A Vested Interest in Sleeveless Jerseys
by Dave Murray
There's a dangerous trend afoot in baseball. Some teams have crossed the line into abuse, and we need rules to keep them in check.
I'm talking, of course, about vests.
Vests aren't exactly new. The Cubs wore them between 1940 and 1942, but they gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. It must have been some kind of Ohio thing, because the Reds wore them for a decade starting in 1956, the Indians between 1963 and 1969. The Kansas City Athletics also wore vests in 1962 and got loose with the gold and green look a year later, packing them up for the move to Oakland and finally quitting in 1971.
The pullover polyester era mandated sleeves. After all, do you really want to see skin-tight, buttonless, powder blue vests with those horrid beltless pajama pants? Astros rainbow vests, anyone? Yikes.
Credit the Marlins, an expansion team that broke many rules with its uniforms, for bringing back vests as an alternate when they unveiled their uniforms in 1992. I proudly wore one to the team's first game in 1993. The Reds also reintroduced vests in 1993, along with white, pinstripe caps. The vests lasted, the white caps didn't.
Now there are nine teams wearing vests, 9.5 if you count the White Sox and their faux vests. As with all things uniform, they can be divided these into the good, the bad and the "Good Lord, Man, What Were You Thinking?"
You know about the Gray Flannel Test, the index used to measure a uniform's worthiness. I'm going to add a set of criteria for those who choose to shun sleeves.
1.) If vests are worn as an alternate, the design must be different from the team's basic jersey. Nothing screams lame like taking a perfectly good jersey and lopping the sleeves off just so you can parade something new in the gift shop. This is called recycling, and it should be left to pop bottles.
2.) Vests are better if there is an element to one side, rather than stretched across the buttons. This is not a hard and fast rule, but I'm starting to lean that way.
Before we start, I must say I like vests, when done properly. They're a nod to tradition, and they look cool.
There are three teams that use vests for their basic uniforms:
Classic. A proper use of the vest, harking back to Maz sending the Yankees packing and Roberto Clemente's heyday. These are some of the best uniforms in baseball. Adding pinstripes for a vested alternate was unnecessary.
Another first-rate use of vests, when the team wears the red undershirt. Just a pet peeve of mine. I like to see the teams with colors in their names wear that color and not black. Don't get me started on the Blue Jays.
Kansas City Royals
As much as I like vests, the Royals had classic uniforms that were basically unmessed with since their debut. When you've reached the inner circle, you don't dive into the gimmick pool. The Tigers and Cardinals have classic uniforms, and you don't want them lopping off their sleeves for the heck of it.
Alternates fall into two categories: Those who violate the rule and slice the sleeves off their regular jerseys and those who come up with a new design.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are three teams recycling jerseys like AC/DC recycles riffs. They're fine but don't offer anything more than the basic jersey.
In the case of the Angels, this isn't surprising because the road uniform is basically a gray version of the home uniform. The batting-practice jersey looks better. In fact, if they took the Big A with the halo from the BP jersey and used it on the vest, I'd be saluting. It would bring back memories of my short trip to L.A. last year, when I got to drive my Ford rental car under the Big A scoreboard on my way to the Richard Nixon Library.
As for the Diamondbacks, if they're going to use their own Big A for their vest, they should bring back the "Diamondbacks" they wore for a while on the sleeved version.
And the Devil Rays just have been a disaster since birth. The green jersey would have been a better vest instead if it were just a sleeved alternate.
Others who try something different:
Your feeling on this vest will rest entirely on how comfortable you are with Chief Wahoo, who is all red and grinning over the left breast. I used to be OK with him, but I've since fallen into the Wahoo-is-offensive camp. But what's the alternative? Not that "I" thing that looks like a "J" the team wears on its alternate cap. Back to the drawing board.
This is growing on me, but slowly. I used to think they were horrible. Now we just peacefully co-exist. The team blows up the T from the cap. I'm still not sold on the piping around the arm holes
This is bad. We're talking avert-your-eyes, hide-the-women-and-children bad. It's a black vest with Colorado spelled out across the front like on the road jerseys. But there's white, or silver, I can't tell, with double piping only along the arm holes. And they wear this atrocity with purple undershirts, unless they're wearing them with black undershirts, which looks even worse. The Rockies are one of a handful of teams legally allowed to wear black under the Gray Flannel Test - Giants, Pirates and Orioles are the others - but these look like clown suits. They also have a more traditional vest, a white, pinstriped version with the interlocking CR logo from the cap. That should have been enough.
Just Say 'No' to Faux
The Chicago White Sox used to have vests. Recycled from the home uniform to be sure, but they were real vests. Then along came the nasty Disney Angels uniforms with the blue sleeves, followed by the Blue Jays with the blue sleeves, pretending to be vests but not making the full commitment. The Sox have continued with this ruse, trotting out vest-like jerseys with attached black sleeves.
Vests that should be
I'm not saying every team needs to adopt a vest. But because this trend is showing no sign of letting up, I'm going to step in and offer suggestions. Lest there be confusion, these are all alternates.
People are clamoring for the return of the ball-in-glove MB logo. Here's a way for the Brewers to have their crappy uniforms and appease the fans, too. How about a vest with the ball-in-glove, but instead of bright blue and yellow they can use the navy blue and gold of the current uniform?
St. Louis Cardinals
Only the criminally insane would tamper with the birds-on-bat design pretty much at the center of the inner circle. But I really like the logo on the team's alternate cap. How about that on a white vest? It's only an alternate, so there might not be a riot under the arch.
This is a no-brainer. Resurrect the A's design the team wore as vests in the 1960s. Heck, go all the way and make them gold.
San Diego Padres
The Padres look horrible anyway, so we can be radical here. How about a navy vest with the Swinging Friar logo over the breast?
The team has an alternate with the F logo from the cap. Lop off the sleeves and they have a fine vest.
How about the Laughing Bird logo they wore on the caps in the glory days? They could wear it with the lame O's caps they have, so there aren't conflicting, realistic vs. cartoonish birds on the uniform.
Chicago White Sox
Drop the faux vests and the recycling. I always have loved the winged-sock logo the team used in the 1950s. I don't think it's ever been on a uniform. Heck, even the sock in the black diamond logo on the road jersey would work.
Boston Red Sox
A tasteful logo of the World Series trophy - worn only in games against the Yankees. Look, you can't rub it in enough for my taste.