Over a century, major league baseball has had to change with the times. The teams have shifted for fan tastes, from the color barrier being broken to the new era of wild cards and cable TV expanding. As such, team uniforms have also had to adapt over time. Sometimes, a team can find a look early and stay with it but most of the time, teams need to shift a bit before they find a winning look. Some are memorable, even after those teams are gone and well-remembered. That’s proven by how MLB has “throwback” nights with fans enjoying the older looks. Other times, the looks are just horrible to see and better left off in the past.
Over the decades, there have been plenty of both, uniforms fans love to emulate and others they’d rather burn. Some are worn by teams who dominate with championships, others by teams who sunk in the cellar. A few were brief, just a season or two while others astoundingly stuck around longer than expected. Here are ten of the best and ten of the worst uniforms ever seen in the major leagues and that show how much designs have changed.
20 WORST: Chicago White Sox, 1982-1986
19 BEST: New York Mets
18 WORST: Baltimore Orioles, 1971
The 1969-71 Baltimore Orioles were one of the best teams of the time, led by star slugger Frank Robinson. They won three straight American League pennants as well as a World Series in 1970 and were aces in fielding and pitching. Sadly, 1971 saw them endure an absolutely terrible look. True, brown had always been Baltimore’s color but this was way too much. The orange wasn’t too bright or too dark but just looked bland and making it all over the uniform was a terrible choice. The team name font doesn’t look bad but throwing the black and white onto this orange mess makes it look far worse.
17 17 BEST: Washington Nationals
It’s rare that a team can nail a good uniform look right off the bat but Washington did when they relocated from Montreal in 2005. The white shirts look terrific with a nice flowing red trim down the front, not too bright but just the right shading. The “W” is a wonderfully stylized font and the player's number on the right side is in just the right spot. The away uniforms are also good with grey colors and the “Washington” logo looking very sharp. Plus, the alternate uniforms are top notch, a nearly solid red as well as a special blue version with a red-white-and-blue take on the “W” logo.
16 WORST: Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 1998-2000
When Tampa Bay got an MLB franchise in 1998, it was a big deal as the city had been wanting a baseball team for a while. However, their first uniform look wasn’t exactly something to be proud of. You can understand the designers wanted to capture an “aquatic” theme but the end result left a lot to be desired. The “wavy” font to the team logo and name just looked off, not stylish and bad when the players moved. The decision to shift the coloring from blue to green to yellow may have been good on paper but failed to click on the finished uniform. That’s without the very distracting manta ray at the bottom and how the cap’s logo seemed to resemble a different type of fish.
The Devil Rays only kept these for a few seasons before wisely changing it but it showcases a look that sunk very fast.
15 BEST: Oakland Athletics, 1972-79
They may well be the most underrated dynasty in baseball history. Under Charles Finley, the A’s dominated the early 1970s with five straight AL West titles and three straight World Series wins. With Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, the A’s trounced opponents while getting into wild times. They backed it up with a fantastic look, their home uniforms a nice white marked by the bright green “A” in a stylish font. The green undershirts helped it look better with the cuff stripes and the green and yellow caps fit the style perfectly.
14 WORST: San Diego Padres, 1972-74
True, some might cite the Padres’ 1980s outfits as a candidate but these are far worse. Making a uniform almost one solid color is never a good idea and this is a prime example why. The mustard yellow just looks horrible shifting in shades turning games and nothing but a yellow blob running across the field. The only spots of darkness are the brown team logo and belts with dark caps. Otherwise, it remains an orange-yellow mix that is just ugly as hell. While the black and yellow mixes of later years had their critics, they were still loads better than these atrocities.
13 BEST: Detroit Tigers
Here’s a great example of how the simple designs can work out for the best. The Tigers have played with things over the years such as grey uniforms or even dark blue. But now, they’ve realized that it’s best to just stick with the same home uniforms they have worn since 1934. The white tops look terrific with the nice sweep to the black trimming at the front well done to make it stand out. The highlight it the classic “D” logo in a beautiful font that is so old-fashioned that it looks amazing in modern times. The blue caps are simple with the same “D” design and help the team play to their roots.
12 WORST: Kansas City Royals, Turn Ahead the Clock
In 1999, the country was in the midst of “Millennium Fever” and MLB decided to capitalize on that. They declared one special night a “Turn Ahead the Clock” night, showcasing what they thought would be “futuristic” outfits for teams. It turned into a disaster with some of the ugliest looks imaginable. The Royals might well have gotten the worst of the bunch. The tops were an absolutely atrocious shade of gold that looked way too bright on the field and mixing it with a blue undershirt didn’t help.
11 BEST: St Louis Cardinals
10 WORST: Cleveland Indians, 1974-78
9 BEST: Cincinnati Reds
When the team name is a color, it’s easy to integrate that into the uniform. The Reds really came into their design in the 1970s with the “Big Red Machine” team that dominated baseball with six divisional titles, four pennants and back-to-back World championships. They’ve shifted slightly here and there such as the 1990 World championship team added in more red stripes but they stick to mostly the same look. The nearly all white tops are marked with red pinstripes that fit and the red undershirts help them stand out even more.
8 WORST: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1977-84
When you look at this uniform, one phrase comes to mind: “All aboard!” Instead of a “Pirate” motif, it looked like someone in the Pittsburgh front office had just come off a long train journey. The nearly solid yellow pants are way too bright and looked worse when they got dirt on them. The black and yellow tops were also a strange mix and the blocked letters for the team logos didn’t look great either. Their away uniforms were even worse with a darker top that made them look like bumblebees.
7 BEST: Brooklyn Dodgers
It’s been nearly 60 years but there are still Brooklyn natives who can remember what “Dodger Blue” really meant. While the team has gone on to great fame in Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ history belongs to Brooklyn who faithfully supported them for decades. During that time, they wore a classic uniform of light grey with a blue tint that looked good in day games. Highlighting it was “Brooklyn” in a stylish font across the chest, showing off their home town with pride. The caps featured the iconic “B” logo that was embraced across baseball as the team of underdogs who regularly challenged the Yankees and other powerhouses.
6 WORST: 1969 Seattle Pilots
In 1968, MLB expanded with several teams and the creation of divisions in the leagues. The Seattle Pilots were set up as one of those new teams and quickly became famous for two things. First, was a terrible record that had them sinking to the bottom fast. The second was one of the more laughable uniforms ever seen. The jersey featured a dumb logo of a winged baseball with the team name underneath and the player number on the right side.
5 BEST: Chicago Cubs
4 WORST: Houston Astros. 1975-86
The “Tequila Sunrise” outfits, as they’ve become known, are something Astros fans have had to put up with for a long time. The Astros had previously gone for white outfits with a “shooting star” logo that was derided by fans. But that was far better than the outfits they debuted in 1975. The pull-over jerseys featured a solid block of red, orange and yellow stripes worn from the chest down. A large Navy star sat above the abdomen with a huge circle on the back featuring the player’s name and number. During this time, they also had a road alternate of mostly white with the same “rainbow” color on the shoulders and sleeves.
3 BEST: Boston Red Sox
2 WORST: Chicago White Sox, 1976
You’d think the Sox couldn’t top those “NASCAR” like outfits But this is just ridiculous. It’s no surprise it came from the mad genius of Bill Veeck Jr, the same man behind “Disco Demolition Night.” In 1976, Veeck introduced new outfits and the jerseys weren’t bad, a throwback to the old ways with the team logo in nice font. But then there were the shorts as one uniform had the uniform legs ending a few inches above the knee and bare legs until the socks; high socks at that, with black stripes.
1 BEST: New York Yankees
It’s the simplicity yet also a good design that’s become an icon for nearly a century. Many a team has used pinstripes but somehow the Yankees make it look absolutely fantastic. They also boast an iconic logo in the form of the “NY” mixed together in a font that has withstood the test of time for decades. The solid grey for away games still stands out but it’s the pinstripes that fans think of when it comes to the Yankees. The most decorated championship team in MLB history, the Yankees can back up their talk.
Sure, they’ve had their low points (mid 1960s to 70s and then the 80s and half of the ‘90s) but the Yankees still look terrific in their uniforms and, just like their play, they’ve set a standard with uniforms every team tries to match.
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