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Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Updated: August 4, 10:52 AM ET
The ugliest ducklings in sports

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

You people sure aren't shy about expressing your opinions.

Uni Watch is referring to the avalanche of e-mails that arrived in response to last column's call for "worst uniform ever" nominees. So many readers sounded off on this robust topic -- many of them nominating two, four, or even a dozen different teams -- that Uni Watch had to enlist the aid of an intern to help sift through all the data. (A standing O, please, for Mike Orr -- couldn't have done it without you, buddy.)

As you'll recall, Uni Watch set a few ground rules just to keep things from being too obvious (no individual sports, no one-time promotional gimmicks, nothing less than five years old). Even with those restrictions, there were plenty of worthy nominees, including some real doozies that garnered considerable support but not quite enough to make the cut, like the Bucks' deer head design, the Jazz's purple mountain travesty, the Bruins' Pooh Bear alternate, the Coyotes' cubism experiment, the Raptors' inaugural cartoon jersey, and the California Golden Seals' white skates, among others.

Those designs, while formidably foul, didn't rise to the upper echelon of the Uni Watch readers' hall of shame. Without further ado, here are the three finalists in each of the four major sports, along with some choice commentary from some of the readers who nominated them:

BASEBALL

1. Chicago White Sox, 1982-86.
It's tough to know where to start with the ChiSox. Do you poke fun at their wide-collared pajama tops from the '70s? Or at the uni number on the left pant leg from the late '80s? Both of those received votes, but most readers focused their venom on the team's early-'80s beach blanket design. "If Wiffle Ball is ever played professionally, this is what the uniforms will look like," says reader Mark von Sternberg. Maybe, but Uni Watch is fairly certain that Wiffle Ball players have better taste than that.

2. San Diego Padres, 1980-84.
Another team that offers a wealth of potential targets. Hell, in the 1970s alone, the Padres wore this, this, this, and this, among other retina-damaging outfits. So Uni Watch was surprised when readers chose to nominate one of the club's tamer designs. Maybe they were annoyed -- as Uni Watch always was -- by the way the "d" on the jersey was overly superscripted for no good reason.

3. Houston Astros, 1975-79.
If a Martian came down from space and said, "So what was your planet like during the 1970s?" you wouldn't have to say a word. You'd just point to a photo of Houston's tequila sunrise design, which pretty much says everything that needs to be said about that beleaguered decade. And if you want to relive the horror, the 'Stros are wearing these very uniforms Thursday afternoon for a throwback game against the Padres (who'll be wearing this).

FOOTBALL

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1976-96.
From the creamsicle color scheme to Bucco Bruce on the helmet, Tampa's first-generation duds were the runaway leader among Uni Watch readers. "I used to collect the little NFL helmets that came out of the vending machines when I was a kid," says Phillip Lawless. "I honestly threw the Buccaneers' helmet away when I got it. They were that freakin' ugly."

2. Orlando Thunder, 1991-92.
The big surprise of the nominating round, as dozens of readers singled out this obscure WFL team. And it's easy to see why, what with one of history's weakest helmet logos and most painful chromatic designs. Even the white jersey is an affront to the eyes.

3. Denver Broncos, 1997-present.
Interesting to see how controversial this one still is for many folks. "I still say it looks like they all have pit stains running the length of their bodies," says Joseph Hurst, and it's hard to disagree. Countless demerits for using the Nike swoosh as the pants striping, and don't even get Uni Watch started on the the blue-on-blue combo (which, thankfully, has only been worn twice).

BASKETBALL

1. Detroit Pistons, 1996-2000.
This turquoise disaster garnered more nominations than any other uni in any sport, with negative sentiment split roughly equally between the color scheme and the flaming horse head. "Poor Grant Hill," says reader Marquis Martin. "I firmly believe this is what caused his downward injury spiral."

2. Philadelphia 76ers, 1991-94.
Always amusing to see a franchise temporarily go completely insane. Reader Peter Heller sums things up nicely: "C'mon. I mean, c'mon." Bonus points for the airbrushed stripe on the shorts, and for coming up with this design just in time for it to look extra-garish on Manute Bol.

3 (tie). Houston Rockets, 1995-2003.
Some teams look really good in pinstripes. And some teams, um, don't. Didn't it occur to anyone that vertical striping isn't a good idea for a sport where everyone's already seven feet tall? "Not even three Hall of Famers could make these look good," notes Larry Moreira.

3 (tie). Denver Nuggets, 1984-92.
No pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. More like a pot of lukewarm gruel. "Multicolor stripes with apartment buildings?" says incredulous reader Felix Montanez. "Some guy got PAID to come up with that? It looks like a Crayola box vomited on their uniforms." Bonus points for the stripes on the shorts and for the original Day-Glo version.

HOCKEY

1. Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 1995-96.
It's not clear whose bright idea it was to put the Ducks' Wild Wing mascot on the team's alternate jersey, but the result was one of the most bizarre unis of all time -- especially when you toss in the illegible typography on the back. "Usually I'm non-violent," says Nick Wollen, "but the designer of this deserved a good slap -- even though it was probably an eight-year-old." Special citation for the missed opportunity to present an infinite regression (i.e., a jersey featuring a duck wearing a jersey featuring a duck wearing a jersey featuring a …), which might have been cool enough to rescue this misbegotten design from Hall of Shame status.

2. Los Angeles Kings, 1995-96.
The 1995-96 season was a real doozy for the NHL. In addition to Anaheim's Wild Wing jersey and the Islanders' Gorton's fisherman design, there was this one-season monstrosity from L.A., not-so-fondly remembered as the "Burger King" jersey. "Unfortunately, this hangs in the Hall of Fame as part of Wayne Gretzky's display," notes David Masenten. "Very disturbing." Extra nausea points for the rear design.

3. Philadelphia Flyers, 1982-83 and Hartford Whalers, 1982-83.
Ah, yes -- the Cooperalls season, when the Flyers and Whalers tried to drag hockey out of the short-pants era and were nearly laughed out of the league. Hartford's trousers had stripes; Philly's were sometimes striped, sometimes just logo-emblazoned at the ankle. After one season, the league put the kibosh on these (although they later showed up elsewhere).

OK, people, there are your nominees. To select each sport's ultimate winner -- or loser, depending on your point of view -- cast your votes here.

Let's Make a Deal
MLB's trading deadline, which passed earlier this week, has all sorts of uni-related implications -- not just for the players, but also for the equipment managers, as explained here by an American League source who prefers to remain anonymous:

"Some people (not Uni Watch readers, of course) don't realize how stressful the trade deadline is for the equipment manager. When a transaction is completed, he's not among the first people told. When he finally is told, he has to call the other equipment manager (after finding out where he is) to find out all the measurements for the new player, manufacturer of choice, uniform number, etc. Then he has maybe only a few hours to get all the necessary gear ready, which includes getting jerseys stitched up. Let's just say the tailor that has all of our team's business was pretty stressed out the other day, when we needed our new players' jerseys ASAP. Then our pitcher changed his mind about the jersey he wanted to wear [this is one of the MLB teams that allows the starting pitcher to determine what the team will wear each day], so the tailor had to switch which jerseys he was working on for the new players' first game."

Of course, the real question regarding any trade is whether the players in question are ending up in a better uniform or a worse one. To check out a uni-centric assessment of this week's deadline deals, look here.

The Dark (Under)Side, Revisited
Last month's column about underbill annotations led to a disturbing note from a trusted source with a National League team, who recently sent Uni Watch the following communiqué: "During spring training I heard from a New Era rep that everyone was going to black underbills [instead of gray] for gamers next season. The new cap next year might be called 'slick fit' -- not sure about that, I heard it from the gift shop when I asked why their stock was so low."

If this turns out to be true, it could spell the end of the underbill inscription as we know it, a development that would surely rank among the game's biggest uni-related tragedies. Cap annotations are fun, quirky and harmless, and are among the few ways players can express themselves without looking completely ridiculous -- they must be saved! Let your favorite team know the gray underbill needs to be saved from extinction.

Paul Lukas is stunned that more people didn't nominate the Devil Rays' inaugural design. 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.