The New-Look Crew: The Birth of the Brewers Most Classic Uniform Set
In 1977, the Brewers were in a funk. They had yet to post a winning season and their franchise player, shortstop Robin Yount, was so distraught with losing that he was nearly ready to walk away from the game. They also looked kinda dull. Not in how they played, but how they dressed. With so little time to prepare for life as the Milwaukee Brewers after the last-minute court ruling that allowed the team to relocate from Seattle in 1970, they Brewers uniform kit was literally cobbled together from the Seattle Pilots’ leftovers. The result was a largely uninspiring uni top, a cap that was nothing more than an old Milwaukee Braves emblem in different colors, and a team logo that was adapted from the minor league Brewers “barrelman” mascot.
Just after the 1977 season, the Brewers announced that they would be adapting a new, more “contemporary” look for the ’78 season. The team would oversee the remaking of the game uniforms, but would choose the new logo from a contest that would be open to the public. There were few tears shed over the passing of the barrelman. The team received regular complaints that the logo was ugly. “We felt the beer barrel image was one of buffoonery, a cartoon,” Bud Selig later said of the decision to ditch the logo. “It was difficult to reproduce on t-shirts and other promotional items.”
In late November, the Brewers revealed the new logo to the public. It was the work of Tom Meindel, a UW Eau Claire art student who came up with the idea for the interlocked M and B during a “very boring” psychology class. “I remember working with the M and B and I was stuck, it wasn’t going anywhere. Then I decided to start using lower case letters,” Meindel said in 2005. “The obvious thinking was to put them side-by-side, but I thought, ‘let’s stack it, one on top of the other.’ It was a very crude drawing, but all of a sudden, boom, the light bulb came on. It reminded me of a baseball glove.”
As for the uniforms, Selig promised that the changes would be “radical” and that, for the first time ever, the unis would feature names on the back. Throughout Spring Training, the Brewers kept the new look hidden from the public. It was common practice then for teams to use left-over jerseys and other gear during spring games, so players like rookie Paul Molitor and newly-acquired slugger Larry Hisle saw their first action with the club in uniforms they would never actually wear during the regular season. When the team photographer showed up in camp to shoot promo photos for the season, he had to do so locked in a secured room in the clubhouse, lest any media members get a peek at the players in their new threads. This secrecy also resulted in the oddly-covered 1978 team media guide. It featured artwork of Hisle and a reproduction of the new logo. But the uni embargo left Hisle to be dressed in generic jersey and the previous year’s cap.
Finally, on opening day, the new look was debuted to the world… or at least the media, who reported on the unis from the clubhouse as the game itself was delayed by rain. Reaction to the pinstriped home set and the powder blue road kit (which featured the “Milwaukee” wordmark for the first time on a Brewers uniform), were met with enthusiasm. Selig noted that he had long wanted to use pinstripes and planned to use them had Milwaukee been awarded an expansion franchise in 1969. Some noted that the new unis were absent names on the back. “We fully intended to [include player names],” Selig explained later that season. “But once we decided on the pinstripes, it was impossible. The company that makes our uniform tried it out, and it looked terrible. The stripes ran right through the letters.”
Paul Molitor tags out the Twins’ Rod Carew during an exhibition game at County Stadium before the ’78 season. Note that Molitor is still wearing the 1970-77 home uniform set.
Response to the new cap was a bit more mixed. Bill Dwyre of the Milwaukee Journal called it, “a funny-looking ball and glove.” The Journal declared that the new unis “were an improvement. But their new hats, with the confusing Brewer emblem on them instead of an “M,” were not.” A number of letter-writers called the new logo “confusing,” as did the so-called “Bible of Baseball,” the Sporting News.
Feelings on the m-b logo, somewhat encouraged by the 93 wins the Brewers racked up wearing it in 1978, quickly swung to its favor. But again, by the late 1980s, with the excitement of the ’78-’83 powerhouse teams fading, some fans began to suggest that it was time for a change. That change would eventually come. And it turned out to be one of most loathed swaps in team history. Check back next week for details.