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Ask Me Anything
The latest installment in an occasional Uni Watch series.
Hello! It’s time for the latest quarterly edition of “Ask Me Anything,” where Uni Watch readers submit questions and I do my best to respond to them.
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Without further ado, here we go.
I was wondering if anyone has told you about the Yankees changing the font of the number stickers on their helmets. For as long as I can remember, they were a rounded, Helvetica-looking font, but this season they appear to match the number font on the jerseys. Have you ever done extensive research on MLB helmet numbers? If so, what are your most memorable/interesting finds?
I hadn’t noticed that change regarding the Yanks’ helmet numbers, but you’re right:
Helmet numbers aren’t specified in the MLB Style Guide or anything official like that. They usually reflect the preferred style of the team’s equipment manager. I’ve never done an extensive survey of them, but one of the most unusual quirks can be found in Chicago, where the Cubs render their helmet numbers in McAuliffe (often known as “the Red Sox font,” although lots of MLB teams used to use it for their rear-jersey numbers), even though McAuliffe isn’t currently used anywhere else in their visual portfolio:
Some teams prefer to use helmet nametapes either instead of or in addition to helmet numbers. The most prominent example is the Giants — who, like the Yankees, have changed their font this year:
How is the new Uni Watch content strategy working out for you?
I assume you’re referring to the format we switched to last summer, which features multiple blog posts per day instead of just one, including the Ticker as a separate post, plus the weekly Substack piece.
Personally, I’m extremely happy with it. I like being able to do separate posts on breaking news items instead of lumping them all into one massive post, our pageviews are up, and the new home page is soooooo much better than the old one. In addition, now that some people are paying to subscribe to this Substack (and also paying to get an ad-free blog experience via Uni Watch Plus), I no longer have to devote as much time and energy to merchandise projects. The merch projects were fun, and I’ll probably have a few more of them, but ultimately I’m a writer, and I’d rather have people support me by buying my writing instead of by buying stuff.
I know some people preferred the old format, and there are certain things I miss about it myself. There was something nice about the whole day’s content being contained in a single post — one-stop shopping, so to speak. Overall, though, I think the new format is a big improvement, and I’m really happy with how it’s working out.
Do you drink a lot? You’re a social creature, you visit bars, see bands, travel, you’re a sports fan and enjoy different foods. So when you enjoy booze, how many is a lot and what is your go-to drink?
The only alcohol I drink is beer — I don’t care for wine or liquor. I usually get either a lager or something dark. Or to put it another way, I’m malty, not hoppy.
Do I drink “a lot”? I guess it depends on how you characterize “a lot.” I’ll go days at a clip without drinking at all. When I do drink, it’s usually two or three beers, although I might have more at an all-day backyard party or something like that.
It’s funny that you ask about this, because lately I’ve been spending time with someone who rarely drinks, so I’ve had to think a bit harder about the role that alcohol plays in my life (not that I hadn’t thought about it previously, but hanging out with a non-drinker has definitely made me think about it more). One good friend of mine, upon hearing about this person who I’ve been hanging out with, actually said to me, “You and a non-drinker? That seems like an odd fit.”
Here’s the thing, though: What I really like about alcohol — more than the taste, more than the buzz — is the social culture of drinking. The conviviality, the good cheer, all of that. If you told me that I could choose between (a) all the beer I want, for free, for the rest of my life, but I have to drink at home by myself, or (b) I can have a free tab at any bar I visit, but I can only order Diet Coke, to me it’s a no-brainer: Just make sure that Diet Coke is cold. I’d rather be in a drinking space, surrounded by other drinkers, even if my drink is booze-free. Fortunately, this person I’ve been hanging out with likes a good bar as much as I do, so we’re very compatible in that regard.
As an aside: This is why I’ve never been interested in drugs, because the social culture of drugs doesn’t appeal to me.
I noticed in the background of the photo of Caitlin that you posted on her birthday that you have a Spade Cooley poster on your wall. Do you listen to country music and/or the podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones? While Cooley made some cool music, I can’t bring myself to actively listen to him after hearing the C&R episode about him and was a little surprised to see his poster. Not trying to yuck your yum — just wanted to ask about it.
I love old country music, especially western swing, and including Spade Cooley. I’m well aware of the unsavory aspects of his life, but I still enjoy his work (ditto for many, many other musicians who’ve lived less-than-admirable lives). You can call that hypocrisy, or denial, or just compartmentalization — it’s probably a mix of all three.
The artwork you’re referring to in my home is an illustration that my friend Michael McMahon made for the WFMU program guide back around 1992-ish. I recently acquired the original art from Michael and had it framed. It tracks the story of Cooley’s life and career, including the horrible parts (for a larger, higher-res version, look here):
Would I have this on the wall if it hadn’t been produced by one of my best friends? Probably not, because I don’t tend to have music-related artwork in my home. That said, I really do love this piece and love having it on display.
As for Cocaine and Rhinestones, I was not familiar with that podcast, but I’ll give it a listen. Thanks for the tip!
I will be staying in Brooklyn over Labor Day weekend and am looking for different things to do. What are some of your favorite local/hidden spots in NYC that you’re willing to share? Either for food or culturally.
Here are some of my favorites:
Brennan and Carr is an old (and old-school) roast-beef sandwich shop with a very Midwestern feel.
The Roosevelt Island Tram is a unique bit of NYC transit. If possible, go at sunset — the views are stunning.
Governor’s Island is a former military base that’s been converted into a park. It’s just a five-minute ferry ride away but feels like another world.
Of all of NYC’s “major” museums (the Met, MoMA, the Guggenheim, etc.), the most underrated and overlooked is the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which is technically part of the Smithsonian. If you like Uni Watch, then you probably care about design, so you’ll probably like this museum.
The Hall of Fame for Great Americans is the first hall of fame — the one from which all subsequent halls of fame (including the one in Cooperstown) are descended. Now largely forgotten, it’s a fascinating little slice of history, located on the campus of what is now Bronx Community College.
Do your uniform likes/dislikes ever change? Have you ever loved a certain uniform or uniform style that you now dislike? Or have you ever disliked a certain thing about uniforms that you now embrace or like?
I’ve certainly changed my mind (although not often) about individual uniform designs. As I’ve acknowledged many times, for example, I think the Arizona Diamondbacks’ original uni set, which I didn’t like at first (in part because of the purple), has aged extremely well. I wish they’d go back to it, purple and all.
As for changing my mind about certain uniform styles, let’s see: I still don’t like pajama pants, I still don’t like BFBS, I still love stirrups, etc., etc. In short: I’m still a classicist!
I’ve found myself becoming less and less interested in uniforms as items like belts and socks became, well, less uniform. Now that advertising is polluting the jerseys and helmets of so many professional teams, I find my interest almost extinguished. Do you ever envision a day when you will reach your limit with these uniform trends?
I dislike a lot of the current trends you point out (along with some others), but I’m still interested in the uni-verse. And even if the current state of things is less than ideal, there are still fun rabbit holes to explore, history mysteries to untangle, previously overlooked information to uncover. That’s enough to keep me engaged (and busy!).
I know what a music lover you are (me too). What was the best or most memorable concert you were ever at?
Shows that made a big impact on me include the following:
Soul Asylum in 1986. I was there to see Hüsker Dü, who were headlining, but Soul Asylum opened for them and totally blew me away.
The Mekons, many shows from 1987 through 1992-ish. I firmly believe that they were the world’s greatest rock and roll band during this period, and they were consistently the best live band I’ve ever seen.
Pavement, several shows from 1989 through 1992, when Gary Young was still their drummer. Not just a great band but a great spectacle.
Chavez, lots of shows in 1994. The most consistently hot live band I ever saw on a regular basis during a short time span. One blistering show after another.
There are hundreds, even thousands of other shows that I’ve loved, but it all becomes a blur at some point.
Obviously, the ones I cited above all took place a long time ago. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed live music as much as I’ve gotten older (on the contrary, I think in some ways I enjoy it even more now than I used to), but I don’t think a live show is as likely to change my life these days (or at least to feel that way) as it was when I was younger.
The St. Louis Cardinals actually tried to address that issue in 1998, when they changed the bird beaks on their jersey insignia from yellow to red. But the change wasn’t popular (maybe because people liked the way the yellow beaks matched the yellow bat), so they went back to yellow the following year:
As for the Arizona and Louisville Cardinals, I can’t really explain it, except I guess they wanted to add an additional splash of color. And you have to admit, that extra bit of yellow does look nice, even if it’s not ornithologically accurate. (Personally, I’m more upset by the Louisville logo having teeth.)
Oddly, this yellow-beak phenomenon is not limited to sports teams. A rudimentary search on eBay turned up the following items:
It seems that many people would just prefer to see their cardinals with yellow beaks!
Paul, how are you doing?
Not bad at all. Last year was challenging, but this year has mostly been pretty good (Uni Watch girl mascot Caitlin’s ongoing health issues notwithstanding). I feel pretty healthy, physically and emotionally, and for the most part I look forward to each new day. Thanks for asking!
We’ve seen many league-wide uniform programs for the major North American leagues (City Edition, City Connect, Color Rush, Reverse Retro). None of these has been perfect, but my question is this: If you were tasked with creating/designing one of these programs, what would the theme be?
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of these league-wide programs because, inevitably, there are always some teams that just don’t fit well into the program theme.
That said, I think the NHL’s Reverse Retro program is by far the best of these initiatives, because it’s a uniform program about uniforms. So there’s no silly “storytelling,” no overload of absurd design elements — just a mix of the team’s old colors and/or iconography. I like that! (Or at least I don’t hate that.)
So if I were going to create such a program, I too would make it uniform-based. A league-wide throwback program, say, or maybe a “What if?” program based on other team names that were considered for each franchise. Something fun like that!
Are MLB teams required to wear their City Connect uniforms a specific amount of time? I know you reported that they would stay in their wardrobe for three years, but each year are they going to have to wear them for a certain number of games? I ask because, as an Orioles fan who does not like their CC uniforms and who watched them lose two in a row while getting outscored 17-5, I was hoping the O’s would get superstitious and drop their plan to wear them on home Fridays.
First, I have an update on the three-year time frame. The idea that each team would wear its CC uniforms for three years was based on the original plan to have all teams enrolled in the program by the end of the third season (which is 2023). Obviously, that hasn’t happened — several teams won’t get their CC uniforms until next year, which will be the fourth year of the program. So the plan now is for the seven original CC teams from 2021 — the Cubs, D-backs, Dodgers, Giants, Marlins, Red Sox, and White Sox — to keep wearing their CC designs for a fourth season. Then they’ll get new CC designs in 2025, as will the teams who joined the program in 2022 (the Angels, Astros, Brewers, Nats, Padres, Rockies, and Royals), and everyone will continue on a three-year cycle from there. Or at least that’s the current plan.
As for a particular number of games, I think it’s something low, like five or six games — something like that. But if a team has announced that the CC uni will be worn every Friday (or every Sunday, or whatever), they’re unlikely to back away from that, even if they’re superstitious. The marketing staff would have a fit.
Any update on the Phoenix Suns’ new uniform sets for this upcoming season?
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment and greatest failure tied to the entire Uni Watch project to date?
The biggest achievement, by far, is the cultivation of the Uni Watch comm-uni-ty, a place where like-minded people can discuss things that “normal” people don’t much care about. (And that achievement, of course, belongs not just to me but also to you, and to everyone else who’s part of Uni Watch.)
Sticking with the macro level, the biggest failure is probably the fact that I haven’t become a better researcher. I mean, I’m not a terrible researcher, but given all the tools that are out there (Newspapers.com, Ancestry.com, census records, etc.), I’m not as good as I’d like to be. Sometimes I’ll be trying to track down a historical fact or a person who figured in a long-ago storyline, and I’ll hit a brick wall, and then I’ll put out a query on Twitter or on the blog and someone else cracks the case in no time flat. Always makes me feel like my research skills are weak.
I was wondering why NCAA football teams are required to wear dark jerseys at home and can only wear white if they get permission from the away team? Why can’t the home team just choose dark or white?
I believe the rule was conceived as a way of avoiding the potential problem of a miscommunication leading to the two teams both hitting the field wearing white (or non-contrasting colors). And now it’s become one of those “This is just how we do things” rules. Well, except for LSU, Georgia Tech, and a few others. I agree that there’s no reason why they couldn’t handle it the way the NFL does, with the home team choosing white or color and the road team wearing the opposite. Then again, after a century or more of seeing the home team wearing the home colors, fans might flip out if they saw their favorite school wearing white.
I seem to recall you not doing posts on leaks in the past unless you were able to independently verify them. It feels like you are posting possible leaks more often now. Am I mistaken or has your thinking on leaks evolved?
My default position on any leak, whether it’s something being leaked directly to me or something that comes across my radar while circulating online, is the same as it’s always been: skepticism. I need to be convinced that the leak is legit, or at least probably legit, before writing about it. There are certain layers of due diligence that I always go through, and a lot of leaks don’t make it past those first few layers.
That said, a few things have changed over the years:
First, the sheer volume of leakage has increased, to the point where leaks now feel like a significant sub-niche within the uni-verse. While I still default toward skepticism (and still end up not writing about some leaks because I think they’re not legit), I feel like leaks are harder to ignore now just because there are so many of them.
Many more people now leak things directly to me, so there’s a more direct “chain of custody,” so to speak, for the leaked content. Or to put it another way, there are fewer layers of hearsay (“My friend saw this on reddit…”). That makes verification — or, in some cases, rejection — simpler to achieve.
There are certain leakers who don’t leak directly to me but have proven themselves to be consistent sources of legitimate information. The Brazilian NBA fan and leakmeister Igor Coelho, for example, has a sterling track record. If he tweets something as a leak, I no longer feel the need to verify it. His word is good.
The vast majority of the leaks we see nowadays involve retail websites and/or brick/mortar shops selling jerseys or caps ahead of their official release. These retail leaks have proven to be extremely reliable — they are almost always legit. Now, if someone posts a photo from a retail shop, I still want to know who took the photo, and when, and where, but at this point I’d say a retail photo is almost as reliable as Igor Coelho. (One result of this, as you may have noticed over on the Uni Watch blog, is that I frequently publish headlines that say something like, “MLB Releases All-Star Caps, Confirming Earlier Leaks.”)
I am a traditionalist and miss the good old days of teams having just one primary home uniform, one primary road uniform, and possibly one alternate. Do you think we will ever go back to that, or is that unlikely as long as the merchandise is selling? It definitely seems to be more about trends, fashion, and revenue these days, instead of history, tradition and brand.
First, it’s worth mentioning here that some leagues have done things to limit the uni-driven free-for-all that you bemoan. The NFL’s one-shell rule, for example, although conceived as a safety rule, also served as a guardrail against expanding team wardrobes. And even though the rule has been dropped, alternate helmets can only be worn with alternate jerseys, which limits the mix-and-match possibilities. Similarly, Nike’s new “four plus one” rule for MLB serves as a ceiling and has forced some teams to pare back their uni portfolios.
That said, the days of long-term uniform stability are mostly gone, and I don’t think they’re coming back. You’ve already identified the main reason for this: merchandising. Uniforms used to be athleticwear produced for athletes by sporting goods companies; now uniforms are fashion apparel produced by lifestyle brands for fans. The athletes are just the models, and the field is the runway.
The whole business of fashion is predicated on planned aesthetic obsolescence, turnover, prioritizing the trendy over the timeless, and so on. As long as that’s the case, those are the values that will be driving the uni-verse.
I know green and gold are your favorite color combo. Do you have a preference for your shade of green, particularly when paired with yellow?
I like most shades of green, but my favorite is a deep, rich hunter. And I like it paired with orange (think Miami Hurricanes) almost as much as with yellow.
In the past, the logos on football helmets were more centered. Now they seem to be positioned higher. Also, it seems that the helmet logos have decreased in size. Is that correct, or does it just seem that way because the helmets have gotten larger? For example, look at this 1978 Packers/Cowboys game — the Cowboys’ helmet logos seem very large, and the Packers’ logos are positioned lower on the helmet.
You’ve already identified one of the issues at play here: Helmet shells have gotten much, much larger than they were in 1978. In addition, while the old helmets were essentially flat and smooth on the sides — the perfect canvas for logos — modern helmets are full of vents, ridges, and cutouts, which can limit where the logos can be positioned and, thus, how big they can be.
Has there been someone in your life — whether a family member, friend, coach, etc. — who had a profound inspirational impact on you? And if so, what was it that they taught you that has anchored you to this day?
In 10th grade, I had an art teacher named Ted Rupracht, who at one point told our class, “If you are bored, you are boring.” In other words, it’s a big, stimulating world out there, so there’s no excuse not to engage with it creatively and proactively. It’s by far the most important thing I learned in high school (well, except maybe how to type), and it’s something I think about on a regular basis.
I’ve encountered various people in my life who I consider my “heroes,” a term I don’t use lightly. They’re generally people who I’ve found inspirational in one way or another — their creativity, their kindness, their general approach to life. I’ll never match the level of awesomeness that these people set, but they provide a good standard for me to keep striving for.
Over the last 20 to 25 years, it seems that high school teams, rather than coming up with an original logo, just adopt a pre-existing one from a college or pro team. It sometimes leads to cognitive dissonance, like living in Pittsburgh and seeing the Eagles’ logo in purple for the Obama Eagles. The Plum Mustangs use the Denver Broncos’ logo (also in purple!), and there are lots of other examples. Isn’t this a cop-out in terms of originality and school identity? I am certainly not a fan.
I’ve long been opposed to high schools poaching other teams’ logos. You can read my thoughts about this practice here.
You have the ability to create the all-time best MLB uni matchup between one AL team and one NL team in the “Uni Series.” Which teams would you choose?
What uniforms do you think have been improved when brought back as throwbacks due to updated and more sophisticated production techniques? And likewise, are there any designs that looked good once but modern production methods actually made worse (not including advertisements being plastered on them)?
Here’s my thinking about throwbacks: If you grew up seeing a particular uni on the field, then the throwback of that uni is never going to look quite right. The new fabric won’t drape the same way, the tailoring will be different, the players will wear the uni either too loose too loose or too tight, things like stirrups will fall by the wayside, and so on. Even the fact that the players themselves are larger these days ends up mattering, because the throwback uniform graphics often feel oddly proportioned compared to the original uni. The throwbacks will still be fun, but something about them will look Not Quite Right.
However, for throwbacks based on uniforms that none of us ever saw in real life except maybe in old black-and-white photos — Negro Leagues uniforms, pre-1950s designs, etc. — those throwbacks will look fine, because our brains haven’t established any internalized standard to measure them against.
In short: I don’t think it’s a question of whether modern production methods “improve” or “worsen” a throwback. I think it’s a question of whether the throwback has to compete with our memories and expectations.
One of my favorite non-uni topics on the site is when you detail your trips and stops along the way. You always seem to find amazing out-of-the-way places. Do you plan your driving routes and hopefully find places to stay and eat, or is there a bit more research done on the front end?
Glad you like the travelogues! Like many people, I haven’t traveled much lately due to the pandemic, but I’m currently planning a trip for this August, so hopefully I’ll have a new travelogue soon.
As for planning and researching, it’s a mix. When preparing for a road trip in a certain region of the country, I’ll usually consult my two favorite resources — the travel guide Road Trip USA and the website Roadside America — and use their tips to build a Google map with interesting-sounding things to see, places to eat, etc. The pins on that map will form the basis of the driving route, but I routinely deviate from it, take detours, follow my instincts and hunches, take advice from people I meet along the way, and so on. So, basically, the front-end research is a starting point, and then I try to be open to spontaneous adventuring as the trip progresses.
If you were in charge when the Washington Football Team became the Commanders, what would you have done in terms of unis? Call me lazy, but I would have removed the offending logo from the helmet, slapped on the new “W,” and moved forward as the Commanders. Their old uniforms (logo aside) were classic. Now we’re left with a mess.
I think there were two obvious directions they could have chosen: The first would be to make a clean break from the past by changing the team colors and really starting from scratch. The other would be to just swap out the name and logo but leave everything else intact, as you’re suggesting.
I can see good arguments for either of these approaches, but instead they tried to have it both ways by retaining the colors but tweaking other design elements (the number font, the striping, etc.). Unfortunately, almost all of those elements look worse now than they did before. Stinkeroo.
I think one of the biggest mistakes they made actually came when they renamed themselves as the WFT: They removed the helmet stripes. That striping was classic and distinctive, and could have served as a great visual bridge from the old identity to the new. I definitely would have kept it intact.
Which sport’s uniforms are most rooted in the time of the sport’s invention? For example, while modern-day baseball uniforms have certainly changed since the 1860s, their general style and vibe feels closer to then than now.
I see what you’re saying about baseball — they still wear collarless buttoned shirts, belted knickers (well, some players wear knickers), stockings (ditto), and caps. But the other sports haven’t really changed either:
Football players will wear pullover shirts over pads, knickers, stockings, and headgear.
Basketball players still wear tank tops and shorts.
Hockey players still wear long-sleeved pullover tops over pads, shorts, and stockings.
Soccer players still wear pullover shirts, shorts, and socks over pads.
But I suppose we could say that nobody except baseball players currently wears collarless buttoned shirts. That’s an old haberdashery style that baseball adopted and has held onto even though it’s no longer used in any other context. So in that context, I guess baseball is the answer to your question!
What’s the tastiest meal you could make for under $10?
Hmmm. Coupla pork chops, breaded, skillet-fried, with roasted potatoes and green beans. Or maybe Budweiser-steamed mussels with crispy bread and a side salad. Or a soft-shell crab sandwich, on a kaiser roll with corn niblets and a lemon/butter/caper sauce. Now I’m hungry!
That’ll do it for this round of Ask Me Anything. Big thanks to everyone who submitted questions, and apologies to people whose queries I wasn’t able to get to.
Our next round of AMA will be in September. If you’d like to submit a question, feel free to email it here. One question per person, please. I look forward to seeing your queries!
• • • • •
I publish Uni Watch Premium articles here on Substack four times per month, which means there are four “bye weeks” built into the 52-week calendar year. The next of those byes will be next week, so my next Substack article will be the week after that, probably on July 6 or 7.
Until then, stay well, have a great Independence Day, and thanks for your support of Uni Watch.
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like his Premium articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and check out his Uni Watch merchandise. Have a question for Paul? Contact him here.