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More about that Padres Prototype Jersey

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Many of us went to the All-Star Game Fanfest in the San Diego Convention Center this past July. The MLB had many items on display but there was one that caught the attention of Padres fans and uniform junkies more than any other.

If you read the accompanying placard with the description you’ll see that the prototype jersey was donated by Andy Strasberg.

A few years ago I talked to Andy on the phone at length about his book Fantography (which coincidentally would make a good present for the Padres fan in your life). Soon after I met him at a book signing at Randy Jones Grill. He’s a really nice guy. I decided to reach out to him again after seemingly more questions arose from one of our recent posts on the prototype jersey. I wanted to see if we could learn anything more about the prototype and I sure did.

Andy worked for the Padres for 22 years from 1975-1996 and part of his responsibility was the marketing aspect of the team. When he started there were 19 people working in the Padres offices and everyone knew that Andy as an emotional baseball fan. There were many times that Ray Kroc would come to him to ask him his opinion about how the fans would react to a decision. It was essentially because he held two different roles, as the front office marketer and the fan. He felt he had a responsibility to the fans and took it very seriously and was careful to never abuse the trust. He knew that baseball was a business but also knew that he could never take the fans for granted. I hope that there’s still fans within the organization that speak on our behalf.

He came to understand after working in baseball for as long as he did that when new ownership takes over they want to put their stamp on the club’s history and much of the time that means new uniforms. He encouraged me to look back over the past 30 years and notice how the change in ownership corresponds with the changes in uniforms. It’s certainly been true of the Padres.

Speaking from experience he said that marketing executives cannot change uniforms, they don’t have the power. They can only bring concepts to the CEO or ownership but they can’t do it independently. Not that he was shirking the responsibility, but Andy wasn’t responsible for the change of the uniforms in 1985, however he was right in the middle of it.

The reason for the uniform change in the 1985 season did happen to correspond with the change in ownership after Ray Kroc passed away and his wife Joan took over, but in this case she wasn’t the driving force behind the change. It was actually the Padres players.

When the Padres signed Garvey, the team took a significant turn and gained national prominence. As Andy told me, “we were getting a lot of complaints from the players” about the uniforms at the time. The players didn’t feel professional wearing a uniform whose major color was brown. You may remember Steve Garvey saying of the uniforms “The Padre uniform makes me look like a taco.” Similarly Kurt Bevacqua compared them to brown UPS uniforms, but has since recognized the tradition they represent. Owners take the player’s opinions very seriously. Coincidentally player complaints were also the driving force behind the dismissal of the Sand colored uniforms in the last decade. Players thought they looked like CHP officers. It’s funny how Padres history repeats itself at times.

The second reason for the 1985 uniform change turned out to be because of their uniqueness. The Licensing Corporation of America, who handled the MLB uniforms and the souvenirs, licensed out the products to other companies, the licensees. They would explain to Andy that they couldn’t or wouldn’t go to the expense of changing the colors on the printing machine that was producing their item because “they had to change the one color that was unique to Major League Baseball and that color was brown”. The licensees wouldn’t do it for their own financial reasons. Some did, but most didn’t.

But the change wasn’t necessarily a financial decision for the Padres, it was more about being able to get the team’s products into the hands of the fans. Andy wanted fans to be able to purchase the items. “I received a lot of calls from people complaining to me, and rightly so, ‘I went into a store and they have all the other team’s products, how come they don’t have the Padres?’” “The majority of the teams were red, white and blue and the Padres changed that early on in their existence”.

So that’s the background and the two reasons for the change of the uniform in 1985. The players didn’t feel professional and producing souvenirs for fans was a challenge. After the 1984 season the Padres made the decision to make a change.

Andy explained that questions, challenges and problems in baseball are not unique to one team. The very first thing he did in his role was to use the other teams as a resource and figure out how they addressed their problems. It was easier than reinventing the wheel and saved the Padres a lot of time. So when it came time to find a new design he asked around.

After some information gathering, Andy took the lead and was the one who contacted the design firm of Sidjakov, Berman and Gomez in San Francisco to create the uniforms. They had designed the Giants uniforms, so it was no coincidence that the uniforms so closely resembled each other. He talked to them about the uniform possibilities, the costs and the lead time.

As for the prototype that we saw on display at FanFest, it still had elements of brown and so did the pinstripes that eventually were chosen to be worn in 1985. Of the prototype he said, “It wasn’t the only one. I would say, there had to be at least a half a dozen uniforms and designs. Out of those designs there were variations of colors.” When I pressed him further, he unfortunately didn’t remember the other colors or variations. It was after all 30 years ago.

Back then, after a decision was made the team or the design firm would throw away the samples. In this case Strasberg rescued this particular prototype thinking that one day it would have historical value to the organization. He admired its uniqueness and besides he’s always thought of himself as somewhat of a baseball historian. Last year he first offered the prototype jersey to be displayed by the Padres but his long time relationship with the MLB Hall of Fame instead made it possible for it to be displayed at the All-Star Game FanFest.

Andy has a wealth of knowledge of Padres history. For many years the team didn’t particularly take pride in its own history, but owner John Moores decided to change that when he purchased the team. Moores, with Andy’s assistance bought up tons of historical Padres treasures and relics. The team had a special, secured, temperature controlled room somewhere in Del Mar and stored the items in a very professional way, complete with a full-time archivist. Moores, over time, resolved the team’s lack of history. Andy doesn’t know what Moores did with it all after he sold the team. I had heard that a room existed at Petco Park that held much of Moores’ collection. It’s too bad that none of the items could have been put on display in the underwhelming Padres Hall of Fame.

Back to the prototypes. There were two hats that SD Hat Guy wrote about. The brown hat with the yellow italicized SD reminded Andy of one of the samples. The other one he doesn’t recollect. These hats were not a match to the prototype uniform. There may not have even been a hat designed to match this jersey. Andy explained that these were all just ideas and samples. There were pants however that were associated with the jerseys. He doesn’t remember if the pants for this particular jersey were matching pinstripes but it is likely.

San Diego Padres Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The brown pinstripes that were eventually chosen in 1985 satisfied one of the two criteria. You still had the problem with the licensees producing the products but it solved the problem for the players. The pinstripes made the team feel more professional, while still clinging to the uniqueness and history of the color brown.

Strasberg was also around for the uniform change that happened in the early 90’s when Tom Werner’s “Gang of 15” took control. Andy remembers driving up to LA and laying out all the jersey options. Werner asked him for his opinion and then chose a different uniform. It reminds me of how recent owners have asked the opinions of fans and then disregarded their opinion as well. Werner, however, asked Andy if he’d support the decision and he did. The way Andy saw it, it’s the owners privilege and right to change the uniforms how they see fit. As it was proven with the recent ownership, the owner can’t turn around a team in a couple months or a year but they can make their changes to uniforms. Andy understands how the business works.

Today owners say that they appreciate our passion for brown uniforms but don’t really seem to listen or fully understand its importance. Andy doesn’t know about the current ownership but Ray and Joan Kroc were extremely sensitive to what the fans thought. Kroc used to say “I may be the owner of the Padres, but it’s publicly held by the fans.” Andy has no idea if the Padres will ever return to brown full-time, but we can hope.