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Friday, May 17, 2013
In uniforms, ugly usually becomes cool

By Jim Caple

Richie Zisk, Robin Yount, Don Sutton
Richie Zisk, Robin Yount and Don Sutton could pass for modern-day hipsters.
It was challenging rooting for the Mariners in their early years.

Well, actually, with seven last-place seasons in the past nine years, no postseasons in the past 12 years and no World Series EVER, it’s still challenging to root for the Mariners. But at least the Mariners wear uniforms and caps that aren’t a total embarrassment.

That’s what made those early years particularly challenging. The blue-and-yellow double-knits weren’t any worse than the other late '70s and early '80s uniforms throughout baseball, but the upside-down yellow trident on the cap should be considered a Class A fashion felony. The trident was meant to look like an M for Mariners, which it did, but an upside-down trident is regarded as a symbol of bad luck (the prongs are supposed to point upward).

I’m not sure whether the upside-down trident has always been a symbol of bad luck or just since the Mariners made Al Chambers the No. 1 pick of the 1979 draft. Either way, the look was so embarrassing I could never bring myself to wear even a giveaway cap.

Thus, I was delighted when the Mariners changed to a more respectable classic style in 1987 that dropped the trident. And ever since, Seattle has had pretty decent uniforms (except when the M's briefly wore teal alternate jerseys -- I hate teal), so that even when the Mariners lose, we can still wear their caps and jerseys in public.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s stadium is now crowded with young hipsters wearing the trident caps and jerseys. They think this makes them hip and cool in an ironic way, just as they think drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon does (even though today’s PBR has nothing to do with its once glorious past but is instead contract-brewed at Miller facilities). Instead, these caps and jerseys just inspire painful memories in fans old enough to remember when they were worn on the field by the likes of Mario Mendoza, Bob Kearney and Salome Barojas rather than by young fans standing in line for beer.

I’m not alone in this pain. Astros fans and Padres fans must feel the same way when they see their local hipsters wearing their team’s old rainbow and chocolate-and-mustard monstrosities. Although at least they can recall some good teams that wore those particular jerseys some seasons.

Worse yet, this trend isn’t limited to just hipsters. The current Orioles actually wear those white-paneled, '70s-era farmer caps as part of their official uniforms. And don’t make me bring up Chief Wahoo.

That’s the thing about uniforms and fashion, though. Everything is cyclical. No matter how bad the style is (leisure suits), no matter how much we cringe when we see it (Zubaz), eventually nostalgia will take over and a younger generation will bring it back into fashion (white tank tops). Given enough time, ugly will eventually become cool. And be slapped on a cap and sold in a team store for $34.95.

Of course, not all retro looks are bad. "Mad Men" has helped inspire a slight rebirth in the hat as a fashion statement, and that’s a good thing. Similarly, the Twins' TC emblem and the old Minnie-Paul handshake logo along with the Brewers' MB mitt are welcome nods to the past. I even get a bit of a smile when I see the 1970s red Red Sox cap, although it also brings back memories of Bucky Dent (nostalgia, after all, derives in part from the Greek word for pain).

And at least the ugly-to-cool cycle provides you with an argument the next time your spouse wants to clean out the closet of all your old T-shirts and replica jerseys. But honey, all-powder blue jerseys and pants with elastic belts are hip again!

But let’s just hope the White Sox shorts don’t ever become retro cool. They looked bad enough on athletes. Imagine having to see them worn by somebody chomping down on his or her third order of garlic fries and nachos.