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About the Cream, It’s Clear: Close, But Not Quite

Update: It’s official [1]. I don’t believe the Mets that the natural color is from 1962.

It’s an open secret that next year the Mets will have a cream-colored version of the pinstripes uniform, though reports are all over the map about whether the white pinstripes will still exist and whether the annoying black drop shadow will remain in either or both.

Like a lot of things the Mets have done in the last year or so, most significantly the big new mostly but not completely great stadium they now call home, I want to like this but think it misses the mark by a small but frustrating degree. And again, I detect an unhappy whiff of trying to give the franchise some manufactured antiquity.

The original Mets’ pinstripes were white — reappropriating the blue of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the orange of the New York Giants. Jet-age white, JFK Camelot white, moon-race white, pre-hippie Sixties white. A basic and enduring legacy of the Mets is that they’re the New Breed — the successors to the Dodgers and Giants, the Anti-Yankees, the team you’d root for by being funny and raucous and ironic instead of dour and demanding. The Mets were shiny and new, not some pre-aged franchise meant to feel like it had roots in the days of John McGraw and Connie Mack. (And in their early years, remember, they consistently outdrew the Yankees.) Yes, the first Mets clubs were an old-age home for a number of former Dodgers, Giants and Yankees — but with a couple of exceptions (Casey Stengel, irrepressible in any context) those players were sops to Joan Payson’s sentiments. The legends of the early Mets aren’t great players in their autumn years, but castoffs and never-to-be’s — Marv Throneberry and Hot Rod Kanehl and Choo Choo Coleman. They’re the players the early Mets were stuck with, rather than the imports the club thought would draw fans.

This is the same misconception that I objected to with the collages of Mets that appeared outside Citi Field before Opening Day and inside Citi Field late in the summer. I understand that the Mets wanted to create an old-style park that departed from Shea’s My Chevy Van aesthetics, and for the most part that was fine with me — I like the mix of brick, green seats, black walls and ironwork. But while applauding the Mets finally adding actual Mets stuff to the park, I don’t think the sepia images work — as I’ve written before [2], Tug McGraw and Lenny Dykstra and Turk Wendell were vivid, Technicolor players. I don’t want to see them through a nostalgic patina, any more than I want to hear, say, “Ashokan Farewell” after a loss. I love Ken Burns, but this isn’t the place for him.

Stripped of racing stripes and drop shadows and other fooferall, the pinstripes are a perfect Mets uniform, mindful of ancient baseball traditions yet mildly rebellious against them — the garish blue and orange atop the classic pinstripes almost looks like a graffiti version of the Yankees’ classically stodgy uniform. Put cream in the mix, though, and they look like manufactured nostalgia for an old-timer’s day. Bring the pinstripes back, but not as some faux imagining of what they might have been.

* * *

If that sounds conservative and retrograde, know that I often arrive at Citi in my black NEW YORK road jersey and a gray-and-blue Mets cap with the NY in stars and stripes. I like the black uniforms, just as I like hearing that an upcoming game will feature special, one-off uniforms.

I’m not against cream — I think it could be a great addition to the palette. But instead of adding cream to the pinstripes, why not take a page from the Giants and use it as a replacement for the white home uniforms? That would be a classic look but feel new instead of fake antique, and it would look a lot less busy than the cream pinstripes.

With that, can I revisit something that’s bugged me for years? I hate not knowing what uniform Charlie Samuels has picked out on a given day. Besides the fact that it ignores the very definition of “uniform,” there’s always a jarring moment when I’m listening to the radio and Howie Rose tells me what the Mets are wearing for the game. It makes you realize whatever image you had in your head of the Mets down there on the field was wrong, and it throws you right out of the narrative — until Howie fills you in, they’re Schrodinger’s Mets. That sense of randomness stopped being cute a long time ago. By now it’s just irritating and makes the Mets feel like they’re making it up as they go, a feeling there’s been entirely too much of in recent years.

I know the die is cast for 2010, marketing plans and budgets being what they are, so here’s a plea for the Mets to consider in 2011. It’s a predictable plan for what the Mets would wear, one that includes cream uniforms and enough variations that the marketing folks would have plenty to sell:

Home night games: White pinstripes and blue caps (burn those horrid two-tone caps).

Home day games: Cream uniforms and blue caps.

Weekend night games and holiday games: Black home uniforms and black caps.

Road night games: Gray uniforms and blue caps.

Road day games and holidays: Black road uniforms and black caps.

Switch those around if you like — cream unis can be for home night games, black road unis can be for road night games, etc. Just make it make sense.

To this, add a wildcard: Do whatever you want on commemorative days. I love Negro League throwback jerseys. I’m all for one-off throwbacks like the uniforms with the big NY. (Minus David Wright taking a fastball to the head.) Wear the New York-area agency caps on September 11th. Wear the racing stripes next time the ’86 Mets are honored. Wear stars-and-stripes uniforms on a day to salute veterans. Wear pink uniforms along with the pink bats and money for breast-cancer research on Mother’s Day. Heck, have Jeff McKnight Day and wear that horrible uniform with the tail for one game. By now the Mercury Mets would probably draw a nostalgic laugh (as long as the other team played along). Have fun with this stuff — we won’t mind, and we’ll open our wallets. But give us a baseline for experimentation. And leave alone what doesn’t need to be messed with.

(Images thieved from Metsblog [3] and No Mas [4].)