Iconic jerseys of the MLB then and now

Written by:
June 7, 2019

Iconic jerseys of the MLB then and now

Looking at Major League Baseball jerseys throughout the years can tell you more about fashion than you might think. Take, for example, the styles of the 19th century. In baseball, baggy pants, almost like knickers, were all the rage, as were collared jerseys, mustaches, and even ties. Some teams, like the St. Louis Browns, would even sport cardigan sweaters on the diamond.

As the calendar turned to the mid-20th century, teams began adding more flair to their apparel, incorporating more colors and logos (before, perhaps pinstripes or a letter or city name might be the only characters to appear on the front of a uniform). Then, when the 1970s came around, all the reins were let loose and baseball fashion went haywire. No, there weren't bell bottoms or tie-dyed jerseys, but some garish color combinations were to be found throughout the majors.

In the 1990s, brighter colors like teals and purples became popular, as well as more futuristic designs, which could be hit or miss. Today, many teams have drawn on the past for more basic looks, as retro is cool once again.

Stacker went through the uniform history of all 30 Major League teams to compare and contrast a look from their early days to now. Some franchises not only changed threads, but locations and nicknames. Only a select few have kept the same look over the years, while others are still searching for the perfect style. These jerseys show, though, that baseball is more than caps and cleats. A team's uniform can capture a unique part of their city's history or even cause controversy by employing styles now considered taboo.

Click through to see the colors, mascots, and fonts that have made for some of the most iconic looks in sports history, and maybe garner an inkling of where baseball fashion is headed in the future.

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Then: Arizona Diamondbacks (1998)

Arizona had long been a favored Spring Training site among MLB teams from across the country, but when the Diamondbacks debuted in 1998, they went for a look that specifically resonated with the American Southwest. The purple and teal took some inspiration from the late 1990s fad of professional sports teams choosing flamboyant colors, while the copper was a nice nod to the state's history.

Now: Arizona Diamondbacks (2019)

The Diamondbacks still employ a similar hat logo (after employing a “D” for several years), but their color scheme has completely changed. In 2016, they became the first MLB team to drastically break away from traditional jersey styles, adding futuristic shading to the shoulders. At first, there were many naysayers, but these crisp uniforms have won fans over in the years since.

Then: The Boston Red Stockings (1874)

What may look ridiculous by today's standards was the norm 145 years ago. Baseball uniforms used to resemble something you might wear to the country club, replete with ties and collars. Before the Boston Red Sox began play in 1908, the Boston Red Stockings called the city home and eventually changed their name to the Braves, moving to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.

Now: Atlanta Braves (2019)

Over the last 30 years, the Atlanta Braves haven't deviated much in their look, a crisp style that evokes images of championship-winning teams from the 1990s. The tomahawk under the name is one of the more unique logo incorporations across the front of a jersey, and the club's navy and red cap is one of the more classic designs in the game today.

Then: St. Louis Browns (1908)

Much more fitting for a game of polo, these unique jerseys sported by the St. Louis Browns came with cardigans, which must have been brutal to wear during the Midwest summers. After spending 51 years in St. Louis, the franchise moved to Baltimore, where they've taken on a lighter approach to uniforms ever since.

Now: Baltimore Orioles (2019)

The Baltimore Orioles haven't changed much in terms of dress over the years, staying strict to an orange-and-black scheme. In the 1990s, the team had a full bird logo on its cap, but has switched to the more cartoonish and beloved Oriole logo since. Occasionally, the Orioles have added a patch on their sleeves with a nod to the Maryland state flag, breaking up the dominant Halloween-esque scheme.

Then: Boston Americans (1903)

These jerseys scream handlebar mustaches and high stirrup socks—a stereotype of any old-timey baseball player. Sort of resembling a milkman's getup, the Boston Americans (who became the Red Sox in 1908) included collars, ties, and the kind of caps more commonly seen on a train conductor than an outfielder.

Now: Boston Red Sox (2019)

The Red Sox are one of the few current teams to forego having names on the back of their jerseys. They also employ a unique number font, different than the block-style lettering seen on many teams' backs. Throw in the iconic “B” on the hat and you have one of sports' most traditional looks.

Then: Chicago Cubs (1908)

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in the 20th century, they sported a popular collared-jersey, although some semblance to the current team can be seen, as well. The “C” logo on the chest remains on some variations of today's uniform, as well as a “C” on the hat. The furry mascot seen front and center here, is nowhere to be found these days.

Now: Chicago Cubs (2019)

The Chicago Cubs, like the Boston Red Sox, have found that keeping with tradition breeds success. The blue pinstripe and relatively simple home uniform has been a staple for decades, conjuring up images of the ivy walls of Wrigley Field and Ryne Sandberg home runs.

Then: Chicago White Stockings (1888)

This baseball team on the South Side of Chicago did not wear white stockings back in the day. They did, however, sport ties, black socks, and an array of facial hair. By 1904, they shortened their name to White Sox, and in the 1970s, even shortened their pants above their knees.

Now: Chicago White Sox (2019)

The White Sox have had one of the more varied uniform histories. In the 1980s, they tinkered with many fads, including a horizontal racing-stripe version. Today, their jerseys are much simpler—black pinstripes with a Gothic-like font spelling out the team name.

Then: Cincinnati Red Stockings (1869)

It's only fitting that one of baseball's oldest franchises has an archetype for an old-school uniform. With newsboy caps and a block letter “C” in the middle of the chest, the Red Stockings stood out from other teams at the time, but still rep prototypical late 19th-century fashion. Much like the Chicago White Stockings, they later shortened their name (although Red Sox was already taken).

Now: Cincinnati Reds (2019)

The Cincinnati Reds' current uniforms have some of the boldest popping numbers, outlined in white and black. The “C” logo on their cap also utilized multi-outlined colors; in a strange twist, the hat became synonymous with gangs in the 2000s.

Then: Cleveland Indians (1950)

Long one of the more controversial uniform sets in sports, this 1950 Cleveland Indians jersey featured what many consider a racist caricature of a Native American on the left sleeve. The Cleveland Indians use of cartoonish Native American figures has led to protests and only recently has the team acknowledged its politically incorrect existence.

Now: Cleveland Indians (2019)

Quietly, the Indians have phased out their usage of the “Chief Wahoo” mascot that used to adorn everything from their caps to sleeve patches. Now, the Indians wear a basic “C” cap, with Indians script across the front of their jersey. Some people have even called for a complete name change.

Then: Colorado Rockies (1994)

When the Colorado Rockies debuted in 1993, they went bold by incorporating purple into their uniform scheme, a color not normally associated with baseball. Their layout (purple, black, silver, and white) has remained steady over the years and gives the Rockies a unique look compared to other teams. 

Now: Colorado Rockies (2019)

The Rockies' jerseys have largely stayed the same since their birth, save for a purple variation that they sometimes utilize. Their jerseys are basic but crisp, incorporating pinstripes, numbers on the lower left side, and not much else in terms of accoutrements.

Then: Detroit Tigers (1907)

For more than a century, the Detroit Tigers “Old English” logo has been a part of the team's fabric. Although the jerseys aren't that dissimilar from other styles of the time, the Tigers were somewhat of a style innovator, rocking a baseball cap with a two-toned brim. They are also one of the few teams to keep the same name and location throughout 100-plus years of history.

Now: Detroit Tigers (2019)

Minus the absence of a collar, the Tigers' modern uniforms don't stray much from their originals. The Old English logo remains on the left chest (and is also featured on their headwear). The Tigers also sport an away jersey more heavily incorporating orange, but the classic navy and white remains a favorite among baseball purists.

Then: Houston Astros (1988)

The Houston Astros, the franchise named in honor of the space industry, have had some designs that have simply been out of this world. During the 1980s, the Astros rainbow stripes were unlike anything before seen in baseball. While this version only had them running across the shoulders, earlier iterations included full stripes across the body of the jersey. 

Now: Houston Astros (2019)

After spending the 1990s drenched in navy blue and gold, then switching to red, black, and gold for the early 2000s, the Houston Astros have recently returned to their roots. Orange, navy, and white harken back to Houston's glory days in the 1980s, when Nolan Ryan dominated the National League, and in 2017, the Astros donned those colors while capturing their first World Series title.

Then: Kansas City Royals (1989)

In the 1980s, powder blue was a popular shade among professional sports teams, and the Kansas City Royals may have worn it best. Simple with white lettering, the jersey isn't cluttered with extra pinstripes or big logos, and evokes thoughts of some of the game's greats, like Bo Jackson (seen here) and George Brett.

Now: Kansas City Royals (2019)

It's hard to argue that the Royals script on their jerseys isn't among the best looking fonts in baseball. The lettering is so chic that it even reportedly inspired Lorde's 2013 hit, “Royals.” The current Kansas City jerseys are pretty similar to their 1980s style, although the team has tinkered at times with black, gray, and powder-blue caps.

Then: California Angels (1993)

If you were a child of the 1990s, you likely saw the film, “Angels in the Outfield,” which feature these jerseys. The Angels previously incorporated a halo'd “A” in their logo, but scrapped that for this more basic look.

Now: Los Angeles Angels (2019)

In an effort to appeal to the Los Angeles market, the Angels, despite playing in Anaheim, changed their name in 2005. These jerseys, with the return of the halo'd “A,” have been the team's designation for much of this century, after a brief flirtation with navy blue as the club's primary color.

Then: Brooklyn Dodgers (1950)

Little has changed about the Dodgers' uniform since the days they called Brooklyn home (except, of course, for a giant “B” on the cap). The blue Dodgers script across the jersey is so iconic that it even has its own color name (Dodger blue), although the team once wore a baby-blue jersey with white lettering.

Now: Los Angeles Dodgers (2019)

Aside from the “LA” that now adorns their hats, the Dodgers have made few tweaks to their apparel while residing in Southern California. One of the most unique features to the Dodgers jersey is the use of different-colored numbers on the front (red) and back (blue).

Then: Florida Marlins (1995)

The Florida Marlins had one of the more eye-popping jerseys when they debuted in the 1990s, relying heavily on teal, breaking from more traditional colors seen in baseball. The marlin image above the team name was also a unique touch, and for much of their history, the Marlins have been not adverse to taking risks when it comes to fashion.

Now: Miami Marlins (2019)

Introducing a new jersey layout this season, the Marlins have actually toned down their look from previous years. Formerly, Miami sported an array of bright colors to capture the South Beach theme, but now are relying more heavily on black and light blue. They've even gone more simple in their ballpark, dismantling a gaudy home-run sculpture in the outfield unlike any other seen around the majors.

Then: Milwaukee Brewers (1989)

Much can be said about the Milwaukee Brewers uniforms here, but let's start with the positive. The hat, which features an “M” and lowercase “b” intertwined to form a glove, is one of the more ingenious logos in sports. The pinstripes and pullover jerseys, however, quickly became a thing of the past in Milwaukee.

Now: Milwaukee Brewers (2019)

The Brewers have had several design changes over the years, but their most frequently used look draws heavily on the region's beer-making history (hence the name Brewers), with rich gold and navy colors drawing to mind the label of a fine lager. The team occasionally uses the “glove” logo hat, but also uses one with a capital “M” with a strand of barley—another nod to the brewery-rich state.

Then: Washington Senators (1901)

Before moving to the Midwest, the Washington Senators kept things traditional. The block lettering across the front with their city name was not groundbreaking, nor were the two-striped hats. The team also did not inspire with their play, winning only one World Series in almost 60 years in the nation's capital.

Now: Minnesota Twins (2019)

When the Senators relocated to Minnesota in 1961, the newly christened Twins franchise heavily played up their geographic locale. The hat still contains a “T” and a “C” representing the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Recently, the team has added gold to their traditional navy-and-red color scheme.

Then: New York Mets (1986)

The New York Mets are descendents of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, who left the city for California in the 1950s. Combining the Giants' orange and Dodgers' blue, the Mets have kept the same color scheme for most of their existence (throwing in black for a short period, as well). These 1986 jerseys were worn when the team last won a World Series, notable for their famous racing stripe down the sides.

Now: New York Mets (2019)

After some flirtations with black jerseys and white jerseys without pinstripes that drew comparisons to ice cream men, the Mets have gone back to a classic look in recent years. The interlocking NY logo on the cap resembles one the Giants wore when they played in New York, and the patch on the left sleeve is also a nice nod to the city's history, with the skyline in the background.

Then: New York Highlanders (1912)

Although they went by a different name, the New York Yankees history can be seen in the threads adorned by the New York Highlanders. The NY logo remains very much the same today, along with the dark pinstripes.

Now: New York Yankees (2019)

The Yankees uniform has rarely seen tweaks, forgoing flash for tradition (the Yankees still don't have names on the back of their jerseys). On occasion, the team may add a patch or stripe in memoriam for someone, or wear different-colored caps for specific occasions, such as honoring the armed forces, as seen here.

Then: Philadelphia Athletics (1902)

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of these Philadelphia A's jerseys are the thick leather belts. Interestingly, while the jerseys have collars, players seem to be free to choose to wear them up or down. The “A” on the left chest remains a staple of the franchise more than a century later.

Now: Oakland Athletics (2019)

Now in Oakland, the A's have kept the Old English-style logo on their cap, with some interesting tweaks. Gold and green have been their colors of choice since moving to the Bay, but the team has regularly kept a patch of an elephant, which originated when a rival owner disparagingly called the team “white elephants.”

Then: Philadelphia Quakers (1888)

If Quakers were known for their reserved ways of life, the baseball team bearing their name were actually quite rebellious. Forgoing white uniforms, the Philadelphia Quakers went all-black and stylized their city name with an abbreviation on the chest.

Now: Philadelphia Phillies (2019)

The Philadelphia Phillies have never had black uniforms, instead being synonymous with red and blue, which tie well with the city's patriotic history. In the 1980s, the Phillies went off the grid with a maroon and turquoise look, but went back to their roots the following decade.

Then: Pittsburgh Pirates (1985)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have never actually worn pirate hats on the field, but these pillbox style caps were the next best thing. With flat tops and yellow stripes, the Pirates caps were one of a kind, fitting in well with the rest of their black-and-yellow scheme the city of Pittsburgh is synonymous with.

Now: Pittsburgh Pirates (2019)

Now just sporting a regular black cap with a gold “P,” the current Pirates uniforms lack the flash of previous iterations, but scream tradition. Playing in what many consider the most beautiful ballpark in the Majors, not much pizazz is needed in your apparel when you have picturesque views all around.

Then: San Diego Padres (1989)

If there was a team that would be the posterboys for 1980s fashion, it might be the San Diego Padres. The team went with the interesting choice of using brown and orange as their primary colors, and while it has worked for Reese's, the Padres soon ditched the look.

Now: San Diego Padres (2019)

After trying out a period with orange and blue, the Padres now rely on blue with a hint of gold in a more tight-lipped look. However, perhaps not fully detached from the past, the team will reportedly go back to a brown jersey in the near future.

Then: New York Giants (1888)

New York has always been a city of trendsetters, but the early uniforms of the Giants franchise were very much in vogue with the rest of the league. Collared shirts and capital letters across the front was the style of choice.

Now: San Francisco Giants (2019)

The Giants have always used orange and black as their primary colors, but have deviated a bit in logo fonts. When they first moved to the Bay Area, they reportedly used an almost italicized font, then went to block lettering, a variation of which they still use today.

Then: Seattle Mariners (1988)

Originally, the Seattle Mariners were identified with blue and yellow, which was the style most associated when one of the sport's legends made his debut, Ken Griffey Jr. As a rookie, Griffey Jr. wore the same uniform as his father, Ken Griffey Sr., a three-time All-Star in his own right.

Now: Seattle Mariners (2019)

In the early 1990s, as Ken Griffey Jr. became the game's most marketable star, the Seattle Mariners switched to a fresher look. Teal and navy became their calling card and since then have made for one of the more distinctive uniforms in baseball. The maritime-themed baseball nestled in the “S” logo is the cherry on top.

Then: St. Louis Perfectos (1899)

It is a shame that this St. Louis baseball franchise didn't place their nickname on the front of their jersey instead of their city. Perfectos would not only have been a bold statement, but added some flair to an otherwise placid look.

Now: St. Louis Cardinals (2019)

The St. Louis Cardinals have rarely tweaked their style (they have worn light-blue jerseys for stretches), but why change one of the more intricate and well-designed looks in baseball? The dual Cardinals perched on a baseball bat make for what is perhaps the most intricate of jersey logos around the big leagues.

Then: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1998)

When they first arrived in the Majors, the Tampa Bay franchise not only had a different look, but a different name. The team eventually scrapped “Devil” and shortened their name to Rays, but not before running out on the field in fluorescent-toned jerseys that even by 1990s standards were a bit outlandish.

Now: Tampa Bay Rays (2019)

After flirting with different shades of blue and green, the Rays now simply go with two tones of blue, which make for a crisp style. The team still plays in what many consider one of the worst stadiums in the Majors in front of sparse crowds, but you might as well still look good even in subprime conditions.

Then: Texas Rangers (1990)

Texans are not normally known for flashy fashion and these old-school Texas Rangers uniforms were as basic as cowboy boots and jeans. Even forgoing pinstripes, the all-white home jerseys only panache was the script logo across the chest in blue and red.

Now: Texas Rangers (2019)

When the Texas Rangers moved to a new ballpark in Arlington in the 1990s, their uniforms received a major upgrade. Very much similar today, the unique “Texas” wording across the front pops off the uniform, and with red and blue variations, makes for one of the more recognizable looks in the game. With the Rangers scheduled to move into new digs once again next season, perhaps another tweak is in store.

Then: Toronto Blue Jays (1988)

The old Toronto Blue Jays' jerseys were unique in several ways. For one, they featured the team logo in the center of the jersey as opposed to the left chest, but also had distinct fonts and numbers. The multicolored panel hat was a look popular among Canadian baseball teams in the 1980s, and the Blue Jays' caps even featured a red maple leaf as a nod to their nation.

Now: Toronto Blue Jays (2019)

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Blue Jays tinkered with several looks, none quite capturing the heart of Canada's biggest city. They tried futuristic black uniforms and even bolder red-and-blue versions, but it turns out tradition looks best in Toronto. A 1980s-inspired look is replicated by the team today, drawing much praise from fans.

Then: Montreal Expos (1985)

When this franchise played ball in Montreal, the Expos, like their Canadian brethren, had one of the more unique caps around. The pinwheel style mixing red, white, and blue was not universally beloved at the time, but has some vintage appeal today, particularly since the team is no longer in existence. Also underappreciated at the time was the Expos' light blue jerseys, which were aesthetically pleasing with their primary colors.

Now: Washington Nationals (2019)

Since moving to Washington, the Nationals franchise have kept red, white, and navy blue as their M.O., with many variations. The team has had jerseys with each of those three options as a primary color, incorporated the team nickname, city, and a shortened, script “W” logo on the front of their uniforms. They've also incorporated stars and stripes in a nod to their hometown.

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