You Can’t Spell Pillbox Without IL
The Triple-A International League was founded in 1884, and 1983 was the 100th season of the IL. Whether or not that constitutes the centennial anniversary is up for debate, but either way, the league celebrated its centenary in ’83. One league-wide promotional rollout was a 100-Year logo that all IL teams wore as a sleeve patch. Another was universal use of pillbox caps with either white or red horizontal pinstripes. There were eight teams in the IL in ’83, and it seems that the pillbox caps were used by each team throughout the entire season. In one case, the pillbox went well beyond the centennial year and made it all the way to Hollywood.
Maybe it was afterglow from the We Are Family Pittsburgh Pirates teams of a few years earlier, but pillbox caps were having a bit of a moment within the minor leagues in the early eighties. Several teams across the many leagues and levels of the minors were sporting pillboxes in these days—Oklahoma City, Phoenix, El Paso, Beaumont, and several others. It’s worth mentioning that the minors were still on life support in these pre-Bull Durham merchandise boom years, and teams did not have anywhere close to the promotional uniform options that we see today. At that time, it seems that many minor league teams ordered their unis from the same catalog, with identical cap logos popping up on disparate teams throughout the nation. It’s likely that the pillbox cap was simply an available option and an affordable way to be unique.
Whatever the case, the IL went all-in and used the style for their centennial. None of the league’s eight teams were using pillboxes in ’82, but all were using them in ’83. The main source of images from this time is TCMA trading cards, the indispensable resource of minor league uniform evidence from the late-seventies and early-eighties. The TCMA photo shoots likely occurred on different days at different locations throughout the season, and it’s wall-to-wall pillbox.
Here’s an overview of all eight teams:
It was a convenient coincidence that Charleston and Cleveland both start with C. In 1982, the Charlies’ caps were essentially a carbon copy of their parent club’s navy-with-red block C. For the ’83 pillbox, they slapped some white stripes over the design, making for an attractive cap. The jersey was a bit busy, with the anniversary sleeve patch competing for attention with the ever-iconic cigar smoking baseball logo patch on the abdomen. This was the final look for the Charlies. In 1984, the franchise was moved to Old Orchard Beach, Maine. In recent years, Ebbets Field Flannels made a replica of the 1983 Charlies cap.
Columbus kept the basic design from ’82, but they added red stripes for the pillboxes. The Clippers were a Yankees affiliate, and the cap pinstripes ran counter to the jersey pinstripes. The sea of stripes gave way to their old look in ’84.
Pawtucket Red Sox
Did I mention that minor league teams operated on a shoestring budget in the early eighties? Yeesh, let’s assume that this TCMA photo shoot was during a practice and these cheap mesh jerseys never saw game action. The Paw Sox pillbox benefitted from the white outlining on the P logo contrasting the red stripes. In ’84, the Paw Sox returned to the familiar look they had worn in ’82.
The R-Braves made an interesting move, swapping 1982’s white R-with-red-outline for the reverse. The red R was matched with white cap pinstripes in 1983, and in 1984, the old white R was back. It looks like Richmond put celebration patches on both their home whites and road powder blues.
Rochester Red Wings
The Red Wings looked rough this year. The white pinstripes bury the white R, and you can see the wisdom in Richmond’s decision to change their logo color. 1983 seems to have kicked off a cap identity crisis for Rochester. Their clean red look from 1982 returned in ’87, but first we had this and this.
Syracuse must have already been planning for a Blue Jays-based redesign in ‘83, because they swapped out the crudely-drawn Onondaga chief logo that they had used in previous seasons (including 1982) in favor of a lowercase italicized S. After the pillbox year, they kept the little S (with double-line Toronto font) for one season before switching to a more straightforward racetrack S in the latter part of the decade.
In 1982, the Tides had a relatively conservative look—sort of like if you mashed the Rangers and Mets together. In ’83, they brought in some cursive-script blue jerseys without 100-year patches and alternated them with their loud orange shirts with the patches. Tidewater seemed to have liked the pillbox cap. They kept wearing it not only in their “World Champion” Triple-A World Series defending 1984 season, but into 1987, when they wore a mishmash of pillbox and stripe-less standard-shape caps. Billy Beane was a Tide in 1985, and when Ebbets Field Flannels recreated his uniform for the 2011 film Moneyball, the pillbox cap appeared on the silver screen. The caps also appeared on the small screen, in this news brief from Opening Day 1983. Not only do we get to see Tidewater and Rochester’s pillboxes in action–a backward-cap-wearing Darryl Strawberry reveals that the caps were adjustable snap-backs.
Toledo Mud Hens
M*A*S*H wrapped up 1983, and this would also prove be a transition year for Jamie Farr’s favorite club’s caps. They ditched the plain-T two-tone ’82 cap, and by ’84, they had introduced the T-with-embedded-hen logo. Sandwiched in between those two looks was the red-stripe pillbox cap. The Mud Hens already had a fantastic sleeve patch, but they fully embraced the 100-year patch—sewing it on their conservative road grays as well as their wacky multi-toned white and blue jerseys. They also seemed to have kept the 100-year patch into the 1984 season. You can still celebrate a 1884-1984 anniversary, right?
OK, that’s about all I have to say about the International League’s 1983 centennial celebration. It’s always interesting to find what’s lurking in the dusty corners of minor league history.
This article was also published on Uni Watch.