When tradition is less than permanent: The Citadel’s football uniforms

It’s June, so that means it’s a perfect time for me to blog about one aspect of The Citadel’s football program that has always annoyed me — namely, the uniforms.  For a school as tradition-laden as The Citadel, you would think that the football uniforms would have remained largely unchanged over time.  You would be very, very wrong to think that, though.

Now, why should anyone care about how football uniforms look?  I’ll tell you why.  It is all-important to success on the gridiron.  I have personal knowledge of this.

Many, many years ago, I began my star-crossed athletic career by participating in my hometown’s Pee Wee football program.  I was assigned to a team which I will not name, so as to protect the innocent.  The coach took one look at me — very tall for my age, and even skinnier for my age — and decided that I would make an ideal left tackle.  He also elected not to play a tight end on my side of the field, so I was what pigskin cognoscenti call the “weakside tackle”.

During games, opponents would often overload my side of the field and race into the backfield, tackling the ballcarrier for a loss despite my heroic efforts.  The coach would then blame me for the failure of his game plan, which he thought brilliant, never seeming to understand that running a delayed handoff on every play was not necessarily the way to go.

However, the biggest mistake he made came when selecting the jerseys for our team.  We received orange jerseys with black numerals on them, very plain indeed.  I was given a jersey with the number “2” (certainly a fine number for an offensive tackle).  The reason?  I was the second player in line.

After being washed, the jerseys turned a orangery-pinkish color, gradually turning even pinker as the season progressed.  The iron-on numerals were also of poor quality.  My numeral started falling apart by the second half of the first game, with the bottom part of the number almost completely gone by the third game.  By the time the season was over the number “2” had essentially turned into the punctuation mark “?”.  (Wearing the “?” was probably appropriate, since most of the time I was not really sure what the coach expected me to do.  He was the Ray Handley of Pee Wee coaches.)

It is almost needless to say, but without the pride and confidence instilled by wearing quality jerseys the team struggled and barely finished above .500 for the season.

The folowing year’s campaign was completely different.  The new coach was much better, as he actually knew what he was doing.  We ran a sound offense featuring two tight ends (I was the “blocking” TE; in retrospect it is a bit puzzling that we always ran the ball to the other side).  We also had four players on our team who eventually played college football, which helped.  However, none of that was as important as the improvement in the quality of our jerseys.

They were black, of good material, with significantly superior iron-on numerals (which were white).  Even better, they had “hoop” stripes on the upper sleeves, with red in the middle bordered by white.  Very classy.  I should also mention that no one on the team had to wear a “kicker” number.  Everyone had a number “50” or above.  I was number “86”.  Hines Ward would have approved.

The team powered through the regular season undefeated, and in the title game whipped a pack of green-shirted hoodlums to win the city championship.   I have always credited the uniforms for providing much-needed confidence and an “edge”.  Without them, perfection would never have happened.

The Citadel has gone through so many helmet design changes that the guy at The Helmet Project can’t keep up with them all.  He very politely states on his website that “The Citadel has a large and interesting helmet history”.  Interesting is one word for it…

Another helmet devotee, who runs a fine blog called The Helmet Archive, has drawn more of the old helmet designs used by the Bulldogs over time.  I would encourage anyone halfway interested in this topic to peruse this link [edit: now disabled], which shows most of the helmet designs worn by the Bulldogs since 1960.  The Helmet Archive also has a link to a photo page that shows many of the helmets/uniforms The Citadel has had over the last 50 years.  It’s good stuff (the pictures, that is; the uniforms, not so much).

Generally speaking, when it comes to most of the designs, I have two basic complaints about The Citadel’s uniforms, besides the fact they’ve changed too many times:

1)  The helmet logo is usually either too detailed or just looks stupid (sometimes both)
2)  The jersey (and on at least one occasion the helmet) often doesn’t have the “The” in “The Citadel” on it

I find that second issue particularly grating.  Look, if the name of the school is going to be on the front of the jersey, that’s fine — but get the name of the school right.  The lettering needs to be just large enough to be read by someone watching the game on TV (that’s right, TV; I’ll get to that in a minute) and the name should read “THE CITADEL”.  This has not always been the case in the past, and it isn’t the case in the present, either, as can be seen with this shot of the current jersey.  Is it too much to ask that the correct name of the college be used?   I hope not.

The photo of the current jersey also illustrates the problem with the lettering not being clearly legible.  This shows up more in the away uniforms, as the light blue color of the lettering doesn’t show well on white (especially on a sunny day).  Again, it doesn’t look that good on television, either, and it needs to “pop” on TV (the same is true for the helmet logo).  I would make the lettering a little larger, put a thin navy border around the letters to further distinguish them (“shading”), and obviously it should read “THE CITADEL”.

Another aspect of the jersey/pants that I would like to see changed is the current striping on the pants/shoulder area (the “side panels”).  That really needs to go.  I realize that it’s a Nike thing, so getting rid of it is probably easier said than done, but it’s just not a good look.

At least we no longer have the chevrons.  I would like to thank the person who decided to get rid of Ellis Johnson’s chevrons.  No coach at The Citadel seemed to put more thought into uniform design than Johnson.  Despite this (or maybe because of it), his teams played in what I consider the worst of The Citadel’s modern-day togs.

Not only did they feature chevrons on the shoulder pads (I should note that he wasn’t the first Bulldog coach to have them), but in his third year as head coach (2003), the team would wear the most abysmal of all of the Bulldogs’ helmet designs, which is really saying something.   Between the “gray shell” helmets and the chevrons, this was the nadir of The Citadel’s football uniform history.

The helmet featured a color that is not one of The Citadel’s primary (or even secondary) athletic standards.  Johnson didn’t like the way the blue helmet looked on blue jerseys, and stated that the gray shell exemplified the “storied history of the long gray line”.  Whatever.  The fact is that it clashed badly with the jersey; the logo borrowed from the New York Giants’ 1980s-1990s design (which wasn’t so hot to start with); and it naturally said “CITADEL” instead of “THE CITADEL”.  Just awful.  The Bulldogs actually kept that basic design for four seasons, too.  It is no surprise that The Citadel didn’t have much on-field success during this era.

Not that the gray shell look was the only poor helmet design; far from it.  Look at that photo link again.  Pick which decal of a bulldog is funnier — is it the one from 1964, 1967, or 1971?  Tom Moore’s coaching tenure featured a helmet design that just said, in text, “The Dogs”.  Robert Hill deserved better.  I don’t mind the helmets that just had numbers, although I see no particular reason to emulate Alabama (or Georgia Southern, for that matter).

The successful teams of the Charlie Taaffe regime had a script “The Citadel” decal in the style of one of the school’s marks of that time, a theme not unlike the current helmet design.  One of the more interesting (and better) logos was the “Star of the West” design employed during the late 1970s.  You can see this logo in a very cool picture found by the above-mentioned Helmet Archive site.  The problem with going back to that look is that A) trying to explain the “Star of the West” thing to people could be trying, and B) everyone would think we were imitating the Dallas Cowboys.

(Also notice in that picture the striping on the jersey and the pants.  Is that navy — or black?)

I don’t have a big problem with the current helmet design, but it’s not easy to see in person or on television.  I think it’s important to look good on TV, and if we’re going to have “TV numbers” on the shoulders and names on the backs of the jerseys (which I assume is also for recruiting), then we need to have a decal that shows well in HD.  I’m not a designer — I’m just a crabby individual who knows what he doesn’t like — but I would suggest that simple is best.

Some variation of the block “C” would, I believe, be the best way to go, with an appropriate border color to make sure it was easily visible.  It’s been used in the past on white-shelled helmets, but I think blue helmets are the best bet.  Put a white block “C” with a navy “shaded” border, and a stripe across the top (three stripes, actually — white surrounding navy), and you may have something.  It wouldn’t hurt to experiment with a few other color options.

Speaking of color options…

I came across a gallery of photos taken by Life magazine of the 1955 football game between The Citadel and Presbyterian (which was homecoming that year), a contest won by the Bulldogs 14-13.  This was apparently part of a feature on Mark Clark, who appears in most of the non-football photos (and several of the football ones, too), giving off a “John Wayne” vibe in each and every pictureGoogle has archived thousands of the old Life photos; these pictures are part of that collectionI’ll link a few of them, but with a couple of notes.

Check out the colors of the uniforms worn by the Bulldogs in these pictures:  this one, and this one.  Note the red stripes on the helmets (and jersey sleeves) and the darker blue of the jerseys!  At first I thought that perhaps the photo had been mislabeled, and that it was in fact PC’s players running onto the field.  Then again, why would our coaches and bagpipers be lined up watching them?  The following black-and-white shots indicate that they are definitely the Bulldogs, however:  here (photo op for the general), here (nice bow tie), here, and here.

I’m still a little confused by some of these photos.  In the preceding paragraph, take a look at the first two pictures that are linked, and compare them to the third one.  Do you suppose they made them run out on the field twice for the photographer or something?  Or was one of them before the game, and the other at halftime?  Then there is this picture.  It’s black-and-white, but compared to the other B&W shots, don’t the uniforms look darker?  (You have to love that scoreboard, though.)

[Edit: a few of the Life photos have been disabled.]

It could be that some of these are practice (or pre-game) pictures and the others are game photos; in fact, it’s likely, given the wardrobe change for John Sauer.  Regardless, they’re fascinating photographs.

Anyway, that’s enough on uniforms for one post.  To sum up:  simple is best, get the name of the school right, and don’t screw up the colors.  That’s all.

The appeal of appeal plays

One of the stranger things about baseball, especially when compared to other sports, is that an umpire can witness a breach of the rules, but doesn’t necessarily have to rule on the infringement.  In football, imagine if somebody lined up in the neutral zone and then proceeded to sack the quarterback, but no penalty was called unless the offense specifically appealed to the line judge for a ruling that the defender was offsides.  Well, that’s basically the situation that exists for certain aspects of the rules of baseball.

This is a remnant of the game’s origins.  Back in the 1850s, an umpire would not make a ruling on any play unless asked to do so by a player on one of the teams.  There were few exceptions to this (one being calling balls foul so that runners would know to go back to their respective bases).  As the game got more competitive, so many challenges were made that by the 1871 formation of the National Association, the onus had gradually shifted to the umpire to rule on most plays.

There were and are still vestigial exceptions, however.  As Peter Morris noted in A Game of Inches (Volume 1), a book I highly recommend (it is basically a compendium of historical baseball firsts), appeals were made for rulings on the legality of pitching deliveries “for many years afterward”.  There are still several appeal situations in the game for which an umpire is not required to rule unless asked, including a batter batting out of turn (almost always a lineup card mishap), a runner missing a base, a runner leaving too early while tagging up on a fly out, and check swings (a more recent development in the appeal world).

I want to write mainly about appeals involving baserunning snafus, but there were two lineup botch jobs in May within five days of each other, and each deserves mention.  The latter of these resulted in Houston’s Michael Bourn batting twice to lead off a game.  After singling, Milwaukee appealed that he had batted out of order (which he had, the Astros having submitted the wrong lineup card), so as a result Kaz Matsui (who should have been the leadoff hitter) was called out and Bourn then batted again as the #2 hitter, this time drawing a walk.

Earlier that same week Tampa Bay had submitted a lineup card in a game against Cleveland that featured two third basemen and no DH.  That situation was notable because it was later determined the umpires had erred on allowing Evan Longoria to remain eligible to play.

Of course, that type of thing happens occasionally.  Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams once submitted a lineup that required Nolan Ryan to face one batter (Gary Ross was supposed to have started the game, but Williams had absent-mindedly written Ryan’s name in the pitcher’s spot in the lineup instead):

Ryan was on the bench and in uniform. But he was wearing tennis shoes and no protective cup. Williams explained the problem.

“Thank goodness he understood,” Williams wrote in his autobiography. “He went out there and stiffly faced one batter, who grounded out to shortstop, at which point I immediately yanked him from the game.”

Imagine if there had been a comebacker…

On May 18, Ryan Church of the Mets was called out on appeal for missing third base during a game against the Dodgers.  It was a key play in the contest, as Church would have otherwise scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning.  Instead, the game remained tied, and Los Angeles would score in the bottom half of that same inning, winning the game 3-2.  Church’s baserunning gaffe generated considerable discussion in several quarters, including a SABR listserv to which I subscribe.  This is what happened:

In the top of the 11th, Church singled with two outs, his second hit since entering in the eighth as a defensive replacement in rightfield. [Angel] Pagan followed with a long drive into the right-center gap, a shot that apparently allowed Church to score easily. But Church stepped in front of third base and over it – an obvious miss.

Church later said he felt like he brushed the edge of the base with his foot. “I thought I touched it,” he said. “That’s why I kept going. If I had any doubt, I would have stopped.”

Third baseman [Mark] Loretta yelled for the baseball – Dodgers manager Joe Torre noticed Church’s mistake, too – and with Pagan standing on third, got the appeal in his favor. Inning over, score still tied at 2.

Church may have felt he had touched the bag, but according to one SABR member at the game, it was obvious even from a vantage point high in the stands that Church had missed third base.  It was so obvious, in fact, that there wasn’t an appeal play — Loretta called for the ball immediately, with the putout recorded as 8-6-2-5.

What if there had been an appeal situation, though?  What if time had been called after the ball was thrown to the catcher?  Then the pitcher would have had to have initiated an appeal by throwing to third base, with Pagan at the bag following his would-be triple.

Apparently Phil Mushnick thought there was an appeal play when he blasted Mike Francesa for “big-timing” a caller on Francesa’s radio show who wanted to discuss the play.  That wasn’t the case, although that doesn’t really let Francesa off the hook (he thought the ball was dead, too).  Since this isn’t WFAN, though, and hypotheticals can occasionally be fun, we can discuss what the caller (who identified himself as a high school baseball coach) tried to say:

…in such rare situations — when there’s a call for an appeal play at third with a runner already there, as there was Monday in L.A. — he would instruct the player on third (Pagan) to run toward home the moment the pitcher starts the “live ball” appeal by touching the rubber and beginning his throw to third….the team in the field (Dodgers) must make a split-second move: Follow through on the appeal at third — in Monday’s case risk Church being called safe, thus the Mets would have a two-run lead (Church scoring, followed by Pagan) — or throw home to tag the runner (Pagan), thus no appeal at third could be made and the Mets would be conceded that one, go-ahead run (Church).

…The only way the Mets could not enter the bottom of the 11th with a lead was if the Dodgers stayed focused enough to carry out the appeal and Church was ruled to have missed third.

That would have been rather clever.  One of the key things about an appeal play is that it technically isn’t a “play”.  If it were, you wouldn’t be able to make consecutive appeals, because once the ball is “live” you can’t make an appeal after initiating a play.  So in the example given above, if the Dodgers had thrown home to put out Pagan, that would have been a play, and they would have lost the right to appeal Church missing the bag.

Other notable (or amusing) appeal situations:

From the amusing department, we have Melvin Mora, baserunning savant.  Retrosheet describes the bottom of the 5th of an April 2001 game between the Orioles and Red Sox as follows:

ORIOLES 5TH: Ripken grounded out (second to first); Mora was hit
by a pitch; Fordyce lined to third [Mora out at second (pitcher
to second)]; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Red Sox 1, Orioles 0.

Well, I guess that mention of Mora out at second base by the pitcher to the second baseman should tell you something.  Baseball Digest has the story:

Mora [was] on first base with one out when Brook Fordyce hit a line drive to Boston third baseman Shea Hillenbrand. The Red Sox rookie threw errantly to first to double up Mora and the ball went into dead territory.

Umpire Brian Gorman instructed Mora to go to third base, reminding him that a runner gets two bases on an overthrow that goes into dead territory. Apparently, Mora took Gorman literally and went directly to third without touching second base…

…The moment Mora touched third, he could not return to touch second base since the ball was dead. Orioles’ third base coach Tom Trebelhorn asked the third base umpire about the possibility of Mora returning to second before the Red Sox appealed the missed base. The ump nixed the idea immediately.

Before the next pitch, Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez threw to second to appeal Mora’s missed base. The appeal was upheld and the putout was recorded 1-4.

Oof.  That reminds me a little of the 1976 Little League World Series title game, when a Japanese runner on second base was so excited about scoring a run following a base hit that he ran straight home from second, without bothering to run to third base.  The opposing team (from California) appealed to third base for the putout.  Japan won anyway, 10-3.  I guess you can’t compare a major leaguer’s mistake to that of a Little Leaguer, although I suppose they may have been about the same age…

Also in the funny (and more well-known) department would be Marv Throneberry’s baserunning gaffe in this game, where he was ruled out for failing to touch second base on a triple.  According to legend, after the successful appeal manager Casey Stengel went out to argue, but was intercepted by his own first base coach, Cookie Lavagetto.  The coach told him not to bother, because Throneberry had also missed first base.  I don’t know if that story is really true (I’ve also read a version in which Stengel is met by the first base umpire instead of Lavagetto), but it’s part of the lore of the 1962 Mets, and whether or not it’s factual probably doesn’t matter much.  At least Throneberry got a Miller Lite commercial out of his reputation.

In terms of playoff appeals, one of the more famous, if not the most famous, happened in Game 5 of the 1991 NLCS, when Atlanta’s David Justice was ruled to have missed third base while scoring what would have been the go-ahead run in that game, a contest eventually won by the Pittsburgh 1-0.

Justice claimed that he had actually touched the bag, and I think he probably did, but he stumbled over it, and it was such an awkward move that it’s not surprising Jay Bell asked for an appeal.  Frank Pulli then called Justice out.  It would have been a much bigger deal, of course, if the Braves had not rallied to win the series.

In the linked article, Dave Anderson compares Justice’s blunder to the famous “Merkle’s Boner” play, which is understandable, although the play involving Merkle wasn’t actually an appeal.  Johnny Evers retrieved the ball (or some ball; whether it was the actual ball used in the play is debatable) and stepped on second base, and got the out call from umpire Hank O’Day.  That play was still considered “live”, even with all the fans overrunning the field.

Of course, that Cubs-Giants game from 1908 was an end-game situation, and making a standard appeal in that scenario may not be possible.  It’s not unlike what happened in a memorable 22-inning affair at Montreal in 1989 between the Dodgers and Expos.

Los Angeles would eventually win the game 1-0 on a home run by Rick Dempsey (off El Presidente, Dennis Martinez), but Montreal thought it had won the game in the bottom of the 16th inning, when Larry Walker appeared to have scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly.  The Dodgers appealed that Walker had left third base early, though, and he was ruled out by third base umpire “Balking” Bob Davidson.

According to one observer who was at the game, Davidson did not immediately leave his position after the play (and presumably the game) had ended, which may have suggested to the Dodgers that an appeal play might prove successful.  I think that illustrates an inherent problem with the “see evil, don’t say evil unless asked” aspect of appeal plays, to be honest.

Tangent:  that game was also notable because Expos mascot Youppi! was ejected from the game in the 11th inning, which is believed to have been the first time a mascot was ejected from a major league game by an umpire.  Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had complained after being disturbed by some Youppi! antics on L.A.’s dugout roof.  Youppi! did reappear later in the game, however, although he (it?) was restricted to Montreal’s dugout roof.

One more appeal story, a side note to one of baseball’s more famous (or infamous) regular season games, the George Brett “pine tar” game.  After AL president Lee McPhail had overruled the umpires’ decision, and that Brett’s home run stood, the Yankees and Royals resumed the game — 25 days later.  Billy Martin had one more argument to make, and it would have been a good one, but somebody in the league office had been thinking along with the Yankee skipper:

Before the first pitch to Hal McRae (who followed Brett in the lineup), Martin challenged Brett’s home run on the grounds that Brett had not touched all the bases, and maintained that there was no way for the umpires (a different crew than the one who worked July 24) to dispute this. But umpire Davey Phillips was ready for Martin, producing an affidavit signed by the July 24 umpires stating that Brett had indeed touched all the bases. An irate Martin continued to argue with the umpires and was ejected from the game.

I think that’s a good way to end this post — with an appeal that was rejected.