When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, I enjoyed reading commentary from New York Times sports columnist Dave Anderson. Anderson, who died in 2018, was a big deal in the sportswriting world — he won a Pulitzer, among countless other awards for distinguished sportswriting, and was inducted into several halls of fame — but I didn’t know or care about any of that when I was a kid. What I liked about Anderson was that he’d always publish a Thanksgiving Day column in which he thanked people, places, and things in the sports world that had made the preceding year a bit brighter for him. Good guys, fun teams, inspirational players, special venues — he had a kind word for all of them. I’m not sure when he started this annual tradition, but he kept doing it through 2015, by which time he was 86 years old. It was something I always looked forward to, and I miss it now that he’s gone.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to do my own version of Anderson’s yearly Turkey Day treatise. I’m not sure I’ll make it an annual ritual like he did, but it seems like a particularly appropriate gesture for 2021, as we’re getting ready to wrap up another pandemic-afflicted year. Despite what we’ve all been through, there’s still a lot to be thankful for. Here are 10 good examples of that, all drawn from the uni-verse.
1. I know a lot about uniforms, but there are still lots of things I have to look up because I don’t know them off the top of my head. So I’m thankful for all the great online uniform databases that have sprung up over the years. Covering the uni beat would be impossible without these sites, but you don’t have to be a professional uniform writer to appreciate them — they’re fun to explore for anyone who cares about uniforms. Here are the ones I refer to most frequently:
2. It's easy to make fun of the NBA uni scene, what with the revolving carousel of endless alternate designs (a distressing percentage of which have no compelling reason to exist). But the NBA also does something no other league does: They put their entire season’s uniform schedule on a publicly accessible website. So I’m thankful for LockerVision, the site where you can see, for example, what the Knicks and Lakers will be wearing when they face each other on Feb. 5 — and even the court design they’ll be playing on! It's a great fan-friendly resource for uniform aficionados.
3. I’m also thankful for uniform “tracker” accounts on Twitter. These are Twitter feeds in which uni-obsessed fans document the uni choices made by their favorite teams and also break down various uni-related stats. For example, the tracker for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings (@Sac_KingsUnis) recently posted about the Kings’ all-time record in their black “Statement” uniforms, and similar levels of arcana are available for the Phoenix Suns, the New York Knicks, the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans, the NHL, Clemson football, ACC football, BYU athletics, and many more. Aside from providing interesting info, these feeds also feature lots of enthusiasm and fun, which is a refreshing thing to see on social media. You can find lots more of them by searching Twitter for “uni tracker” and “uniform tracker.”
4. So much crucial uniform history, especially for baseball, is from the era of black-and-white photography. So I’m thankful for photo colorizers, who bring the past to life and then share their work with us on the internet. Two of the best are Chris “ManCave” Whitehouse (here are his Twitter and Instagram feeds) and Bruce “BSmile” Menard (Twitter, Instagram), both of whom do a sensational job showing us how baseball’s wool flannel era would have looked if we’d been lucky enough to witness it ourselves.
5. With more and more MLB players wearing their pant legs down at their shoetops, and with even most of the high-cuffers wearing standard one-piece socks, I’m thankful to Padres pitcher Chris Paddack for keeping the culture of baseball stirrups and sanitary socks alive. He’s not the only current MLBer to go ’rups-clad (others include Marlins pitcher Pablo López and Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor), but he’s definitely the most dedicated and creative. I suppose you could ding him for being non-uniform regarding this uniform element — he wore at least seven different stirrup designs in 2021 (eight, if you include his St. Patrick’s Day appearance during spring training) — but it’s hard to complain when all his stirrup stylings look so sharp. Those of us who care about this uni component can rest easy knowing that Paddack has essentially made himself the de facto steward of baseball’s hosiery heritage. Godspeed, good sir!
6. We almost take it for granted now that every stadium and arena will have some ridiculous corporate-advertised name like the Smoothie King Center or LoanDepot Park. So I’m thankful for sports venue names that still have some dignity — places like MLB’s Dodger Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, and Fenway Park; the NFL’s Soldier Field, Lambeau Field, and Paul Brown Stadium; and the NBA and NHL’s Madison Square Garden. And for all the (justifiable) critiques about how the world of college sports has devolved into a cesspool of greed and corruption, let’s give college football and basketball credit for still having so many venues that haven’t yet sold off their names for a buck. In fact, if you look at the biggest NCAA football stadiums, you’ll see that the vast majority of them still have their original (or at least non-advertised) monikers. That state of affairs probably won’t last forever, but let’s appreciate it while we still can.
7. A team can only look as good as its uniforms, which is why I’m thankful for equipment managers, who make sure every player's uni fits correctly, is properly lettered, and is freshly laundered on game day. Equipment staffers have always been the uni-verse's unsung heroes, but that goes double in the modern era, when teams routinely have four or five different uniforms and are constantly mixing and matching the various uni elements. It’s a ton of work, and they deserve a lot more credit for it than they typically receive. (Earlier this year I did a wide-ranging interview with Oakland A's equipment manager Steve Vucinich, and I plan to interview equipment guys from other sports soon.)
8. Lots of uni aesthetes — myself very much included — often criticize today’s athletes for wearing their uniforms sloppily, for being too showboat-y, and for generally violating our sense of how sports are “supposed” to look. So it might surprise you to hear that I’m thankful for the new generation of athletes, largely because of their enlightened approach to mental health issues. You probably know about tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles taking a step back from competition earlier this year in order to tend to their well-being, but did you also know that several NFL players, including Lane Johnson, Calvin Ridley, and A.J. Brown, have recently discussed their own struggles with mental health issues? Ditto for NBA player Ben Simmons. In the macho environment of the NFL and NBA, that’s an impressive sign of progress. Now, you might be asking yourself, “That’s great, but what does it have to do with uniforms?” One of my Twitter followers, @grownupkid94, recently explained, “It’s all about the freedom of expression. That goes with untucked jerseys, flash on the court, vulnerability off of it, and the right to say, ’I’m not okay.’” I’m not sure I agree that those things necessarily go together in lockstep, but it’s an interesting framework to consider, and I’m going to keep it in mind going forward.
9. I’ve been working from home since 1996, so I’m used to it by now. Still, like so many people, I’ve felt the pandemic-driven stress of isolation over the past two years, so I’m thankful for the wonderful collaborators I’ve been able to partner with on various projects, especially the great uni designer/historian Todd Radom (who’s worked with me in 2020 and ’21 to create a really fun line of Uni Watch lapel pins), Sportslogos.net founder Chris Creamer (who co-hosted a uni-centric podcast with me earlier this year, until we reluctantly decided to shut it down because we just didn’t have the personal bandwidth to devote to it), and designer Scott M.X. Turner (who’s been my Uni Watch membership card designer for 14 years and counting, creating over 3,000 card designs in that time). All three of these guys are longtime friends of mine, but they’re also super-smart, super-talented, and super-fun to work with. Collaborating with them, even if only via Zoom, email, and WhatsApp, has helped keep me sane and made me feel less lonely and sequestered during these crazy times.
10. Most of all, though, I’m thankful for all of you — the amazing Uni Watch comm-uni-ty. As we all navigate through difficult times, I’m incredibly fortunate to have such an engaged and passionate readership. You people send me tips, share things that you’ve noticed, teach me stuff, provide valuable feedback, and offer many different forms of support and friendship, all of which continues to make Uni Watch a very special project. Thanks, people — I’m truly grateful for all of it.
However you’re spending your Thanksgiving, I hope it’s a good one. Peace.
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like his Bulletin articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.