Let’s Geek Out Over This Early-1990s MLB Style Guide!
From uniforms and logos to color swatches and sleeve patches, this guide had the official specs for every MLB team.
Before we get started, a quick note: This article includes lots of fairly detailed graphics that you’ll probably want to see at full size. So if possible, I suggest reading it on a laptop or desktop computer, not on your phone. — Paul
When you write about uniforms for a living, people sometimes approach you with unusual or specialized requests. That recently happened to me when I heard from a guy who said he once worked for a greeting card company that had partnered with Major League Baseball for a line of cards in the early 1990s. While working on that project, he’d been given a copy of the MLB Style Guide, which he had held onto over the ensuing three decades but was now looking to sell. He did a bit of googling, found some of my writing about style guides, and was wondering if I could tell him what his guide might be worth.
You probably know this already, but just in case: Every major sports league has an annual style guide that shows the official design specs for uniforms, logos, team colors, and so on. Manufacturers and licensees use those specs to create on-field uniforms and retail merchandise (including MLB greeting cards in the 1990s, apparently, although I have no memory of that). Nowadays the style guides are all kept on gated websites so the leagues can control access to them, but they used to be printed and mailed out to licensees. These vintage guides occasionally turn up on eBay or at collectibles shows, and they’re fascinating documents of uniform history. Each one is like the Rosetta Stone for a particular moment in a given league’s uniform timeline.
Over the years I’ve amassed a nice collection of old style guides from each of the Big Four pro leagues, but I didn’t have an MLB guide from the early 1990s (I had late-’90s and early-’80s), so I asked the greeting card guy if he’d consider selling his guide to me. We settled on a fair price and he sent me the guide, which is shown above.
As you can see, the guide came in a white binder. When you open the binder, the first thing you see is some frontmatter (I’ll get to that later in this article), and then there’s a series of two-page spreads — one for each of the then-current 26 MLB teams. Each spread consists of a color page and a black-and-white page, like this:
The color page then folds out to show you the team’s full uniform set, including jerseys, BP jerseys, pants, headwear, hosiery, and a dugout jacket:
Those color fold-out pages are the main attraction, filled with juicy details to geek out over. The black-and-white pages, which are meant to be used as a printer’s camera copy, are less interesting but still have worthwhile info:
Style guide formats tend to vary across leagues and eras. Each one has its own protocols, rules, and conventions. Here are some of those conventions for this MLB guide (the orange-dot numbers correspond to the numbered list that follows the photo):
Home and road jerseys are always shown in the upper-left region. Sometimes, as in the case of this Angels sheet, the road jersey is shown first, which seems like an odd way of sequencing things. Unfortunately — and this is probably the guide’s biggest deficiency — we don’t get to see the backs of the jerseys. (MLB began showing rear-view mock-ups in the guide a few years later.)
The color chips in the upper-right corner are perforated, so they can be removed for color-matching. In some vintage style guides, some of these chips have been removed, but all of them in this guide are intact.
Uniform pants are consistently referred to throughout the style guide as “trousers,” which seems hopelessly square.
Batting helmets are consistently shown without earflaps, even though most MLB players were wearing flaps by this point.
Most of the sheets include fine print at the bottom that spells out the uniform specs in exacting detail. Sample passage: “HOME JERSEY — White body and sleeves; saddle shoulder; curved bottom; button-down placket neck; neck striping — navy 7/16″ (outside), scarlet 1/4″, navy 7/16″; sleeve striping — navy 1/2″ (outside), scarlet 5/8″, navy 1/2″.”
Each team’s sheet shows one stirrup (labeled as “Stirrup,” singular) and one sanitary sock (“Socks,” plural).
For reasons that aren’t clear to me, most of the sheets show duplicate iterations of the team’s logos in the lower-right area. Including the logos seems like an obvious enough move, but why show them multiple times? It almost seems like they were just looking to fill the space.
A small but crucial detail can be found in the lower-right corner of each sheet, where a month and year are shown in fine print. Here’s a close-up:
The “CA-1,” of course, tells us that this is the first sheet for the California Angels. (The accompanying black-and-white sheet is “CA-2.”) But the key info is that “9/90” notation, because it tells us that this sheet was issued in September of 1990, meaning it showed the Angels’ specs for the then-upcoming 1991 season. The idea was that new style sheets would be sent to licensees whenever a team changed its uniforms or other specs, and then the licensees could update their binders by swapping out the old sheets and inserting the updated ones. As a result, the sheets in this binder carry a variety of dates, ranging from 10/88 through 10/91. (MLB eventually abandoned this approach and began issuing annual style guides that covered all of the teams, even the ones that hadn’t made any changes since the previous season.)
So that’s the basic format. With that in mind, let’s take a team-by-team look at this style guide. For each club, I’ve photographed the color fold-out page and the accompanying black-and-white page, and I’ve also provided some comments and observations. (One caveat: The Phillies’ color sheet is missing — an annoying omission! The guy who sold the guide to me says he doesn’t know what happened to it. Whaddaya gonna do.)
Okay, ready to dive in? Here we go.