I am a sports uniform nerd. A total geek. I am unashamed to say it because it’s a part of me.
I. Love. Uniforms. (My wife is sadly nodding in agreement and disappointment.)
I love the different fabrics, the embroidery, the stitching, the commemorative patches. It’s all so interesting to me. I love all sports uniforms, but most of all I love baseball uniforms. And of all the baseball uniforms, the Phillies’ threads are the cream of the crop. Not only do they have pinstripes, but they also have their name fully embroidered across the front.
I was in college, in 2007, when I saved up to buy my first authentic Phillies jersey. A #6 Ryan Howard pinstripe home Phillies jersey. I’ll never forget opening the package when it arrived. That silky smooth polyester, with my favorite team’s name boldly embroidered right into the chest, and my favorite player’s name and number stitched into the back. It was pure bliss. I had never realized that the entire Phillies’ logo was fully embroidered until that moment when I got my very own jersey.
Bryce Harper signs the longest contract in Philadelphia sports history
I’ve gotten plenty of other jerseys throughout the years. Generally I purchase guys who I think are gonna be around awhile. I have a home Utley, a red alternate Hoskins, a home 2009 #34 Cliff Lee (who the Phillies then traded in the offseason and brought in Roy Halladay who took the #34; the Phillies would bring Cliff back in 2011 wearing #33), a Hamels, and in different sports, Embiid, Foles, Wentz, McCoy, etc.
All that to say, when the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13 year no-trade clause contract with no opt out, I was all in. It was the most secure I’ve ever felt buying a jersey. They signed him on February 28th, and once my March 7th birthday money was firmly in hand, I was searching for the best deal. And everywhere was sold out. The Phillies’ New Era Clubhouse Store literally ran out of R’s.
The Phillies clubhouse store was out of stock. MLB.com was out of stock. Fanatics.com was out of stock. People who were lucky enough to order one were reporting mid-May delivery dates. It only took two days for Fanatics to get them back in stock, so I ordered on March 9th, only to have them cancel the order on the 16th. It was like the universe was telling me, “This Bryce Harper jersey is not for you!” Nay, nay! I pressed on and circumvented the traditional system and ordered a custom jersey with a “3” and “Harper” on the back. Success!
I had originally thought about waiting until next season once the Nike MLB jerseys debut, but this one had the MLB 150 patch, and I would always be able to say I got it during Harper’s first season with the Phillies, and have the proof to back it up: it’ll always be a Majestic jersey and always have the MLB 150 patch that is only available this year. An added bonus is that as the seasons go on, it will become more and more rare.
Fast forward to April 11th, Fanatics blew their estimated ship date of May 16th out of the water (love the under promise/over deliver). My jersey was waiting for me when I got home from work…
What is that thing?
Like a child opening a Christmas gift, the packaging had no chance. I tore it open, turned it over, and my left eyebrow raised and I gasped. My wife, thinking something was wrong with one of our children, came running in from another room. “What’s wrong!?”
“They sent me a China jersey!”
I couldn’t believe my eyes! The embroidery was all wrong! Every jersey I’d bought over the last 12 years was exactly the same chain-stitch embroidery, and this, this was not even remotely close to anything like that! It looked exactly like the bad fakes from China that I had made fun of for so many years. (Yes, I am a jersey elitist and I don’t care.)
I raced up to my room to grab an old jersey. Sure enough the Cool-Base® jersey felt the same, but the embroidery was just… so… off. The old chain-stitch was beautiful and felt more like a hand-stitched piece of art than this obvious machine-stitched pattern without a name (more on this later). It was the first time I was disappointed opening a new jersey since I mistakenly bought a fake on Ebay more than a decade ago. I needed answers.
The Phillies’ response
In late April, while attending a game, I inquired at the New Era Store if any of the staff knew about the changes to the authentic jerseys. I was met with mostly blank stares, which wasn’t entirely unexpected. I doubt very many of the salespeople on the floor know about the changes, much less why they were made. But the manager was nice enough to take my name and phone number scribbled on a 1″ x 2″ scrap piece of paper to give to someone in a back office who may be able to answer my questions.
My expectations for getting a phone call from that scrap piece of paper were about as high as my expectations for the Sixers to win the NBA title during “The Process” years: pretty much zero. So you can imagine my surprise when, almost a month later, my phone rings and the caller ID says the Phillies. After a few moments of confusion, the Phillies’ representative and I reached our common ground. It was Scott Brandreth, Phillies’ Director of Merchandise. The man who could finally answer all but one of my questions about the Phillies’ uniform changes.
The first things Scott and I went over were the physical changes to the uni. The most notable change on the home jersey is the embroidery. Scott drew my attention to the reduction of the white trim around the embroidery. He suggested to look at the road gray jersey as they have the most drastic change because of the gray background rather than blending in on the white home ones.
The Phillies also changed the sleeve trim on the road to match the size of the cream alternates. They reduced the white trim around the numbers and names on the back on all of the jerseys as well.
So Why Change Perfection?
Scott was part of a committee in the Phillies’ organization tasked with “cleaning the jerseys up a little bit.” The MLB asked the Phillies to look at the jerseys a few years ago because they had gotten a bit “puffy.” Specifically the trim around the embroidery, letters, and numbers. Scott pointed out that if you look at the specialty jerseys (Stars and Stripes, Mother’s day, Father’s day, and Memorial day) the trim stands out in a really negative way. He’s absolutely right.
Unfortunately, the MLB decided to go with small, chest patches this year for all the aforementioned games instead of the specialty jerseys, so it’s unknown how they would have looked in the updated versions.
Scott gave a very quick, “No” when I asked if they had considered waiting until next year to make the changes because of the impending Nike takeover. Perhaps it’s simply going to be a Nike Swoosh in place of the Majestic logo. There have been rumors about Nike placing their logo more predominantly than Majestic had previously though. Considering that the main concern that the MLB had with the Phillies’ jerseys was not a factor this year (the specialty jerseys), it is odd to me that the Phillies didn’t think to wait until next year to have these slight changes and Nike’s slight changes happen concurrently.
Admittedly, 99% of the population of baseball fans couldn’t care less about this, but I am a self proclaimed uniform nerd and, as such, I must point these things out if only for my own sanity.
The Harper Paradox
Interestingly though, in doing some research I found many photos of Bryce at his introductory press conference in Clearwater wearing the old jersey. Those jerseys were supposedly retired after 2018 though, so why did the Phillies make one up for him using the old style?
Scott said that while the new uniforms were ready up north in Philadelphia, they used what they had in Clearwater for Bryce’s press conference. They must have shot the Phillies promo photos while also in Clearwater because Bryce is also wearing the old threads in many of the promo photos for this year too. Next time you are watching a game on TV and they promote themselves with a studio photo of Bryce, check out which jersey he has on.
I’d be willing to bet that’s why my original jersey order was cancelled as well. I bet there are a handful of the old style Harper jerseys, if not more, that got shipped out to the early orderers. It’s the only reasonable explanation of why my order would be cancelled. I’m thinking it was cancelled when they ran out of old jerseys and had to switch over to the new inventory and their computers wouldn’t let them automatically switch, but the world may never know. If you have a 2018 style Harper jersey, please let me know; I’d love to have my suspicions confirmed.
The question without an answer
I had only one question which stumped Scott, “What is the name of the new embroidery pattern?” He paused, probably thinking that I was crazy at this point, and said “I’m not sure, I don’t think it has one.” He graciously contacted Majestic and the official word is that there is no name for the pattern. Well, if no one else is going to name it, I might as well right? Hereby from this day forward, the stitch shall be referred to as the Harperian Stitch. Congratulations, Bryce! You now have an embroidery stitch named after you.
The Final Stitch
While my initial shock when opening my Harper jersey (and yelling about Chinese knock-offs) has worn off, and the new unis are growing on me, the jury is still out on these new threads. I’m a creature of habit, who struggles with change, but I’m also not afraid to admit there are some admirable qualities to these new jerseys.
The Homeruns: The trimmed white trim around the numbers, letters, and embroidery are nice. The old trim was “puffy” and did need a change. Also, the reduction of the jersey sleeve trim on the road jerseys to match the alternate creams is a welcome change. Though it does look like it could be itchier than the old version.
The Strikeouts: While the Harperian Stitch is nice in and of itself, when compared to the Chain Stitch, the most perfect embroidery for baseball uniforms of all time, it’s a swing and a miss.
Close your eyes a second and think of your stereotypical baseball jersey from any period of time. Old Babe Ruth Yankee, Jackie Robinson Dodgers, or Richie Ashburn Phillies jerseys are what comes to my mind. This is America’s past time we’re talking about here and hand sewn (or appearing that way) imperfectly perfect little works of embroidered art is what should be worn. I understand that styles come and go, and in reality it’s not a huge deal. Heck, like Scott and I talked about most people probably haven’t yet realized there were any changes this year. For this Phillies’ fan though, it’s somewhat sad seeing my favorite part of my favorite uniform get replaced.