Ugly Times: The Much-Maligned Brewers Make-Over of 1994
If the 1978 makeover for the Milwaukee Brewers was an effort to help the team form its own identity, the 1994 “rebranding” was part of the franchise’s fight for survival. 1993 had been an awful year for the team. Riding high after a surprise 92-win season in 1992, the Brewers lost Paul Molitor to the Blue Jays and promptly fell back into the cellar with a 93-loss campaign. As they prepared to begin their 25th season*, they faced the possibility of losing Robin Yount to retirement.
This was all happening as Bud Selig was pleading poor and insisting that a new stadium was the only thing that could keep the Brewers solvent and in Milwaukee. In September ’93, with the Brewers in dead-last place and Yount’s status still unknown, the team announced that it would have a brand-new look for 1994, a move that had been in the planning stages for nearly a year. The transformation would be even more radical than the ’78 makeover and promised an altered color scheme and more urbane and hip look for the club. Reporting on rumors that the new set would include green, the Milwaukee Sentinel’s Dale Hoffman wrote that he was just glad they were not adapting black in the scheme. “Things are gloomy enough around here,” Hoffman joked.
Jamie Navarro wears the Brewers busy new look. Note the green cap bill and undershirt.
Forgoing the secrecy of the 1978 revel, the new unis were introduced well ahead of the ’94 season, rolled out during Brewersfest at the Mecca in mid-January. Modeled by pitchers Cal Eldred and Doug Henry, the uni set certainly was a change. The friendly script lettering was replaced with a heavy, Germanic-influenced block type. The old ball and glove logo was scrapped for an interlocking M and B. And the team colors were morphed into deep navy, metallic gold, and hunter green. And, as a “rebrand,” these elements all had meaning behind them. The green, the team announced, was a tribute to Wisconsin’s agriculture, the blue was to symbolize Lake Michigan, and the gold (get this) was to honor the city’s many festivals. “The things we're doing as an organization,” Selig said at the unveiling, “such as the new uniforms and logo and the efforts to build a new stadium, should send an unmistakable message that the team is here to stay.” (see the complete set here)
There were, of course, more practical considerations behind the move. Beyond just trying to keep the team relevant and present a more forward-looking image, the new look also meant new gear for fans to buy. Selig pointed to the rapidly-selling caps, shirts, and jackets at Brewersfest as proof that the look was a hit. The change not only gave the fans a new logo to buy, but also many more options than the old look offered. The new uni set included home and away caps, a batting practice jersey and a special (and particularly hideous) solid blue top to be worn during Sunday games. In addition, they also rolled out a crossed-bats 25th anniversary logo that would be worn as a sleeve patch. Team officials gushed. One told the Journal, “these colors are extremely hot right now,” while another openly hoped that the gear would not become so highly-sought after that its wearers could fall victim to gang violence.
The Milwaukee Sentinel, however, in a poll of 300 fans found that only 20% approved. Many said it was clumsy and hard to decipher. Others said it looked too similar to what other teams were wearing. Some worried the MB logo looked too similar to a gang symbol (again with the gangs!). One respondent took issue with the colors. “I think [the Brewers] must have something going with the Crayola company,” he said.
While the pinstripes of ’78 saw a sustained run of good baseball, the ’94 set saw labor troubles and lousy teams. After just three years, the jerseys were remade to eliminate the obnoxious oversized letter bookends and the caps were scrapped for a simpler “M” logo (see that look here). That look carried on for three more years until, in a move that was supposed to coincide with the opening of Miller Park, the present-day look was adapted. In 2006, the ball and glove logo returned as a part of the team’s alternate home unis to much rejoicing from the fanbase. The present uni set and logo has been in use for 17 years, the longest-lasting in team history.
*In 1989, the Brewers created a special logo celebrating “20 years of Baseball.” Which was accurate in the sense that the 1989 season was their 20th. However, that is not the same thing as an anniversary. For 1994, the Brewers disregarded that logic and celebrated their “25th Anniversary,” even though it was actually their 24th anniversary. In 2010, the club corrected this and celebrated, rightfully, their 40th anniversary.