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EXCLUSIVE: Cubs Number Font Has Subtly Changed for 2024

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Longtime reader Mark in Shiga has noticed something interesting about the Cubs’ uni numbers. Some of the numerals have morphed slightly for the new season. For example, check out the “5”:

As you can see, the bottom of the numeral is much more square, or less rounded, than it was before.

A similar transformation has happened with the “3”:

Again, you can see that the contours of the “3” are much more squared off and less curvy.

We can see a similar squared-off effect, although not quite as much of a change, on the bottom of the “6,” and the top of the “9”:

Numerals that consist of straight lines — 1, 4, and 7 — appear unchanged. I spent more time than I’d like to admit poring over photos of the three remaining numerals — 2, 8, and 0 — but couldn’t conclusively determine if they’ve changed in any appreciable way.

The 2024 MLB Style Guide, unsurprisingly, shows the squared-off style as the team’s official font. I figured I’d compare that to last year’s Guide — and that’s when I discovered something very strange: The MLB Style Guide has shown the squared-off style as the Cubs’ official font for over 20 years, even though that’s not what the Cubs have worn on the field.

Just to pick a random year, here’s the Cubs’ official alphabet from the 2020 Guide — note the “3” and the “5”:

That same alphabet appears in each annual edition of the Guide going back to 2002! Here’s the sheet for that year, followed by a blow-up of the font (sorry that these two are low-res — couldn’t be helped, but you can still see the numerals clearly enough):

Prior to 2002, unfortunately, teams’ full alphabets were not shown in the Guide, so we don’t know what the Cubs’ supposedly official font was during the pre-2002 era. But we do know that the squared-off style shown in the Guide from 2002 through 2023 has not matched what the Cubbies wore on the diamond, because they consistently wore the curvy numerals. Here, see for yourself:

But this year they’re wearing the squared-off numbers. Or to put it another way, this year — possibly for the first time ever — the Cubs will wear their proper number font as listed in the MLB Style Guide. I suppose there’s something to be said for that, but I much prefer the curvier numerals, so I’ll miss them.

Just to add an extra layer of confusion, some promotional jerseys over the years have used the square font. Check out, for example, this Ryne Sandberg autographed jersey — it has the square font, even though I’m pretty sure Sandberg never wore that on-field at any point in his career.

As most of you know, longtime Uni Watch pal Bill Henderson restores old jerseys and is a total typeface geek, so I wondered what he knew about all this. Unsurprisingly, he already knew about all of this, as he explained to me in an email:

The Cubs’ numbers are always a mystery. The published version of what the font is supposed to look like [in the Style Guide] compared to what they actually wear has not matched up for at least 30 years now. It looks like Nike took the published legacy font and is using it on the field instead of the one that they actually used to use.

Bill also shared this comparison of the two fonts:

There are lots of unanswered questions here: How did the two separate sets of numbers come into existence? Which one came first? Did the Cubs mistakenly use the wrong one on the field, or did the wrong one get mistakenly entrenched in the Style Guide? And who decided to make the on-field version align with the Style Guide version this year — the team? Nike? MLB?

Whatever the answers may be, this is a faaaascinating rabbit hole. Big thanks to Mark in Shiga for sending me down its depths. Peak Uni Watch!



IMPORTANT: Anniversary Tour Update

We logged some additional contributions yesterday for my proposed Uni Watch 25th-anniversary tour, pushing our total up to $1,629 — a little more than halfway to our $3,200 goal. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Here’s a reality check: I’ve sold a lot of limited-edition products and run a lot of raffles over the years, and I can usually tell pretty quickly if something is going to sell out, or be a hit, or meet its goal. In this case, judging by the first- and second-day responses, I think there’s a good chance that we’re not going to make it. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s how it looks at the moment.

If we don’t hit the target, I’ll refund everyone’s contributions and we’ll still do the Purp Walk party in Baltimore on May 17 and the anniversary party in NYC on May 26. It would be fun to do the Minneapolis, L.A., and New Orleans gatherings as well, but I certainly won’t take it personally if there isn’t enough demand for them (and a little part of me might even be relieved to avoid having to take four flights in seven days). Honestly, I’m good either way.

But for those who do want the full tour to happen, and who haven’t yet contributed, now is the time. Remember, there’s a hard $35 contribution limit, because the idea is to involve a lot of the comm-uni-ty.  So if you’d like to donate to the Uni Watch 25th-Anniversary Tour Fund, please send your contributions via Venmo (use @Paul-Lukas-2 as the payee), Zelle (; please include your email address in the “Memo” field, in case I need to refund your contribution), PayPal (, or Apple Pay (email me to get the number). Again, donations are capped at $35 per person. Thanks!

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, look here.)



LAST TWO DAYS for Most of Our Teespring Merch

In case you missed it earlier this month: Teespring recently announced an upgrade to its software, the main result of which is that product listings that originally launched with an earlier version of their software will expire at the end of February (that’s this Thursday) unless they’re taken down and then relaunched. This affects about 95% of the T-shirt listings I’ve amassed over the past nine years.

The 17-step (!) relaunch process is cumbersome and time-consuming even for just one product. The prospect of doing it hundreds of times is out of the question. So I’ve decided to let most of our Teespring product listings go dark at the end of this month, which is tomorrow.

Here’s what this means for you:

  • If you want anything in the Uni Watch Teespring shop, I strongly suggest you order it now. A few newer items, like the 25th-anniversary products, will still be available after this month, but most of the listings will sunset at the end of tomorrow.
  • Everything in the Naming Wrongs shop will go dark at the end of the month. So if you want any of those shirts, the time is now.
  • Likewise, everything in the Uni Rock shop will also vanish at the end of tomorrow. So it’s now or never.

My thanks, as always, for considering our products.



What Paul Did Last Night

I went out to a bookstore last night to see my favorite journalist — one of my heroes, really — the great Hamilton Nolan (on the left in this photo, being interviewed by writer/comedian Josh Gondelman), who was promoting his new book about the American labor movement, The Hammer.

I became a fan of Nolan’s work in the early 2010s, when he was writing incredibly smart, articulate stuff for Gawker. These days he freelances all over the place, but I mostly read him on his excellent Substack, called How Things Work, where he writes mostly about labor but also about media, politics, and other manifestations of power. He’s also a very good boxing writer, as you can see in this astonishingly good 2022 piece he did for Defector.

Although Nolan lives in Brooklyn and had emailed with me a few times, this was the first time we’d met in person. A treat!



Can of the Day

Reader David Kuruc sent me this photo yesterday. What a beauty!

Comments (31)

    You have stirred up my curiosity. I’ll check out my Sandberg jersey when I get home. Since it is “authentic” it should have the rounded numbers. But, we shall see.

    Let’s go Uni Watch community! Paul deserves a big send off. If you’re excited about a gathering in Minneapolis (and LA and NO) please contribute if you haven’t already.

    Really a small pittance for all the content we all have enjoyed over the years.

    Couldn’t agree more, neighbor! Even if Paul doesn’t make it will you still do the D&J event?

    For sure we could still have a smaller Uni Watch gathering at the glove shop but let’s get Paul the Minneapolis!

    Curious Paul – would you be open to an alternative to all or nothing? Perhaps if you raise enough for 1 leg of the trip, you could send out a survey to see which of the three cities you would choose. Seems like MN has some energy!

    Could this have happened because Nike wants standard size numbers, 8″ back, 4″ front? In standardizing, they had to reshape and revisit certain fonts. This has definitely changed the shape of the Met front numbers. The Dodger back numbers look thicker. The Pirate pirate- like font is more pointier as well.

    I would guess it’s likely one of the following scenarios: Nike just doing exactly what’s in the style guide because that’s easier than navigating the reality of the somewhat convoluted situation, Nike thinking they’re helping by “smoothing out the kinks” in the Cubs’ design language like they did with the Tigers’ different D’s, or Nike telling the Cubs that there is a mismatch and asking the Cubs if they should match the style guide or the previous uniforms, and the Cubs deciding to match the guide

    Just as weird, the small numbers on the front of the Cubs road jerseys in 1969-81 were always more squared-off than the numbers on the back, which were quite round in those years.

    It was in 1982 that the numbers, now only on the backs of the jerseys, were ‘codified’ to match the 69-81 back numbers!

    A truly mystifying team.

    Oops…they were made to match the 1969-81 *front* numbers. Making them a little more squared-off.

    Bummer. Every other team wants bespoke numbers, while the Cubs are evolving toward varsity block.

    A good reminder that official style guides are not definitive evidence of on-field uniform appearance.

    I suspect that this is an instance of the manufacturer, amid a raft of changes, paying attention to the details of the style guide and making uniforms to match it. In which case, we could call this a wholly accidental Nike uniform upgrade.

    Agree. I was thinking the same thing, Nike was actually just following the style guide, as they should, and this is how they are supposed to look. Hopefully Paul is able to get to the bottom of this, I am very curious as to why they weren’t following the style guide all these years.

    Probably because the Cubs official “spring training hats” don’t match their uniforms. The Cubs haven’t worn powder blue since 1981!

    With the Cubs numbers, I have a feeling that the answer is that Liebe made and supplied the numbers historically for the uniform manufacturer (Wilson, Rawlings, Russell, Majestic), and at some point a designer redrew them as close as they thought possible for the style guide. Since most people don’t see as much detail as we do, the designer and those who have input probably felt they were close enough. Like Scott Rogers said, not everything in a style guide is correct. There are lots of variations out there.

    I might be in the minority here but I like the squared off Cubs numbers. They look sturdy.

    Lots of teams have attempted rounded-off riffs on standard Athletic Block. To me, the most appealing are the NFL Houston Texans.

    “As most of you know, longtime Uni Watch pal Bill Henderson restores old jerseys and is a total typeface geek, so I wondered what he knew about all this. Unsurprisingly, he already knew about all of this, as he explained to me in an email…”

    Having had a number of jerseys done by Bill, and having experienced his outstanding attention to detail firsthand, I doubt there is ANYTHING uni-related or ANY uniform quirk that he is unaware of.

    When I first glanced at this photo of Hamiton Nolan, I thought, “Why in the world did Paul go and see Lance Armstrong last night?”

    That brief interlude with block numbers is almost forgotten (as the 2015 gray alternates hopefully will be); they had some block numbers very early on, along with McAuliffe, but went to Otis Shepard’s rounded font as part of what we would today call a rebrand in 1937, when they also got baseball’s first zippered jerseys.

    A few years ago Phil did a story about some AAGPBL throwbacks: link

    …which contains a link to photos of Shepard’s originals:


    …which (aside from looking timelessly amazing) are the starting point from which today’s semi-rounded (and possibly even less rounded if these Nike abominations stay on the field) ultimately descend.

    My goodness, these places you mentioned have been on my list for years and even me working overtime will not cover the travel expenses. Hopefully you can find a way to get there.

    Hey Paul, thanks for the shout-out and for running this story!

    After getting in touch with you, I found a great one-stop resource for the backs of Cubs jerseys: link

    It’s divided into three; that link covers years up to 1971. And we see, particularly from the 1958 road jerseys that have red borders just like the home jerseys do now, that the number font is basically unchanged since that time, with a slight increase in thickness compared to 1943, when they got the modern style with the distinctive straight serif on the 1.

    Before that, they had Otis Shepard’s beautiful font, which was much rounder and with the digits slightly less wide: link

    Thinking about that original, I wonder: it looks much closer to the Bears’ number font; were they designed together? Particularly with the no-serif straight-line “1”; it’s like they’re two siblings that have grown apart but are still recognizable relatives.

    Those of you who enjoyed the ten-throwback 2014 season might remember how they couldn’t recreate all ten Shepard digits on those uniforms, and substituted in Arial Narrow (!) for some of them. I’d love to see the Shepard original make a comeback.

    Paul, I can answer you when you wonder: “Or to put it another way, this year — possibly for the first time ever — the Cubs will wear their proper number font as listed in the MLB Style Guide.” – they actually did wear this number font in some of their 2014 throwbacks. Check out the ones from 1958 to 1988 here: link

    …somehow they got the 1969 “3” correct but used the fake square one for 1953 and 1988! They had no problem with the 1994 throwbacks, perhaps because they already had red-on-white numbers on hand to use with their regular alternates.

    Also see how for 1937 and 1942, they had a nice perfect Otis Shepard “5” but had ugly substitutes for 1, 6, and 9. I have #96 Mike Brumley’s 1937 throwback, and while I love the front, the back… not so much.

    To me the blue numbers on the old Cubs jerseys look much lighter (more royal) than the more navy numbers on the new jerseys. The Braves new “navy” jerseys look lighter and brighter than last years’ darker jerseys. Dodger blue remains unchanged, but I’ll have to look closer.

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