history, and I’d definitely have to rank the 1935 Homestead Grays uniform as even with (if not slightly greater than) the 40s-50s Cardinals. In fact, my favorite hoodie (and one from Team Brown Apparel) is this gorgeous Grays look (this was taken during my recent curling bonspiel):

Anyhoo — with all that being said, here’s my list of the Top 10 Negro League Baseball uniforms, as presented to Dave and Rob, in complete article form:

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Both MLB and NLB co-existed in a golden era of uniforms, with wool flannel beauties abounding. There were so many great NLB uniforms, it’s difficult to name just a top 10. We’re fortunate that a number of the great uniforms have been “brought back” to modern day by Major League clubs donning the great throwbacks for their Negro League counterparts (albeit in modern material and tailoring). Still, a few of the best have never been seen on a major league diamond in decades. Without further ado, here’s a Top 10, though the order could be changed and other great unis probably could have made the cut. Some of these uniforms spanned multiple years, but I’ll attempt to pick out a single year for the purposes of this list.

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10. 1948 New York Cubans

There’s just something about this jersey that stands out — the beautiful red piping atop pinstripes (a look I normally don’t like) that just works here. The black bat underlining New York, through the “C” in Cubans and crossing the rubicon all work together fantasically.

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9. 1935 New York Black Yankees

This uniform was clearly meant to mimic their white counterparts from the Bronx, and it’s simplicity is what makes it so great. I actually prefer the road uniform (which reads “NEW YORK”) to the home jersey as I prefer the way the city reads over the chunkiness of “YAN K EES” on the home.

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8. 1942 Kansas City Monarchs

I LOOOOOOVE this one. The beautifully vertically arched “MONARCHS,” the piping, the red sleeves. It all works so well together. It was great seeing the KC Royals bring this to life during several of the NLB throwback games. There are several great Monarchs unis, but this one may be their best yet. And anyone who knows their history knows ’42 was a great year for the team!

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7. 1949 Baltimore Elite Giants

This is one of my favorite road jerseys of all time. Clearly not designed for TV, you had to be very close to this one to read the “ELITE GIANTS” contained in the tail of the script. But that’s part of the beauty of it. The “Baltimore” script is magnificent as well.

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6. Circa 1940 Atlanta Black Crackers

The ABC had a number of wonderful logos, my favorite being the interlocking ABC, but my favorite uniform was probably the circa 1940 “ABC” uniform with the large red radially arched “ABC” across the chest, with solid black piping set atop subtle thin pinstripes. Just gorgeous.

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5. 1906 Brooklyn Royal Giants

As you’ll see further down in this list, I have a thing for dark monochrome uniforms, and the 1906 Royal Giants fit this list. It didn’t hurt that the New York Mets attempted to bring this beautiful uniform back to life in a pair of NLB throwback games. I wish more MLB teams would attempt to pair their dark “softball” (alternate) jerseys with a pair of matching pants. This was a great look.

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4. 1946 Cleveland Buckeyes

Like the Baltimore Elite Giants, this was another team who stuck a subtle name within the tail of their script. This was another one brought to life recently when the Cleveland Indians donned a cream version of this jersey. That team should just ditch their current name, change it to “Buckeyes,” and wear those home and roads forever.

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3. 1920 Detroit Stars

The Stars had several great uniforms, but this one is easily my favorite. The solid midnight blue (I think) placket piping, the red “DET” and “OIT” with the white “R” and red star are a look that would look great today. Fortunately, the Detroit Tigers have brought this uniform to life during NLB throwback games.

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2. 1920 Chicago American Giants

This could easily be my favorite NLB uni of all time (which the Chicago White Sox threw back to some years ago). Like the solid dark Royal Giants, I love how this one looks. And while I don’t normally like pinstripes on a road uniform, I’m in love with this one.

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1. 1935 Homestead Grays

There are several iterations of the Grays unis I love, but this one is probably my most favorite. The thin, elegant “Tiffany” font, the subtle arching and bold piping, and of course, seeing it on Josh Gibson makes it my top NLB jersey.

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There you have it — I didn’t even select any jerseys from the Pittsburgh Crawfords, any of the St. Louis clubs, Indy Clowns, and several other teams. There are just too many great ones to choose from! You could certainly argue for some I left off, and you could flip the order and you’d still have a great list!

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So that was my Top 10 — As I mentioned, when Dave Barr ran this series, I also did a ‘second’ Top 10, the first two of which (or final two) were here. Maybe I’ll run that full second ten in a future post. Thanks to Rob for repurposing my two original lists into the NCAA-style elimination bracket!

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Big News for a buddy!

As you guys know, I regularly feature the gorgeous paintings of my pal, Graig Kreindler (in the “Kreindler’s Korner” segment, plus I have done a few main articles on his work).

Earlier this week, Graig made a major announcement (I’d known about it for a little while, but now it’s official):

That’s awesome news! And in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have a piece on Graig’s new venture, so stay tuned. Congrats buddy!

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Uni Concepts & Tweaks

After being dormant for a while, the Uni Tweaks/Concepts have returned!

I hope you guys like this feature and will want to continue to submit your concepts and tweaks to me. If you do, Shoot me an E-mail (Phil (dot) Hecken (at) gmail (dot) com).

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Got another concept from John Elbertson (who’s been semi-prolific recently), this one for my own New York Mets:

Phil,

This is my first attempt at designing a baseball jersey. I always wondered what a Mets orange alternate would look like, with either Mr. Met or the primary logo. Went with the vest treatment to balance the colors, which also gives it a 1956 Mr. Redlegs feel. The stirrups are double-colored like Oakland’s. Let me know if this looks good, or if I went overboard.

Get well brother, talk to you soon!

– John E.

Thanks John. OK readers (and concepters). If you have some tweaks or concepts, shoot ’em my way with a brief description of your creation and I’ll run ’em here.

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Too Good For the Ticker
Too Good…

for the Ticker

Got an email earlier this week from Curt Villarosa who pointed out the great website fivethirtyeight.com has some running statistical information that even the geekiest of stat geeks can appreciate.

They recently rolled out their latest baseball predictions, updated after every game, for another season of major league action. You might want to bookmark these, if you’re into this sort of thing:

Interactive.

And if you’re curious as to how those predictions are made, here’s their methodology.

Thanks Curt, great stuff.

OK. Now, on to the ticker…

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Uni Watch News Ticker
By Phil

Baseball News: Reader Andy Chalifour noticed that on Friday night, Red Sox late injury replacement Sam Knight goes batting glove free. … Is nothing sacred as awesome as rainbow guts? Andrew Cosentino writes, “You may have posted this before, but Karbach makes a tequila sunrise beer can.” … Here’s a good article on the company that makes the C-Flap helmet (which Paul has covered extensively); But is it safe? One organization is arguing against it. … Home unis on the road? David Goodfriend writes, “If you scroll down there is a pic of the Dodgers working out in Yankee Stadium before the ’52 World Series and I do believe they are wearing their home unis.” … Following up on yesterday’s lede about Prexy First Pitches, William Yurasko has a lot of good video footage of some of these. … The A’s Friday Kelly Green jerseys and caps are beautiful, but boy do the caps clash when they pair them with the forest green pullovers (from Tim Burke). … Interesting look for the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, who decided to put his flowing locks into a pony tail for yesterday’s game vs. the Nationals (h/t to Daniel Ford, who grabbed those screen shots per my request). Here’s an even better look (from Mike Morhardt). … Reader/tweeter Chris Richards, aka Phantom Dreamer has this observation of current MLB aesthetics: “When you don’t enforce existing rules, you get a bunch of Hunter Pence and Pence lookalikes running around in geeky shorts and lowering the aesthetic quality of the game.” While I agree, that ship sailed long ago. Chris continues, “Standard length baseball pants are more common in college baseball as opposed to the ugly free-for-all in Major League Baseball. Restore standards.” Love that look but geez, those Terrapins unis are atrocious. … Here’s a wonderful old photo of Yankee Stadium under construction (in 1922). The park would officially open on April 18, 1923 (from Ron Bolton). … The ticker item from yesterday about the Cowboys Star appearing on the Phillies jumbotron actually has a very logical explanation (from Mike Chamernik). ICYMI, here’s how Anthony wrote that item up: Speaking of the Phillies and also posted in the NFL section: for some reason, the jumbotron at Citizens’ Bank Ballpark has a transition animation that is clearly a Dallas Cowboys logo. I’m sure that’s popular in Philly (from @light_beans). … “I watched a brutal navy vs. purple between Georgia Southwestern and Young Harris College,” writes Blake Pass. … This was sent in by Brinke without context, so I apologize for not knowing the reference, but there were the letters “AMDG” scrawled on the back of the mound during yesterday’s Padres/Giants tilt. … Also from Brinke, Dale Ball feels like a million bucks today. Experts have confirmed that a rare Babe Ruth card he bought for just $2 is actually worth millions. … Still more from Brinke: a Posey/Mays commercial shows MAYS NOB…on a home jersey. … Good observation from Trent Guyer, who noticed Royals outfielders Billy Hamilton and Whit Merrifield wore powder blue belts to match their jerseys, however first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and many other Royals wore standard Royal blue belts. O’Hearn also had his number 66 embroidered on Royal blue belt. … umpire John Tumpane appears to have used at least three different helmet/mask combos in mlb: cap/mask, hockey style mask, and last night he’s went with a flapless shell w/ brim forward under a mask (from David Arnott). … We got our first look last night at the Cardinals powder blue Saturday road unis (from Ryan Brown). Lots more pics here.

NFL News: For those of you* who are hoping for the Eagles to return to kelly green uniforms, there is great news: Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie has said “We’re working on that hard. High priority. High priority. I don’t know if it will get done for the 2019 season, but I have some hopes for the 2020 season.” Big thanks to Axl for that!

* This means everyone.

College Football News: A group in Fort Dodge, Iowa, is working to build a memorial sculpture to the pig that inspired the Floyd of Rosedale traveling trophy exchanged by the winner of the Iowa-Minnesota football game (from Kary Klismet).

Hockey News: We don’t often have unsolved NHL uni mysteries, do we? Well, here’s one: It dates back to October 9, 1955, and the Rangers were in Detroit for the second game of the season two nights after taking the opener in Chicago. As it happens, the changed their numbers for this one night, and no one seems to know why. … Very attractive color on color matchup Saturday between Arizona State (dark) and Qunnipiac (light) in the NCAA hockey tournament. Submitter Jeff B adds, “One of the prettier ones I ever recall seeing.” … When the NJ Devils retired Patrik Elias’ number last season, he was given these seats in Section 12 as a gift (from James Beattie).

NBA News: Yesterday was Jerry Lucas’ birthday, and here’s a great shot of him in NBA All Star Game gear, holding the MVP trophy, and sitting on what looks like a Honda motorcycle (from Goat Jerseys). So much to love in that pic. … “Check out this clip from an exhibition game between the 1988 US Olympic team and a group of NBA stars,” says Dan Tarrant. “What’s interesting is that it takes place in the then brand-new Charlotte Coliseum but the orange floor is from the old Coliseum across town. Why? Because that morning the scoreboard fell and ruined the new teal-colored floor. In order to play the scheduled game, they shipped the old floor to the new building.”

College Hoops News: During Friday evening’s matchup between 5-seed Auburn and #1 Seed North Carolina (who lost in an upset), TV Commentators Kenny Smith (a UNC alum) and Charles Barkley (an Auburn alum) were giving each other grief; Auburn may have won the game, but Smith won the battle, as Sir Charles was too fat to wear his “original” Auburn jersey (Smith did wear his UNC kit). — But apparently the round mound of rebound actually actually tricked Smith into wearing his jersey. … This graphic was posted through the Sweet 16, but Alex Gerwitz has been tracking the NCAA tourney by jersey color. He notes, “Duke has used two diff white unis, and Houston’s all-red #’s on black were a questionable definition of ‘contrasting’.” … Speaking of uni-tracking the NCAA Tourney, Brandon Wright-Rowan has been taking a different method. … And what ticker section would be complete without a ranking of all jerseys worn in the tourney (from Keifer Saunders). … Several folks noticed the similarities between the logos of the Houston & Kentucky schools. … And of course, what bracketology wouldn’t be complete without tracking the brands teams wore (from NCAA Brand Bracket). … Make the jersey “tourney friendly?” Reader Paul Weisner writes, “Can we just agree that the number of Jersey patches and insignias are distracting? Perhaps yearly tourney teams like Duke and MSU could consider this in their overall design.” Alternative thought: Maybe the NCAA shouldn’t stick so many of their own patches on there. … Jimmer Vilk was full of emotion emoji’s when he tweeted this: “Point Loma (green & yellow) vs NW Missouri St (white & green) in the D2 men’s 🏀title game. NNOB vs NNOB 👍 Tiny back numbers vs tiny back numbers 👎👎 Waiting for both Nike & Adidas to say how tiny numbers make players lighter & faster 🙄.”

Soccer News: Two pictures showing the new Legia Warsaw 2019-2020 home shirt by Adidas have been leaked (from Josh Hinton). … Also from Josh Hinton, following the release of the new São Paulo home shirt, the supposed first picture of the striped away has surfaced online. … In action yesterday, in the English Premier League, Watford briefly had to go down to ten men early in its match against Man U, because star Gerard Deulofeu was wearing black tights (from Arthur Ryel-Lindsey. He adds, “According to EPL rules, you can’t wear tights of a contrasting color to the rest of the uniform, so, out come some scissors.” … But Delofeu wasn’t done making uni news: a bloody nose for Gerard Deulofeu means the classic remedy to keep playing (from Mark Coale). … Manchester City players donned their new mash-up jerseys while warming up ahead of the Premier League clash against Fulham – Players from both sides also wore Kick It Out shirts in protest against racial abuse blighting the game currently.

Grab Bag: Oh My God, this is awesome: first, did you know Nigeria has an official curling team? Second, their logo is incredible. I may need to get that on a t-shirt (via Paul). … Almost anyone who knows, plays or follows golf no doubt knows that the days when players wore actual spikes on the bottom of their shoes went by the wayside around the time metal drivers were introduced, but Justin Hicks noticed Tiger Woods is still old school (at least sometimes). He notes, “I love that Tiger is still out here with nails on! I’m jealous. Every time my foot slips on the course I long for the good old days.” … What’s worse than a boxing match with one fighter wearing camo trunks? You guessed it (from Casey Guns).

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23 comments to Ranking The Top 10 Negro League Uniforms

  • Peter | March 31, 2019 at 7:48 am |

    I believe you meant the Cardinals’ Saturday road unis instead of Sunday road unis.

  • MJ | March 31, 2019 at 8:24 am |

    Kenny Smith wore his son’s uniform. KJ Smith is a backup guard on the team and wears #30, like his dad did. The uniform in question is a 1969 throwback that UNC unveiled this season. It looks similar to what The Jet wore in the ’80s but it is not identical.

    • Daniel Tarrant | March 31, 2019 at 8:40 am |

      Right. The Jumpman logo on the jersey gave that one away.

      Smith looks like he keeps in good shape but there’s no way he is still fitting into a uniform he wore when he was 18-22 years old…

  • RS Rogers | March 31, 2019 at 8:30 am |

    Broomzilla is certainly awesome, and it may be a Nigerian Curling Federation mascot, but it’s not the NCF’s logo: https://www.nigeriacurling.com

  • Ronnie Poore | March 31, 2019 at 8:31 am |

    John Elbertson, I like the Mets concept, but try it with white shoes and I think you’ve got a winner.

    • Too Tall Paul | March 31, 2019 at 12:39 pm |

      I, too, was thinking a touch of white somewhere else on the uniform would enhance it a bit…I just couldn’t decide if it needed to be on the cap, the stirrups or sanis, or the shoes. Overall, however, very nice!

    • Jim Vilk | March 31, 2019 at 2:10 pm |

      I’d wear that!

  • RS Rogers | March 31, 2019 at 8:37 am |

    I don’t have a bone to pick with any of the Negro Leagues top 10, and Phil’s number one is my number one. (1935 Grays would probably be my number one if ranking all professional baseball uniforms, white and black, together. A drawing of the 1935 Grays uniform should have been on the Voyager golden record.)

    But the absence of the Pittsburgh Crawfords is unfortunate. I don’t know if there’s a single Crawfords uni that I’d regard as an all-time great, but in a corner of baseball where uniform design varied wildly for many teams from year to year, and the average uniform varied between meh and awful, the Crawfords consistently looked good. Like, the Grays were A-plus some years, C or C-minus most years, but the Crawfords were B-plus every year.

  • Edward Bauza | March 31, 2019 at 8:40 am |

    AMDG 0 Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – For the Greater Glory of God.

    It’s the motto of the Jesuit Order.

    • Ken T. | March 31, 2019 at 10:07 am |

      Yep.

    • Greg Franklin | March 31, 2019 at 10:39 am |

      The evident reason AMDG is on the Padres mound (Jesuits are not friars) is that yesterday’s starting pitcher Nick Margevicius is a grad of Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School, which is Jesuit. St. Ignatius refers to order founder Ignatius of Loyola.

      https://twitter.com/SIHSBaseball1/status/1105317974133669888?s=19

  • Daniel Tarrant | March 31, 2019 at 9:23 am |

    Just to follow up on my ticker submission about the floor at the Charlotte Coliseum, I found this photo of the crashed scoreboard that ruined the original teal-colored floor:

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Dm19vCrXoAMR1v5.jpg

  • Pesky | March 31, 2019 at 9:50 am |

    The Red Sox player without batting gloves is Sam Travis, not Sam Knight

  • Mark in Shiga | March 31, 2019 at 10:08 am |

    So happy to see that beautiful dark blue Chicago American Giants uniform — perhaps my favorite in all of baseball history with the possible exception of the dark blue C-with-bear Cubs uniform their Caucasian counterparts wore a few decades earlier — listed here, and near the top. It is amazing and I wish the Cubs would bring back light-on-dark pinstripes on the road!

  • Joe | March 31, 2019 at 1:18 pm |

    Watching the Reds Pirates game, the Pirates leadoff batter, Adam Frazier, still has the FL spring training patch on his right sleeve. They are wearing the black alternates today.

    • GMoore | March 31, 2019 at 1:37 pm |

      I saw that as well, other Pirates did not have the FL patch.

      • Joe | March 31, 2019 at 3:20 pm |

        They pointed it out on the Reds telecast. The next inning, he had the right jersey on.

  • Johnk | March 31, 2019 at 2:03 pm |

    Great lede, Phil. And in case folks are interested, Ebbets Field Flannels offers really nice repros of many Negro League jerseys, including the’49 Elite Giants, which I have.

  • Ted Mark | March 31, 2019 at 5:13 pm |

    I hope Graig’s cards are available as a set by themselves. I love his work.

  • Dave | April 1, 2019 at 10:42 am |

    I always thought the Indianapolis Clowns had neat uniforms… or maybe it was just the novelty of the name?

  • Greg Brown | April 1, 2019 at 2:04 pm |

    The orange sannies on the Mets alt bring back some happy memories. When our kiddo was playing Little League, that was his signature look.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/goatboat/8570548860/in/album-72157633023858731/

  • Kevin | April 1, 2019 at 4:45 pm |

    Is that a recent picture of Tiger because this article – https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjf2_L04K_hAhUSAWMBHagiDh8QzPwBegQIARAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.golfdigest.com%2Fstory%2Ftiger-woods-switches-to-soft-spikes-to-help-with-ankle-issues&psig=AOvVaw0ioV4_RZelOt-VcmkCINjb&ust=1554237741085639 – says that he was changing to the newer style to help his knees.

    I do vaguely remember him being in trouble years ago for wearing really long metal ones though.