St. Louis Cardinals: A Tribute to the Road Blues
The St. Louis’ Cardinals stint in “Victory Blue” marks a golden era
The story in the February 7, 1976, issue of The Sporting News was just a blurb, tucked into the upper lefthand corner of a page crowded with batting stats. The St. Louis Cardinals, read the blurb, were changing their road uniforms for the 1976 season.
No more road grays. The Cards would be wearing Victory Blue instead.
“Gussie Busch was behind the name of the color,” said Brian Finch, manager, stadium tours and museum outreach for the Cardinals. “I haven’t done research to compare it to any other uniform, but I do know it’s a little bit darker than the Cubs’ blue.”
Of course it is.
At the time the Cardinals made the switch, the Texas Rangers were doing the same. Five other big league teams were already on the bandwagon. According to this timeline by Paul Lukas posted on ESPN’s UniWatch blog in 2007, the Milwaukee Brewers (which helped launch the trend as the Seattle Pilots in 1969), Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals were all in road blues. The Cubs switched in 1978.
The blue boom reached its zenith in 1978, when the Atlanta Braves hopped on board and brought the total to 11 teams. Then began the slow decline until 1992, when the Royals and Expos finally went gray again.
The Cardinals have even less information about their Victory Blue uniforms than The Sporting News offered back in ‘76. Finch said he hasn’t found any official press release announcing the change. The team held no formal unveiling, either. Uniform design wasn’t a big enough deal back then to fuss over.
Still, the Cardinals clearly hoped the move would improve their fortunes. Busch didn’t call it “Victory Blue” for nothing. The team was coming off a down year in which it finished a distant 29 games out of first place in the National League East. Red Schoendienst was out as manager. Vern Rapp was in.
The team would be in flux for another five seasons until Whitey Herzog took over in 1981. From then on, Victory Blue took on a more literal meaning. Herzog would steer the team to three World Series, winning one and deserving to win another. Cardinal players became legends in those Victory Blue uniforms.
Keith Hernandez led the league in runs, doubles and batting average in 1979, earning his one and only Most Valuable Player award. Willie McGee hit a league-leading 18 triples and won a batting crown in his MVP season of 1985. Ozzie Smith won most of his 13 Gold Glove Awards during the Victory Blue years.
“The 1982 team was the first one I can remember rooting for,” said Nathan Baliva, director of media &
Nostalgia has made the Peoria Chiefs’ Sunday powder blue jersey easily its most popular with both fans and the players. Credit: Allison Rhoades/Peoria Chiefs
baseball operations with the Cardinals’ low-A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs. “It was the first team I fell in love with. Seeing those blue road uniforms bring back great memories.”
That’s why, three years ago, the Chiefs wore a powder blue jersey reminiscent of the Victory Blue unis to commemorate Peoria’s first year of its new affiliation with St. Louis. When the team auctioned off the jerseys after the game, Baliva bid high and bid often. Now you can find him wearing it every Sunday during the Chiefs’ season.
In 2014, Peoria made the powder blues its official Sunday jersey and repeated the move this year. Everyone loves them, said Baliva. And he means everyone.
“The players always want to keep them,” said Baliva. “Our guys who made the All-Star team this year asked to wear the powder blues instead of the home whites, but they had to be consistent with everyone else.”
Those players may be too young to recall those mid-1980s Cardinals teams who wore Victory Blue, but they get that those jerseys symbolism winning.
Meanwhile, the uniforms evoke different memories for everyone who sees them. Finch, for instance, is always reminded of his all-time favorite player, Smith.
“My brother and I used to take turns turning the double play as Ozzie and Jose Oquendo,” he said.
With all these good vibes, why haven’t the Cardinals gone blue again? It has worn Victory Blues for several throwback themed games, including a 2012 matchup against the Brewers in St. Louis to commemorate the 1982 World Series. The Cardinals had to get special permission from Major League Baseball to wear road uniforms — even extinct ones — at home.
That’s part of the reason the Cardinals wear gray. And probably always will. As much as fans and players love Victory Blue, it’s a road uniform. It
The Kansas City Royals have brought back powder blue — sort of. Its Sunday jersey is worn at home, not on the road as the baseball gods intended. Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
can’t be shared with the home fans. Look at Kansas City, which chose to adopt a baby blue jersey several years ago, but not the pants. They wanted that jersey for home games, and the rules say home pants must be white.
That kind of look won’t fly in St. Louis, said Finch.
“[Cardinals chairman and CEO] Bill DeWitt is very much a traditionalist and purist,” said Finch. “You’ll never see a two-color uniform on his watch. I’ve heard him say it looks like a softball uniform.”
So Victory Blue remains locked in the archives, forever part of St. Louis Cardinals history. In fact, powder blue in general seems to that way.
“I don’t think trends go out forever,” said Matt Rothenberg, manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Teams bring back old designs for Sundays or day games or whatever they choose. I also think some teams always look at going back to an old style with modern updates, like what the Blue Jays and Astros did with their most recent updates.”
But powder blue uniforms? Jerseys and pants? Rothenburg demurred. Apparently, that’s going a bit too far for Major League tastemakers.
At least Cardinal fans can always see a few on display at the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum across from Busch Stadium. Herzog’s is there. So is Bruce Sutter’s 1982 World Series jersey, with the Ken Boyer memorial armband still on it. Ken Oberkfell’s 1979 Victory Blue jersey is there, too.
“We’re always rotating our artifacts to protect them,” said Finch. “But with our fan base, they expect to see a little Victory Blue every now and then.”
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