Soccer Out of Context: the AL Central

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Indulge me for just a second.

Jake glanced out at the mound. Ricky looked a little shell-shocked, but the moment was undeniably his now. The shadow of Haywood’s hulking frame flickered off to the left of Jake’s peripheral vision, every little chopping check-swing designed to intimidate. And why wouldn’t it? The Yankees had been here before. The Indians hadn’t. Jake returned the last warmup pitch, shook out a few quick, involuntary hop-stretches as he always did before settling into his crouch, and prepared himself to talk Haywood’s ear off the second he stepped into the box.

Sixty-odd feet away, Ricky toed the rubber, as ready as he’d ever be. He tried to lock in as the stadium tensed up around him. This was it; this was the whole dream, strung out on a line. One of those excruciating, salivating, only-in-baseball confrontations had been laid at his feet. 2–2 game, ninth inning, bases loaded, slugger up, loser goes home. No matter what else Ricky had done, or would do, he’d always have this.

It was impossible not to sense the moment; everyone in the stadium - hell, the state - could feel it. And during that brief, hanging hesitation between the last warmup toss and a hardy “play ball” from behind the plate, Roger Dorn did too. He bolted from his spot at third towards the mound. Ricky looked over in surprise, and then briefly off into the distance, hoping something would save him. Now? Really? Ah, shit, Jake muttered to himself. Of course Dorn would do this now.

Author’s note: This is part of a recurring series on the soccer design aesthetic applied in other contexts. When you’re done here, feel free to read on.
The A.L. East
The N.L. Central
The A.L. West
The N.L. West
The A.L. Central
The N.L. East

imageDone with all 30 baseball identities? Soccer Out of Context continues with the Ghosts & Grandfathers League series.

imageIf you love American soccer, check out The Gadsden, a shirt made for US Soccer fanatics, over at my brand new design shop, Clean Sheet.

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If Vaughn looked nervous before, he looked positively petrified as Dorn closed the distance between them. Which direction brought more intimidation? Straight ahead, facing a six-three, two-forty, goateed, chaw-spitting behemoth dressed in New York greys? Or on his right, in the personage of his sniveling, too-small, too-proud and too-nervous Cleveland teammate? The two hadn’t spoken in the hours since the fireballer’s dalliance with Dorn’s wife had become mutual knowledge. Dorn was arriving now. At least, Ricky thought, he’d have 60,000 witnesses to whatever the third baseman was about to do to him.

Dorn said nothing, not even after he did get to the pitcher. He simply chewed his gum with a measured, prickish swagger, daring Ricky to talk first. After a beat, Dorn held out his right hand. Ricky did what pitchers do when a superior holds out their hand for the ball; he gave it. In a sport where anything can and does happen, in a season where seemingly everything had happened to the Indians, there was no moment less predictable than the one about to unfold.

Rubbing the baseball like a talisman, Dorn sniffed. “Let’s cut through the crap, Vaughn” he began. “I only got one thing to say to you.”

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Here it came. Ricky stared meekly ahead at his cuckolded rival; behind the plate, Jake flinched. Dorn’s stare drilled through the pitcher’s novelty eyeglass frames and their thick lenses, and found Ricky’s bare eyes.

“Strike this. Mother. F*#@er. Out.”

He cuffed the ball back into Vaughn’s glove, unforgiving, but with unexpected accord. The crack of the leather sounded, and felt, like a slap to Ricky’s face. And then, with a maniacal squint, Dorn backed off, turned, and started to jog back to his station. Ricky’s mind went fuzzy-blank, then just as quickly, snapped into diamond-sharp focus.  The crowd, once overwhelming, now sounded like a vicious guitar riff.  A smirk curled its way across Ricky’s face.

Holy shit, Jake thought as he watched Ricky transform. He’s gonna strike this motherf*#@er out.

(The legends vary; some contend Dorn said simply “strike this, umm, guy out”, but those storytellers come from an incomprehensible and untrustworthy land known only by the initials “T.B.S.”)

All I can add to this scene and those of “the big game” that surround it - which together comprise one of my favorite fifteen minute blocks of recorded humanity - is that due to their involvement in Major League, the Indians will always be a sentimental favorite for me. Hell, I might like the fictonal 1989 Cleveland Indians more than I’ve liked most Red Sox squads. So as we approach the film’s 25th anniversary next year (feel old yet?), the least I can do is give the Indians a decent soccer-style jersey.  Welcome to Soccer Out of Context: the A.L. Central!  Let’s get started:

Cleveland Indians

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Before we leave Major League, I need to mention two things.  First, manager Lou Brown could/should/would have been absolutely crucified for not taking out his 45-ish year-old starter in the ninth inning of a tie game after putting runners on second and third.  Sure, the Yankees were free swingers in those days, but Eddie Harris had to have thrown about 150 snot-soaked pitches at that point.  I could never make sense of the manager’s decision until I realized that Grady Little was an Indians bench coach before he came to the Red Sox. Then it all fell into place. Second, Ricky Vaughn has had a lot of influence on modern baseball culture - from entrance music to “eccentric closer” behavior.  But my favorite lasting legacy Vaughn (as channeled by Charlie Sheen) left us with has to be the Arizona Diamondbacks logo, and the haircut it wears in tribute to him.  

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Cheers to Ricky Vaughn, a true baseball classic. 

Now, to the jersey. The Indians have some associations that make a project like this harder than it could be. The Native American question, which I’ll encounter both here and in the next piece (when we tackle the Braves) isn’t an easy one. It creates a conundrum for the Indians that’s got aspects of tradition, changing social mores, merchandising, political correctness, symbolism and simple human nature. I’m not going to have a lengthy discussion about the place of ethnic mascots in modern sport.  This isn’t the right forum for that.  (Now, wildlife-on-wildlife mascot violence? I’m ready to take a stand there.  Action must be taken… to strongly encourage it.).  

So for the Indians, I will invoke what could be seen as a modified McGwire approach: I’m not here to design simply about the past. This project is built around transferring what’s fun about baseball into the world of what’s fun about soccer. In the larger scheme of things, I think this whole project is fun because soccer and its visual traditions seem fresh to American audiences.  Soccer gives us a new, but completely natural lens through which to reinterpret what we love about our favorite teams.  In the hypothetical world I’ve been working in, teams would be looking ahead, and bringing the best of their traditions into soccer’s visual landscape. And to be honest, as beloved as he is, the Chief Wahoo mark is not an example of the Indians putting their future first. So the mark, as it’s used today, is not in the kit.

Let’s talk about what is there. First, the base color is just off-white, with accents in vibrant red and navy, a proud and traditional Cleveland baseball look. The team has been wearing some version of blue since its inception more than a century ago - including on the most awesomely arrogant jersey of all time - and red for almost as long (it was added in the late 20s). I chose contrasting sleeves for the Indians, in navy, both to honor their recent “rennaissance” teams of the mid–90s, who wore that look (and today’s club, which use it as an alternate), and to reference the long relationship both the city and the club have with Lake Erie. The navy fabric here carries a rippled texture that subtly suggests lines of waves, over a great expanse, gently rolling into the “coastline” of the jersey torso, a minor effect that gives the whole look a bit of extra personality. The sleeve design peaks at the shoulders, curving around their top, for different stylistic touch than other “colored sleeve” concepts have. The collar is also navy, and carries a triangular neckline design that again helps lend some extra distinctiveness.

imageThe logo here is the Indians’ curvy “I” mark, a beautiful cursive shape that, to me, suggests a feather, and works far more elegantly as a crest mark than does either Wahoo (for reasons outlined above) or the back-to-the-old-school block “C” mark the team is now using more frequently. While I’m all for the C, using it as a soccer crest made the team seem too high school-esque - there was a pedestrian nature to the final product. I’m a big fan of the “I” and how striking it looks by itself, especially in the team’s scarlet red.

A strip of tri-color piping shoots up from the base of the jersey, centered under the crest and meeting it above the sponsor mark. This red, white and blue feature ties much about the jersey together; it’s the key component to the team’s soccer look and feel. First, the stripe is a direct homage to the jerseys the club wore throughout my 80s childhood, covering the Indians’ time in the A.L. East and the setting of Major League. Check out the jerseys worn by both real and fictional players during the late 80s - the triple-striped piping runs up either side of the Indians’ white uniform in this exact configuration. It should come as no surprise, then, Cleveland’s flag shows those same colors in that same arrangement. Honoring both the history of the city and the club at once is a nice achievement here.

But there’s one more level to how perfectly the piping fits, and that’s to do with the jersey’s prominent sponsor, Ford Motor Company. As anyone who lived through the most recent presidential election will attest, Ohio is a major automobile industry hotbed. While Michigan gets more notoriety, Ohio boasts some of the highest per-capita auto industry employment figures in the country. imageFord has an incredibly lengthy history in Cleveland, basing a good chunk of their operation along Lake Erie. In fact, for decades, Ford produced a flagship product, the high-end engine for their famous Mustang performance car (among other vehicles), in Cleveland. The Ford 335 V8, produced until the mid–80s, was much more commonly known as the Cleveland V8, and it packed a wallop. Although the engine has given way to successors, Ford still maintains plants in the Cleveland metro area and still proudly produces American-made products there.

So where’s the tie-in? Take a look at the classic Ford Mustang logo sometime - you may see three stripes (behind a horse in full gallop) that look familiar.

imageA few final notes on the jersey’s front: the two small features, one red, one blue, above the piping and below the logo. These are two small Chief Wahoo feathers - just the feather from his headdress - each one standing for an Indians World Series championship. imageOther teams get stars; the Indians, of course, would want feathers in their collective cap to mark the occasion (and you could see, with a few more titles, a really cool, full headdress emerging from this theme). Also, the manufacturer here is a fairly modest but viable Ohio-based sportswear company, Holloway, who I imagine would be thrilled to get the call to make the Indians jersey.

There’s not much surprising on the jersey’s reverse - just a simple block name and number, the MLB logo, and for imagesymmetry, a small continuation of the piping - just enough to give the rear side a bit of extra personality. This is my homage to the Indians - a team with an outsized influence on my baseball-loving youth - and I hope the team would wear it well.

Chicago White Sox

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Around the time I was in junior high, the White Sox seemed to explode. Their new all-black look, the gothic, blackletter Sox font, Frank Thomas out-slugging everybody in his first couple of seasons - it all happened at once in a supernova of coolness. Black ‘Sox’ caps (along with Falcons and Sharks hats) were so prominent in my cheese-and-crackers, suburban east coast school district, you would have thought we were all about to drop mix tapes and get “Thug Life” tattoos immediately after school. (Of course, when paired with overall jeans - one strap down yo! - a button-up silk shirt from Chess King, and tons of L.A. Looks hair gel, some of the cool factor we thought the Sox hat gave us was misplaced.) Why do I mention this, aside from some desire to relive my own fashion shame? Up until that point in the early 1990s, the White Sox were so far from visually popular, I couldn’t have told you what their logo was (before the gothic-style S-o-x, it was a forgettable curly C), and furthermore, the White Sox look felt so fresh because it was obviously traditional, but none of us had ever seen it before. It was almost like, with the black and white look, the Sox were a brand new team that had never existed, but one fully formed and with the right historical “feel” to it.  And there’s a reason for that - until their current look took hold, the White Sox had banked a ton of interesting history, but had also gone almost a century without ever establishing a permanent look at all.

Some clubs can draw a straight line between their earliest uniforms and their present look without hitting too many unexpected curves or left turns. The White Sox are not one of those teams. Far from straight, the path that follows their visual history looks a lot like that one really curvy road in San Francisco that’s always in car commercials. Like the San Diego Padres, an N.L. team that has never really settled on an identity, the White Sox have been visual nomads, wandering the sartorial hinterlands, camping out for a time in various looks (and when I say camp, I mean camp). Only in the last two decades has the club gained some consistency and maintained a look that has become iconic.

While the Sox are like the Padres in their willingness to vary their identity, they are unlike the San Diego club in one very important way: they have an extensive major league legacy. The White Sox are an original American League team, one of only a few to exist in the spot of their founding over a century ago. They played in one of baseball’s beloved older stadiums well into the 1990s, and they have a prominent (if not always honorable) role in baseball history - so the team is not without tradition. But they’ve also always competed for attention with their cross-town neighbors, the Cubs, whose visual identity is so fixed it might as well be covered in ivy. Changing looks was one way to differentiate the South Siders from the Cubbies, and grab a few eyeballs in the process - and when you’re owned by Bill Veeck for a large part of your existence, the creative pursuit of eyeballs becomes part of your DNA.

How to balance tradition and visual volatility in a White Sox soccer jersey design? Here’s what I came up with. First, the jersey’s primary color scheme: a tonal combination of black (on the torso) and deep silvers (on the shoulders and arms). Black has emerged as the White Sox’ identifying color, and unlike other uniform trends they have explored, has managed to stick around for a while.  image Over the tones, a very, very slight pinstripe effect is present - just enough to catch the light at the right angles. This calls out the current Sox pinstriped look, but in a way that avoids anything too garish (or, on the restrained side, too Yankee-esque).

imageWhite is used sparingly, and where it is used, it absolutely flies off the jersey. The resurrected, now permanent, interlocked blackletter Sox logo mark in white becomes the crest; on the sleeves, small “winged sock" insignias are rescued from the past and installed as design flourishes at the ends of the arms. image Excepting the third star beneath the logo, standing for the Sox’ most recent Major League title, there is no other white on the front of the shirt. (On the reverse, white is also used for the block name and numeral combination.) Astride the crest is the Reebok vector; the company seemed like a good fit for a club like the White Sox, as they, like the Sox, are in an eternal, imagebinary relationship with a more popular rival brand (Nike, Cubs). The sponsor is the True Value line of hardware stores, who maintain imagea headquarters in the Chicago area and are certainly a fit for the baseball-loving demographic. Both the Reebok and True Value coloration is intended to be kind of a shimmery, dark silver that would stand out from the jersey, but not detract from its visual balance.

Two additional features are important to call out here. First, along the collar line, small but prominent navy / slate blue panels relieve the jersey from being entirely monochromatic. Besides creating an interesting visual interaction with the dark black tones, the slate blue is important to the Sox history: it was the color (bleeding back and forth into black) of early, successful teams of the aughts, teens and twenties - including Chicago’s first championship team, the 1906 club, which wore head-to-toe slate/navy blue on the road.  (Hence, the first slate blue star under the crest.) The Sox stayed black and grey for a time (including a second title in 1917), and in the 1960s, as color television changed uniform design, the Sox changed between black and navy for an extra visual flair. Later, when our national 1970s-misses-the-1900s design phase began - a strange era to look back on, as it’s kind of retro-retro from a modern perspective, the Sox brought back a version of their 1900s look, including the navy (of course, to appease the disco gods, they paired it with wider Sonny Bono lapels, floppy, untucked shirt ends, a “SOX” hat with a font straight out of Tron, and, on occasion, shorts). imageThere is a place for a reminder - in the form of a (very modest) lapel element - that calls back the role slate blue has played in the Sox’ history. (Red, too, has played a supporting role, but not one that could be augmented easily without creating a too-busy design. I would suggest, however, that perhaps a second Sox soccer jersey use white and red as primary elements).

Second, the black and silver tones along the shoulder lines create a strong, modern looking soccer jersey - but they have a bit of a hidden meaning, too. The design can be thought of as two overlapping panels - in front, a deep black, lightly pinstriped panel with a curved top edge that touches the collar’s base; behind it, a dark silver panel with straight, angled edges that converge where the collar meets the shoulder seams. These aren’t random design choices, though they do work well as stand-alone elements; they are the outlines of the outfields of the Sox’ two homes, one atop the other. U.S. Cellular Field, with its curved centerfield, sits on top and creates the primary black panel (think of straightaway centerfield as where the black touches the base of the neck, and the two foul poles where the black touches the sleeves). Behind it, fading into history, is the famous outline of Comiskey Park’s boxy, angled outfield that ran at nearly 45-degree angles, in from the left and right field foul poles to a flat centerfield wall that, represented on the jersey, runs along the top of the collar. In this way, the Sox honor the two homes that have taken them through more than a century of history.

With loads of popularity, almost two decades of consistency, and an elusive World Series title under their belt in their current black and white scheme, it doesn’t seem like the White Sox will be changing things any time soon. I’m not sure I could have predicted any of that in junior high. Here’s hoping kids that age now - who are as likely to have a favorite European soccer team as they are to love baseball - would find something to like in this jersey, and that South Side fans everywhere would appreciate it.

Minnesota Twins

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Of all the domes and plastic fields baseball has gone through, Minnesota’s was my favorite; it had interesting features, like the “baggie” outfield wall, and anecdotally, the Twins always seemed to take the most pride in and advantage of their home, even more than other dome-based teams. But time, and prevailing wisdom, moved on; baseball on top of organic matter and under the stars seems to be the order of the day. So when I heard that the Twins were finally leaving the Metrodome behind for an open-roof, natural grass stadium, it made me happy. And when I thought about how 2010-era Twins fans must have felt, walking out of the runway tunnel and seeing green grass, blue sky and their home colors together for the first time in decades, I knew what I wanted the Twins’ soccer look to embody: a cool, crisp breath of fresh fresh air.

The Twins had already left a dome behind once before, of course - the dome that tops the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.. Considering how - and if - to incorporate the club’s origins as the (first) Washington Senators was a tricky part of the process for the Twins. The single franchise, now 114 years old (more if you count it’s Western League origins in Kansas City), has spent more seasons representing Washington (60) than it has Minnesota. The Senators, though known mostly for being a reliably mediocre club, also won a World Series title during their time there. How best to make sure the legacy of the entire franchise is honored?

The new stadium; the history - that’s all before we arrive at traditional Twins visuals and characteristics. The logo history that has swung between ‘TC’ and ‘M’ marks; the unique bi-cameral urban fanbase, the way the Metrodome played into the team’s identity; and the classic, victorious Twins uniforms that Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbeck and the crew wore while bringing home two titles for Minnesota during the late 80s and early 90s. Through it all, the Twins have always seemed like a friendly, comfortable brand - even when they were threatened with extinction in the late 90s, they seemed to keep their head down and play ball. Like two good-natured, uniformed giants having a friendly chat across the Mississippi, the Twins and their fans just seem like nice people.

These elements led me to the design before you. First, the “fresh air” idea. I tried to represent that “breath of crisp, clean spring air” feeling with the simple, lightweight tones of white and very bright grey. As most M.L.B. teams do, the Twins have had a strong connection to white; their grey look, to me, is almost as famous, and maybe more distinctive because of its use of road pinstripes.  So the jersey is halved - with light grey on the right, white on the left - but the halves are not full color blocks. imageInstead, they blend into vertical stripes along the center of the shirt. I thought this was a good metaphor for the blended Minneapolis and St. Paul metro region that the team calls home, and it dovetails with a classic soccer vertical stripe pattern. I did call out the regional identities just a bit, though - on the shirt’s sleeves, in a band pattern, you’ll find very subtle outlines. Those are city skylines - on the left (west, if you’re looking at the jersey) sleeve, the skyline of Minneapolis, and on the right/east sleeve, St. Paul’s civic outline. The skylines wrap around the sleeve in a band pattern, and are very subtle details, just barely darker than the fabric they appear on.

Keeping with the fresh and clean idea, there is very little embellishment on the jersey. imageThe crest provides the one giant splash of color, in the team’s traditional navy and red. I’ve chosen the Twins’ most notable symbol (and one that I, frankly, didn’t understand as a little kid), the interlocked ‘TC’ mark. It’s the perfect, evocative brand for the modern team - much more interesting (in my opinion) than the club’s block letter ‘M’. Above the crest, three stars - one blue, two red. I’ve made the decision here to include the world championship the franchise won in Washington, which gets a navy star; I see no reason for the Twins or their fans to take anything but pride in the accomplishment. But since that victory occurred during a separate chapter of the team’s history, a different color is applied. The two red stars stand, of course, for the club’s Minnesota-based victories in 1987 and 1991. One final crest detail - in the negative space to the right of the T, and in the “jaws” of the C, I’ve represented the silhouette of the state of Minnesota, who deserve recognition on the same stage as the urban areas the team represents.

imagePaired with the crest is the kit manufacturer, Kappa, who make lovely soccer jerseys and whose “paired figures” logo could pass for a pair of twins (it’s a girl and a guy, but who sweats those details?). And then, we have the jersey sponsor. If you didn’t know better, it almost blends into the jersey design; but because the Target target is such a well-understood mark, we all do know better. There are several advantages to using Target. First, the company has national market, but is locally based, and already sponsors the team’s beautiful new field.image Second, because the Target bulls-eye is so well known, it can be rendered in subtle tones and without the company name, and still have quite a visible impact. (But, unlike somebody wearing a bright red target on their chest, it doesn’t seem weird.) The logo is symmetrical, and fits in to the design smoothly.  A jersey that came together like this would require the cooperation of team, manufacturer and sponsor, but I feel like the Twins and Target - with a strong and friendly partnership - could pull this off. imageFinal details include a block name on the back in navy, and the number, in red, set in a slightly curvier block font face than the standard M.L.B. block, to echo some of the curved angles found in the ‘TC’ logo.

Not every jersey can weave the team, sponsor and regional identity quite so closely together - sometimes it’s simply not possible or practical. If I were the Twins, soccer club for a day, this is the direction I would work towards.

Kansas City Royals

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Bo Jackson calling for time, not getting it, then homering almost by accident; George Brett flying out of the dugout in a rage to protest a home run that was revoked after his bat was inspected for excessive pine tar. Even more than their 1985 title, those moments sum up the Royals to me (and they have a kind of poetic balance, too - together, they’re a strong reminder there’s no guarantee that baseball will give you what you deserve). What do they have in common? Besides making me thankful for YouTube, they each happened in powder blue. The Royals legacy is tied up in their distinctive visuals - the crisp white and royal blue of their home jersey, and the rich, lighter blue of their road look. The latter, of course, was the look for the moments I mentioned, and many more; the powder blue visiting uniform, with crisp white letters and royal accents has always been a particular hallmark of the Royals’ style.

Seemingly around the same time that the traditionally competitive and successful Royals started to lose more than they won, they left powder blue behind. The club made the switch from powder blue to road grey, and even threw in some experiments with black, but has never seemed as threatening, or as interesting, in any newer style. I wanted to do two things with this KC soccer look: call out the growing promise of the modern club and the region it represents, and bring back the powerful, distinctive powder blue.

So the jersey has the traditional visiting blue tone. It’s a vibrant, completely unique look in major league baseball, and something the Royals could, and should, wholly own. The collar (in a clean, mandarin style), arm ends and shirt bottom are royal blue to accent and frame the powder tone; the manufacturer and sponsor marks are in white to evoke the white “Royals” script on those powder blues. Together the combination is quite beautiful.

imageThe Royals have, in my opinion, the most soccer-ready logo in baseball. Their crown-topped team logo makes a perfect soccer crest, and fits easily above the heart. At the base of the angled crest, a single star for the Royals’ memorable 1985 title is represented in white. Balancing the crest is a white imageNike swoosh; I can’t help but associate Nike (via Bo Jackson) with the club. Below each, the club’s sponsor in also rendered in white, and it’s an interesting one: Google, and their revolutionary Fiber service which is currently available only in the Kansas City metro area - and is making that region famous for its incredible high-fidelity internet connection. image(Tech businesses are actually flocking to the zones where Fiber has been activated, and though Google is looking to push the product out past Kansas City, while the region has such a technological advantage, there’s a real chance a Silicon Prairie scene could take root there.)

Two slight flourishes complete the jersey’s design - first, a horizontal stripe is created in negative space, bisecting the chest and the angled portion of the crest. The stripe is defined by an almost-imperceptible, faded white gradient; through that white effect, very simple stripes shoot up and terminate at various points. This effect does two things. First, it simulates the famous outfield fountains at the Royals’ longtime Kauffman Stadium home. The blue stripes become the individual water shoots; the white gradient gives a touch of mist to the effect. Second, the termination points create a slightly angled line that leads toward the crest - where that same angle is picked up by the shape of the crest, and is carried to it’s bottom point, where a single vertical stripe finds it and takes it down through the sponsor logo and all the way to the jersey bottom. This line - from the tips of the fountain shoots, over to the crest and down to the base - simulates the border between Kansas and Missouri, which Kansas City metro straddles. (It’s only fair to give a shout out to Sporting Kansas City, possibly the best-run franchise in M.L.S., for pioneering this symbolic concept on their crest.) imageThe back of the jersey is free of any extra stylistic attributes - just a crisp white name and number, plus the M.L.B. logo, on a clean powder blue field.

The Royals’ most impressive look - their particular combination of light powder blue, royal blue and white - should be their visual calling card. With this soccer look, they could achieve something that’s not easy in a baseball landscape dominated by navies and reds - universal distinction.

Detroit Tigers

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The Tigers, like many Detroit institutions, stand for a lot more than baseball these days. There’s nothing new about that; after decades of turbulence and decay, and after so much civic loss, Detroit has lately been rallying around the good things that remain a part of the city. The Tigers are one of those things. There’s every reason to believe the city of Detroit is in the process of being reborn; any Tigers identity in the context of this project should express that optimism, hand in hand with the rich, lengthy tradition that the Tigers are fortunate to enjoy.

The first baseball game I ever attended was against Detroit; they, and I, were visitors at Fenway Park as the Tigers took on the 1986 Red Sox in an August afternoon contest. Bruce Hurst pitched; Marty Barrett had a few key hits, I believe. Chet Lemon, a name that would have stuck out to an eight year old kid, played for the Tigers, as did Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker and the core of the club that put successful teams on the field throughout the mid to late 1980s. I brought my glove and had a chocolate ice cream bar. When I left Fenway that afternoon, one Red Sox victory later, I didn’t feel like a visitor any longer. But the Tigers would obviously remain a foreign challenger - and in my mind, because of the sensory cauldron of one’s first real game experience, I came to believe that Detroit and Boston were eternal blood rivals. It wasn’t until the Yankees were actually good - and from 1986, it would be a good many more years - before I felt that the Yanks were more of a threat than the Tigers, Blue Jays, Athletics, and other teams that stood between my Red Sox and great things. And because of that game, the Tigers, in their mid–80s pullover v-neck “DETROIT” jerseys, grey, with touches of navy and orange, will always be the central casting “visiting team” I think of when that generic term comes up.

To me, the Tigers are tradition: a single, unwavering home look, perfect baseball colors (white, navy and a splash of orange), and the expectation of a tough fight. I also get a sense that the Tigers do not apologize for the way most people regard the city they call home. They just do their best to make its citizens proud. And judging by what the old english Tigers “D” has come to mean to people there - something far greater than merely Tigers fanship - it’s fair to say that the team is part of a relationship with the city that has mutual positive benefit.

Here’s the jersey I created to honor those thoughts. It’s white, as any Tigers identity has to be - the club has a classic, plain look that simply must be celebrated in a project like this one. The elements on the jersey are just as simple: first, the stylized ‘D’ that goes back a century to the club’s founding becomes the crest. I chose to use the version of the D traditionally represented on the team’s jerseys, not the one on their hats, which is slightly different - imageI liked the sense of flair and the box-like nature this one demonstrated. The crest is centered, not aligned over the breast - this, to me, emphasizes the Tigers’ role as a civic beacon to their fans, and gives a special weight to the beautiful arrangement of navy logo on crisp white jersey. Behind the logo, a circular design element creates a halo around the crest, which is bisected both vertically and horizontally by two thin, silver-grey lines. The halo and line effect is an homage to the Detroit city flag, which has a similar design structure to it; this again gives the Tigers crest, and identity, extra social and civic significance. Below the crest, the year of the club’s founding is called out in gothic-style lettering - a nod to tradition - and the number is bracketed on each side by two stars, accounting for the four world championships the Tigers have brought home. The collar, bottom seam and sleeve ends are that same silver grey tone, to balance the white and to pay homage to those 1980s visiting jerseys that did have such a sense of potency to them. The v-neck collar style is also a callback to those tops, and works perfectly in a soccer context.

Below the crest, also in silver-grey, is the sponsor. I imagine that Detroit would have an auto sponsor; image I think it’s a pretty safe bet that one of the three major automakers would be on the shirt. Of the three, the one most vocal about their ties to Detroit - and the one using those ties in dramatic, youth-oriented advertising - is Chrysler. Their “Imported from Detroit” campaign has been both clever and effective; beyond being a surprisingly good play on American expectations, it used a cunning combination of the new Chrysler badge and Detroit’s famous Joe Louis Fist sculpture to evoke that same pride and fighting spirit in the tone of its advertising. Chrysler has gone so far as to sell “Imported from Detroit” merchandise, with the fist-over-badge logo, to the public, and it donates imagethe proceeds to local charitable causes. I think a partnership with the Tigers, and the use of this special logo on the club’s shirts, makes a ton of sense for all parties involved. One would think the chosen sponsor, Nike - who love both gritty, urban style and good charity - would fit right in with such an arrangement.

The last touch: on the right sleeve is the club’s enduring, old-school tiger badge, freed from the rounded seal he usually appears within. The Tigers have moved away from this mark recently, but there’s imagesomething so appealingly natural about it, I had to include it. I also wanted to get just a touch of orange into the jersey, to acknowledge what is an important color for the club; it’s almost impossible to find on the actual baseball home jersey, so I appreciated getting to use it here. (Quick aside: For a good time, check out some of the past “tiger” marks the team has used. I saw while researching Tigers logos that somebody had lovingly nicknamed this one the “I do cocaine!!!” tiger, which seems to fit; but there’s also the “sure, I’ll take another slice of pie” tiger, the “owner’s 6-year old son drew me” tiger imageand my favorite, the “aww, was it something I said?” tiger.) The jersey back has, predictably, the name and number in navy on white, and the M.L.B. logo up top; that’s it.

I hope this jersey could be something special for the team, and a way to connect the club even more closely to its fans and neighbors. I think it honors Detroit’s legacy, and points towards optimism as the city builds new traditions. And hey, the mix of novelty and tradition is what this project is all about.

And there you go, that’s your A.L. Central! Thanks for reading. If you have feedback, I’m listening on Twitter (using #soccercontext) or over on Reddit at /r/baseball. These jerseys are created purely for fun; I’ve had a bunch of requests to buy designs like these, and I wish I could sell them, but they include licensed MLB property, so as of right now I can’t. Soon, though, I’ll have some wearable designs you might enjoy purchasing if you like soccer aesthetics and clean design work like this. If you’d like details when they’re available,

  • follow me on Twitter (@m_willis), or
  • leave me your email address in the form at the very bottom of this page.

And drop any time by for more soccer and design discussion (as always, both in and out of context). 

If you made it this far, you might enjoy a few other uniform, soccer and identity-related pieces I’ve put together. First, you can buy original soccer-inspired t-shirt designs at the just-launched Clean Sheet Co - our first shirt is for US Soccer fans, and it’s called The Gadsden.  Also check out the series Re-booting the New England Revolution and What Makes a USA Soccer Kit?. I’m also tracking seasonal soccer tables, beautifully, at the Seasons project. If you like tech writing, I do a little of that too now and then. Thanks again!

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