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Three Simple Rules

[Deputy Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest article from our own Jerry Wolper. Enjoy! — PH]

Three Simple Rules
by Jerry Wolper

With baseball season starting, and a bunch of City Connect uniforms about to be introduced, it seems like a good time to propose three simple rules that would work well for major league uniforms in all sports.

1. Use team colors.

2. Use either the team’s full geographic descriptor or nickname.

3. Names and numbers should contrast enough to be readable in the cheap seats.


Elaborating a bit:

1. When you look at a game, you should be able to recognize who’s playing without any trouble. Even if they’re wearing an alternate uniform with a different design, you should be able to eliminate the teams that don’t officially use that color.

(To their credit, the NFL has been good about making sure their alternate unis are still in team colors.)

2. We’re now in an era where team names on jerseys are custom-designed. So even if it used to be impossible to go to the local sporting goods store and find a font thin enough to put “PHILADELPHIA” or “TRAIL BLAZERS” across the chest, now the sportswear company that provides uniforms can do it. (And if it’s still a problem, Phillies or 76ers or Portland will work.)

This eliminates the problem of viewers trying to figure out what city that area code belongs to, or which Queen City it might be.

3. This would seem to be obvious, but we see red-on-red or black-on-black much too often. Even black-on-red can be difficult.

Speaking of contrast, this is a good place to mention the role of white, even for teams that don’t list it as one of their official colors. There are three primary uses:

a. In baseball, white and gray have been the default uniform colors, going back to the days when players wore flannel unis in the summer sun. Reflective colors were obviously a good thing, and ballplayers have been wearing them long enough that it’s well-established.

b. In other sports, when black-and-white television came along, color vs. color became a problem, and leagues required one team to wear white (or, occasionally, yellow/gold). Even with the rise of color TV, the contrast between light and dark still makes it a little easier to quickly identify which team is which.

c. White letters and numbers contrast well from dark jerseys; other colors are more problematic.

Having said that, we’ll note that any color that’s not part of a team’s official palette can be considered “neutral,” but most will make things worse.


Anticipating some responses:

What about throwbacks?

As long as they’re accurate, they’re fine. Even if the color scheme has changed, they still represented the franchise in their day.

You can always see who’s playing on the scorebug.

That’s probably true if you’re watching a game in your living room. But sometimes you’re in an establishment where the TV is across the room, where the bug is unlikely to be readable. If you’re watching highlights, there may not be a visible bug, and trying to figure out who’s playing can be distracting. And every now and then, the scorebug uses team logos, which may include an alternate logo appropriate to the alternate uni.

Everybody here calls it “The Valley.”

That’s nice. But is “here” the Mississippi Valley? The Salt Lake Valley? The Valley of the Sun? Or another valley entirely?

If the audience were entirely local, it wouldn’t be a problem. But when people all over the world can see the game, the idea of using an identifier that only local fans know is incredibly quaint.

What about minor league teams naming themselves after local foodstuffs or participating in the Copa de la Diversión?

The important difference between this and the major leagues is that minor league games are targeted much more to a local audience. If the Albuquerque Isotopes take the field as the Mariachis, the only people outside of New Mexico who might care would be fans of the visiting team if the game is televised.

I like the alternates better.

That’s your prerogative; it would be silly to suggest that all traditional designs are more aesthetically pleasing. But uniforms don’t just exist as objects of design. They’re designed to allow players and fans to identify teams and players, and the form has to accomodate that function.

You don’t like fun.

My idea of fun is watching players I recognize do athletic things, not spending ten minutes trying to figure out who’s playing. YMMV.

Comments (46)

    Could not agree more. THANK YOU

    PS – I would add the rule that 90% of each league’s teams have to go back to a uniform they wore between 1969 and 1972. :+)

    If it wasn’t for the scorebug, I would have a hard time telling who is playing in the NBA sometimes. When teams wore white at home, and the visiting team had only one away uniform, it was easy to tell right away. But, $$$$$$ has changed all that with all the extra uniforms.

    I haven’t been their target demographic for many years, but it was when they started switching out floors to match their confusing new uniforms that I realized the train had left without me and wasn’t coming back.

    That was the one thing I always loved about the Bulls. They have had the same uniform design (lets not talk about the “vest jersey” era) for decades. You ALWAYS knew who they were, even when the black pinstripe jerseys came out. But, the “City” jerseys ruined all that. Nike/NBA greed preying on the younger generation.

    While I generally agree with these rules, I would caution that on 2, what’s really important is that the jersey front contains some kind of clear and consistent symbol of the team. The Yankees’ NY for example, or Detroit’s D, both speak more clearly to team identity than a spelled-out Yankees or Detroit. Like, legibility is key for names on back, but the name on the front doesn’t need to be readable. It just needs to be recognizable, like a logo. That’s why the Twins TC cap logo works: While it’s not quite the team’s nickname or formal geographic identity, it recognizably communicates both to fans. And that speaks to the question of geographic or civic nicknames: While there are several communities in the country known to locals as “twin cities,” if you’re seeing an MLB game and some part of one team’s uniform communicates “Twin Cities,” you know that team represents Minneapolis-St. Paul, not Duluth-Superior or Fort Collins-Loveland.

    I agree, and to add one more thing under rule 3:
    …numbers should contrast enough, and be large enough to be readable in the cheap seats.

    Since you’re a Pittsburgher, I thought you were going to use Duquesne basketball as an example. First time they win a tournament game in 55 years and they do it wearing small red numbers on a navy blue jersey. Absolutely unreadable.

    All in all, though, great article. Thanks for saying what so many of us are thinking when trying to watch a game!

    Logos are an acceptable replacement for a team name on jerseys (assuming, of course, that they’re recognizable as part of the team’s identity and not something designed for this uniform).

    I made a point of keeping the rules simple. So while “Twin Cities” isn’t hard to connect to the right team(s), it starts us down the path of what is and isn’t easy, about which reasonable people can disagree. So I’ll stand by the notion that “Minnesota” and “Twins” are the only acceptable names on the jersey.

    For the first two rules (1. Use team colors. and 2. Use either the team’s full geographic descriptor or nickname.) I disagree slightly. When I am flipping through the channels or looking at the guide to determine what to watch, I see who is playing on the screen. I don’t need to rely on the jerseys to know who is playing if we adhered to one caveat – one team is required to play in a one of their standard uniforms while the other team plays in a “one off” (CC, theme game, unrecognizable throwback, etc). An exception to that rule would be a Negro Leagues tribute game, Little League WS game, Field of Dreams game, etc.
    3. Names and numbers should contrast enough to be readable in the cheap seats. AGREEEEEE!

    agree and would add – please stop with the area codes and airport code/3-letter abbreviations. I would file that under the “hyper local” category – no one outside your area cares.

    Also, in most big metro areas these days, nobody under 40ish even thinks of one area code as representing the whole area. That’s just not how area codes have worked since around the turn of the century.

    Using an area code as a team identifier is as cliché and over used as the word “iconic”. Aim higher. Be better.

    If I were to add an additional rule, I would choose that if the franchise moves, they cannot take the identify with them. (i.e., Cleveland Browns, sort of: Charlotte Hornets) This might be an unpopular suggestion for some people. I hate watching baby blue MPLS jerseys in Los Angeles as a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. The same goes for when I see North Stars playing in Dallas as a Minnesota Wild fan. Yes, I get it: franchise history. I think the history belongs more to the community than the franchise.

    Again, this might be an unpopular take. It is fair to disagree.

    I agree – I’m glad we have the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles, not the Baltimore Browns (from Cleveland and St Louis, respectively).

    Agree with the “use either the team’s full geographic descriptor or nickname” rule, but I’ll make an exception for NOLA.

    I’m from New Orleans and the Pelicans have soured me on their use of “NOLA”. They have absolutely worn it out on their city edition uniforms.

    I do like that they have “Crescent City” on their red alternates now even though I hate the design of them.

    As a New Englander I know where NOLA is, but I don’t know where Crescent City is. But I would of course defer to the local population to decide whether or not NOLA is appropriate.

    To me, that just sounds like No L.A. So it could indicate anywhere other than Los Angeles.

    I don’t think it’s all that common for teams to wear uniforms stating where they are *not* from, so the “no L.A.” concern seems moot. But maybe you are making a joke?

    As soon as I submit this comment, I’m putting down my phone and giving this essay a standing O.

    I can simplify even more.
    Each team has 3 uniforms:
    A throwback.
    The throwback, is where you make extra money.
    Teams can only wear a throwback design for one year, and then they must change to a different design the following year.
    One thing a team could do, is use a design in different ways. For instance, the White Sox could design a 1983 home throwback for one year, then design a 1983 road throwback a few years later.
    Which leads me to the rules.
    Notice how , on the White Sox, I said they could come back with the design a few years later?
    Rule number one: Throwback designs could not be worn in consecutive years. If the White Sox decided to go with the 1983 throwbacks, the following season, they would need a throwback from a different year.
    Rule number two: A home designed throwback could only be worn at home. A road designed throwback could only be worn on the road.
    Example: The Cubs 1984 uniforms, even though they have white pants, were designed as a road uniform, thus could only be worn on the road.

    All new NBA uniforms are terrible. Same colored names/numbers as the jersey are absolutely abhorrent. That’s go to go. Also, the ads under the ice and on the boards of hockey are the worst, along with MLB sleeve ads.

    I agree with that with one exception: the Spurs’ ’70s road throwbacks with black on black. It just works on that one.

    Good rules in general but Blazers and Sixers should still be allowed. If the 49ers were a NBA team Niners would be OK with me as well. OKC instead of Oklahoma City gets a pass as well. But otherwise I agree.

    Cavs as well, come to think of it. I think a lot of Cleveland fans call them the Cavs and their current logo says Cavs. But Cleveland Cavaliers sounds better. And I want that Cavalier seen from the back logo again.

    If we were dealing with this on a case-by-case basis, I’d likely agree with you. But nobody’s going to make me uniform czar with that kind of power, and I don’t like seeing a hockey team wearing “CANES”.

    The comments functionality on this website is far too glitchy for the depth of this discussion, but I will say that I 100% agree with these rules, but could earnestly argue against all of them based on specific successes to the contrary.

    There are, no doubt, “specific successes to the contrary,” but I’m not sure we’d agree on what they are. We’re much more likely to agree that we’ll forgo that handful of successes if it means we don’t have to slog through all the unsuccessful attempts.

    I’m not trying to argue. As I said, I totally agree with these rules. The exceptions would make a great complimentary article, however subjective they may be.

    I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you.

    The Q&A-type part is specifically borrowed from Paul. If reading him for the past quarter-century has affected my writing, I’ll happily accept that.

    Definitely a compliment, he’s the main reason I visit here daily, so I hope to see you continue to contribute

    Who knows more about branding than Nike, right? Apparently everyone. I swear if I paid $100 to go see The Yankees and they show up looking like the characters from Willy Wonka, I’m going to feel shorted. The traditional look is part of the experience. That’s why I really dislike where all this is heading. Signed grumpy old man shaking fists at clouds.

    About the only thing you are missing is that the geographic descriptor should be on the road uniform/jersey, and the nickname should be on the home set for MLB and NBA (with a few notable exceptions like Phillies being acceptable for both road and home).
    The photo attached to this is perfect too, the fonts are large or clear enough to be readable it first glance, so all I see are two red and black teams play against each other. My initial thought was it was a euro league or something.

    I’m bracing myself for a future where all sports leagues are like NASCAR and everyone gets a new color scheme each week. Blah.

    I don’t think you should have to use the team colors. I for one love the red sox city connect because it is a connection to the city.
    The marathon is an integral event to the hub of the universe and the rally of Boston Strong after horrific events makes me love their decision on color

    Being a PA announcer, I all dark jerseys should have white or highly contrasting numbers (e.g. gold), use big block old school numbers and no color vs color

    The colors on alternates doesn’t bother me at all as long as it’s done right. I like the San Diego Padres City Connects. I like how baseball does it in that they have 3-4 shirts in traditional colors then the one “fun,” shirt. My only issues is that too many of the designs themselves stink but the SD CC is actually one of the good ones IMO.

    I think I’m used to it though because in soccer in which they change the uniform every single season, having crazy colors on the change/alternate (or sometimes both) jerseys has been the norm. It been primary kit in your traditional colors, go wild on the change kit and 3rd kit.

    Actually, that is one of the several things I don’t like about soccer uniforms outside North America. The use of a completely different set of colors for change uniforms vs. primaries. The NASL held the line for the same set on all uniforms with white or yellow as the alternate shirt color, which has mostly carried over to MLS.

    It’s different for special one-off uniforms where there’s a specific reason for the different colors.

    I watch a lot of NPB and the Hiroshima Carp (a team I normally like) went with red on red–logo, names, numbers–last season and it is an unbelievable eyesore. The black outline doesn’t help even a little. It’s easily the worst uniform in all of Japanese baseball and they have a few lulus. Check out any of the Hanshin Tigers’ alternate unis or the alternate uni that manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo designed for the Nippon Ham Fighters (which I think they only wore once, thank the gods).

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