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When Cleveland wore uniforms that weren’t Major League

Unlike their play on the field, when it came to combining hideousness and racism, the 1970s Indians couldn’t be beat.

MLB Photos Archive
Dennis Eckersley’s mustache ruled. The rest? Not so much.
Photo by MLB via Getty Images

This week, Outsports is joining SB Nation in celebrating as well as deriding the sports jerseys, uniforms and kits that have made us proud, embarrassed and given us reasons to wonder, “what on earth were you thinking?” Today, contributor Ken Schultz takes us on a trip to Cleveland and the bellbottom era.

The traditional hypothesis about baseball uniforms in the 1970s is that many teams adopted bold color schemes as a response to the proliferation of color TVs throughout the country.

I have an alternate theory. In the 1970s, I believe MLB’s intention was to prop up the radio industry. Because at least half of the teams in baseball were actively trying to blind their fans.

There’s no surprise that baseball’s worst uniform of all time would come from the 70s. After all, this was a decade that gave us the A’s, Pirates, and Padres competing to out-yellow each other. The Astros made it look like their pregame regimen involved dipping players in a vat of melted Starburst. And the White Sox unveiled the unfortunate combination of collared pullovers and shorts. It was as if all of MLB was trying to serve a lewk called “Out, vile jelly.”

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
“What if a 19th century base ball club auditioned for Wham!?”
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s very hard to pick just one worst jersey in baseball from this decade. The 1970s were the Yankees of ugly. However, there’s a handy rule that I use when there are so many worthy contenders: in case of a tie, the award goes to the most racist.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 1975-77 Cleveland Indians!

Cleveland Indians
The horror...The horror...

I am speechless. I am without speech.

First off, the mid-70s Clevelanders clearly have hideous covered. Outside of the NBA, the “solid color from top to bottom look” is almost universally horrific. Every NFL color rush combo, for example, is unwatchable. And this “shoulders to shins bright red” made the Indians look like what would happen if Violet Beauregarde’s chewing gum served ketchup for dessert.

I trust I don’t need to spell out how unspeakably racist it was for a team called the Indians to dress in all red. But as if that weren’t bad enough, the Indians also added this logo as a sleeve patch...

SportsLogos.net

Grotesque. In the 70s, Chief Wahoo should’ve already been consigned to the dustbin as a relic from an unfortunate era that gave us Uncle Remus, the crows from Dumbo, and, of course, the Native Americans from Peter Pan. Instead, in a shameful example of prioritizing profits over humanity, it would continue as Cleveland’s primary logo until 2018.

There’s a layer of irony to this jersey as well. Baseball’s most hideously racist uniform is forever bizarrely associated with one of the greatest days in the sport’s history of race relations. At the same time this uni was unveiled in 1975, the Indians named Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as MLB’s first African American manager. And Robinson’s subsequent home run on his first Opening Day as player-manager remains one of baseball’s proudest moments.

It’s a shame that on the day when an all-time legend broke through one of MLB’s racial barriers, he had to do it wearing a jersey designed by white privilege. Frank Robinson deserved so much better.

So did our eyes.

What are some of your favorite jerseys, iconic or forgotten? Share yours in the comments below!