Generally, when I write about topics like uniforms, I go with a breezy tone because, well, the topic is uniforms and not something terribly serious.
However, the Baltimore Orioles‘ release of their City Connect uniforms has led to thoughtful, passionate debate, and I think it’s important this article reflect those concerns. That’s not to say I don’t really like the O’s uniforms — because I do — but the reservations of others merit serious consideration, so I’ll link to some of that criticism here.
But first, to the uniforms themselves.
Last week, the Baltimore Orioles unveiled their City Connect uniforms.
It’s Baltimore versus the world. pic.twitter.com/zk73GPNFjR
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) May 22, 2023
Here’s the hype video, which is absolutely worth your time:
We are Baltimore. You can’t clip these wings. pic.twitter.com/4eQAdPtmjy
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) May 22, 2023
I was immediately hooked. The reception, however, was not universally warm. Take this comment from @phixated.
the thing with city connects is that they should have something that is immediately identifiable as representative of the city. it shouldn’t take 6 paragraphs of gibberish to explain why it’s actually totally generic. https://t.co/5rvV5xb8zf
— phixated (@phixated) May 22, 2023
Fair enough: The Orioles did include six paragraphs of explanation, but there’s a lot going on with these uniforms.
This Twitter thread from @LindsayBallant provides a thoughtful critique.
My designer/O’s fan/Lefty/Baltimore resident worlds are colliding, I see.
Not only are these uninspired and disappointing designs coming from a design powerhouse that has done way better, the entire promise of these jerseys let Baltimore’s enemies frame the terms of the debate. https://t.co/zCls4T1dty
— Lindsay Ballant (@lindsayballant) May 22, 2023
There was also a robust discussion on the Pitcher List website. Mr. Pitcher List himself, Nick Pollack, weighed in.
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) May 22, 2023
I’m hesitant to critique the boss (who knows more about pitching than I ever will), but in this case, I respectfully submit that he could not be more wrong.
Instead, I’m here to make a case for these City Connect uniforms being some of the best — if not the best — in the series. Cedric Mullins, Jorge Mateo, and Adley Rutschman are absolutely going to rock these uniforms. Here’s why.
5. They’re Not Cluttered
So many City Connect uniforms just looke like miniature NASCAR rigs burdened with symbolism — and I write this as a Colorado Rockies fan who absolutely loathes the Rockies’ City Connects. There’s too much going on: the green, the license-plate motto, the yellow ski tag arm patch, the hat that does not go with the uniform (but probably sells well).
To quote Karl Lagerfeld, “One is never overdressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.” That’s the effect of these Baltimore uniforms: The messaging doesn’t distract from what really matters in the uniform’s design.
4. They’re Like an Iceberg: So Much Is Beneath the Surface
As the Orioles explain, “From the outside, it looks all black and white. You can’t see what you’re not looking for. Threaded from the artistic tapestry of our city, the palette is like our people: colorful, vibrant, and quirky.”
These uniforms are, literally, demanding the viewer look closely — that is, at the stereotypes of Baltimore — to see what’s real. As the Orioles put it, “The greyscale exterior represents the surface level view people have of Baltimore. Look deeper and you’ll find the colorful interior that highlights the vibrancy of the city.”
Notice those splashes of color on the sleeves and in the collar? That colorful pattern is “a representation of the neighborhoods that shape our city.” Very cool.
The Orioles see this design strategy as in character with their home city: “If you know our history, then you know Baltimore has pioneered many of America’s finest inventions, so it comes as no surprise we are the first MLB team to design the inside of our jersey.”
See, the problem with those cluttered uniforms is that they make everything so explicit. They want the viewer to understand that these uniforms are deep (and I use that word in the same way that first-year students do in a college literature course). In other words, there’s no space for the viewer/wearer to bring their vision to this uniform because they’ve been told how to read/wear it.
“That’s not for us,” the Orioles said. But the thing under the surface — and closest to the wearer’s heart — is that colorful iconography of the city and the ways in which communities organize themselves.
That is what a City Connect uniform should do, not serve as a marketing tool.
3. They Foreground Poetry
“You Can’t Clip These Wings,” the slogan, are the words of Baltimore-based poet Kondwani Fidel. Listen to him read in the hype video. I get chills.
Fidel’s voice is contemporary and authentic, which is perfect for a team of Baby Birds just getting folks to take them seriously.
The line also appears on the uniform’s socks, cap, and jersey, reinforcing that theme.
Besides, if there’s a sport grounded in poetry, it is surely baseball. By choosing Fidel’s work and having him read it, the Orioles are supporting local art.
Really got my quotes on the @Orioles merch. Beyond blessed. Y’all go cop up??
East Baltimore to the world?✈️?⚾️ pic.twitter.com/wSBKgAzzx9
— Kondwani Fidel? (@KondwaniFidel) May 22, 2023
Anything that gets poetry back into public spaces is a good thing. Period.
2. They Reference Local Institutions
As for the “BALTIMORE” typeface on the jersey, to quote the Orioles, it “is inspired by the Globe Collection and Press at Maryland Institute College of Art and our homegrown arts scene.” Visit the Globe Collection and Press at MICA website here to learn more. “Globe posters were truly the people’s posters,” the website explains.
Globe began publishing distinctive posters in 1929 and was known for its use of DayGlo color. Its history is rich. The original shop closed in 2010, but MICA eventually provided a new home for Globe and continued teaching its poster tradition. Globe also has a history of supporting organizing and protest.
In using this typeface, the Orioles’ City Connect uniforms bring together community, art, protest, and history.
As the Orioles explain, they’re “not hiding behind a catchy nickname.” Oh, indeed.
1. They’re a Topic of Conversation
I don’t mean this in the buzzy “going viral” way. I mean that the Orioles’ City Connect uniforms are providing a basis for a rich exchange of ideas.
I’ve followed the City Connect uniform releases. Clearly, people liked or didn’t like particular uniforms for a range of reasons — generally centered around color or some kind of iconography. But I cannot remember any other City Connects that had this level of intense dialogue.
And I’m here for it. Anything that gets people talking about ideas and place and art and baseball is good.
I haven’t bought any City Connect gear yet, but I’m absolutely getting an Orioles City Connect jersey because I’m a big fan of supporting local art, and these jerseys are art.