The holiday season has officially passed, but the Cardinal-related gifts we all got will warm our hearts throughout the year. Maybe you received a Paul Goldschmidt shirsey. Perhaps you got one of the new baby blue jerseys, or maybe you got... this thing. My wonderful wife gave me several Cardinal gifts. One specific gift perfectly fit the weird Venn diagram of my personality- baseball dork, Cardinals fan, graphic designer. I received St. Louis Cardinals Uniforms & Logos: An Illustrated History (1882-2016) by Gary and Oliver Kodner. It’s a completist’s dream of the ways the Cardinal uniforms, caps, and marks have changed over the years, including the interlocking STL, the birds on the bat, uniform patches, team colors, and even Sluggerbird. It includes fascinating anecdotes about the way the uniform has evolved through the years and the origins of what became one of the best uniform combinations in all of sports.
It wasn’t always a smooth ride on the way to the current uniform. Let’s take a look at some anomalies and curiosities from the book.
1882: Rainbow Hats on the Diamond
League-wide, teams adopted a color-coded hat system based on position. The catcher’s hat was red, shortstop was maroon, second base was orange, and so on in that fashion. It was a brief experiment, lasting only one season. Thanks to the Kodner book and Craig Brown’s amazing SABR Award-winning website, Threads of our Game, you can see the multitude of colors.
1887: Baby Blue Debut
The connotation is that the Cardinals used baby blue in one very specific era. That era was riddled with sansabelt pants, polyester uniforms, v-necks, and astroturf. That’s mostly true- the Cardinals primarily wore their baby blue uniforms from 1976 to 1984. Again thanks to the Kodners and Threads of our Game, we can see that the Cardinals franchise wore baby blue all the way back in the 19th century when they were known as the Browns. (side note: that’s not to be confused with the 20th century’s American League St. Louis Browns, a totally different franchise)
You can see the drawing here. Looking through the prism of today, it’s odd enough to see baby blue all the way back in the 19th century. It was also combined with brown in one iteration of the baby blues, and a baby blue hat with horizontal brown stripes. I don’t think the 1970s version of the Cardinals had homage to the 19th century uniforms in mind when they shifted to baby blue road uniforms, but it’s at least part of franchise history.
Evolution of the Interlocking STL
The interlocking STL as we know it, or close to it, didn’t appear on the uniforms or hat until 1940. For their entire history prior to that, the interlocking STL- and sometimes just interlocking SL- went through multiple variations.
- A simple SL appeared on the hats in 1901, minus the T
- They added the T in 1903, but it was on the left side of the S. It looked a lot like this (via Chris Creamer’s invaluable sportslogos.net). It stayed from 1903 through 1906 on the hat. However, they had a different interlocking STL- with the T on the right of the S- on the jacket sleeve.
- In 1911, they introduced a different STL with the T at the bottom of the S. For most of this era, the T just floated around from location to location in the interlock of the S and L. Additionally, the fonts changed ever so slightly with breakneck frequency.
- The version that Jon Hamm popularized all over St. Louis in October 2016 (see video above) was most used in 1901-1902 and 1917.
- By 1926, the T had floated back to the left on the World Series sleeve emblem.
- From 1926 to 1930, the regular season jersey sleeve featured STL in a gothic font.
There was a great deal of trial and error before they arrived on the version we all know and love.
1921-1922: Go Ardinal!
Before the 1920 season, the team introduced a new typeface- a Carnival Victorian, per the book- with “St. Louis” across the chest of the jerseys. For 1921, they created an alternate home version that said “Cardinals.” In 1922, they used the typeface to say “Cardinals” again, this time with pillbox hats and pinstripe uniforms. You can see the font here.
There was only one problem with the “Cardinals” version. The font was so large on the jerseys that the name spread too far across the chest. The C often landed under the right armpit while the S fell under the left. Fans would look at these players and see “ARDINAL.”
1941: The Hat with the Single Bird on the Bat
In 1998, the Cardinals debuted an alternate hat for Sunday home games. It featured the team’s new, more photorealistic bird. It was perched on a bat and worked as a fine single bird complement to the two birds on the bat across the uniforms. To my knowledge before I received this book, it was the first time they had ever employed the bird on the hat.
It just so happens that in 1941, they wore hats featuring a single bird without the bat- something of a forerunner to the modern Sunday hat. You can get a beautiful view of it in action in Getty’s stock collection here. The crown was navy blue, the bill was red, the bird was red, and the outline and detail on the bird was in navy blue.
1956: The Year Without the Birds on the Bat
In 1956, General Manager Frank Lane made the decision to scrap the birds on the bat, opting instead for a script Cardinals with a tail across the jerseys. Sluggerbird, who had first appeared on a 1949 Time Magazine cover with Stan Musial and appeared on the scoreboard starting in 1953, was placed on the sleeve. It was the first time since 1921 that the Cardinals didn’t feature at least one uniform with the birds on the bat. Mercifully, the uniforms were retired after just one season.
1964: Red Hats, Blue STL
One of my favorite anomalies involving Cardinal uniform history involves the hat. We think of the red hat with the white interlocking STL as the classic Cardinal hat. The shocker is that they never wore that hat until 1964. In a spring training article from that year, manager Johnny Keane indicated that the team didn’t want to change the hat from the navy blue motif while Stan Musial was still playing.
There’s another surprise built in to 1964. They debuted the red hat with the white interlocking STL in 1964, but not until the end of the season. For most of the season, the red hat had a navy blue STL framed in white. It didn’t look bad, really. It’s just a little odd to see after spending years of seeing the white interlocking STL on the red hat. By the World Series, the blue STL version had been abandoned.
1975: Slugging Bird Helmet Decal
In 1975, the Cardinals placed a decal on the side of their helmets. Uni-Watch seems to think they were on both sides of the helmet. The book doesn’t offer much info beyond photos. The bird bears a decent resemblance to the old football Cardinals logo of the era. Considering the two franchises shared a city, a name, and a stadium, it’s not surprising that they might have some crossover design, conscious or otherwise.
The decal was gone by 1976, but it had been replaced by a different quirk altogether.
1976: Your Brand New Horizontal Stripe Pillbox Hat
Baby you must tell me how your head feels under something like that/Your brand new horizontal stripe pillbox hat
For a single season- the National League’s centennial season- the Cardinals, Pirates, Phillies, Mets, and Reds wore pillbox hats with horizontal stripes. Judging by the header image for this article, apparently the Cardinals extended the look to the batting helmets. It wasn’t the only time they’ve done the pillbox hat with horizontal stripes. As late as 1922, they had a similar hat that they wore on occasions.
There are so many more idiosyncrasies in the book that I haven’t mentioned, though I did casually mention one the other night on Twitter. It’s fun to see it all evolve, devolve in some cases, and eventually morph into a cogent brand. It’s especially enjoyable because the team has had so many iconic identities- the interlocking STL, the birds on the bat, the multiple iterations of primary and secondary logos, Sluggerbird, and even the simple uniform colors. I highly recommend the book.