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New Baseball Teams Unveil Uniforms With Colors Flying

November 2, 1995

While the Atlanta Braves took home the 1995 World Series trophy on Saturday, the final pitch of the season wasn’t thrown until this week with the official unveiling of uniforms to be worn by the two newest Major League Baseball expansion teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Phoenix Suns basketball stars Danny Ainge, Danny Manning and Kevin Johnson were picked to stroll down a runway at America West Arena in Phoenix, modeling ``desert purple″ baseball caps and jerseys. At Tampa’s Florida Aquarium, where real rays swim in tanks, local television and radio personalities were to model a rainbow logo of purple, teal, green, gold, black and white, the most colorful in the big leagues.

Never mind that the teams have yet to sign a single player and won’t play ball till the spring of 1998. They don’t even know which league they will be assigned to _ National or American. Principal owners Jerry Colangelo in Phoenix and Vincent Naimoli in Tampa have spent months of hairsplitting negotiations getting to this point.

``This process has taken nine months _ the time it takes to give birth _ and I don’t know which is more painful,″ says Anne Occi, vice president of creative and marketing services for Major League Baseball Properties in New York. She has had to go to Phoenix and Tampa half-a-dozen times. ``With each meeting,″ she says, ``there were more people at the conference table ready to give their opinions.″

Much is at stake. Fashionable baseball uniforms are thought to attract young people to the sport. And fans spend $3 billion a year on licensed baseball products _ caps, jerseys and other logo stuff. Tampa Bay’s and Arizona’s batting-practice jerseys, caps and other merchandise will be in stores in time for Christmas.

The Arizona Diamondbacks ended up with four different jerseys _ one more than anybody else in organized baseball. ``From the standpoint of marketing, the more styles you have, the more you sell,″ Mr. Colangelo says.

Of course, baseball teams have always tried to be with-it. Players have worn more than 3,000 uniform styles since the turn of the century. Eighteen of the current 28 major-league teams have updated their duds in the 1990s.

It has been a glorious history of hits, runs and fashion errors. Early in the century, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants took a turn down Wall Street and put players in graph-paper check uniforms, which fans gave the Bronx cheer. The advent of night baseball prompted some teams to look like jockeys in silks. Satin uniforms were adopted by the Dodgers for their reflective properties. And the Chicago White Sox, which have had seven costume changes since 1970, tried navy Bermuda shorts in 1976. They struck out with the players and were dropped. Over the years all those baggy uniforms like Babe Ruth wore have become tight.

Uniforms are very ticklish for owners, players and marketing managers, who are seldom of one mind. That’s where Ms. Occi, designated diplomat, comes in.

Owners rely on Ms. Occi to help them preserve the major-league look, but also to challenge teams to add fashion flair. In choosing batting practice jerseys, for example, she chided Tampa Bay and Phoenix to stick with button-front shirts, which players prefer to pullovers that can look like pajamas.

There is plenty to dicker over. Phoenix chose an italicized script for its jerseys, but then the owners sweated over how much to slant the letters. There also was much hand wringing _ and some squinting _ over which of the four league-sanctioned shades of gray to choose for the road uniforms: Alamo Gray, Diamond Gray, Western Gray or Baseball Gray. Both teams chose Baseball Gray, which has a blue tinge.

Safe to say, both teams love the color purple, which _ with teal and black right up there, too _ is the hottest color in pro sports today. Mr. Colangelo expressed a desire for the ``richest purple we can have.″ But purple is a difficult color for matching wool caps with polyester jerseys. Apparel maker Russell Corp., which makes everybody’s uniforms, needed several dye lots to get the right shades of colors that also wouldn’t bleed in the wash.

Copper pinstripes got past first base, because that is what Phoenix thought it wanted. The metallic threads, however, flaked when players testing samples slid into second. Phoenix settled on a coppery brown instead.

In making fashion decisions, there is a Little Leaguer inside every team owner. ``Everything they thought about baseball from their childhood dreams is in their attitude when they choose uniforms,″ Ms. Occi observes. ``If they liked tradition, they will reject something that is too flashy.″

Mr. Colangelo may be new to baseball, but he knows his threads. His other team, the Phoenix Suns, of the National Basketball Association, reworked their purple, black and yellow uniforms a few years back _ a change that moved them up in the fashion standings to No. 4 in the NBA’s apparel sales.

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