Thread on Threads Part I: Blue Jays' Logos and Uniforms, 1977-1996

The Toronto Blue Jays will be unveiling a new logo and a new set of uniforms this Friday noon in the Rogers Centre. Officially, the Blue Jays are simply holding a "media event" (of which the invitation to Bluebird Banter must have been lost by Canada Post), then again Jeffrey Loria was officially trying his darndest to keep baseball in Montreal. That the Jays were working on a re-branding scheme was probably the worst kept secret in Toronto sports this season, but the club has held tight on their position of not talking about it at all with an exception of releasing this teaser video. It's worth a look if you haven't seen it yet—and don't worry about going through it frame-by-frame to garner clues about the new jerseys—The Tao of Stieb and The Blue Jay Hunter already did the hard work for you.

But before the newest Jays logo launches tomorrow, let's look back at what the Blue Jays of old used to wear out onto the diamond in their first 20 years of existence in the Original Logo Era. Tomorrow morning, we will look at the Jays' logos and uniforms from 1997 on.

Original Logo Era (1977-1996)

Logo

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Original Blue Jays logo with wordmark, via Chris Creamer's SportsLogo.net website.

The expansion Toronto Blue Jays unveiled their logo on a Friday, too. At a press conference on Friday, October 8, 1976, inaugural general manager Peter Bavasi unveiled the now-iconic original logo, and it was featured in the following day's edition of the Toronto Star. No, not on the front page. No, not even on the front page of the Sports section (D1). It was found at the top of page D2. The article that accompanied the logo actually focused on ticket prices (the $6.50 admission for field-level seats was the third highest in the AL, with the folks in Kansas City of all places being forced to pay a hefty $7 for top seats). The new logo was mentioned in an almost throwaway clause (not even a sentence!) by writer Arlie Keller:

Blue Jays also unveiled their team logo, announced the appointment of a pitching coach and batting instructor and named four scouts.

So, just to clarify, back in 1976 there were not only no logo leaks on Twitter, no blogger speculations, and no teaser videos, but the press didn't even think the general population was interested enough to care for an article on it. Things sure have changed since then. But some things have stayed the same: in that issue of the Star, the Jays story was trumped by hockey news on D1 and on the front page by councillors talking about shutting down the Toronto Zoo, Israel-Palestine relations, an ailing economy, Iran, and bilingualism in Canada (seriously those were the headline stories that day).

Back to the logo, it was created by the Toronto design firm Savage Sloan Ltd., which may still exist in the Eglinton and Mount Pleasant area. It features a stylized blue jay in two shades of blue (perhaps a nod to the "double blue" of the Toronto Argonauts) on a red-and-white baseball decorated with a red maple leaf. The "Toronto Blue Jays" wordmark surrounds the logo in the split-lettering, a feature that was kept on the logo and almost all uniforms until 2004. The original era logo is rated 8.6/10 on Chris Creamer's Sportslogo.net, but for some reason, the original wordmark only received 5.6/10. I am personally a big fan of the split lettering and I am glad that it appears that some version of it may appear on the new uniforms.

Uniforms

Home Uniforms, Pullover style (1977-1988)

When the first nine Blue Jays stepped on the snow-covered field of Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977, they wore white pullovers with "BLUE JAYS" in split-lettering and the logo centred in the front, and the player's number in split-lettering in the back. To accent the uniform, triple stripes of light blue, white, and dark blue surround the sleeves, neckline, and down the side of the legs. The cap for both the home and away set was dark blue in the back with the Jays logo centred in a white panel in the front.

Notice in that iconic Bill Singer picture (the first pitch in franchise history), his last name does not appear in the back of the uniform. Players' names, in dark blue block letters, were not introduced to the home uniform until 1980. There was a practical reason for not having a name on back (or "NOB" as it is known to uni-geeks): in the early days of the franchise, money was tight and a lot of the used big leaguers' uniforms were sent down to be reused by the minor league clubs (maybe that's why Knoxville (AA), Dunedin (A), Florence (A), Utica (ss-A), Medicine Hat (Rk) were all nicknamed "Blue Jays").

Back in 1977, only the Orioles, Tigers, Dodgers, Expos, Yankees, Mets, and Phillies used a button-down uniform as their primary, and all but the Dodgers, Expos, Yankees, and Mets had some sort of pullover jersey. The leather belt to hold up uniform trousers were also largely out of baseballs (except for the Braves, Dodgers, Expos, Yankees, Mets, and Phillies), so the Jays went with elastic waistband pants (colloquially known as "Sans-a-Belts"). This new style of baseball fashion were started by the 1970 Pittsburgh Pirates, when they showed off their new threads moving into the new Three Rivers Stadium--you can read more about them over at Uni Watch.

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George Bell connects on a pitch in a 1987 game in Toronto's Exhibition Stadium. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Back in April 2011, Paul Lukas pointed out a minor disagreement on the internet about the Jays' 1981 home uniforms, specifically about whether there was an NOB. Uniform scholars (they exist!) Rudy Visokay and Bill Henderson claim that the Jays kept the NOB introduced in 1980 for the 1981 season on the home whites, while logo scholar Chris Creamer shows a 1981 uniform without an NOB.

I hope to be able to end this scholarly debate: the 1981 Blue Jays home uniforms did have the players' surname on the back. I have gone through several issues of the Toronto Star back in 1981, both before and after the strike, and found these pictures as evidence: 81/04/14 page C1, 81/05/07 page C4, 81/08/17 page B2, and 81/09/23 on page D1. While not all of the pictures were completely clear, you can see that the Jays did have NOB on their home uniforms throughout 1981.

Road Uniforms, Pullover style (1977-1988)

Back in the early days, the Blue Jays did not wear road greys--they wore road powder blues. While their home uniforms remained largely the same from 1977 to 1988, there were several iterations of the road pullover jerseys.

In 1977, the Jays' road jerseys looked like this. The front of the jersey read "TORONTO" in a dark blue, non-split-letter word mark, while the player number on the back was in split lettering (dark blue with white inlay) with no NOB. The tricolour piping went dark blue-white-dark blue down the same areas as the home uniforms. In 1978, the lettering in front and the numerals on the back were both changed to a dark blue with a white outline.

For a third season in a row, the Jays had a new road uniform for the 1979 season. The city's name disappeared from the front, replaced by "BLUE JAYS" in split lettering, the number on the back switched back to the familiar split lettering, but with inverse colours (white with dark blue inlay). This uniform was nearly identical to the version used from 1981 to 1988, and should be familiar even to newer Jays fans as they were used as the basis for the "throwback" baby blue home alternate uniforms used on Flashback Fridays and other special occasions from 2008 to 2010. The most noticeable change was that the "throwback" uniform pants had a dark blue belt holding it up instead of the elastic waistband, and of course the now-ubiquitous MLB logo appeared on the back. As Lloyd Moseby complained during the launch of the "throwbacks", belts were implemented because the old snap buttons would collect dirt and occasionally fail to close (during the presser he also said that the powder blues "sucked"--hopefully no player goes off-script during this upcoming unveiling).

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John Cerutti winds and delivers in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum against the Oakland A's in 1985. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

In the fourth season of the franchise, the Jays got their fourth road uniform! The Blue Jays introduced NOB for both their home and away jerseys in 1980, but it only stuck for the home uniforms. The 1980 road uniform was identical to the 1979 pullover, except for the addition of the NOB in dark blue lettering with a white outline. This uniform was only used for one season before the Jays switched back to the 1979-style road jersey.

One thing that very few people have noticed is that the familiar "BLUE JAYS" split-lettering wordmark had three distinctive versions: one for the logo, and two that appeared on the uniforms. This is similar to, but much more subtle than, the three different "NY" logos the Yankees use. Take a look at difference between the wordmarks on the 1979-1983 and the 1984-1988 road jerseys. Rudy Visokay explains that there were two uniform manufacturers for the Jays: Wilson made the road jerseys from 1984-1988 while Rawlings made the road jerseys from 1979-1983 (Wilson made the home jerseys from 1977-1988). Wilson's letters had harder edges on the "U", "E", and "J" compared to Rawlings' letters. It seems to me that the Wilson "U" and "J" looked more similar to the graphical wordmark than Rawlings' version, but the Rawlings "E" is closer to the logo font. The 2008-2010 "throwbacks" used the Rawlings-style lettering despite being manufactured by Majestic.

Home Uniforms, Button-down style (1989-1996)

On Tuesday, November 22, 1988, the Toronto Blue Jays held a press conference to announce a new set of uniforms for the 1989 season, just in time for the opening of the modern marvel known as SkyDome. It is interesting that the Jays decided that it was time to "modernize" their uniform set by going from the pullovers to the more classic button-down jerseys. Quite a lot has changed in baseball fashion since 1977. By 1989, the only teams still sporting a pullover for a primary uniform were the Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Mets, Pirates, and Cardinals.

This time, the Toronto Star featured the new uniform prominently on the first page of their Sports section on November 23. It still didn't appear on the front page, although the front page did feature an article about a lottery for tickets to the SkyDome opening ceremony. Other news items that day: free trade, Quebec separatism, TTC fare hikes, and the firing of a chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority.

The change in uniforms was as much for the new home stadium as it was for the players, who by 1988 universally hated the pullover-style jerseys, especially the powder blue road ones. Again, we find Lloyd Moseby speaking about it (he seems to be quite opinionated, he'd be great on Twitter but not so much as a club spokesperson). Quoth the Shaker in the 1988-1989 offseason, when there were trade rumours involving him swirling around (he did not get traded):

Nine years I played in pajamas in the world's worst ballpark. Now we're getting real uniforms and a real stadium and I'm not going to get a chance to be a part of it.

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Kelly Gruber prepares to round third base in a 1989 game in the SkyDome in Toronto. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The front of the Jays' new home whites in 1989 featured the wordmark "BLUE JAYS" in blue split-lettering (in Wilson-style script), and a smaller logo that was moved from the centre to the left side of the new button-down jersey. While the tricolour piping remained around the sleeves and down the leg of the trousers, it was removed from the neckline. The back of the jerseys remained almost identical to previous iterations: with NOB in block letters and the players' number in split-lettering. And in place of the waistband was a dark blue leather belt with a silver buckle.

In 1990, a slight change was made to the home uniform. Despite the uniform being made by Wilson, the "BLUE JAYS" wordmark changed to the curvier Rawlings-style font that was last seen on the 1983 road uniform. The original dark blue cap with the front white panel remained as the home cap for the Jays until early in the 1993 season, when the all-dark blue cap was adopted (it was first introduced in 1989 as the road cap) for all occasions. The last change to this generation of home whites happened in 1995, when the NOB was made thicker, and the shape of the "A" changed slightly.

On August 7, 2009, the Blue Jays wore the 1992 jerseys to welcome the 1992 World Series alumni. Personally, this was my favourite Jays uniform of all-time because it combined good design and it was worn during the highest points of the franchise so far.

Road Uniforms, Button-down style (1989-1996)

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Todd Stottlemyre uncorks a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in Royals Stadium in a 1990 game. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)

Similar to the home uniforms, the Jays "modernized" the road uniforms for the 1989 season by going to a classic button-down grey top. For the first time since 1978, "TORONTO" appeared as the wordmark on the road jerseys, this time in dark blue split lettering, just like the home version. The logo was shrunken and moved to the left side of the uniform, striping was removed from the neckline but remained dark blue-white-dark blue like the previous road uniforms, and a dark blue belt was introduced to replace the elastic waistband. The players' names, in dark blue block letters, were added to the road uniform for the first time since the brief experiment in 1980. An all-dark blue (no white panel) road cap was added to the set as well.

Unlike its pullover ancestor, the button-down road jerseys did not undergo any significant changes in its lifetime.

Alternate Uniforms (1994-1996)

The Blue Jays did not introduce an alternate uniform until 1994, thankfully skipping out on the multi-colour combination experiments teams like the A's and Pirates tried out earlier. The Jays' first alternate jersey was a classy dark blue, with white Rawlings-style "BLUE JAYS" wordmark and the logo in front, and white split-letter numerals with the player's name on the back. It was always paired with the all-blue cap.

In 1996, the Jays introduced their first-ever Canada Day jersey. It was nearly identical to the home whites with some colour changes and with the NOB replaced with "CANADA" for all uniforms. The colour of the uniform top and cap were changed to red, the front wordmark and the players' number on the back was changed to white split-lettering with a dark blue inlay, and the word "CANADA" was in white block letters. The colour of the striping and the white pants (thank heavens) remained the same as the regular home jersey.

Part II of this series will appear tomorrow and will feature a walkthrough of the logos and uniforms used by the Blue Jays in the "Red Glare" and "Black Jays" eras.

Sources

Please accept my apologies if I have missed any of my sources.

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