Soccer Out of Context: the NL East


Well, we made it. This piece covers the last division I’ve yet to look at - the National League East - and it also marks a full trip around the country and around the Major League bases. As of today, all 30 M.L.B. clubs will have received their Soccer Out of Context re-imagining.

The series has been beyond fun for me to design, write and produce.  I want to share a number with you guys, a number that could not be more impressive to me even if it was rendered in Red Sox-style numeral typeface. In fact, hold on – let me do just that.


As of today, that’s the number of unique visitors this site has hosted since December 13th, the day about ten weeks ago on which I published the first Soccer Out of Context piece. (And sorry; any time I use a Fenway wall motif I can’t resist throwing in a ‘No Pepper’ reference.)  

This is not an insignificant number to me; growing up a Sox fan, before Monster Seats and Dugout Seats and Budweiser Super-Mega Pavilions, Fenway Park could seat just about a third that many people. In fact, at my first ballgame in ’86, the Park’s official day capacity was 33,583. (The closest thing then to a Budweiser Pavilion was the Moosehead sign out past the left field screen.) Since childhood, I’ve always used the visual of a full Fenway Park to think about numbers in the “many thousands” range. And here, in about 10 weeks, I’ve put something out into the world that’s filled up three Fenways. (Well, not exactly, but just let me have a moment here.) That’s a weekend series right there, and it’s a huge deal to 8-year-old me and current me alike. So, thank you. With help from a core of really interesting, cool fans, and some big-time exposure, I’ve been watching with pride as more and more folks have dropped by to view the designs.

It’s been a great trip. Thanks for reading, discussing, sharing and enjoying this work. It’s a pleasure making it for you, and I’m ever-grateful that you’re here. If this whole project was a home run, it was an inside-the-parker, because I’m out of breath.

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.

For more, including how to purchase future design work from the author, follow @m_willis on Twitter or leave your email at the very bottom of this page. Thanks for reading!

Three quick programming notes before we start. First, I have fielded many requests to create and sell these designs. I am exploring licensing opportunities; it’s not the easiest thing for an independent designer to do, and this project has a bunch of complexities to it, but nevertheless there are a few promising avenues to investigate. If there’s any news on that front, I will be letting people know online, so make sure you’re signed up for email updates (at the very bottom of this page) and/or are following me on Twitter to get the latest. Second, if you like my design aesthetic and want to purchase and wear stuff that I make, I’ll have some news very soon for you about a new line of soccer-inspired items that you might enjoy. Again, to stay up to date, just find me online via email or Twitter. And finally, Soccer Out of Context isn’t quite done yet! Read on past today’s designs for your chance to help me define the next generation of S.O.O.C. work.

OK. On we go to the N.L. East.

Atlanta Braves

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For the majority of my baseball-watching life, the Braves have been the most professional club in the majors. The Yankees won more titles, and had more rules; other clubs were more dynamic and had greater peaks. But nobody did ruthless consistency like the Braves. The club won the N.L. East 14 consecutive times between 1991 and 2005. They made the N.L. Championship Series eight consecutive times between 1991 and ’99. (I had forgotten that fact - wow.) They averaged 97 wins during that stretch, and won 100 games 6 times (three in a row in ’97-’98-’99). They had the same manager for each one of those seasons. And for most of those years, they had Maddux / Glavine / Smoltz at the top of the rotation, scaring just about everybody who needed to beat them in a short series. (Of course, the Braves only won one World Series during that stretch, a topic for another piece.) And they had the same uniform during each of those seasons, too.

As an American League fan, I watched this dominance from afar; as a Boston fan, I was in an interesting position to do so. The Braves began life, of course, as the Boston Braves, and had a half-century of history in the city I (and the Red Sox) call home before moving on. And though the club left town decades before I arrived, you can still go down to Boston University’s Nickerson Field and see the echoes of where the Braves played until 1952; the old Braves Field grandstand has been retained and worked into what B.U. now uses for a general purpose athletics facility. The stand rises at a graduated angle that has oddly historic overtones, and if you squint you almost can see the Always Buy Chesterfield sign out in the bleachers, just in front of the swath cut by today’s Mass Pike. The Braves won one World Series in Boston, and another after they moved to west to Milwaukee; Hank Aaron bridged the club to Atlanta, where the they were primarily defined by being broadcast to a national audience via Ted Turner’s T.B.S. cable network (during an era when almost no Major League club had a truly national media profile.) And then came the dominance of the 1990s, and with the advent of interleague play, the Braves’ return to Boston as the Red Sox’ designated National League “rival” - a rivalry which generally involved the Braves showing up at Fenway for a weekend, winning two out of three games by scores of 2–0 or 3–1, and vanishing again.

The Braves’ grey road uniforms, then, have always seemed to me to be an emblem for the club. The Braves are invariably the “other” team. From a Bostonian’s perspective, they were second fiddle to the Sox, and then left on a road trip and never came back. From a national perspective, it’s been years of watching “insert flavor-of-the-year team” play the Braves for the National League pennant, or flipping past a Braves vs. somebody game on basic cable. The color and pageantry always seemed to be in the other dugout; the Braves were always just there, either grimly winning (during the season) or gamely losing (in the postseason). The club’s grey jerseys, set off by the thick navy and red piping they feature along the jersey placket, embodies this persona. The Braves’ home whites are classics as well, and also feature that same notable piping, but I can only speak for myself here when I say, for the reasons outlined above, I don’t actually think of the Braves wearing white that much. I think of them in their road greys first.

For their soccer look, I’ve given the Braves the grey of their visiting uniforms. imageThe fabric treatment here carries with it some of the visual personality of wool for a vintage feel, paying recognition to the club’s 130 years of organized history. imageThe deep placket piping that defines the modern jersey is given an homage with a decorative “piping” element that surrounds the collar, follows baseball-style contours around the front and down the chest to the jersey’s base. This effect gives the jersey something very distinctively “Braves” - and is a great combination of baseball and soccer visual traditions.

The logo, of course, is the club’s famous ‘A’ mark, and though there were other contenders, the A is iconic and brilliant when rendered in a plain context, as a soccer-style crest mark. Beneath the A are three stars - most prominently, a red star for the clubs’ most imagerecent Atlanta-bases World Series victory in 1995. The two other stars, outlined in navy, celebrate the titles won in Milwaukee (appropriately, the star to the geographic northwest) and Boston (the star to the northeast). The Braves have won exactly one World Series in each city they’ve called home, a traditional imagequirk that I’m sure their fans would like to see rendered obsolete.

The jersey’s collar and sleeves are dark navy; the sleeves get red ends and the team’s equally iconic tomahawk insignia as a patch, which is both beautiful and appropriate in this context. The club is sponsored here by Delta Airlines, who make Atlanta a major imageair-travel hub, and the jersey is made by Champion Athletic, a North Carolina-based company well within the team’s regional rooting area. On the back, the player name and number are rendered in one-color navy as well, for a stark, crisp finish to the entire package.

This look honors the consistency and respect for tradition the Braves seem to bring to their identity. I hope that in a soccer context, this jersey would contribute to the club’s strong visual tradition and determined on-field style.

Miami Marlins

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Am I the only person alive that absolutely loves what the Marlins have done over past few seasons? Well, let me clarify - I mean from a visual and branding perspective; nobody supports the personnel moves the team’s been making under its current leadership. But from an identity standpoint, the Marlins have undergone, to me, one of the most successful rebranding efforts in years. I think what the club is doing is stylistically fantastic, and I hope that I can reflect that in a soccer context.

Let’s start, briefly, by discussing the old Florida Marlins identity. It was a 1990s from-scratch sports brand. It had teal. It had black. It had gaudy uniforms. It had a full name that didn’t roll off the tongue so much as it got caught somewhere back among one’s tonsils. And still, it wasn’t that bad an identity. On the field, the club ricochetted between winning World Series titles and getting blown apart to save money - a wild and ultimately nonsensical way to build fan loyalty in a somewhat distracted Miami market. After a successful lobbying effort, the team left their football-stadium timeshare, built a new, only-in-Miami stadium (it has aquarium walls!), brought in a ton of on-field talent, and rebranded the club.

The talent didn’t work out, and it’s basically gone. The rebrand - well, not everybody was a fan. But it’s sticking. And to that, I say: good. This is a solid, flexible, fun and worthy brand. In a baseball world of blackletter fonts and navy-and-red schemes, the Marlins are a coastal breeze, and a relief; this identity was by far my favorite to play around with during this project’s initial design phase. The colors go together; they say Miami and modern without being garish or cheap. They’re distinctive, too, imagewithout being overly flashy. Ditto the streamlined Marlin logo, and the updated Miami ‘M’ insignia. Paired with white or cream, the colors are laid-back Miami cool; paired with black, they pop like South Beach neon. You don’t have to like the Marlins on the field, but I urge you to give their new identity a fair shot. For the first time in a long time, a Major League team’s rebrand is slightly ahead of the curve, instead of slightly (or very) behind it.

Obviously imageI embraced the club’s new look in a soccer context. Let’s start with the logo, in full color, sitting in the traditional soccer crest position. To the right of the crest are two gold-yellow stars for the two wold titles the Marlins managed to win in between fire sales. The jersey is charcoal black, primarily; the sleeves, collar and entire back are fully dark. Only the center chest panel is a lighter white tone, allowing for some front-facing personality behind the crest, manufacturer mark (Li-Ning, the largest athletic brand in China, an emerging US presence, and a new partner of Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat) and sponsor (Royal Caribbean cruise lines, who are headquartered in Miami). That personality is expressed by the diagonal “V” style pinstripe marks that alternate, in muted club colors, down the front of the chest panel.image These marks call back shapes contained in the ‘M’ crest, which seems itself made up of Vs. The pinstripes actually enclose very subtle shades, creating slightly striped tint variations in aqua blue, tropical orange and gold between them. Around the back, the “v” motif is repeated in faint markings on the flat black surface; the name and numeral pop in a non-traditional typeface (I changed up the Marlins’ current face to Futura, to better echo the M crest mark). The player name, in golden yellow, offsets the number in aqua, which gets a halo’d orange stroke to accentuate the modern style. The M.L.B. logo completes the look.

imageBeyond the current identity, this adaptation of the Marlins’ current color scheme recalls styles and patterns used by traditional Miami soccer culture, from the NASL’s Ft. Lauderdale Strikers to the defunct M.L.S. side Miami Fusion FC. It’s a fitting nod to a region that could, in time, be a soccer hotbed - and should, sooner than that, have a baseball team with an identity, and an on-field product, worth celebrating.

New York Mets

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I do have some history with the Mets, and it’s not just 1986-inflicted. My extended family hails from Connecticut, and I’ve spent some good time there. You’re never far from a Mets fan (or a Sbarro) in Connecticut. Though Yankees fans were are ostentatious, and the “technically New England” thing means Sox fans are around, I have my theories that that much of the state was and is populated by “deep cover” Mets fans - the kind that don’t show up on maps and surveys.  (Or maybe I just want to believe.)  Anyway, my aunt frequently got good corporate box seats in the bowl area of Shea, so a few times each year I was treated to a Mets/Cardinals or Mets/Braves game, and invariably had a blast. It wasn’t Fenway, that’s for sure.  Just as quaint Boston isn’t cutthroat New York, compact Fenway park - which makes you feel like you’re in somebody’s family room - evoked a much different feeling than towering Shea Stadium. Everything was huge and wide open in Shea - soaring orange foul poles, big empty gaps bookending the mammoth scoreboard (I think half of the thing just said “BUD”), giant hamster ramps, and the symmetrical shell of an upper deck that encircled two-thirds of the stadium. And of course, every 11 minutes or so a passenger jet would attempt to land on the infield. A lyric little bandbox, Shea was not.

About the fifth or sixth inning, the kids on any Shea trip would get restless, and we’d beg to run around the stadium. The older and more annoying we became, the more this request was granted. I recall the first time I was allowed to venture into the stadium by myself - I went instantly to the right field upper-deck, and climbed to the edge seat in the very last row. I wanted to sit in the spot that had to be, by empirical childhood logic, the worst seat in the house. I was in for a surprise, though; from that vantage point, the game took on an other-worldly, echo-y quality, as if I was floating over the field and everything was happening underwater. It transformed a July night game between two .500 teams into something cinematic. And beyond that strange effect, from that perch, a whole other world opened up - Shea’s upper decks ended in steep cliff-like edges; all that was left beyond the fenced side of the decking was air, and then the rolling New York skyline. The skyline at night was intoxicating too - I didn’t know which part I was looking at, but it seemed to be an endless collage of towers and blinking and noise and hot wind, most impressively, suspension bridges everywhere, each lit up with rows of greenish-white lights.

Now: maybe I was an impressionable kid; maybe I was inhaling fumes from a nearby chop-shop; maybe somebody slipped something into the large souvenir cup full of Sprite I was carting around. I don’t know. But I do remember feeling mesmerized at Shea, and I do know that I was sad when the stadium met its end, even if there wasn’t much warmth or personality there. Being there was an introduction to the idea of the big city to me, in a lot of ways. (The only part of Shea Stadium I ever wanted to see destroyed was the strip of grass in short right field directly behind first base.) But Shea is a parking lot now, and probably for the best. The Mets have something much more like Fenway now - Citi Field feels like a room, too - and the club is set to build a trove of new memories there.

They have started on the right foot, sartorially - the Mets have finally lost their mid–90s design tendencies, which deferred to trendiness and incorporated an ugly black into their perfectly pure color scheme. Now, it’s back to the basics: white or cream, Dodger blue and Giants orange, maybe a few pinstripes, and that’s it. This is the palette that honored New York’s baseball history, the city itself, and ingratiated the team to the public when it debuted in the early 1960s, after the cruel departure of its predecessors to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The return to traditional colors happens just in time to lend this soccer look some classic Mets style.

The base of the shirt is a vintage, cream color. The Mets use this tone with their relatively new pinstriped home jersey; I happen to really like the tone when it’s paired with a strong, deep color and something bright and organic like orange (as the Giants also do successfully). imageThe orange stands out most prominently as the primary color of the Mets’ interlocking ‘NY’ logo, a design classic with almost a century of history. This logo serves as the club crest, and is backed, ever so slightly, by a crisp blue drop shadow. Below the crest are two red dots - if you look closely, those are New York apples, like the kind that come out of the top hat after Mets home runs - to signify the club’s two legendary championships (1969, 1986). In the battle to own the hearts, minds, and back pages of New York, I thought this “big apple” touch might be one the Mets would embrace.

Blue appears in several applications on the jersey, always in a strong but muted, imageroyal tone, in keeping with the vintage style. The collar gets the blue treatment; so does the jersey manufacturer’s mark - Fila’s ‘F’ - across from the crest. I chose Fila here because they’re a quintessential New York old-school style brand and seem a great fit with the attitude of the club and the city, especially during the 80s as I first experienced them. I will say that this was a close call due almost exclusively to the Beastie Boys’ advice never to rock Fila, (and to only rock Adidas), but this will be the one and only time I disagree with the wise sages of the five boroughs.

The blue tone also appears in a few other key applications: first, imageas a part of a shoulder piping effect, and second, as a muted pinstripe base layer. Each of these elements has significance for the look. The shoulder piping - blue in the center, bordered by orange on each side - pays homage to the Mets famous 1980s jerseys and the striking piping effect they carried up from toes to shoulders. The pinstripes are a Mets, and a New York, tradition, and deserve to be represented; however, I didn’t want them to dominate the look, so they fade very much into the background. The only exception is in the jersey’s one extra design flourish - at chest level, imagebehind the manufacturer mark and crest, the pinstripes fade up to full blue color, forming a slight arc. This effect recreates the look of those famous New York City suspension bridges I was so enamored of as a kid - and is a callback to the bridge featured prominently in the Mets’ club logo. You can imagine the bridge kind of rising out of the city mist as represented here, and I think it gives the jersey a whimsical, Gotham-esque feel.

Citigroup is the club’s sponsor, and is a straightforward choice as the imagecurrent stadium’s naming partner. I’ve chosen to represent the logo with a knockout, white-on-cream effect; you can imagine the jersey’s texture raised up a bit where the logo is applied. This look gives the Mets a chance to feature a sponsor, but doesn’t entirely cede the “visual purity” game to the cross-town Yankees. The jersey back is finished with the player name and number in blue-over-orange, and the M.L.B. logo. I sincerely hope this overall look would give the Mets elements of both the friendly, forward-looking club they’re becoming, and the urban, big-city club they’ll continue to be in my memory.

Washington Nationals

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This project has often led me to interesting places.  Sometimes that’s been due to a fascinating visual discovery (the Dodgers wore checkered pinstripes!?), but other times, it’s been because, when digging into teams’ histories, I’ve stumbled into details that raise fundamental - even philosophical - questions:  Where do clubs come from? Can they be born fully-formed, or does it take tears and patience and faith rewarded to make a uniform into an emotional talisman? Is a team that alters itself entitled to keep its bond with history? Say, if it changes players? Or owners? Or uniforms? Or stadiums? Or names? Or places? Can passionate fanship lie dormant, or does it die for good when circumstances change? Did we really once just go out to a ballgame the way we’d go out to a movie or a tractor pull, and end up surprised at how much we started to care? Are beloved sports identities all wonderful mistakes - adopted stray dogs that we grew to think of as family - or are clubs manipulating us with shrewd and purposeful behavior? Do we expect emotional attachment from baseball, right from the first pitch? Do baseball clubs expect it, unrequited, from us?

And just who are the Washington Nationals, anyway? Because the history of baseball in Washington ticks a lot of those boxes, and maybe even a few more.

These Nationals can’t be the original Washington Nats, right? That club, also known popularly as the “Senators” - the nicknames were interchangeable for a long time - moved to Minneapolis in the 1950s. And these Nationals can’t be the club that was formed from scratch to replace that team - the one that was given the original Senators’ name and colors - in the 1960s. That second club lasted only a decade in Washington before moving to Arlington, Texas. And these Nationals have no connection to the Baltimore Orioles or their fans, who’ve roosted just north of D.C. for generations and call Washington a “home” market? Right? Or the Montreal Expos, who existed as a club for almost a third of a century before being ripped from their home and their identity, their infrastructure used to form the core of this new Washington club? Does any of that history matter?

Perhaps its best to reframe, and to assume a fresh start. Let’s call the Nats a brand new team, born from scratch just a few years ago, with a new nickname and no history. Well, except for the city they play in, of course. D.C. has a long and relevant baseball hsitory. And the “Nationals” nickname, well, that goes back to the beginning too. And the clubs’ curly ‘W’ logo, which is also a callback to the Sentators’ identity. And the red-white-and-navy colors, for the most part, are what the old club wore. And the fans, many of whom date back to the days of Senators, versions I and II, aren’t blind to history. And the current club’s habit of wearing uniforms to honor (if not claim) the Senators’ past success doesn’t quite sweep the past under the rug. So it’s a fresh start… with complications. But how much tradition is appropriate for these Nationals to celebrate?

I tried to simplify these ideas for the sake of this project: a) the club should be proudly and uniquely Washingtonian, b) they should inherit symbols, but not histories, from their predecessors, and c) they should push their identity into new places. In short, they should prepare to be loved by a fanbase who have had their hearts broken before, and who have dissipated over the years, but they should not claim that love as a birthright.

From a visual standpoint, the Nationals are adhering fairly closely to these ideas, and I tried to capture that spirit with this soccer-style interpretation. This Nationals jersey contains several stylistic nods to history, but very little in the way of direct, explicit historical reference. Let’s start with the crest. As has become commonplace during this project, the club’s cap mark, the curly ‘W’, imageserves as the crest. Like Atlanta’s swerving ‘A’, and the Indians’ dynamic ‘I’, the W captures a sense of positive motion in its form, and is just a beautiful shape to behold. I can understand, even beyond the nostalgia it inspires, why it was brought back when the club was constituted. You won’t, however, see any stars under that crest; the Nationals need to earn their own.  (You also won’t see strokes or outlines around this mark the way the club applies them now, because I believe it dilutes the power of the visual in this case.)

Next, we turn to the color red: it dominates the jersey. This is part of “pushing the identity into new places”; the Nats have a chance to take the color red and run with it, turning it into a calling card with their unique branding attributes. Yes, both the Reds and Red Sox have obvious ties to red, and to an extent the Phillies and Angels have made it a signature color as well. But those identities are not standing in the way of the Nats making something uniquely distinctive happen with their use of the color. Here, the jersey conveys a simple, powerful statement with the use of one dominant, primary tone - not unlike Manchester United or Liverpool, or even imageSouth Korea’s national soccer side. And here, as those clubs have also discovered, white touches look quite strong on a deep red canvas, so the W crest, color, sleeve piping and shirt bottom lend a sense of bright power to the design.

Besides red and white, dark navy makes an appearance on the shirt, in the manufacturer’s logo (Adidas) and the sponsor, Sprint Mobile. (Confidential to Verizon Wireless: You were my first choice here, but your logo is just too dang bad; I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe next time.) The navy lends a counterweight to the white touches, and separates the sponsor and manufacturer identities from the club. Navy also shows up in one of the shirt’s design touches: a circular “grid” pattern that starts on the jersey’s body, and progresses towards the crest-side shoulder where it is crowned with a arching navy stripe. This detail is a simplified representation of the inside of the U.S. Capitol building’s domed Rotunda - if you had walked into the Rotunda and looked up, the detail on the jersey represents a slice of what you’d see. The real Rotunda ceiling is unspeakably beautiful, and seeing it in person is one of those moments that makes you believe in the power of Washington to do great things (something that’s increasingly difficult to come by as time goes on). The lines contained within the Rotunda design also make, when simplified, a pretty great pattern for a soccer shirt, and you can imagine the grid rendered in different fabric treatments with very subtle tonal variation.

The imagelast important touch here is the striped sleeve ends. This detail serves two purposes; first, if viewed as two red stripes on a white background, it creates the basis for the beautiful city flag of Washington, District of Columbia. Or, if you choose to see three white stripes on a red background, you can see how Adidas might be able to sneak in a little branded calling card. The design element works either way, and gives the jersey some nice balance to boot. imageAround the back, the Rotunda motif recurs, and the player name and number (in the Nats’ own typeface) are rendered in simple white below the M.L.B. logo.

There’s no easy way to understand exactly who these Nationals are. The fact that the club has made a home in Washington, is winning on the field, and is asking for a chance to excite those in their community is really the only allowable metric by which they can be judged. With a balance of history and forward-looking style, the Nationals can (in a soccer context, anyway) start creating their own story.

Philadelphia Phillies

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I’ve “cheated” on the Red Sox with other baseball caps twice in my life. Once was a couple-week fling with a black Chicago White Sox cap; we covered that in an earlier piece, but suffice to say there was seventh-grade social coolness at stake. The other time was a longer, stranger relationship with the Phillies’ red and white cap (with the blue button) when I was about 15 or so. I just liked it. I didn’t care much for the team itself, or the city (though I have become quite fond of the latter, and have no beef with the former). I never stopped being a Red Sox fan. I just really liked the look of that Phillies cap, and I had to try it out for a few months. I wish I could tell you that I regret it, but I don’t. It wasn’t better, it was just… different. 


This was right after the club had ended their “maroonera and re-introduced the still-current red and white scheme (with blue highlights) in the early 1990s.  It also coincided with the 1993 World Series, which was a thrilling affair both athletically and visually. I never understood quite why the Phillies made the change; after all, they were the only club using maroon in the majors, and still would be today were they to have stuck with it; and their simple, slithery P with-a-baseball-in-the-middle logo was famous, well recognized and loved. That color scheme - maroon and white, often with powder-blue road jerseys - had even brought the club their first and only World Series victory in team history, in 1980. It was Mike Schmidt’s mustache; it was Steve Carlton’s untamed locks; it was Juan Samuel’s tight pants. But no matter, the Phillies changed anyway, to a new “historic” look that was just as good as the one they left behind. Minor-chord maroon became a deep, major red; the powder blue all but disappeared, save for a dab of royal blue here and there on the jerseys and cap, and the entire package seemed to acquire a patina of history, whereas the maroon identity was always a bit modern and slick. The Phillies also established a signature typeface - rounded, narrow, clean, and almost bubbly - that would become distinctive in a very short time.

Within just a few years the club had entered a renaissance, and by the mid–2000s was a perennial World Series title favorite, winning one in 2008 to go with the 1980 victory. And the team had a happy circumstance on its hands - a well-loved successful primary identity, and a sought-after, retro-cool older identity - the maroon and blue look - that was perfectly suited for merchandise sales and throwback nights. The only issue? The identities feel like two separate clubs, and they are equally important to modern Phillies fans. Solving a visual challenge like this is exactly what the soccer jersey was made for.

(The Phillies’ visual history doesn’t start and stop with the current red/white and retro maroon, of course; they have worn almost every color in the rainbow. Green in the early 1900s; a season in yellow and blue in the 30s; navy blue in the 40s, and light blue - not just in the 70s and 80s with the Mike Schmidt jerseys, but in the 40s when the team wanted to add a mascot, and picked, wildly, the Blue Jay. The Phillies wore blue jay emblems on their jerseys for a few seasons! Adds a twist to the 1993 World Series, no? The Phillies are close to the perfect candidate for soccer-style interpretation; they seem very comfortable trying on new visual identities and weird color schemes without worrying that their core brand is being diluted.)

The fútbol-style jersey here references the team’s current visual template and weaves in some history to boot. The base is vintage white, perfect for a club as venerable as the Phillies. The crest is the cap mark, imagethe lovely new-and-old red ‘P’. Collars, shirt ends and the jersey bottom are done in a deep, chalky blue, which works as a version of the club’s current blue color, imagebut gives just a powder-y suggestion of their visual past, too. The sponsor, the popular Wawa chain of convenience stores, will be instantly understandable to anybody who’s ever a) spent time in the Philly region or b) yearned to order a foot-long sub (sorry, hoagie) via a touch-screen computer. The jersey is made by Italian brand Erreà, one of my favorite smaller soccer kit-makers, and one (quite frankly) I wanted to use before finishing this project. Philly seemed like the perfect chance.

Two details stand out here. First, behind the P crest run two diagonal lines forming a sash. The bottom line is red, and the upper is maroon. imageThis neatly references the two beloved modern Phillies identities in an understated and elegant way. The sash effect is continued past the crest to the shoulder, but not before passing beneath stars, one above each line. The powder blue star above the maroon line references the 1980 championship, in that clubs’ color scheme; the darker blue star above the red line references the more recent 2008 title. One last little confluence; the Phillies use two blue stars to dot the “i”s in the script across their home jersey; this keeps those stars alive.

The second small detail is something I love about the Phillies - they’re the only Major League club to put their players’ number on their jersey sleeves. imageThis, of course, begs to be recreated in a soccer context, so on one sleeve, a numeral patch is implemented. This patch serves double duty, as the number is contained within a pictogram of Philadelphia’s famous Liberty Bell - which happens to make a nice reference to both the city and the club’s secondary logo.

Around back, the sash continues through the rear number, in Philly’s imagedistinctive font; it and the player name (below the M.L.B. logo are done in the same red color as the crest. The entire look is a charming reference to the Phils’ recent, successful history - both retro and present-day at once. I hope the club, and their fans, would embrace it. I might even be tempted to stray from the Red Sox for just a moment and slip this jersey on for a few minutes (you know, when nobody was looking).

And there you go, that’s the N.L. East, and with it, all 30 clubs in Major League Baseball! It’s been quite a project; thanks for reading. If you have comments or feedback, I’m listening on Twitter (using #soccercontext) or over on Reddit at /r/baseball. These jerseys are \\…. scraaatch!

(That was supposed to be a needle scratching on a vinyl record. I apologize; my foley budget isn’t huge here.)

Wait, There’s More!

I’ve had a great time writing and designing these pieces, and a big part of the fun has been digging into the past to learn more about teams’ visuals and traditions. Again and again, I’d find and follow rabbit holes that led to some fantastically obscure baseball history. The chaotic color and convention sprinkled through baseball lore is unfathomably rich. I was able to reference a bit of that with this project, but there are so many defunct athletic identities out there, I didn’t want to pass up the chance to do some interesting Soccer Out of Context work with some legendary clubs that don’t live on in our present era.

So here, I’m announcing the next phase of Soccer Out of Context pieces - a fictional league beyond the American and National, if you will. In fact I’m christening it the Ghosts and Grandfathers League. And I want you to help me decide which clubs are featured.

Here’s how it’ll work. Every few weeks or so, as I can, I’d like to do a further S.O.O.C. design from a pool of historic identities.  (I’ll start with baseball clubs, but this could go anywhere, really.)  Some of these names will have prominent histories; some existed in brief flourishes and are not well-documented. Some are the ancestors of existing professional franchise (i.e., “grandfathers”); others became visual dead ends (or “ghosts”). But all present some really interesting visual opportunities.  Interested?

I’ve put together a preliminary ballot for entry into the Ghosts and Grandfathers League.  Here are the first dozen Ghosts and Grandfathers League candidates (you can click on the thumbnails for further reading):

This is where I’ll need your help. I’d like you to vote for the one identity (from this ballot) you’d want to see featured next in a Soccer Out of Context piece. We’ll hold the voting open for a week or so, and then call a winner; they will officially be inaugurated into the S.O.O.C. Ghosts & Grandfathers League, I’ll do an out-of-context soccer design for that identity. If all goes well we’ll rinse and repeat every few weeks.  

By the way: if you have your own ideas for clubs that should be considered, I want to hear about them! Just find me on Twitter or send me your idea by email (m at The only rule is that the identity you mention should not represent a current major league team.  If I get one or more write-in candidates that surpass a minumum threshold, I’ll add them to the ballot for the next round; meanwhile, low vote-getters will be dropped. (Yee-haw, promotion and relegation in American sports!)

I hope you’ll play along, and I look forward to seeing what you guys think. So: vote!


…and, back to your regular programming.

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,

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!

  1. m-willis posted this