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Monday, October 23, 2006
The cap that killed the Cardinals?

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Pine tar, gum, shoe polish, "a big clump of dirt" -- whatever Kenny Rogers had out there Sunday night, Uni Watch thinks everyone's looking for it in the wrong place. Instead of poring over still shots of Rogers' hand, take a look at his cap.

To explain: Rogers prefers to wear a batting practice cap, instead of the standard-issue New Era 5950 game cap that all the other players wear. He's been pitching with the BP cap all season, as you can tell from the slightly puffier, more rounded brim and more synthetic-looking fabric (5950s are made of wool, while BP caps are polyester). Detroit's BP cap has a colored sandwich brim -- white at home, orange on the road -- which would be a no-no for regular game action, so Rogers apparently fills in the colored edge with a dark marker, which means he doesn't match his teammates during pregame workouts.

But here's the key: The BP cap has a black underbill, instead of the Tigers' usual light gray. Now ask yourself, if you wanted to take a foreign substance out to the mound with you, wouldn't it be easier to hide it against a black background than a gray one? Far be it from Uni Watch to accuse the Gambler of taking cards from the bottom of the deck, but you have to admit it's an interesting coincidence at the very least. Uni Watch's suggestion: Make Rogers wear a 5950 like everyone else, and then let's see who holds 'em and who folds 'em.

Other notes on the Fall Classic:

• Is it just Uni Watch, or are this season's World Series cap and sleeve patches bigger than ever? That goes double for Todd Jones, who always has his right sleeve tailored extra-short, so now his sleeve patch looks extra-huge. (For more on the history of World Series patches, look here.)

• They're slapping that World Series logo on undershirt collars, too.

• OK, so we all know it gets pretty cold in Detroit. But was it really necessary for Jim Edmonds to wear a windbreaker -- apparently this model -- under his jersey on Sunday night? It looked totally bush. (For more on the windbreaker phenomenon, look here.)

D is for discrepancy
With Detroit's storybook season now culminating in the World Series, many fans have begun noticing one of Uni Watch's favorite MLB obscurities: The Old English D logo on the team's jersey is different than the one on the cap.

No way, you say? Way, says Uni Watch. At first glance, the two logos appear almost identical. But once you take a closer look, the distinctions start jumping off the screen: The perimeter of the cap D is comprised of jagged, pointy strokes, while the outline of the jersey D is much rounder; the left side of the cap D has two vertical strokes, both of which are curved, with two horizontal spokes in between them, while the jersey D has three vertical strokes, two of which are straight, and no horizontal spokes; and the two horizontal prongs inside the center of the cap D are concave, while the prongs on the jersey D are convex. Identical twins? More like second cousins.

So why the inconsistency? "I've been asked that question before, and unfortunately I don't have an answer for you," says Sharon Arend, director of archives and historical documents for Ilitch Holdings, the Tigers' owner. "As far as I can determine, the two D's matched until the early '60s, but then they split. I can't explain it. It's just one of those things that happened over the years. It's very frustrating -- I wish I could come up with the answer."

The D debuted as a pocket-emblazoned logo in 1904, and even then it wasn't completely uniform. It's slowly evolved over the years, and there have been several versions that are distinct from both of today's renditions. For the most part, though, the D used on the jersey appears to have been relatively constant since the late 1920s, while the cap has seen a veritable alphabet's worth of D's, as seen in these shots from 1938, 1955, and 1965. The team's Cooperstown Collection line of throwback caps also includes this, this, and this.

Things were even more cap-confused (and cap-confusing) from 1994 through 1997, when the Tigers wore this road cap, featuring this logo, clearly based on the jersey D, which meant that the cap and jersey D's matched on the road but not at home, and that the home and road cap D's no longer matched at all. And during the 1970s, there was briefly a third D, which appeared on the team's batting helmets.

Dizzy yet? Try working in the team's front office, where one staffer tells Uni Watch, "Every time we do a poster or a pocket schedule or a mailing, we have to decide -- cap D or jersey D?" Technically speaking, the jersey D is listed as the club's official primary logo, which presumably explains why it appears on this watch, this sweatshirt and this dude's sign. So how come the cap D appears on this sweatshirt, as well as here, here, here and here? And if the jersey D is used at the entrance to Comerica Park, why is the cap D used on the field itself?

At least there's some consistency in terms of headwear, because the cap D also appears on the team's skullcap. So you'd expect the jersey D to appear on the club's outerwear, right? But instead it's the cap D that shows up on the Detroit windbreaker (home, road) and dugout jacket, and on the mock turtle collar, too.

Which D is better? Arend, the archivist, prefers the cap D. "It has a more gothic look to it, and it gives a stronger sense of tradition," she says. But uniform designer and historian Todd Radom, a man with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of sports logos (and who generously provided many of the historical photos accompanying this section), favors the jersey D. "The Tigers' championship clubs -- 1935, '45, '68 and '84 -- are all bound by the identical jersey D," he notes. "End of debate."

As for the source of the discrepancy, it's no doubt rooted in a long-ago change of cap manufacturers (and, Uni Watch is willing to bet, an old, fuzzy Xerox machine), but the paper trail no longer exists, so we'll never know for sure. In any case, the Tigers aren't the only team with a logo identity crisis. The Yankees' famed NY insignia, for example, is actually a family of logos, not just one. Compare the upper strokes of the Y on the cap to the Y on the jersey. Then compare where the N and Y intersect on the jersey to where they meet on the batting helmet. Once you start looking, you'll find lots of teams' logo programs are plagued by these little bugs, although none of them is quite as glaring as the Tigers'.

The most surprising thing about these small glitches is that the MLB bigwigs have allowed them to persist. In an era when the branding tail so often wags the uniform dog, Uni Watch finds it rather charming that these minor imperfections haven't been bulldozed into streamlined conformity by the corporate marketing machine.

Still, charm has its limits. It might be nice, for example, if the Tigers could at least settle on which D to show on their home page, which was recently observed trying to have it both ways.

The Cardinals, incidentally, have had some subtle logo variations of their own over the years. The major evolutionary phases of the team's "birds on the bat" jersey insignia are easy enough to chart through the 1920s, '30s and '40s. The tricky period begins in 1957, when the team adopted this design -- very similar to what the Cardinals continue to wear now.

Take a close look and note that the bird on the left's tail feathers hang in front of the bat, while the bird on the right's tail extends behind the bat. This design remained fairly constant through the 1960s, '70s, '80s and mid-1990s. But the team pulled an ornithological switcheroo in 1998, putting the left bird's tail behind the bat and the right bird's tail in front, a format still used today. Look back at old photos and you'll find that this design also made some appearances in the '60s and '70s, an inexplicable inconsistency that makes Uni Watch's head hurt.

And wait, there's more: Up until 1997, the birds' beaks and legs were both yellow. But when the tail feathers were reversed in 1998, the legs became black and the beaks turned red. This was tweaked again in 1999, when the beaks reverted to yellow but the legs remained black, which is the design still used today.

Whichever way the tail feathers are hanging, the Redbirds have one huge logo advantage over the Tigers: They're the only remaining MLB team whose jersey insignia is chain-stitched directly onto the garment, an old-school technique that adds a gorgeous textured effect to the embroidery, even when viewed in a black-and-white photo. (Some may nitpick that the Astros and Phillies also chain-stitch their insignias, but Uni Watch counter-nitpicks that those teams' logos are embroidered onto a patch that's then sewn onto the jersey, while the Cards are the only team that does the embroidery directly on the jersey itself.)

As for the World Series outcome, Uni Watch foresees a logo something like this.

Paul Lukas was happy to see the Mets wearing blue caps, sleeves and socks in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS (especially since he's the one behind this campaign). 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.