When you have so little to look for you look at.
That, in summary, is the history of the Padres.
If you grow up and then begin to grow old, as I have, with the Padres you have watched a parade of bad teams dressed so differently you can scarcely believe they were all part of the same franchise, same city and same fan base.
We all know sports merchandising began to invent different uniforms about 15 to 20 years to juice sales and profits. True innovators in the scheme of disguising ugly baseball, the Padres changed uniforms not to make a profit, but, it seemed, to make them look as ugly as the product. There once was a movie called “Coyote Ugly,” which could have been the name of a documentary on Padres uniforms of the 1970s but wasn’t.
From 1970 to 1980 the Padres changed uniforms six times. It was a poorly disguised distraction. The more futile the pursuit of runs, grounders and wins, the more fanciful the impulse to distract. This was not about selling jerseys to fans as there were very few, even fewer stars to emulate and the self-indulgent notion of wearing team jerseys did not exist.
The last was true because the fans did not attempt to disguise themselves as players on the field. It was a much more modest time when players played, fans idolized and non-players wouldn’t think of walking around pretending they were good enough to wear a Big League uniform. Hats yes. But a replica jersey? It simply was not done.
But even if it had been, no one in San Diego in the 1970s wanted Padres gear. In those days my parents were good enough to take us to at least six games a year. I always stopped inside the Padres store on the Plaza level of then-San Diego Stadium. Not much Padre gear was sold there. Other teams were more popular: Cubs, Yankees, Reds, Cardinals and Red Sox to name a few.
Most Helmet Nights had leftovers. There was a tiny, tiny market for Padres gear. How small? About the size of the packets of powdered creamer my dad had me get for his coffee. Yes. My dad drank coffee at ball games. Not beer. Coffee – instant coffee.
The Padres have had at least 15 dominant uniforms in 49 years (purists can and will disagree, but that’s my number and pays heed to changes in the home and road uniforms). That is, on average, a new uniform at home or on the road every 3.2 seasons. When uniform changes have a vaudevillian mania about them you know the product is disastrously bad – a road show that can’t get down the road fast enough to dodge hurled insults or rotted cabbage.
The Padres are contemplating another uniform change. This one is supposed to have an air of permanence beginning, this being the Padres, with a change in 2019 and a more permanent alternation in 2020.
This also being the Padres, the franchise is looking for a long-lasting identity even though the team on the field doesn’t have one. You would think after nearly 50 years of professional baseball the Padres would have some kind of look – something distinctive that tells fans across both leagues… THAT’s the Padres.
For some fans, that means blue. For others, it means brown. For a smaller cohort it means the PCL uniforms or something inspired by them. The team has invested heavily in focus groups and professional outside consulting. It is a serious effort and meant to produce a serious product. But it lacks the courage of its convictions. The Padres can ask all the fans it wants but it will never find a consensus. There are too many fans with too many opinions across too many decades and too many different uniforms. Besides, nostalgia is deeply individual and it drives preferences on questions like this. And you cannot do nostalgia by committee.
Only one force can determine the Padres’ identity. That is ownership. Fans will have to be told the new identity. Once told, fans will, with me in the lead, fall into line.
My own preference is something that incorporates the brown and gold of the early Padres. Beyond nostalgia, that color combination is unique and would instantly announce the Padres. Branding matters. Distinction matters. Brown and gold tell the world Padres. Always have. Always will.
There are too many “blue” teams in baseball. The dreaded Dodgers own that color and always will. We should never play in the Dodgers palate. We should beat them at the plate.
Which brings me to the ultimate distinction: winning. The Padres are trying to build a durable winner. I believe in the process, even though watching the growing pains is by turns harrowing and frustrating.
For much of its history Padres owners have used uniform changes as a masquerade to tell fans something was changing for the better when it wasn’t.
Those days must end.
The psychology of using a uniform change to paper over garish play is a sickness with a nearly 50-year pedigree in Padreland. That fans have put up with it for so long is itself a sort of sickness. But I can’t help myself. I love this team. So does the rest of ragtag Padre Nation. We can’t help ourselves.
But Padre ownership can help.
Pick a uniform.
Produce a winner.
Both will be different.
And that difference will be the distinction we cherish most.
Do you have a Padres or Clairemont question for Major…. Heck, maybe even a White House question? Send us an email to: AskMajor@ClairemontTimes.com we’ll forward them.
Major Garrett was born and raised in Clairemont, is Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, host of “The Takeout” podcast and author of the upcoming book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams and Occasional Blackouts of His Extraordinary First Year in Office.”