The powder blues are coming back. Enough said.
Well, not enough. (Like I could write eight words about any topic.) The fascination Royals fans have had with the powder blue uniforms is not easy to understand at first. You don’t hear Padre fans pining for a return of the Would-You-Like-Fries-With-That brown unis, or Astro fans haranguing management to bring back the rainbow brites. The powder blues were never the fashion faux pas that those uniforms were, but let’s face it: they looked like pajamas. The Blue Jays, who wore similar powder-blue uniforms for a few years, are bringing theirs back as well, and I don’t think their fan base is nearly as excited as ours is.
Here’s the thing: if Royals fans sit down and think about it rationally, we realize that we don’t love the powder blue uniforms. We love the teams that wore them. The Royals introduced the unis in 1973, and stopped wearing them after the 1991 season, a 19-year stretch which almost perfectly coincides with the team’s glory era: in those 19 years they finished over .500 fifteen times and went to the playoffs seven times. In the team’s other 20 years (1969-1972 and 1992-2007) they’ve had three winning seasons and never won more than 85 games. By comparison, the Blue Jays wore theirs from their debut in 1977 until 1990. They had some good years in there, but it was only after abandoning the powder blues that they shed the “Blow Jays” label and won two straight world championships.
If the Royals had started wearing those uniforms in 1997, fans would be burning them in effigy. But instead of watching Ken Harvey chase after popups like a beached whale in pajamas, our memories are of Hal McRae charging the second baseman like a mad bull to break up a double play, of George Brett lining yet another ball into the gap, of Willie Wilson flying around the bases for another inside-the-park-home run.
When Brett hit Gossage’s fastball into the upper deck in the 1980 ALCS, he was wearing powder blues. When Chip Ambres dropped a routine flyball with two outs in the ninth, allowing the Indians to go on and score 11 runs in the inning and win 13-7, prolonging a losing streak that would reach 19 games…he was not.
So I don’t want to overstate the appeal of the new uniforms: if the Royals continue to lose, the fans are going to tire of them quickly. Regardless, it’s not going to be quite the same as before. For one thing, the Royals are not bringing them back as road uniforms, but as alternate home uniforms. This makes sense – the fans want to see them, after all – but it also means we’re not going to see much of them.
And not to go all Paul Lukas on you, but whereas the road uniforms had “Kansas City” in white block letters from 1973 to 1983 – which is the way I like to remember them, not the white cursive “Royals” from 1984 to 1990 – the new uniforms have the cursive “Royals” on the front, but in dark blue with white trim. When you’re going for nostalgia, you’re not supposed to stop at 90%. I hope the team realizes that the appeal of the powder blues will directly correlate with how much they resemble the original product, and they reconsider the color scheme in the future.
But in the meantime, if the Royals win their first few Sunday home games, the uniforms could take on a life of their own, becoming less a piece of clothing than a talisman. The team has already announced they plan to debut them on Saturday during the season’s opening homestand. If the Royals are shrewd, they’ll end the Buddy Bell practice of sending out the “Sunday lineup” and resting all the regulars, and work the rotation to make sure one of their better starters (i.e. not Brett Tomko) is toeing the rubber on home Sundays. A little psychological warfare never hurt anybody.