Paul: Tigers' uniform alterations totally unnecessary

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

For a little while, like off and on for 20 years in the early 20th century and every year from 1931-33, the Tigers wore pinstripes on their home uniforms.

The new Tigers uniforms will include a larger D on the cap to match the olde English D on the uniform.

One year, in 1960, they wore the word "Tigers" on their home jerseys, with player numbers on the front, underneath the script.

But mostly, the Tigers' iconic home jerseys have remained remarkably the same. Simple. Timeless. Classic.

That all changes in 2018, as the Tigers, stunningly, announced Thursday they are altering the home jerseys, with what they're selling as minor alterations -- but, in reality, are the most drastic changes in six decades to one of professional sports' most-recognizable uniforms.

There are two changes being made to the home uniforms, which have basically been the same for each of the club's four world championships.

The one the Tigers are advertising the most is the Olde English D on the jersey, which has had rounded edges. That D now will have sharper edges, to match the D that's been used on the home and away caps.

Most Tigers fans can live with that change. While the rounded D was clean-looking and no problem, it makes some sense to have some uniformity between the D that's on the chest and the D that's on the cap. Fine.

The bigger, more drastic change is the D on the home cap. It’s changing not in style, but size. It's going to be bigger, and actually significantly so.
Tigers brass, in announcing the alterations, said that change was made to get more in line with the size of logos on other teams' caps.

The problem is, by increasing that logo, the Tigers are cheapening one of Major League Baseball's best hats, if not the game's gold standard, made "cool" by Tom Selleck and "Magnum P.I." in the 1980s.

While casual fans might not notice a significant difference, or even a difference at all, diehards certainly will -- and the reaction on social media Thursday was not kind, at all.

The new hats look like knockoffs, the kind you'd get for 5 bucks at a gas station, or 10 bucks from a hustling street vendor an hour before first pitch, or for knocking down all the milk jugs at the traveling carnival. The new hats look cheap, while the old hats had an air of subtlety about them — and, as someone once said, subtlety should be the goal, not the starting point.

Altering the jersey was one thing, even if that, too, wasn't necessary.

The cap? That's change for change sake — and reeks of simply trying to get a new product on the souvenir market to help increase revenues during a season that, without question, is going to take a serious hit at the box office as the Tigers are knee-deep into rebuilding mode and will be lucky to lose fewer than 100 games this year or next.

The signs are there. Saturday's TigerFest didn't sell out till Thursday, and I'm amazed it even did at all — how long would you wait in line for Dixon Machado's autograph? TigerFest, over the last decade, would sell out in an hour.

Now, you can't fault a businessman for trying to make a buck. And hard-core fans, especially kids, have to have the latest jerseys, so much so that fans will shell out big bucks to buy an Andre Drummond Pistons jersey with a Flagstar Bank logo, or a Matthew Stafford jersey that's only difference is a black outline of the lettering or the Lion.

But the Tigers brand is in a class by itself, with any alterations, no matter how "small," considered extreme.

This is the latest misstep in the early ownership tenure of Christopher Ilitch, the front-and-center heir to his late father Mike's empire.

First came the significant payroll reduction, which saw the Tigers, in the last several months, trade Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler, with almost certainly more payroll shedding on the way — despite a super-stalled free-agent market that could afford the Tigers some prime talent at bargain prices and help them, perhaps, contend while still looking to the future, not unlike the New York Yankees' model in 2017.

Then came word last month that the Tigers have no plans to retire Lou Whitaker's No. 1 this summer, when they retire Alan Trammell's No. 3 and Jack Morris' No. 47 following that duo's long-overdue induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And now, you mess with the classic uniforms?

It's not that Christopher Ilitch doesn't respect history, or tradition. There's an organist at new Little Caesars Arena, which also houses the old marquee letters from Olympia Stadium.

And I get trying to put your own stamp on things. Christopher's father did just that shortly after buying the Tigers in 1992 — some good (bringing back Ernie Harwell), some not so good (that silly, cartoonish logo of a Tiger crawling through the D).

But Mike Ilitch, a one-time Tigers minor-leaguer, was smart enough not to mess with the home jerseys, rather tampering with the road jerseys.

That's where Christopher could've made his move, altering the roadies. The current road grays aren't revered by Tigers fans, nor are they historic, in any way. Bringing back the buttonless, beltless uniforms from the 1980s. Or, better yet they could've found a way to incorporate the classic, circular logo with the Tiger in the center -- a logo popularized by WDIV's wrapup graphics package back in the day, when the Tiger would wear an ice pack and meow, or ferociously grab a bat and growl, depending on the outcome of the game.

Now, that would've been hailed as a big victory, in a year that's unlikely to see many of those, at least on the field.