Blue Jays lack proper style

In his Homeric farewell to the great Ted Williams (Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu), John Updike called Boston's Fenway Park 'a lyrical little bandbox of a ballpark.'The esteemed American writer was waxing poetic over one of the game's most ancient and...

In his Homeric farewell to the great Ted Williams (Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu), John Updike called Boston’s Fenway Park ‘a lyrical little bandbox of a ballpark.’

The esteemed American writer was waxing poetic over one of the game’s most ancient and revered shrines, rife as it was with contradictions such as the shortest left field and the longest right field in baseball.

Even a cursory stroll through the history of the great game reveals a plethora of such charming idiosyncracies.

Devotion

To those who love baseball and are tenaciously loyal to their home team, it is precisely this tendency towards imperfection which circumscribes their devotion.

Despite the fact the structure of the game has not been substantially altered since its inception, baseball is simply not a designer sport.

Unless, of course, you live in Toronto. What we have is a boombox of a ballpark, a vast videodrome dripping with slick-tech.

Never has the intimate space that exists between the fans and the action been more forcefully interpolated by the looming presence of technology.

For those perched precariously in the expansive upper decks, baseball is no longer a game of inches, but of giant pixels. The sheer distance from the field necessitates constant attention to the Jumbotron to catch the action.

For those fortunate enough to watch from the open air restaurant (or wealthy enough to afford a private box), it is still more likely that they will experience more of the action on screen rather than on field.

Even the players cannot resist the temptation to witness their own images dance across the world’s biggest video, as if the broadcast replay somehow validates the original play.

By happy coincidence, both writers of this column were initiated into the rites of spring within the venerable confines of what was then called Briggs Stadium in Detroit, home of the Tigers (the working man’s ball club).

Neither of us can forget the awesome thrill of that first-night game, the unmistakable taste of that first ballpark frank (pulled from a portable steamer and assembled for you at your seat), or the sacred privilege of simply breathing the same air as Al Kaline.

Players were rougher around the edges then, some lanky, some overweight, jowls distended with gargantuan lumps of tobacco, all clad in baggy flannels.

The scoreboard was a matrix of incandescent lights, not a flux of ever-changing diodes. Rather than feeling distanced from the game, you felt connected to it.

After all, wasn’t that grass they were playing on the same as that stuff that grew on your own front lawn? Wasn’t that dirt on their jerseys from the same earth that soiled your own shirtsleeves?

Vivid memory

As future visual communicators, we carried with us a vivid memory of one other aspect of the game: the design of team uniforms.

There is a definite set of typographic and illustrative styles which one associates with baseball. There are those beautiful monograms emblazoned on the caps of teams such as the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals.

There is that beefy script spelling out the names of teams such as the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And there are those kooky cartoons symbolizing the identity of the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Blue Jays, however, have not drawn upon that tradition.

Their uniforms reflect the aesthetics of the decade of their birth, the Seventies. The futuristic-looking sans serif typeface and the mechanically rendered symbol (with its perfunctory maple leaf) have no stylistic precedents in baseball.

And in a game which is steeped in history, it has always seemed odd to us that a tradition so rich should be so flagrantly ignored.

The Jays are not the only ones to depart from the norm in this way. But even those who have (the Chicago White Sox and Montreal Expos, for instance) are now returning to more traditional designs for their uniforms.

Whether this reflects a renewed interest in history or is just another sign of these conservative times is debatable.

But now that our beloved boys of summer are on the cusp of greatness, would it not behoove us to follow suit, so to speak ?

To be sure, our team has come of age, World Series victory or no. Neither its awkwardly designed uniforms nor its space age home stadium will diminish the depth of our pride in their achievements.

But as one sits behind home plate in Fenway and observes the crowd wearing caps from every team in baseball except the Blue Jays, it makes one realize just how far away from the field the Great White North is perceived to be.

Will Novosedlik and Bob Russell are principals of Russell Design in Toronto.