May 19, 1979 was the day the Philadelphia Phillies Major League Baseball team debuted their ‘Saturday Night Special’ uniforms in burgundy. The uniforms were retired that very same day. Actually, they were retired that evening after the team revolted. The one-and-done uniforms were not worn again until the team resurrected them for a special encore performance this past July (2019).
If you know anything about team uniforms, you know that what designers come up with doesn’t always thrill athletes or fans. The same is true with everyday work uniforms worn by food service workers, auto mechanics, hotel workers, and so forth. Sometimes new uniforms are so poorly received that they inspire mutiny among team members.
The Philadelphia Phillies’ story does a great job of illustrating how delicate uniform decisions can be. The take-away here, at least according to uniform rental innovators Alsco, is that employers really need to consider what employees think when designing new uniforms.
The Giant Grape Look
Uniforms worn by pro sports teams looked quite a bit different back in the late 1970s. The Phillies burgundy uniforms were tame compared to what the Houston Astros and Vancouver Canucks were wearing that same year. It was normal back then for teams to choose extremely bright colors and noisy patterns. So it’s understandable that the Phillies were comfortable with the comparatively bland Saturday Night Specials.
Apparently, team members didn’t agree with management. The team played their game against the Montréal Expos that night with Roberto Clemente Award winner Gregory Luzinski in left field. After a humiliating loss, Luzinski stormed into the team’s clubhouse, ripped off his jersey, and told team owner Ruly Carpenter that he would not wear the uniform again. He told Carpenter to either get rid of the Saturday Night Special or trade him.
Surprisingly, Luzinski’s teammates all agreed. They shed their uniforms and threw them in the center of the locker room floor. With one voice they said they had had enough. In Luzinski’s case, teammates said the nearly solid burgundy uniforms made him look like a giant grape.
It could have been the loss to the Expos that really caused the rift. Nonetheless, it was clear that the Phillies of 1979 were not going to put up with uniforms they didn’t like. They made that abundantly clear after the game. Thankfully, ownership listened and that was that.
Uniforms Should Spark Pride
Regardless of the purpose for a particular uniform design, Alsco says new uniforms should spark pride in the employees who wear them. Potential problems await otherwise. If employees are not proud of the uniforms they wear for example, that lack of pride is going to show in their work. No company owner wants that.
Ownership wants workers who take pride in everything they do. They want workers who take pride in the company, what it represents, and how it can best serve customers. Yet what so many owners fail to realize is that the pride they are looking for doesn’t begin with customer service. It begins with how employees feel about their jobs.
It is extremely difficult to motivate employees to do right by customers if they hate coming to work every day. It is difficult to get them to do what they do in the best interests of the company when they are unhappy about what the company makes them do. Uniforms really do play a role here.
That moment new uniforms inspire mutiny is a moment too late. Companies need to get all of the potential issues settled with employees long before they ever release new uniforms.