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Seventh Inning Stitch: Decking Out the 'Boys of Summer'

Anne Occi's job is to make sure those baseball uniforms look just so when players dash off to home plate

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 1996



NEW YORK

When she goes to a baseball game, Anne Occi looks at who's wearing what on first.

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She is busy checking out the color combinations on the uniforms. On a gray day do the colors blend together too much? Do they work against the background? Can the fans - even those in the bleachers - still read the numbers? Does the logo work on the giant screen?

Ms. Occi has more than a passing interest in the togs on the field. As the vice president for Creative & Marketing Services for Major League Baseball Properties, she is responsible for dressing the boys of summer.

The major leagues watch those uniforms, logos and mascots carefully. In an era where image is critical, Occi is an image master. She helps owners pick colors; she makes sure logos won't embarrass the game; she tries to insure the "heritage" of the sport is not lost in a rush for trendy clothes.

Even though baseball has been part of the national fabric for over 100 years, the team owners are always tinkering with the uniforms. The Chicago White Sox used to redesign their logo every season. Wholesale uniform changes are less frequent. Occi estimates the average team changes the look of its uniforms every 15 to 20 years.

However, sometimes the changes take place sooner, especially when there has been a change in ownership. For example, the Disney Corporation recently purchased the California Angels. Thus, Occi anticipates a change in the Angels' uniforms. ("I can't tell you anything about that," she says. "We unveil the new uniforms after the post-season.")

Teams also change uniforms to help merchandise sales. When the Seattle Mariners decided to change their logo, they picked a compass rose with navy and forest green colors. "They were very hot marketable colors," recalls Occi. The club's sales of hats and uniforms shot up from near the bottom to third best in baseball.

Baseball historian Mark Okkonen says the owners realized the potential for merchandise sales after the Chicago White Sox changed their colors and logo to look more like the black, white, and silver used by football's Oakland Raiders. The White Sox merchandise sales surged. Now, Mr. Okkonen says, "the owners have almost gone berserk to look for any source of income to pay for the greedy players, so licensing has become a big business."

Of course, there are some clubs, such as the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox, and the New York Yankees with too much history invested in their uniforms to change, says Okkonen, author of "Baseball Uniforms of the Twentieth Century" (Sterling Publishing). "For the record, we would never change the Yankees," agrees Occi.

When a team decides to change uniforms or logos, they usually go to the Major League offices and ask for assistance. Occi hires designers and oversees the makeover. Once a club moves ahead with a change, Occi researches the reason for the shift and the heritage of the club. For example, a few years ago, the Angels decided to scrap their vaudeville-looking outfits. They were "much too flowery and could not withstand the movement on television," says Occi.

The research often takes her to the team's city, where she snaps Polaroids to get a feel for the area's colors. For example, when she worked with the Florida Marlins, she observed the wide use of teal in Miami. Then, she discovered real marlins have a teal color as well as silver and white. Even though teal is not a traditional baseball color, she felt there was no reason not to use it.

Occi tries hard to incorporate colors that are symbolic of an area into the uniforms and logos. Thus, the Rockies have purple for the "purple mountain majesty." Okkonen says the use of purple is unusual. "In the baseball world it was always considered effeminate, but with the silver and black, the flowery look is out of it," he observes.

The expansion club, Arizona Diamondbacks, will use turquoise, symbolic of the Southwest culture; copper, which is mined in the region; and purple, a popular color with the club. The club's logo also looks like a rattlesnake's mouth. The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays use dark blue, representing the deep waters the fish inhabit.

Occi's research sometimes ends up in her office. She has toys, such as "dinger", the Rockies mascot; a rattlesnake head, made into a doodad and encased in plastic; books about Jurassic fish; and a denim covered baseball, sold at last year's All Star Game in Texas. She also collects swatches from color-forecasting firms. On her desk are the colors for the summer of 1998. They are somber and muted. Blue and gray are important colors. "You would be surprised how accurate these forecasts can be," she says. One of her best research labs is the Little League field where her 10- and 12-year-old boys play ball. "It's one of the best ways to see what flies - I call it 'kitchen research' ".

Once the research is complete, the new uniforms are sewn. But, before the public sees them there is one last test. The players are brought into an empty stadium where they are photographed in black and white as well as color. Television cameras record their movements. Occi moves around to look at them from different angles.

The new colors are displayed on the giant screens. And, if everything works, it's time to play ball - in a new uniform.