The 2021 Uni Watch MLB Season Preview
There will be ballgames. There will be fans. And there will be uniform changes.
Last year gave us a baseball season like no other, as the coronavirus pandemic ended up pushing Opening Day all the way back to late July.
Thankfully, this year’s MLB season appears ready to start on schedule, but it too will be unprecedented, at least in one regard: Not a single team has unveiled a new uniform for 2021. No total makeovers, no new alternate jerseys, not even so much as a new alternate cap. In the 22 years that your friendly uniform columnist has been covering this beat, that’s a first — not just for MLB, but for any of the major pro leagues.
This is likely the calm before the storm, as the word on the street is that MLB’s uniform outfitter, Nike, has big changes in the works for next season. Next year could also be when the uni-verse’s greatest scourge — advertising patches — hit MLB in a big way.
We’ll get to all of that later in this article. For now, though, let’s focus on 2021. Because while there are no new uniforms, there are lots of new patches, new throwbacks and other bits of uni-related ephemera to discuss. In fact, the lack of new designs this year gives us a good opportunity to obsess over more granular visual details that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. And for the handful of teams that truly have no uni news of any sort, I’ve identified the most pressing thing that they should change.
Okay, enough preliminaries. With Opening Day set for this Thursday (yes, April Fool’s Day — one last joke that the pandemic is playing on us), here’s the 23rd annual Uni Watch MLB Season Preview, providing you with a look at what you can expect to see on the field this season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Nothing new this year for the O’s, which means yet another year has gone by without them changing MLB’s single most annoying uni-related glitch: The apostrophe on their “O’s” secondary logo and alternate cap is upside-down! This has been driving a certain uniform writer bonkers ever since the logo was introduced in 2009. That’s a dozen years of apostrophic dysfunction. Make it stop!
Boston Red Sox
Reliever Adam Ottavino, who has previously worn No. 0 for the Rockies and Yankees, is now wearing that number for the Bosox. He’s only the second zero-clad player (and the first such pitcher) in Boston history, following Brandon Phillips in 2018.
New York Yankees
Yankees great Whitey Ford died on Oct. 8. The team wore a black “16” sleeve memorial for him the following day — which turned out to be the final day of their 2020 season, as they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Rays. The Yanks are giving Ford his due by carrying over his memorial to this season, but they’ve changed the design to a circular black patch (which, somewhat incredibly, marks the first time they’ve ever used that memorial patch format):
Also: The Yankees will be playing the White Sox in the annual “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa on Aug. 12. Although no uniform plans have yet been announced, it seems like a safe bet that both teams will be wearing retro-styled designs for that one.
Also-also: The Yankees will be playing the Mets on Sept. 11. It will be the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks and the first time that MLB’s two New York teams have faced each other on that date. Again, while nothing has yet been announced, both teams will presumably acknowledge the anniversary on their uniforms in some way.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are reviving their Devil Rays throwbacks, which they’ll wear for five Saturday home dates: May 29, June 26, July 31, Aug. 21 and Sept. 25.
Toronto Blue Jays
No uniform changes this season for the Jays. But their home games will nonetheless have a different look this season, because pandemic-related travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada have once again forced them to find a new home ballpark. Last year, they set up shop in Buffalo; this year, they’re planning to play their first three homestands at their spring training facility in Florida, and it remains to be seen what will happen after that.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Chicago White Sox
Tony La Russa, who managed the White Sox from 1979 through 1986, is skippering them once again this season. So when the Sox wear their 1983 throwbacks, which they routinely trot out for Sunday home games, La Russa will be in the unusual position of wearing the same uniform design he wore during his first stint with the team:
Also: The White Sox will be playing the Yankees in the annual “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa on Aug. 12. Although no uniform plans have yet been announced, it seems like a safe bet that both teams will be wearing retro-styled designs for that one.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the Sox have opted not to wear a memorial patch for the late Dick Allen, who died in December. Granted, Allen played only three seasons in Chicago, but one of those was 1972, when he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player, plus he’s widely viewed as having a strong shot at being being elected to the Hall of Fame this year, so it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser that the team has chosen not to uni-memorialize him. (Another team will be doing so, however, as we’ll see when we get to the National League East.)
The Indians announced over the winter that they will soon be changing their name. It’s not yet clear exactly when the new team identity will be announced or put into use — team owner Paul Dolan recently said that it may not happen until after the 2022 season — nor is it clear what the new name will be or whether the team might adopt a temporary placeholder moniker like the NFL’s Washington Football Team has done. In any case, the team will still be known as the Indians this season, but that name’s days are clearly numbered.
Interestingly, the team was apparently experimenting with the idea of having an alternate home jersey this season with simple “Cleveland” lettering, instead of the club’s longstanding “Indians” chest script. Although that plan was abandoned, the proposed design lives on in a video game:
RBI Baseball 21 was released a couple days ago.— Bryan Shaw (@WxShaw) March 19, 2021
I noticed a new “home alternate” for the #Indians that doesn’t have script Indians but the block Cleveland like the away unis.@UniWatch @PhilHecken @John_Sabol pic.twitter.com/ZhDuoYRFfV
The Tigers will dress up as the 1920 Detroit Stars for a Negro Leagues throwback game in Kansas City on May 23:
Kansas City Royals
As noted directly above in the Tigers entry, the Royals will be wearing Negro Leagues throwbacks on May 23, honoring the 1949 Kansas City Monarchs.
Also: The Royals recently signed first baseman Carlos Santana, who has worn No. 41 throughout his career. That number was already being worn in KC by pitcher Danny Duffy, but Duffy gladly gave it to Santana and has switched to No. 30. He’s the first KC player to wear that number since his friend and former teammate Yordano Ventura, who died in a car accident prior to the start of the 2017 season.
Meanwhile, the Royals have also upgraded their ballpark’s video board. Here’s hoping fans can attend this season to enjoy it.
Nothing new this year for the Twins, which is just as well — they already have six different uniforms, which is way too many. Time to pare things down a bit.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Nothing new to report regarding the ’Stros, but here’s something they really need to address: The lettering on their home jerseys — the white and orange ones with “Astros” across the chest — is brutally lopsided, which has been a source of consternation here at Uni Watch HQ for many years. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it!
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Interestingly, they’re marking the occasion with a commemorative patch on their caps, but not on their jersey sleeves:
The much-maligned Oakland Coliseum, which is what most folks still call it, officially has a new name (its sixth since opening in 1966): RingCentral Coliseum. As you may recall, this is the stadium known for its raw sewage and dead mice in the soda machines, so it seems fitting that the new naming rights deal has been tainted by a corruption scandal. The A’s new ballpark, which seems like it’s been in the works more or less forever, can’t get here soon enough.
Last year the Mariners were planning to wear Negro Leagues throwbacks inspired by the 1946 Seattle Steelheads for a game on June 20. Unfortunately, that game got wiped out by the pandemic, but the throwbacks will finally make their belated debut this season, on June 19 (perfect timing, since that’s Juneteenth):
Per team exec, the Seattle Steelheads throwbacks that the Mariners were originally planning to wear last June (for a game that fell victim to the pandemic) will be worn this season, on June 19. https://t.co/UXFHOLfVDV— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 23, 2021
Unlike last year, when the visiting Royals were also slated to wear Negro Leagues throwbacks, the visiting team this year, the Rays, will just wear their regular uniforms.
Also: The Mariners have changed the cap pairing for their navy alternate jersey. The solid-navy cap is out and the green-brimmed cap is in:
Per team exec, the Mariners will now wear their green-brimmed cap — rather than the solid-navy cap — with their navy alternate jerseys. pic.twitter.com/lYwAxyQliZ— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 23, 2021
Nothing new for the Rangers. Frankly, they have a lot of uni-related problems to address, so it’s hard to pick just one thing that needs to be changed, but the most pressing issue is that they can’t decide whether they’re a blue team with red trim or a red team with blue trim. Sometimes they try to be both of those things simultaneously, which looks ridiculous. Come on, people — you can’t have it both ways!
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
A serious patch-o-rama situation is looming in Atlanta. First, the franchise is celebrating its 150th anniversary, which calls for a patch. Second, they’re hosting this year’s MLB All-Star Game (or at least that’s the current plan, although recent events in Georgia have called that into question), which means another patch. Third, they’re going to need memorial patches for Hall of Fame players Henry Aaron and Phil Niekro, and maybe also for longtime broadcaster Don Sutton, all of whom died over the winter.
So far, the team has shown only two of the patches — All-Star on the right sleeve and anniversary on the left:
No word yet on the Aaron, Niekro and possibly Sutton memorial patches, but they’ll presumably be announced in time for Opening Day.
Update: It turns out that the Braves will memorialize Aaron and Niekro (but not Sutton) in a fairly subtle way, by putting their uniform numbers on the back of their cap, flanking the MLB logo.
No uniform changes for the Marlins, but there are two notable changes to their ballpark. First, the aquarium behind home plate has been removed. And second, the team has announced a new naming rights deal, so “Marlins Park” is out and “loanDepot park” is in. And yes, they’re really styling it with the lowercase “l” and “p.”
New York Mets
The greatest player in Mets history, Tom Seaver, died last Aug. 31, so the team honored him with a memorial patch for the balance of the 2020 season. But just as the Yankees are doing for Whitey Ford, the Mets are carrying over their Seaver memorial to 2021, and with a new patch design for the new season:
Comparison of Mets’ memorial patches for Tom Seaver. 2020 version (worn last season from Sept. 4 thru Sept. 27) on left, 2021 version on right. pic.twitter.com/kpr84Kl6rC— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 1, 2021
Meanwhile, after spending much of the winter hinting about it, the Mets have just announced that their polarizing black uniforms, originally worn from 1998 through 2012, will be returning at some point this season “for a limited number of games.” No word yet on which games those will be, but it seems like a safe bet that one of them will be on Sept. 11, when the Mets host the Yankees — the first time that MLB’s two New York teams have faced each other on that date. With this year marking the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the black uniforms would make sense, since 2001 was that uniform’s heyday and black is a traditional color of mourning.
In addition, here’s a weird uni-numerical situation: Over the winter, the Mets signed free agent pitcher Taijuan Walker. He wore No. 00 with his previous team, the Blue Jays, and Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman already wears No. 0, so Walker’s signing set up the unprecedented scenario of the Mets having a zero and a double-zero in the same starting rotation! Unfortunately, that potentiality was scuttled because the team’s costumed mascot, Mr. Met, already wears No. 00, which for some reason precluded Walker from wearing it. So Walker chose No. 99 instead.
The Phils have announced that they will wear a memorial patch for Dick Allen this season. At press time, however, the patch design had not yet been revealed, so they’re apparently keeping it under wraps until Opening Day.
Nothing new for the Nats, so here’s something they ought to fix: The “Nationals” chest script on their navy jerseys runs too steeply “uphill.” I mean, look at this:
Maybe it’s because the front uni number is too big and blocky, forcing the script to be more steeply inclined? In any case, the script needs to be flattened out a bit.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Nothing new this year for the Cubbies. Not much that needs to be changed, either, as they have a near-perfect uni set. Maybe they could get rid of that circle-R trademark symbol on their home jersey’s chest logo — the only such mark on a top-level North American pro sports uniform, and clearly the result of an oversight that was mistakenly codified into the team’s uniform decades ago. Still, it’s been there for so long that it’s essentially become an endearing quirk, so they may as well stick with it.
The Reds are adding an “8” memorial patch for Joe Morgan, who anchored the Big Red Machine in the 1970s and won two MVP awards along the way:
The Brewers have added a “44” memorial patch for Henry Aaron, who played his final two seasons with the Brew Crew (and also played for 12 years with the Milwaukee Braves):
Meanwhile, a few stadium-related notes: First, due to a new naming rights deal, the facility formerly known as Miller Park is now American Family Field. And thanks to some new renovations, the team’s costumed mascot, Bernie Brewer, has a new chalet-style home, similar to his old digs at the team’s previous ballpark, County Stadium:
It’s time for the big reveal!— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) March 23, 2021
Check out Bernie’s brand-new home in the final episode of Mascot Makeover: Chalet Edition, presented by @AmFam.
See the complete series here: https://t.co/x2kgnk4Zrv pic.twitter.com/23x4m3wUpq
In what appeared to be a uni-numerical milestone in the making, newly acquired third baseman Todd Frazier was wearing No. 99 during spring training, positioning him to become the first Pirates player ever to wear that number. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the final roster cut and will be cooling his heels at the team’s alternate training site while awaiting a call-up. If and when that happens, he’ll finally become the team’s first 99er.
Meanwhile: The Pirates and PNC Bank have extended their naming rights agreement for the team’s ballpark for an additional 10 years. As part of the deal, the PNC logo around the stadium has been updated.
St. Louis Cardinals
Cardinals great Bob Gibson died last Oct. 2, the same day the team was eliminated from the 2020 playoffs, so the Cards are adding a memorial patch for him this season. Much like the team’s previous patches for Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Lou Brock, the new patch will feature Gibson’s uniform number and signature:
CONFIRMED: Cardinals will wear Bob Gibson memorial patch in 2021.— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 16, 2021
Gibson died on Oct. 2, the same day the Cards were eliminated from the 2020 postseason, so they didn’t have a chance to memorialize him last season.
Patch design matches the ones for Musial, Brock, Schoendienst. pic.twitter.com/ZFDpTmRhaL
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the D-backs’ 2001 World Series win over the Yankees, so the team has a new logo to mark the occasion:
*drumroll please*— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) March 21, 2021
Officially unveiling our 20th Anniversary of 2001 World Series logo! pic.twitter.com/QwzJwrntOR
A team spokesman says the D-backs will wear throwback uniforms as part of the championship anniversary celebration (dates and particulars have not yet been finalized), and the logo will be worn as a cap patch for those games. No other plans for the logo to be worn on-field, but it will be used for marketing and promotion throughout the year.
Nothing new this year for the Rockies. As for a potential uni change, it’s tempting to say that they should scrap their black-on-black vest, but that’s now MLB’s last remaining vest jersey, and it would be a shame for the big leagues to be completely vest-bereft, so let’s allow them to keep it for now.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers, like most World Series champions of recent years, will begin the defense of their title by wearing gold-trimmed uniforms. At press time, the gold design hadn’t yet been officially unveiled, although the cap has leaked. It’s not yet clear if the Dodgers will wear the gold threads for their season opener (April 1 in Colorado) or their home opener (April 9 at Dodger Stadium), although the latter date seems more likely.
Meanwhile: The Dodgers are wearing a pair of memorial patches on their right sleeve this season — one for manager Tommy Lasorda and one for pitcher Don Sutton, both of whom died in January:
Also: Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw inked an endorsement deal with Skechers at the end of the 2019 season. National League pitchers didn’t bat in 2020, but they’re slated to be back in the batter’s box this season, which means Kershaw will be wearing something that has apparently never appeared before on an MLB diamond: Skechers batting gloves!
Finally, it’s worth noting that longtime Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner wants the team to turn its blue spring training jersey into a full-fledged alternate uni. The famously straitlaced Dodgers did experiment with a blue alternate in 1999 and 2000, but they’ve never embraced the solid-colored jersey trend like most other MLB teams. Will Turner’s advocacy gain traction? Something to keep an eye on.
San Diego Padres
Pitcher MacKenzie Gore — widely considered the top pitching prospect in all of baseball — didn’t survive San Diego’s final roster cut but is expected to reach the big leagues as an early-season call-up. Whenever he makes his MLB debut, he will become only the second pitcher in MLB history to take the mound wearing No. 1 (the first was Matt Young of the 1990 Mariners):
San Francisco Giants
Since moving into their current ballpark in 2000, the Giants have maintained an old-school look by not including their players’ names on the back of their home jerseys. That will change this season, as the home uniforms will now have NOBs (that’s uni-speak for “names on back,” kids):
The road jerseys, which have included NOBs all along, are unaffected.
Meanwhile: The Giants had planned to retire Will Clark’s No. 22 this season. But due to uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it now looks like the team will push back this honor to 2022.
- At least for now, expect to see managers, coaches, umpires, bat boys and all other auxiliary on-field personnel masking up, as they did last year. Maybe some players, too. But MLB has just announced new protocols that could lead to more relaxed mask guidelines for teams that achieve a certain vaccination threshold.
- No word yet on holiday uniforms for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Armed Forces Day, and Independence Day, but those are presumably in the pipeline. The announcement usually takes place sometime in mid-April, so stay tuned for that.
- As usual, Jackie Robinson Day will take place on April 15, with all uniformed personnel wearing No. 42.
- Starting this season, June 2 will be Lou Gehrig Day across MLB, with all players wearing a “4-ALS” patch. Teams wore a similar patch on July 4, 2009 (the 70th anniversary of Gehrig’s famous “luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech), and a more elaborate patch five years after that, but those were one-off events, while the new June observance is slated to be an annual thing.
- Speaking of annual days dedicated to great players, Roberto Clemente Day has been on the MLB calendar for several years (it has always taken place in September, although the exact date has fluctuated a bit), but last year was the first time it included any uniform-related components. The Pirates all wore No. 21, as did many Puerto Rican players across the sport, and all teams wore a “21” memorial patch (additional info and lots of photos here). It’s not yet clear if the same thing will happen this season, although the Pirates have been lobbying for it. Something to keep an eye on.
- The 2021 All-Star Game is currently slated to take place in Atlanta (although, as mentioned earlier, there are some signs of pushback on that front), so expect the BP jerseys to have some sort of Braves-related theme, at least for now.
- Players Weekend was scrapped for last year’s pandemic-shortened season, and so far there’s no word on whether it will be revived this August. The uniforms for this promotion have generally been embarrassing (the Dodgers actually asked not to wear them in 2019 but were rebuffed), so here’s hoping the whole idea is quietly mothballed.
- If you see more players swinging elaborately painted bats this season, that’s because of a company called Victus Sports, which is poised to make a very visible impact on the field this year.
- Turning our attention from the bats to the balls, MLB has altered the baseballs this season to cut down on home runs, and early indications are that they had the desired effect in spring training. Also, league officials are using new detection methods to crack down on pitchers applying foreign substances to the ball.
- If you want to brush up on ballpark culture, here’s a really good rundown of each team’s seventh inning stretch song, costumed mascot, racing mascots and fan-driven rituals.
- Want to look ahead? As mentioned earlier in this article, big changes may be afoot for next year. The word coming through the grapevine is that some of the uniform concepts Nike has used in other sports may be coming to MLB. A Phillies “City Edition” jersey? A Diamondbacks “Color Rush” uniform? A bonus uniform “earned” by teams that reach the postseason? Those things aren’t here yet, but don’t be surprised if you see them on the diamond next season. Tailoring changes are also in the works, and may have been hinted at by a few items that have surfaced during spring training.
- This is also the final season of the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners, and it’s widely expected that the new CBA will have some provision for ads on uniforms. MLB has already dabbled in sleeve ads and helmet ads for games taking place outside the United States and Canada, but the plans currently under consideration would make uni ads an everyday thing. Say it ain’t so.
And there you have it. Did we miss anything? Yeah, probably. If so, you know what to do. Now let’s play ball.
Paul Lukas, a lifelong Mets fan, is cautiously optimistic about his favorite team this season. If you like this article, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, check out his podcast, and sign up for his mailing list so you won’t miss any of his future InsideHook columns. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
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