High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Discuss Uniforms - the Good, the Bad and the Fugly - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Discuss Uniforms – the Good, the Bad and the Fugly

Tom Morello, Ken Casey, Greg Dulli and other rock star fanatics sound off on our national pastime

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Sarah Glenn/Getty Images; Diamond Images/Getty Images

Over a month into the 2012 season, it’s still more than a little jarring to watch Miami Marlins home games on television. The fluorescent green walls of the new Marlins Park are rough enough on the eyes, as is the ballpark’s tacky light-up fish-and-fountains “home run feature.” But throw in the team’s controversial new uniforms, and I find myself frantically searching for a “color mute” function on my remote.

Considerable ink has already been spilled on whether or not the Marlins’ iridescent red-orange jerseys and multi-colored “M” logo (which looks like something Sonny Crockett might have hallucinated circa 1985 after smoking too much freebase) are among the worst in baseball history. Me, I’d argue that they’re not even the worst uniforms in Marlins history – this is, after all, the team that committed the unpardonable sin of introducing teal to the MLB color spectrum back in the early Nineties. But those new unis definitely make a statement, even if it amounts to little more than, “Hey, we want you to buy and wear our re-branded merch, and we’ve heard that orange is a pretty hot color right now.”

Truth be told, most of baseball’s more colorful uniform styles (and faux pas) have been marketing-driven. Back in the 1960s, Kansas City A’s owner/visionary/huckster Charlie O. Finley began outfitting his players in various eye-popping combinations of green, gold and white, reasoning that they would look good on color television. By the 1970s, the first decade in which Americans bought more color TVs than black-and-white models, many other franchises followed Finley’s lead, with memorable results; even today, the Houston Astros’ horizontally-striped “tequila sunrise” jerseys and the San Diego Padres’ various mustard-yellow-and-fecal-brown combos of the era can still spark heated arguments: Were they the most hideous ever? Do they now qualify as Seventies retro cool? Both?

But even the most nostalgic Seventies seamhead would be hard-pressed to go to bat on behalf of the shorts that the Chicago White Sox sported for three games during the 1976 season. One of many novelties dreamed up by White Sox owner Bill Veeck, the short-lived shorts elicited considerable derision from, well, just about everyone; the look so traumatized Chicago sports fans that, even to this day, many of them believe that the Sox sported it for several seasons running.

In recent decades, MLB has gotten savvier about selling merch, resulting in a multitude of alternate and “special occasion” caps and jerseys — and some of the ugliest uniforms ever worn on the diamond. While the Marlins’ new look might not be as classy as New York Yankee pinstripes or the Detroit Tigers’ “Olde English” D, next to the green White Sox “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” unis or the Padres’ Sunday camos (surely there’s a better way to “support the troops” than to take the field looking like something straight outta G.I. Joe’s Fantasy Baseball Camp), those red-orange jerseys really ain’t so bad after all.

Of course, it all comes down to personal taste, so this week we’re asking our panel of rock & roll baseball experts: Which were the coolest uniforms in baseball history? And which ones were the ugliest?

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Call me a homer, but I think the 1969 Seattle Pilots had the best uniforms ever. The jerseys were pretty contemporary for their time with a great font and patch, but it was the hat with the captain’s ‘scrambled eggs’ on the brim that took it over the top. The design of the hat was a fairly polarizing design choice, but I think it was a pretty bold move that, when paired with a traditional jersey, still looks great. As the son of a Navy man I am all for supporting the troops, but I don’t see how the San Diego Padres’ camouflage uniforms accomplish this goal. They do, however, succeed at making anyone who is not currently behind a duck blind look ridiculous. Our men and women in uniform deserve better than this poorly designed tribute.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Position: Guitar, Vocals

The coolest uniforms in baseball history belong to the 1970s Oakland Athletics, whose startling bright green and yellow was as punk rock as their mustaches and World Series championships. The worst uniforms in baseball history, hands down, were the 1976 White Sox ones with shorts. It was bad enough seeing the pale calves of a losing team trudging around the base paths, but I imagine it was uncomfortable for days afterwards after sliding into home plate.

alice cooper

 Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

The Oakland A’s have had pretty solid uniforms over the years. They kinda went a bit retro back when Rollie Fingers was pitching. But I think the coolest would have to be the Pittsburgh Pirates in all black. Nothing is cooler than black. The worst would be the Astros. All the way throughout their history, the Astros have dominated in the ugly uniform category. They always look like they are wearing uniforms made from a 1962 Holiday Inn bed spread.

 Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba
Band: Manitoba
Position: Vocals

Honestly, I can’t answer this question objectively. It’s the New York Yankees, from start to finish. Oh, I like the Detroit “D”, I like the Brooklyn “B”; but the Yankees, to me, are like going to see the Beatles or Stones perform live. They are so iconic, and I am so automatically in love with my team, that it becomes my favorite – no names, just numbers, the majestic pinstripes, and the away greys… that’s it for me! Bad uniforms? Jeez… tough one. The green-topped Red Sox, the orange-topped Mets, the Seattle Pilots, the White Sox with shorts, the 1940s St. Louis Browns… I dunno, I could probably add 20 or 30 more!

Name: Ken Casey
Band: Dropkick Murphys
Position: Bass guitar, Vocal

Coolest? Pittsburgh Pirates in the Seventies. Worst? Houston Astros in the Seventies – those things hurt my eyes!

Name: Scott Ian
Band: Anthrax
Postion: Guitar

Coolest NY Yankees pinstripes are the classic which all other uniforms aspire to. Worst? 1970s Astros. 

Name: Steve Earle
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Coolest? Pinstripes pinstripes pinstripes! Hey, all bikers want to wear Hells Angels Death’s heads, and all baseball players want to wear pinstripes. Worst? The Houston Astros in the Seventies, hands down.

Name: Pete Yorn
Position: Vocals, Guitar

The greatest AND worst MLB uniform: It’s the bright orange and yellow Jersey that the Houston Astros wore from 1975-1993. It’s the worst idea ever…and it’s also pure genius. Nolan Ryan wore that thing. CRAZY.

Name: Steve Wynn
Band: The Baseball Project
Position: Vocals, Guitar 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s going to make this choice, but I would have to go with the legendarily baffling, garish, cartoonish, dizzying Houston Astros technicolor yawn uniforms that they started wearing in the mid-70’s as the worst. I mean, you look up “terrible uniform” on Google (and I emphasize the “you” in look it up  – the internet is just too expensive from here on tour in Australia) and you’re gonna find yourselves looking at that pantone-wheel bending little number. But here’s the weird thing: it’s also my choice for coolest uniform. I mean, there’s nothing like it. Not before, not since. You could wear it to a rave, at least if it was 1992. And, as it turns out, they were actually STILL wearing them in 1992. They stuck with those babies for almost 20 years. Man, I admire that. Anything that uniquely bad, weird, disorienting that is worn without apology is somehow amazing, at least in my book.  Yep, I’m going with the same uniform for both “coolest” and “worst.”

Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals

I’ll join what will no doubt be the piling on of the Astros/Pirates eyesores of the late Seventies / Eighties, with an incredulous nod to the White Sox shorts that mercifully lasted for only three games. Those were the days – bad uniforms, bad ballparks (OK many of those were built in the Sixties, but their heyday was the Seventies and Eighties), clubhouse cocaine, awesome hair – and still, a lot of great baseball.  As for cool, the Yankees duds steadfastly ooze class, but I like a little color out there so I’ll stick with my hometown black-and-orange Giants and green-and-gold A’s of numerous eras.  

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Coolest? Yankees and Dodgers of course. And for the worst… the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox.

Name: Greg Dulli
Band: The Twilight Singers, Afghan Whigs
Position: Vocals, Guitar

The Detroit Tigers have the best uniforms. No one else is close. Whatever the Padres are currently wearing is most likely the worst. They are and have been bereft of style ever since Nate Colbert hung his uniform up.

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Joshua Epstein
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Keyboards

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of the 1902 Detroit Tigers uniform. Someone recently reissued the hat in Detroit, and it makes you wonder why they ever changed the logo on that cap. The undershirts and socks were striped, and high socks always look more distinguished.  

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I can choose a single uniform as long as I can attach the following proviso: I have to include the player wearing it. With that said, I choose the Pittsburgh Pirates jersey as worn by Roberto Clemente. The jersey itself was as cool as hell, but when Clemente wore it, it came alive. For me, that player in that jersey symbolizes the genius humanness of baseball. (Sure, the word “pirate” means a person who steals and commits illegal and violent acts at sea or near a seaport. But seeing as Pittsburgh is situated on three rivers of varying degrees of freshness, I can ignore the connotations.) As for the most uncool uniform in history, it has to be the White Sox shorts-and-collared-shirts debacles they wore for three games in 1976. Horrible. Looked like the organization bought out a high school girls softball uniform company. If there isn’t already, there should be a rule in the MLB rulebook: No shorts, period. Shorts in baseball are like sandals in rock and roll. You don’t do it. There’s no crying in baseball. There are no shorts in baseball. There are no sandals in rock and roll. End of story.


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