Archive for The Uniform

Who Wants Fish Sticks?

The Mets have had some uniform mishaps over the years, but nothing compared to the infamous Islanders rebrand of 1995, when the struggling hockey club abruptly cast away its classic logo and colors and reeled in an ocean motif highlighted by a cartoon fisherman crest.

Though meant to evoke local pride (and also, sell more merchandise) the move instead flopped with the team’s own fans and players; generated humiliating derision from opponents; and eventually, even the cash registers stopped ringing. The story of the worst branding initiative in sports history—and the associated leadership crises and on-ice failures that enabled and accompanied it—is deeply examined and entertainingly told in a terrific new book from Nick Hirshon called WE WANT FISH STICKS.

To the extent MBTN is focused on the branding message sent by blue-and-orange wearing athletes in New York, I caught up with Nick for the following (lightly edited) Q&A. His book is available at the usual outlets.

 

Jon Springer: Can you take me through the origins of this story?

Nick Hirshon: I’ve been interested in the Fisherman logo for years. When I was an undergrad at St. John’s University [2003-06] one of my classes was sports management and it was taught by a former general manager of the Nassau Coliseum. And he went into detail one day about the Fisherman logo and said he knew a guy at the Islanders who decided to go with the Fisherman logo and that stoked my interest in it.

As an Islanders fan myself, I’d been to so many games and seen the jersey on fans in the stands. And I became more curious wondering what the story was. In 2006, I wrote a story for the Hockey News about the history of the fisherman logo and I spoke to my former professor; I spoke to a guy named Pat Calabria who was an Islanders vice president at the time they changed to the Fisherman logo and is generally associated with making the decision, even though he alone did not make it.

Fast forward to 2013, and for my PhD at Ohio University we needed to write some sort of dissertation that was to be our signature project. I wanted to do something about the Islanders because they were my favorite team and I wanted something I’d be passionate about. But what could I go for here? What in their history hadn’t been told yet? A lot of people are interested in the Stanley Cups, but I wasn’t sure how interesting that is, besides the fact they won a lot, so I thought there’s got to be a more colorful story out there: What about the Fisherman logo?

You’re taught in these historiography courses that history starts about 20 years ago. The Fisherman logo had been unveiled about 20 years before I embarked on this project: If it was something more recent, people might not be willing to talk about it, and we wouldn’t know how it turned out, or how it would be remembered. Once 20 years have passed, you have a good idea of the legacy. And for me it was good that it was just 20 years ago. So a lot of the people who were involved in the rebranding process were still alive, and they also were somewhat removed from the project, so they were willing to talk more freely and maybe be willing to criticize the people involved, whether it was the designers or Mike Milbury, the coach and general manager at the time.

 

Do you like the Fisherman jersey?

Kirk Muller wanted no part of it.

I never saw the problem with the logo itself. I do understand it looks a lot like the Gorton’s fisherman. It reminds me, and a lot of Islanders fans, of the 1990s. It has that look of the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks logos that came out right before, and inspired the Fisherman logo. I’m drawn to the curiosity of it. This was a logo we can’t talk about, it is something that was around only for a couple of years and it was part of history that got whitewashed.

I also like the idea of what it represents. The Islanders don’t play in New York City: They wanted to differentiate themselves from the Rangers. There are distinctions between Long Island and New York. The ocean, the beach, the maritime culture, and the fishermen. And I like that with this jersey they were trying to do all of that. It wasn’t just the logo; it was the wavy numbers on the back that were supposed to represent ocean waves, and the lighthouse logo on the shoulder, which is one of my favorite logos ever. I wish they had made that the main crest.

 

I’m in agreement with you there. The Fisherman jersey in my mind has crossed the line in a way similar to the Mercury Mets jersey: The fans hated it so much they eventually became fond of it. It was so bad it was good.

Howie was there for both the reviled Islanders rebrand and the Mets one-night relocation to planet Mercury

There’s that same quality. Even if it was just one game, people remember the Mercury Mets because it was so bizarre. It reminds me of 1999, when I became a Mets fan, and that was a really great season for them. I vividly remember the Mercury Mets jersey because it was part of my initiation to Mets fandom. I vaguely remember Orel Hershiser wearing it. That’s the fondness people have for these things. If you look at it aesthetically, maybe if you’re a top-notch designer, you think this is silly. But if you’re going for a nostalgic point of a view and an emotional point of view, where I think fans are coming from, then you are going to be kinder to something that might not have been a Versace or Armani quality design.

The wavy numbers on the back of the jersey gave it an interesting look, but it interfered with the purpose of the jersey number which is to allow fans to identify players at a glance. Do you give much thought to the jersey numbers themselves? I thought it was interesting earlier this year when Lou Lamoriello unilaterally changed the jersey numbers of five or six players.

Lamoriello is known for wanting his players to wear low numbers. Josh Ho-Sang is one of the Islanders’ top players and had to change his number from 66 to 26. That caused a stir among a number of Islanders fans. As far as the waviness of the numbers on the jerseys, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It just became another way for fans to mock the jersey. They could say, “it makes us seasick.”

“Seasick” numerology

It made for a disjointed look depending on what number you wore. If you have a number 1 and its bunched together in a wave, maybe it doesn’t look so bad, but if was a 6 or 9 or a number with contours to it, it made it weird on the back of the jersey.

To me I just embrace it all as part of this experiment. It was different. In my time as an Islander fan they’ve never done anything different with their main logo. There’s been some background changes and done different things with stripes, but they really haven’t done anything bold. And I like that with this jersey, they were really trying something different. OK, it failed, but I want to give them a little bit of credit for trying something. And I hate that because of this flop, the Islanders won’t do anything dramatic anymore. And it seems like they’re stuck with that one logo, and even their quote-unquote secondary logo is just pulling the ‘NY’ off the original logo.

 

Secondary logo that could have been primary

To me, the lighthouse is much more of Long Island type design. Whereas the Fisherman is something you might associate with parts of the Island, everybody on Long Island can relate to a lighthouse. Everybody goes to the beach and has seen them.

The Q&A you do with the designer in the book was interesting. He made a point that he doesn’t really like the classic Islanders logo.

I was startled by that, because for me and most Islander fans, that’s something sacrilegious. That’s what they wore when they won the Stanley Cup! That’s the logo that’s been there since the birth of franchise and I feel a real identity with it. I was an Islanders fan in Rangers country and had them knock me for it, so I became very loyal to it. I view it as a depiction of my identity as a fan.

But he said he didn’t like the lettering and other stuff, and the whole thing was a 1970s look. And the logo was done on short notice. Depending on which story you believe, it was about three days. Someone was told on a Thursday night we need to have a logo by Monday morning for a press conference. It was done before this modern era with focus groups and testing.

It goes to a larger point whether you make fun of the fisherman or the Nyisles the mascot or other aspects of the rebrand, it’s really all subjective. We might say this logo is clearly better, but is it really? The people I spoke to for the book who were pure design people all said the fisherman logo was better than the original Islanders logo. It’s all the memories coming to it though. It’s not all design 101.

Pretty obvious. Source.

It’s fairly obvious to me how closely the Islanders logo adheres to the same ideals as the Mets logo. It’s a circle, it’s the same colors, it’s representative of the area, whether its bridges or buildings or the island itself. One’s got baseball stitches and the other’s got a hockey stick.

So how did you get the book sold? One of the truisms in sports publishing is that books about teams that struggle don’t do all that well.

Hockey books in general don’t sell well, unless its riding a famous player. Wayne Gretzky can sell his book, but will Nick Hirshon sell his? Part of my feeling was this was a very colorful, interesting story. So my idea was let’s not just sell it to this small niche of Islanders fans who remember 1995 but I think you can be someone who never went to an Islanders game and still appreciate the zany stories about Mike Milbury spitting at his players and John Spano coming in posing as a billionaire who will pump all this money into the team but it turns out he’s a con artist. You don’t need to be a true hockey fan to appreciate that.

I tried to make that a part of a part of the pitch from the beginning, so it wasn’t like, I’m a guy from Long Island writing about my favorite team. What the publishers kept asking was, “What’s significant about this?’” So I really had to establish why I thought this was the worst sports branding failure ever, and if you look at everything, they went through more in 28 months than most teams go through in 28 years. I also think University presses in particular are kinder to sports titles that might not do very well in terms of sales, but are stories worth telling and are worth getting out in the market.

 

As someone who was not very well versed in Islander history I was shocked just based on your descriptions of Milbury that he lasted even one year. And it’s easy to make the connection that the wackiness of the branding initiative is a match for the dysfunction in the front office and ownership.

Milbury. Source

Milbury didn’t leave the team until 2007. And that’s kind of insane when you consider the comments he made to the media, the terrible trades, clashing with so many players he sent away or disparaged. It’s unbelievable that someone like that could last so long especially in the New York market which is associated with high rates of turnover.

I think it was a combination of factors. Part of it was being out on Long Island and away from the New York spotlight. A general manager of the Mets or the Yankees couldn’t get away with what Milbury did. It was also before social media where people couldn’t band together to build a movement like they can today on Twitter and Facebook. Also, the ownership kept changing so there was no way to hold someone like Mike Milbury to account. Every new owner felt obligated to give him a chance. He was a hockey lifer and he was very charming and persuasive.

 

Were you able to reach Milbury as part of your research?

I tried, but I got a no from NBC Sports, where he’s an analyst now. I tried every single person I could who was involved in the rebrand: every player, the coaches, broadcasters and designers.  I feel like you owe it to people who might not be viewed positively in your work to have a say.  And that went for everyone, John Spano, and Kirk Muller, who was traded to the Islanders but didn’t report. But everything I say about them were from primary sources—Newsday, the New York Times.

 

I heard you mention casually you’d be interested in a Mets book. What would you write about?

I don’t know. I’m still trying to get the promotion for this one done. And doing the book is so much work, so much intellectual energy doing the research and the interviews. It’s all very daunting. I might be interested in the 1999 season which was my first as a Mets fan, but there’s probably people who are out there who know this more than me or are already working on it.

 

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Where There’s Smoke

49Long-suffering minor-league reliever Josh Smoker got the call yesterday as the “26th man” on the roster, as dictated by double-header rules but the lefty failed to make an appearance as the Mets split Tuesday’s twinbill with the hated Cardinals.

PiazzaPatchSmoker — a one-time top draft pick whose ascent was interrupted by injuries and a stint in independent ball — headed back to Laguardia following the game  but maintained his spring-training assignment of 49 in his non-appearance.

As you know by now the Mets will officially retire Mike Piazza’s No. 31 in a ceremony on Saturday, and reveal the digit in its new location in the left field corner. The club is also expected to wear ceremonial uni and hat patches for the event as pictured here. Mike looks a bit like a cartoon character here but to be fair his home runs often looked like something out of a fertile imagination themselves.

Finally the MBTN Hall of Fame has a new member.

An outrageous display of awesomeness.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

When Eight is Enough

7Who knows how it may affect the club’s sudden momentum but the Mets today are expected to officially add Jose Reyes to the roster, suit him in his customary No. 7 jersey (per Adam Rubin), and lead him off tonight versus the Marlins.

No word yet on a corresponding roster move although it seems likelier to me that infielder Matt Reynolds gets sent down than Alejandro De Aza is released. The latter scenario only happens if there’s a true crush on the 40-man roster, and even then, I think they’d look to trade him. Despite appearances, De Aza’s track record and versatility would indicate he’s not completely without value.

Now, onto the important stuff: With Reyes set to take over 7, it triggers yet another uni change for Travis d’Arnaud, whom I’d have advised to stay put. And while it’s possible we’ll see d’Arnaud move back to 15, especially if Reynolds vacates it, I’m proposing a unique solution to a unique problem:

Take No. 8 out of mothballs.

8The Mets haven’t issued No. 8 since 2002 (coach Matt Galante), a decision that coincided with Gary Carter’s election to baseball’s Hall of Fame. We can presume the club withheld it so as to give itself runway to retirement had Carter gone into the Hall “as a Met” and following that, in deference to his illness and tragic death in 2012. (I want to be clear I feel the first distinction is very silly and unworthy of the weight it seems to carry in the retired number debate).

But with both those events now in the rear-view, I think there’s an argument to reintroduce No. 8 when warranted, and now is that time. You have a promising young catcher basically forced into a switch, and there’s a dearth of dignified numbers out there (just 1, 18, 46 and 49). He drives you crazy with the health issues and the slumps but d’Arnaud deep down is a heck of a hitter, I think, and at any rate wouldn’t embarrass the memory of Carter (or Yogi Berra, also a numerical descendant) any more than the second coming of Jose Reyes might insult the first Reyes era. The Mets in fact gave No. 8 time off between Yogi’s stints as a player (1965-72) and a manager (1975-79), but those periods came to an end too.

I supported the Mets’ good taste and sensitivity while they withheld No. 8 then and now, but the time has come to reintroduce it. Give the Kid No. 8!

*

PS — Quick note to acknowledge the arrival and departure of Seth Lugo and the first No. 67 in club history last week! I missed that traveling last week.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Happy Butch Huskey Day!

42retiredBallplayers throughout the Major Leagues this evening will pay tribute to one of the game’s all-time greats when they all don No. 42 in honor of Butch Huskey.

Robert Leon “Butch” Huskey is remembered for being a bridge between cultures — namely, the Dallas Green and Bobby Valentine Eras — and for his accomplishments in the field of inclusion, being included in the starting lineup at several positions including third base, first base, the outfield, and designated hitter. He was literally a giant of the game — aptly surnamed, and listed generously at 244 pounds, Huskey’s presence was felt by teammates and opponents, whether seated alongside them on the team plane, or passing one another in a doorway.

HuskeycardOn a more serious note, Huskey was a nice complimentary player whose selection of No. 42 — following a debut when assigned No. 10 — was no accident and likely influential in calling attention to the import black players had attached to the digits. He was wearing 42 and allowed to be grandfathered into the agreement to retire the number leaguewide in 1997.

That year was also Huskey’s best as a Met: He clubbed 24 home home runs and hit .287 — we’d have signed up for that out of a corner outfielder for years now. Steve Phillips recklessly traded him following the 1998 season for a relief pitcher — Lesli Brea — who himself would be included in a silly Phillips trade, included in a package with Melvin Mora and others for ultimately useless shortstop Mike Bordick. Brea wound up making a handful of ineffective appearances for Baltimore and was later found to have fudged his birth year. Huskey had several years left as a reserve outfielder and DH with the Mariners, Twins Red Sox and Rockies, reappearing in 42 in Seattle and Minnesota.

Happy Butch & Jackie Day!

We also wish you a joyous Larry Elliot Day, a splendid Ron Hodges Day, and most excellent Chuck Taylor Day.

 

 

 

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Not for Nothing

Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal today makes note of the 13 ballplayers known to have worn No. 0 — and perhaps the 14th, Mets reserve shortstop Omar Quintanilla.

0My first reaction upon seeing that article was to think there must have been more than 13 so far but it checks out at least according to Baseball-Reference.com. Amazinly, two players wore No. 0 as Mets — Terry McDaniel in 1991 and Rey Ordonez in 1996-97 — while Junior Ortiz went on to wear 0 in his post Mets career (Junior was a rare No. 34 position player in orange and blue). There’s actually been more 00s in baseball history than 0s — 19 overall. That group includes Tony Clark, who wore it for the Mets in 2003 — at least until it was pointed out that he was sharing a number that otherwise belonged to Mr. Met.

Clark initially took 00 upon joining the Mets as a late-arriving free agent during 2003’s spring training. With jerseys already assigned, the veteran said he preferred taking 00 to the selections in the 80s that were otherwise available then. Ironically, when Clark switched — to No. 52 — he became the first Met player to appear wearing that number too. Former Met reliever Rick White — a 51 in New York — wore 00 later in his career.

00As for Quintanilla, he explains that like Clark he preferred a number more befitting to his stature and experience — modest as it may be — when he rejoined the team this winter on a minor league contract after seeing his most recent assignment, No. 3, issued to newly arrived free agent Curtis Granderson. What Diamond’s article fails to mention is that the uni switch was the second in as many deals for Quintanilla, who saw his 2012 assignment  of No. 6 issued to Kelly Shoppach and then Marlon Byrd while he was away with Baltimore.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

The Only Alternatives and Other Possibilities

So we all knew Mets did a poor job of keeping the fact they would have a few new uniform looks in 2013 a secret but all the same was anyone as shocked as me by how softly they revealed them today given the potential for the new look to spark a retail renaissance and maybe sell a few tickets? Couldn’t they have asked Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum to come along for a big runway show instead of unceremoniously Tweeting the news that these new looks are available?

Come on Mets, you don’t need geeks like me to tell you there are thousands of fans who eat this kind of stuff up. I mean, new unis is something the Yankees never get to do, why the sudden soft sell? And why do you suppose when they showed this rather handsome new road-blue jersey they showed it with … Ronny Cedeno’s number? (never mind, I get that now. Sheesh).

Those curious asides aside, I think we’ve got a handsome jersey, particularly the return of the silvery letters that last appeared on the Mets’ jerseys the last time they were blue. I’m not necessarily sold on the piping but at the same time welcome the orange back to the color scheme. My other critique, such as it is, is that the shade of blue is much darker than it was 30 years ago, as though someone dumped half a bottle of purple into the royal shade of yesteryear. I guess black dies hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those Howie Rose types who bemoans every moment the Mets aren’t outfitted in baggy wool pinstripes: I like that things can change from time to time and I believe the Mets could easily and successfully get away with going further in this change: How about an alternate hat with a Mr. Met logo? As I mentioned above it’s something the Mets have on the Yankees, at least when they do it right. Here I think they have a good looking alternate, and it’s weird that they’re keeping it to themselves.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Beam Him Up

Now that Andres Torres has evoked memories of Ken Henderson — that of the veteran outfielder acquired in an offseason trade who hurts himself almost immediately — the Mets, short on outfielders to begin with, look to recall Kirk Nieuwenhuis from AAA while Torres rehabs his calf. Again.

Depending on whether the Mets’ seamstresses can fit NIEUWENHUIS on the back of a shirt — at 11 letters, it ties SCHOENEWIES and is one behind all-time leader ISRINGHAUSEN — the Mets will also need to put a number on it. It’s likely that number would be 22, which is not only currently vacant on the Mets’ roster but is also Kirk’s current digits at Buffalo. I have to think the Mets were holding in in reserve for him, especially that he’s on the 40. Welcome to the show, Kirk!

On a related note, how great do those numbers and NOBs look now that they’re free of the cursed black dropshadow? Looking good so far Mets!

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Solid Gold

As a longtime critic of the Mets’ questionable senses of fashion and self-awareness I feel obligated to tip my (blue-and-orange only) cap to what appears so far to be a thoughtful and tasteful approach to the team’s 50th anniversary as revealed yesterday. Uni fans know the info by now I’m sure, but they’re dropping the black drop shadows and black hats for 2012 (hopefully the butt-ugly two-toned batting helmets go along with them, as I’ve long felt nothing looks any worse). They said they’d use the black alternate jerseys for selected away games only; and introduced a series of events dedicated to acknowledging team history including a return ofBanner Day, decade-themed bobblehead giveaways, and the anniversary patch/logo pictured above. Let’s Go Mets.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Ike-illies Heel Revealed

In what was probably the lamest-looking Met injury since Mike Piazza ruptured a groin on an inside pitch in 2003, Ike Davis hit the disabled list today with what officials are calling an ankle sprain and bone bruise suffered while waiting for a pop fly to come down from the sky the other night. Couldn’t he have have gotten hurt diving into the stands or legging out a triple like a real jock? Whatever else is wrong with the Mets these days, Ike wasn’t ever part of the problem and his absence, even if it’s only for a few weeks, is going to hurt whatever expectations you had for the Mets. Fernando Martinez, who isn’t currently injured, was recalled to take his place and reportedly in Denver in his No. 26 jersey.

In case you didn’t see it, revealing article by the incomparable Paul Lukas of ESPN today examining the tossed-off manner with which the Mets adopted the ugly black uniforms they’ve been wearing for 13 years now. By all means read the article but don’t let me spoil the secret that it was motivated by a combination of greed and Yankee paranoia, poorly thought through, and carelessly executed. Given the fact that the man seemingly most responsible for this debacle was arrested the other day and charged with stealing from his bosses — you can’t get away with that in Flushing anymore — and otherwise brought shame and disrepute to the organization given his alleged involvement in an illegal sports gambling operation, you’d think the Mets would move to distance themselves from the literal and figurative darkness the whole black jersey represents, but the Mets never learn.

My friend and frequent MBTN contributor Paul the other day suggested he was rooting for Francisco Rodriguez’s option to kick in with the idea that it could represent the obligation that triggers the Wilpon’s ultimate financial ruin and forces them to the selling block and poorhouse. He wasn’t joking and I’m beginning to see the light myself.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Bat Boys, Bat Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do

A few quick notes before I head out of town to spend some time at the home of the band whose song is referenced in the title of today’s post:

1) Several readers including David reminded me that I (and the mets.com roster I ripped off) left Jenrry Meija (I had to have spelled that name wrong) off the spring training roster where he should be noted to be wearing No. 76.

2) I neglected to mention this website recently passed its 11th birthday on Feb. 22. That’s in part because I made such a wreck of the 10th birthday bash, neglecting to make it all the way down the ‘top 10’ countdown as promised. Shameful. But I haven’t stopped doing this. Shortly after I return next week, the website will be freshly updated with a new look & feel I’d been working on for the last month with the crack team at Crooked Number. The changes — necessitated mainly by an upgrade of the operating system that would make the current look go kablooey — may look plain at first, but is much more powerful beneath the hood and is only a start.

3) I first got this question a few years ago, and didn’t know what to say then or now: What will the Bat Boys be wearing in 2010? As I recall the history, Met bat boys went numberless until 1986 (maybe 85?) and have in most years worn the figure of the year — except in 1999 when they skipped ahead to 00 so as not to mess with Turk Wendell’s mojo. Despite the second-straight curious spring training issue to Andy Green, it seems as if No. 10 will be available this year, but I’m thinking maybe 00 might be better. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘BB’ designation some teams use and I’d hate to see it here. Thoughts?

4) I’m again happy to have been asked to contribute an article for the 2010 Maple Street Press Mets Annual, which is arriving on area newsstands now. My contribution — a look at 2009’s injuries and their place in team history, got a terrific boost from longtime MBTN contributor Jason E., whose comprehensive history of the Mets disabled list made it all work. Did you know who the all-time leader for separate trips to the disabled list is? What body part has been injured most often? Who was the first Met ever to go on the DL? Then pick this thing up now. Also, there’s good articles.

5) We’re scheduling another Amazin’ Tuesday March 23 at Two Boots Tavern on the Lower East Side. Deets to come.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon