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When Major League Baseball unveiled the home and road jerseys for July 13’s All-Star Game, fan reaction was near unanimous: awful. Rather than have the All-Stars play in their usual home or road uniforms, as has been the tradition in a sport in love with its past, the specially designed white (National League) and navy (American League) jerseys that would typically be worn during pregame warmups and the Home Run Derby now will show up in the actual game.
For those who haven’t seen them, the jerseys feature two buttons, have individual team logos slapped over those teams’ three-letter scoreboard abbreviations, are adorned with All-Star Game and American flag patches, and have a blue floral-print design around the sleeve trim and inside the jersey. The hats are dark navy, with team logos re-colored in red, white, and blue. Behind the traditional logo is a nod to the host team: a purple star with white mountain peaks at each point.
Noted uniform guru Paul Lukas says the 2021 All-Star getup has a chance to go down as one of the worst in baseball history. And that’s saying something. “This is just a bad design, man,” says Lukas, a self-proclaimed jersey “classicist” who’s famous in sports and design circles for his Uni Watch site that chronicles sports league uniforms, among other things. Rather than mumble terrible things to ourselves about MLB’s decision makers, we talked to Lukas about baseball’s big whiff as Denver steps into the spotlight.
5280: Please tell me all the reasons these jerseys suck.
Paul Lukas: That’s the very definition of a leading question. I think this jersey is a mistake, but MLB clearly said they wanted a special design for the All-Star Game. So if you go with that, the next step needs to be how are you going to execute the design? In this case, the execution is so self-evidently awful. It’s terrible. It’s a joke of a jersey.
Will this All-Star uniform go down as the worst in baseball history?
There’s a chance this will be one of the worst. It’s pretty bad. Let’s see it on the field, but this is bad. If you presented this jersey to a design class, it seems to me that it isn’t a good piece of visual communication. Yes, this is a bad-looking baseball uniform, but it’s also a very bad piece of graphic design. In the future, maybe this becomes something we laugh about. Like, “Wasn’t it funny? Can you believe baseball really did that?”
MLB is definitely parting from tradition with this design—is that a big deal?
I think what’s been special about Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, at least over other sports, is that baseball was the only sport where the players wore their regular team uniforms during the actual game, rather than a special one-time design. As a uniform guy, I loved seeing the crazy quilt of uniform designs on the field at the same time. Where else were you going to see a guy in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform next to a guy in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform next to a guy in a New York Mets uniform all on the same team?
As a baseball fan, it would make you proud even if you only had one guy from your team who made the game, because they’re out there in your team’s uniform. I know lots of other fans feel the same way. There’s something special about that experience, seeing your favorite player in the uniform that you root for. As Jerry Seinfeld once famously said, “We’re rooting for laundry.” But you can’t discount how powerful that is for fans watching the All-Star Game. It worked, and there was something unique about that experience. That seems lost now. You have these jerseys, and then everyone is also going to have the same dark, dark, dark navy cap. It doesn’t make sense. Baseball got a lose-lose situation here. They made an ill-advised decision to go away from tradition.
What do you think about the logo over the scoreboard abbreviation on the left breast?
It’s a demonstrably bad design. In some cases, you can’t even read the monogram because of the overlay. The Chicago Cubs jersey is like that. Milwaukee’s jersey is like that. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ jersey is like that. The monograms themselves don’t have real currency among the teams’ fan bases. That, to me, seems like the bigger problem. No one thinks of the San Diego Padres as “SDP,” but that’s what the jersey says. A few work, but most don’t.
Like the Rockies, with “COL?”
And the hat logo is “CR.” It’s all over the place.
What about the flowers? Those aren’t supposed to be columbines, are they?
There hasn’t been an official explanation. But it might be that, since the game was originally scheduled for Atlanta, that those are magnolias or some special theme for Georgia. If that’s the truth, then, really, is this how MLB was going to honor the host city? The whole thing looks like a massive failure.
You mentioned the All-Star hat—not a fan of that either?
I don’t understand why both teams would wear the same color hat. If you’re creating these hats from scratch, wouldn’t you want to create two different hats for the two teams? Every hat has purple and red, which doesn’t work with most of the traditional logos. When you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to uniform design—forcing different pegs into the same hole—you’re going to get these problems.
What do you think the two-button look of these All-Star jerseys says about the direction Major League Baseball wants to go with its uniforms?
Maybe this is a sign that change is going to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if jerseys went in this direction. There have been two-button, batting-practice jerseys like this, and there were some jerseys like this in the 1970s. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a dress rehearsal for the league moving to a two-button pullover, either as the main format for an alternative jersey or as the regular jersey. Players today are choosing to have their jerseys sewn shut, so there’s clearly an appetite among current players that they don’t want to deal with buttons. I could see a situation where players are eventually given the option of a button-up jersey, or a two-button jersey. It’d be fun to see which players chose which jerseys, and why.
If you were handed this jersey, what would have been the easiest design fix?
If you’re gonna go with something like this, I think something like “American” and “National” on the front would be uninspired—and not what I’d want for the All-Star Game—but that would have been better. Something like the 2016 All-Star Game, in San Diego, where the American and National league [batting-practice] jerseys were spelled out in the Padres’ design. That was kind of nice. It was at least based on the home team’s design heritage, which would have been good in this case.
Some people might say, “It’s just a uniform. Relax.” What would you say to them?
I’ll say this: This game will not have the same feel to me as past All-Star Games. What’s interesting to me is baseball seems so concerned about its image and its cultural relevance, but now, they’re just watering it down. It’s like they’re saying they’re going to dress their All-Stars in a different clown costume every year, just like all the other leagues. Baseball basically sacrificed a legitimate point of difference—a way to really leverage marketing, if they chose to. MLB tossed that away. It’s so odd that baseball would choose to do this. It’s disappointing.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.