This past Saturday evening, with the Detroit Tigers in town, the Tampa Bay Rays hosted “Turn Back the Clock” night. The Rays, who in reality have only been around since 1998, long enough so far for only one rebranding, modeled jerseys based on what their offices believe the club might have worn had they been a baseball team in 1979. The powder blue-based uniforms were met with mixed reviews and inspired flashbacks to nothing. In my opinion, they were—what’s the 1970s slang opposite for “groovy”? They were that.
The Tigers, amenably consenting to wear a throwback of their own, donned a variation of their actual road uniform from 1979. If Twitter is any way to gauge the feelings of a fan-base, I can safely assume the attire was quite well-received in Detroit. To further that position; as of 1 p.m. this afternoon, 96.12% of responders to an MLive.com poll chose to describe the replicas as “far out” rather than “bogus.” Many would like to see the Tigers return more often to the days of block lettering and sleeves trimmed with rings of blue and orange.
With some minor alterations, the historic jersey in question was in use for 22 seasons, an era starting in 1972 and concluding after the 1993 campaign, the team’s maiden voyage under owners Mike and Marian Ilitch. Al Kaline was among the Tiger legends on the ’72 team which inaugurated the uniform. On September 24th, 1974, presumeably wearing one of the relatively new “double-knit” synthetic pullovers, Kaline became the 12th man to enter the 3000-hit club when he ripped a double off Dave McNally into the right-center field gap at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore—Kaline’s birthplace. It was likely the same garb in which Norm Cash, on July 3rd, 1973 (about two weeks before his famed table leg incident), blasted two home runs out of Cleveland Stadium to lift his club over the Indians by a 5-4 score. Among other notables, Jim Northrup, Mickey Stanley, and Mickey Lolich also played in the jersey during its infant stages, connecting the attire to the 1968 World Series team.
As you know, the club also won the Series in 1984, actually during the era of the sharp old road uniforms. As for that team, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lance Parish, Chet Lemon, and Kirk Gibson—all members—combined for 234.1 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) during the years the block letters were in use. On the pitching side, Jack Morris, Milt Wilcox, and Dan Petry amassed 83.2 fWAR and 414 wins. Among those around to escort the jersey’s demise were names like Mickey Tettleton, Tony Phillips, Travis Fryman, and Cecil Fielder. In another great moment accented by the former road shirts, Fielder blasted his 50th and 51st home runs of 1990 out of old Yankee Stadium on October 3rd, the season’s last day.
It’s been 19 years since the Ilitches’ decision to return to the script-lettered grays on the road and their coinciding one to create the infamous crawling tiger logo, generally thought of as atrocious and embarrassing, and place it on the team’s road caps. Not long after, fan outcries ridded the caps of the sad logo and the uniforms of the silly-looking blue and orange stripes that ran down its seams. But the general concept remains, and, for me, it’s starting to stagnate.
Now, it may be time for another renege on the Tigers’ early 90s rebranding—the look of the 70s and 80s is ripe for a return. Specifically, I advocate at least a semi-permanent renewal of the fashion they sported from 1985-1991, when they abandoned pullovers and elastic in favor of buttons and belts but maintained a block font and colored rings around the waist and sleeves. Who’s with me?