The length of a "generation" is usually defined as 25 to 30 years. So let's look back at a key baseball moment from a generation ago -- the final play of the 1991 World Series, when Gene Larkin of the Twins brought down the curtain on a 10-inning scoreless marathon by singling in the Series-winning run against the Braves. Pay close attention to the uniforms in this short video clip of the winning hit and the ensuing postgame celebration:
At first glance, the uniforms don't look all that unusual. The Braves' road grays are almost identical to what they still wear today, and the Twins still use the same chest script (albeit now without pinstripes, among a few other small changes).
But if you watch the close-ups of the players, you may feel like there's something slightly off about the uniforms. Maybe you can't put your finger on what it is, but it seems that something's missing.
And something is missing, at least compared to today's MLB unis. Lots of somethings, in fact: logos.
Look closely at the 1991 video and you'll see that there are no MLB logos on the players' caps, jerseys or pants. No New Era logo on the caps, either. The Braves don't even have a manufacturer's logo on their jersey sleeves (although you can see a small "Rawlings" script on the Twins' sleeves).
Larkin's Series-winning hit in 1991 was the final play before MLB's silhouetted-batter logo was added to the back of every team's cap. That change, which commenced at the start of the 1992 season, was the first in a series of moves that have made today's MLB players more logo-laden than those from a generation ago.
The slow but steady spread of these logos over the years is part of a larger phenomenon that your friendly uniform columnist refers to as "logo creep." How you feel about it probably depends on your feelings about uniform design and, in many cases, your age. Older, more traditionalist fans, who grew up during a more logo-free uniform era, tend to see league logos and manufacturers' marks as visual clutter and an unseemly intrusion of corporate marketing on the sanctity of the uniform. But younger fans, especially those who buy lots of jerseys and caps, more often view the logos as badges of legitimacy that make the uniforms look more official.
Either way, logo creep reflects the reality of modern sports branding, as leagues and sportswear companies vie for exposure. It's happened in varying degrees throughout the sports world, but MLB is a particularly good case study because the progression over the past generation has been steady and encompasses virtually every team-issued uniform element. (The lone exception, at least for now: the belts.) Here's a timeline showing when all those logos were added, plus an additional logo slated to be added in the near future, along with one observer's assessment of them.
1992: MLB logo added to back of cap
Fun fact: This season marks the 25th anniversary of the MLB logo being added to the back of all teams' caps, which took place in 1992. pic.twitter.com/cVRoYORRcv— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 10, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: Nobody seems to have a problem with this one. The logo is small, and the back of the cap is otherwise empty. Also, MLB has taken the enlightened approach of letting teams render the logo in their team colors, so the mark is less obtrusive. On a scale of harmless to odious, this one is harmless.
2000: MLB logo added to back of jersey
MLB logo was added to back of jerseys in 2000. Has different visual feel depending on whether jersey is plain, pinstriped, or has piping. pic.twitter.com/HAu0KIom5x— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 10, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: As the 1990s drew to a close, jersey retailing was on the rise, and MLB was starting to use its logo much more actively in various forms of marketing. Both of those factors played into the decision to add the batter logo to the rear jersey collar. Although the logo is small, it can sometimes make the back of the jersey look too busy, especially for players with longer names. And if the jersey has piping running up the placket and around the back of the collar, the piping can make the logo look like it's trapped or imprisoned instead of free-floating. So while this one isn't quite odious, it isn't harmless either. Let's say it's a minor nuisance.
2005: Majestic logo added to left sleeve and left pocket
Majestic logo has been on left sleeve and above left pocket for all teams (except Yankees) since 2005. pic.twitter.com/Wj710n0Y94— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 10, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: Manufacturers' logos on MLB jerseys and pants were a jumble from the late 1980s through 2004, with some teams wearing no logo at all and others wearing the logos of Rawlings or Russell Athletic. The system became standardized in 2005, when Majestic took over as MLB's official uniform outfitter. The logos are small, and Majestic has never had a particularly aggressive approach to lifestyle marketing as some other sportswear companies have. These qualify as another minor nuisance.
2010: Nike logo added to undershirt collar
Nike logo was added to MLB undershirt collar in 2010. Players who have shoe deals with non-Nike companies sometimes remove the logo. pic.twitter.com/EZhapoTowQ— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 13, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: In 2010 Nike became MLB's official undershirt supplier, and the company's familiar logo began peeking out on players' undershirt collars, often perfectly framed by the jersey collar. It was a fiendishly clever move on Nike's part: Players are most often shown in close-up frontal views, and are frequently shown in head shots, so Nike has gotten far more brand exposure from the lowly undershirt than Majestic has gotten from the jersey and pants. The collar logo has become so ubiquitous over the past few years that some fans mistakenly believe Nike makes the entire uniform, not just the base layer. If you're among those who think the Nike folks are evil geniuses (or just plain evil), this could be Exhibit A.
The collar logo has also led to some annoying shenanigans, as players who have shoe deals with companies other than Nike have sometimes grabbed a pair of scissors and removed the swoosh from the collar. It's distracting, it looks bad, and it gets us thinking about endorsements and corporate theater instead of who's on first. All this nonsense, just for an undershirt. For these and other reasons, the collar logo is odious.
2016: MLB logo added to back belt loop
The MLB logo was added to the rear belt loop of all teams' pants last season. pic.twitter.com/8BXUutwNMm— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 13, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: As we've seen, the MLB logo already appears on every player's cap and jersey. Depending on the player, it also sometimes appears on various accessories and pieces of equipment, including batting helmets, batting gloves, fielding gloves, wristbands and shoes (and Cubs infielder Javier Baez has the logo tattooed on the back of his neck). But just in case you weren't sure that you were watching a genuine big league ballgame, last year the MLB brass decided to add the batter logo to the back of the pants. It looks ridiculous and feels like a textbook case of overkill. Seriously, does anyone like this? Odious.
Mid-2016: MLB and Stance logos added to socks
New MLB socks being used in recent months have Stance maker's mark, as well as MLB logo. pic.twitter.com/SwpgCVR7ms— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) October 7, 2016
Uni Watch Assessment: The state of MLB hosiery has been a mess for about 20 years. Most players wear their pants down to their shoe tops, and those who choose to go high-cuffed -- about 15-20 percent of all players, according to an admittedly unscientific Uni Watch investigation -- wear a hodgepodge of solid socks, striped socks and stirrups, with teammates sometimes wearing mismatched styles.
MLB tried to revitalize its sock game last summer by making Stance the sport's first official sock provider. The new hose, which began appearing after the 2016 All-Star Game, will be used by all teams this year. The socks feature the MLB and Stance logos, although both marks are so small that they usually look like indistinct splotches or dots. Also, Stance's circular logo is more minimalist than most other sportswear companies' marks.
"We always put performance first," said Stance spokesman Tzvi Twersky. "The embroidery on the logos decreases stretch and moisture management and so on, so we want to keep them small. And I think we'd be having a very different conversation if [the Stance logo] was a random triangle or some other shape. The fact that it's small and classy and simple, I think that makes it more stomachable."
On the one hand, the feeling here at Uni Watch HQ has always been that extraneous logos should be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, it's good to see MLB giving some attention to this long-neglected part of the uniform. And if the new socks generate enough buzz to encourage more players to hike up their pants and show their lower-leg colors, that would be a net positive, even with the logo creep. So let's grade this one as incomplete for now, but potentially a necessary evil.
2016 postseason: New Era logo added to side of cap
The New Era logo was added to the left side of MLB caps for the 2016 postseason and will become a permanent fixture this year. pic.twitter.com/u7FzD54XO3— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 14, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: Woof. For years the New Era logo has been on minor league caps and retail fashion caps, but not on MLB gamers. That distinction was erased last October, when the cap maker's mark was added for the 2016 postseason, and it's being retained this year. It's a terrible look that ruins the caps' symmetry, makes big leaguers look like bush leaguers, and pointlessly tells us something we already knew. Seriously, is there anyone out there who didn't realize that New Era made MLB caps? Some enterprising fans have already organized a resistance of sorts, using seam rippers to remove the logos from their caps. Too bad MLB players can't get away with doing that. Odious.
2020: Under Armour logo to be added to front of jersey
Digital renderings of how the Under Armour logo may look when it's added to MLB jersey chests, slated to take place in 2020. pic.twitter.com/inDKL6Trwi— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 14, 2017
Uni Watch Assessment: Under Armour will take over as MLB's official uniform outfitter in 2020, and the company's "UA" logo will appear on all jerseys. But the logo will not be on the sleeve, like the Majestic logo, but on the upper-right chest -- an MLB first (and worst). But hey, on the bright side -- actually, there is no bright side to this one. Odious.
Could still more logos be on the way, in the form of corporate advertising patches, such as the ones that NBA teams will be adding this fall? MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said he's "open-minded" about that idea, although he added that he couldn't see it happening until after the Under Armour deal kicks in.
Whatever you think of all these logos, they appear to be a sign of the times. "The proliferation of logos, that's the general direction of the sporting environment," said Twersky, the Stance spokesman. True enough. Here's hoping the team logos don't get lost in the shuffle over the next generation.
Paul Lukas will have his annual MLB season preview, running down all of the uniform changes for the coming season, shortly before Opening Day. If you like this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.