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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Updated: July 20, 11:20 AM ET
The Uni Watch Hall of Shame

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

It all started during last week's MLB All-Star Game Home Run Derby, when several readers sent outraged letters to Uni Watch HQ, decrying the ugly Derby jerseys as among the all-time worst unis ever.

"Oh, pish-posh," thought Uni Watch. "True, the All-Star attire was pretty miserable, but any halfway seasoned uni aesthete could come up with at least a dozen worse designs without breaking a sweat.

And that gave Uni Watch an idea.

Let's have a race to the bottom, a wallow in the muck, a toast to the best of the worst. In short, let's determine, once and for all, the worst sports uniforms of all time.

Simple, right? But not so fast, smart guy -- going from Uni Watch to Uni Botch is trickier than it sounds, because there have been so many truly noxious designs to choose from. So let's establish some parameters:

• First of all, we'll only look at team sports, since it would be too easy for an individual athlete to crash the list simply on the basis of one particularly heinous day.

• Also, let's stick to "real" uniforms, not one-game specials or promotional gimmicks. This means the White Sox's Bermuda shorts and MLB's "futuristic" unis don't qualify. But the Phillies' solid-red outfit is eligible, even though it was only worn once, because it was intended to be the team's Saturday home uniform (until it was withdrawn after one use due to fan outrage).

• Just as there's a five-year buffer before a retired baseball player can be elected to the Hall of Fame, let's restrict our list to designs that were introduced prior to 2001 -- designs whose retina-searing putridness, whose disregard for all standards of aesthetic decency, have stood the test of time. Alas, this means certain recent excursions into design purgatory aren't eligible -- yet.

With those ground rules in place, feel free to submit your nominations to worstuni@earthlink.net (note that this is different than the usual Uni Watch address). We'll run down the top nominees, and allow everyone to vote on the all-time stinker, in a future column. Meanwhile, Uni Watch is happy to get the ball rolling with these blasts from the sartorially-challenged past:

1. Denver Broncos, 1960-61. Most AFL teams were cash-strapped when the league got off the ground, but only the Broncos were frugal enough to use recycled unis, salvaged from the previous year's NCAA Copper Bowl game. Whatever the financial savings were, it wasn't worth it. The vertically striped socks made the team look like clowns (the socks were eventually burned in a big bonfire when the team got new unis in 1962), and the brown-on-yellow color scheme is an enduring reminder that chocolate and mustard are two great tastes that do not taste great together.

2. Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 1998-2000. Worst. Jersey. Ever. Home, road, alternate, batting practice -- you name it, Tampa's inaugural version of it was a case study in how not to dress a baseball team.

3. Vancouver Canucks, 1978-85. OK, yes, we get it -- the huge, garish stripes were supposed to form a V, for Vancouver. So how come it always looked like the team was draped with reflective vests? Bonus points for the illegible sleeve patches and for replacing one of the NHL's most underrated designs, which never should have been retired in the first place.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, 1994-99. You think LeBron would've been willing to sign with them if they still looked like this? The home outfit was slightly better than the road version, but that's like saying Phoenix is slightly less hot than Death Valley.

5. New York Islanders, 1995-97. This much we know: During the mid-1990s, lots of fans at the Nassau Coliseum were requesting vomit buckets. What's still unclear is whether they were reacting to the cheesy Gorton's fisherman logo or the seasickness-inducing trim and typography (which really deserve a closer look). Either way, a true classic.

6. Baltimore Orioles, 1971; San Diego Padres, 1973; Cleveland Indians, 1975-77; Philadelphia Phillies, 1979; and Pittsburgh Pirates, 1977-84. What was it about the 1970s that caused so many people to completely lose their minds?

7. Charlotte Hornets, 1988-96. Not just a hideous color combo but also a landmark in bad design that set the tone in multiple sports for years to come. The genius behind this one was menswear designer and Charlotte native Alexander Julian, who somehow decided that purple and teal belonged together on a sports uniform (and on warmup outfits -- ugh). Thanks to the sports world's rampant copycat mentality, virtually every new or relocated major-sport team over the next decade featured purple and/or teal, including the Raptors, Grizzlies, Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Devil Rays, Ravens, Jaguars, Coyotes, and Sharks. Some of these unis are actually much worse than the Hornets' were, but Uni Watch blames Charlotte for getting the trend started.

8. Houston Astros, 1975-79. Uni Watch is aware that lots of readers love Houston's tequila sunrise design, but come on. The flaming colors, the uni numbers formatted in a bull's-eye and on the pants -- sure, it's fun for a kitschy throwback game every now and then, but would you really want to look at this uni (or have to wear it) every single game for five solid years? (The design actually lasted for an additional seven seasons, but the pants number was removed and, mercifully, a more sedate road uni was added.)

9. Southern California Sun, 1974-75. Uni Watch normally wouldn't pick on the poor WFL, but the Sun's orange and magenta combo was just too vile to ignore. And let's not forget the white belt, for that country club seal of approval. (Incredibly, this wasn't the first pro team to combine orange and magenta: The ABA's Miami Floridians did it too, as we were all reminded when their uni was revived as an NBA throwback last winter.)

10. Milwaukee Bucks, 1993-2006. You didn't really think Uni Watch could compile a list like this without including one solid-purple monstrosity, did you? There's a depressingly large number of them to choose from, but Uni Watch gives the nod to the Bucks, who not only came up with a grotesque color scheme in 1993, but also sent the NBA's coolest logo to the glue factory, much to the franchise's everlasting shame. The good news is that the Bucks' purple reign is over: The team recently unveiled a new color scheme, with updated uniforms slated to debut in September. Welcome back to chromatic civilization, Milwaukee -- we've missed you.

This list, of course, is far from comprehensive. So submit your own Hall of Shame picks (which can include any of the ones on Uni Watch's ballot) to worstuni@earthlink.net. And once you're done reading this column, go treat yourself to a video of a Cubs/Cardinals game. After looking at all these horrible photos, you deserve to watch something nice.

Notes from Down Under, Revisited
While working on last column's survey of players with notes written on their underbills, Uni Watch was intrigued by this photo, which appears to show something written on Ambiorix Burgos' underbrim, and something taped to it as well. The Royals' PR staff couldn't provide an explanation in time for Uni Watch's deadline, but a team spokeswoman later reported back that everything underneath Burgos' brim "is personal to Burgos and he wants to keep it to himself." Fair enough.

The most interesting responses to that column weren't actually about underbills but touched on a range of related topics. Check it out:

• From Jared Paventi: "I remember when DeWayne Buice pitched for the Syracuse Chiefs (now Skychiefs), Toronto's AAA affiliate. DeWayne was signing autographs near the clubhouse one night and someone mentioned his rookie card. He proceeded to take off his cap and show the inside of it. Behind the facing of the cap were two baseball cards -- the Upper Deck promo card (I believe he was one of the original investors in Upper Deck, and the prototype cards were of him and Wally Joyner) and his Topps rookie card. I always thought that was weird, especially because the ink from the card would almost certainly come off from sweat. I also thought it was nuts, because at the time the card was worth a couple of hundred dollars."

Eric Stangel notes that Carlos Beltran annotates his cap, but not on the underbill, as evidenced by the two prayers inscribed on the inner crown of this game-used Beltran cap.

• And from Jordan Sidwell: "I noticed something about the photo of the two Nebraska pitchers. The one on the left is wearing a Rawlings glove, but the two logos on the glove are blacked out. This is because Nebraska is sponsored by Easton, so that's the only logo that can appear on equipment."

One other follow-up of note: As attentive readers might recall, Uni Watch suggested last time around that these guys would be ideal candidates to bring the "Hold my pocket" ritual to the diamond. So imagine Uni Watch's surprise when White Sox VP of communications Scott Reifert had this to say on July 14 in his official MLB blog: "For some reason, ARod and Jeter shared the same helmet for each at-bat [at the All-Star Game]. Although each Yankee had his own helmet, it was funny to see these superstars switching helmets like Little Leaguers. Maybe one fit better than the other." Draw your own conclusions.

Paul Lukas doesn't understand why more players don't have uniform-based no-trade clauses. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.