As you know, it’s jersey week here at VEB. The Cardinals have long had one of the very best- if not the best- identities in sports. The interlocking STL cap logo and the birds on the bat in the jersey logo border on perfection. Their uniform system built brand equity through decades of economical- but not boring- design. They’ve had the birds on the bat since the 1920s other than a few misguided years in the 50s. The interlocking STL has been the same since 1956 other than minor tweaks. Take those two elements, slap them on a red or navy blue hat with a white or gray uniform, and you have the formula for how a well-executed logo set gains recognition as one of the best in sports. However, there’s room for improvement.
The franchise has opted to muddy the waters in recent years. It started harmlessly enough with the introduction of the Sunday alternate caps in 1998 bearing the single bird on the bat, with a navy blue crown and red brim. Then for the 2013 season, they jumped on the cream bandwagon and added a Saturday alternate jersey. This version featured red piping on the placket, sleeves, and pants, and added a new “St. Louis” version of the birds on the bat on the chest. They also moved back to the red caps on the road... unless their opponent also wears a red hat. In that case, they wear the navy blue road caps they had beginning in 1992, and previously from 1956-1964. Finally, last season in an appeal to nostalgia, they added a baby blue Saturday alternate uniform.
Add all of that up and you have five distinct uniform combinations after spending the majority of their existence with just two or three. When I say there’s room for improvement, it’s not that any one of their uniforms looks bad. They simply need to clean up the muddied waters. That’s the goal. Thanks to sportslogos.net forum member rsaline, I can give examples.
For what it’s worth, you can see from this Uni-Watch interview that Bill DeWitt III cares deeply, and is highly knowledgeable, about all of this. What you’re about to read isn’t intended as a knock on the current uniforms so much as it’s my attempt to bring it a little closer to where it has historically been.
These are close to perfection and it would be foolish to change them. There are no changes to the home uniforms in my proposal.
Road Uniforms: Return of the Navy Blue Cap
The red road cap looks perfectly fine with the road grays. However, the rules about whether or not they wear the red or the navy blue are unnecessary and only confuse the team’s identity. The recommendation is to choose one or the other- either the red or the navy blue hat. Did you know that the Cardinals only sporadically wore solid red hats until 1964? In fact, they had navy blue crowns- either with a red or navy blue bill- both on the road and at home from 1940 through 1963. In 1964, they used the navy blue on the road. They cemented the navy blue cap’s place in franchise history by wearing it exclusively on the road from 1992 to 2012. My dad was born in 1942 and they’ve worn some form of navy blue hat for over half of his life. It’s a sharp look- see here for proof- and it doesn’t confuse the brand. It also gives the team a little visual contrast from the home look while still employing the traditional interlocking STL. In my proposal, the navy blue is back on the road full-time.
Lose the Sunday Hat
Admittedly, the Cardinals have had the Sunday hat for over two decades now. They’ve worn it in countless playoff runs and even a few World Series games. It has become a part of the visual language of the franchise (if you’ll forgive me for using the phrase “visual language”). However, our goal is to simplify things. Since we’re already bringing the navy blue hats back more prominently on the road, a third hat is gratiutous. Moreover, while I personally love the Sunday home hats, they seem to have worn out their welcome, with more and more fans voicing their objections. They had a good run but it’s time to retire them.
Only one alternate uniform allowed
Part of the problem with the recent changes is that they now have five uniform sets. We’ve lost the Sunday hats, which gets us down to four uniform sets. I’m not so curmudgeonly that I’d oppose an alternate option beyond the home and road uniforms. However, two alternates is too many, particularly since the goal is to simplify their identity. With that in mind, we have a Sophie’s Choice to make- either the cream alternate uniform or the baby blue alternate uniform has to go. Here’s my case for each one.
Ditch the baby blues. But if you MUST keep them...
I have a lot to get off my chest about the baby blues. They were clearly brought back in an appeal to nostalgia. Cardinal fans warmly associate the baby blues with the wildly successful 80s teams, a team strongly branded with speed, defense, astroturf, sansabelt pants, polyester, and glory. Except that’s not entirely true. The Cardinals wore the baby blues on the road from 1976 to 1984. In that era, they collectively finished six games over .500, won one division title, and were under .500 in four of the nine seasons. That includes a 69-93 season and a 72-90 season. Granted, they did win a World Series with a highly memorable team in those uniforms, but they were mostly mediocre in them and occasionally awful. While they’re tightly associated with the 80s teams, the truth is that Jack Clark, Vince Coleman, John Tudor, and Todd Worrell- engines of the 80s success- never even wore those uniforms. Terry Pendleton, another key contributor, wore them for approximately 3 months.
I don’t mean to shame anyone over their nostalgia. I understand why the baby blues are beloved. That said, what the Cardinals released last season wasn’t exactly the baby blues. They swapped out the classic Cardinals wordmark- the birds on the bat- with the St. Louis version from the cream home alternates. They added piping to both the sleeves and the placket, replacing the thick red, white, and blue bands along the neck and sleeves from the 80s. The combination of the baby blue color, which is very loud by modern baseball standards, with the piping on the placket and the different wordmark was all too jarring. It’s too much.
My recommendation is to abandon the baby blues altogether. They’re perfectly fine and fun on turn-back-the-clock days but anything more than that only muddies their identity. I also know that may be a losing battle. It’s going to be hard to stuff that genie back in the bottle.
If they must keep them, at least approach it a little differently. Embrace the nostalgia, which was the only real reason to bring these back in the first place. The Twins recently brought back their own baby blues and proved that you can keep the multi-colored bands while still modernizing it in an unobtrusive way. That’s step one- bring back the red, white, and blue bands, replacing the placket and sleeve piping. The second step is to go back to the Cardinals wordmark, which is what they had in the 80s. The Cardinals should have economy in their visual identity and that’s an easy way to simplify things. Finally, limit how frequently these are worn. Instead of every Saturday on the road, they should only wear them when playing in Milwaukee or Atlanta- the two opponents the Cardinals beat in 1982 en route to glory.
Here’s how it looks:
Ditch the cream alternates. But if you MUST keep them...
A lot of my objections to the baby blues are also true for the cream alternates that they wear on home Saturdays. The difference is that the cream base doesn’t add as much noise with the piping as the baby blue. They’re wholly unnecessary as currently constructed because the cream is nostalgic only in connotation. The Cardinals have never worn a cream jersey with red hats and red piping, nor have they ever had the birds on the bat used with “St. Louis” other than (apparently) 1930-1932. If they make you feel nostalgic, there’s no tangible reason for it. It’s sleight of hand. The city name hasn’t appeared on the front of the uniform in any way since 1932. All of which is to say that having this cream home jersey, which they only wear on Saturdays, is unnecessary.
Of course, this is another losing battle. The cream uniforms are wildly popular. Despite my objections to them, I can at least admit that I think they look good. If you have to keep them, let’s help them out a little bit. The cream is intended to connote the pre-1970s era of baseball. During much of that era, the Cardinals wore navy blue hats at home. Since we’ve dumped the Sunday alternate hat, this is a great place to bring in the navy blue cap. Removing the piping on the placket and sleeve, but leaving it on the pants, lets it mimic the late 50s and early 60s uniforms. Against my better judgment, we’ll let the St. Louis birds on the bat stand as an olive branch to fans of the current cream alternates.
Earlier, I said they should choose either the baby blue or cream alternate. Having seen them after the adjustments, the cream is my winner, with the baby blue returned to throwback night obscurity. Here’s how the new cream version looks:
What do you think of these proposals? What would you change about the Cardinals uniform set? Let us know in the comments.