The 10 most iconic Negro Leagues uniforms

Uniforms as great as the players who wore them

February 28th, 2023

A version of this story originally ran in August 2020.

Back in 2020, baseball honored the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. We heard plenty of the stories about the amazing players and fantastic feats that took place in ballparks across the country while segregation kept them from taking place on what was then considered big league soil.

That got us thinking: What are the best Negro Leagues uniforms?

The shirts and caps players wore were nearly as iconic as the players themselves. So, today, let's take a look at 10 of the greatest, coolest and most memorable Negro Leagues uniforms in history. We'll only be choosing one uniform from each team, so while you could fill the list with everything the Kansas City Monarchs ever wore, we'll do our best to spread the jersey love a little wider.

10. San Francisco Sea Lions

Now, when you look at this uniform, you may think “Wait, that doesn’t look like a sea lion. That looks like a bear.”

And you’d be right. The Sea Lions actually bought their uniforms from a semi-pro team named the Cubs. But that didn't mean the team was going to change its name. That led to one of the coolest -- if oddest -- uniforms in sports. Unfortunately, the West Coast Negro Baseball Association lasted only about 30 games before it folded, ending the Sea Lions' brief history.

9. Dayton Marcos

The Marcos -- named for the team owner's hotel -- predated the Negro Leagues, but joined up for the inaugural season in 1920. Unfortunately, they finished last, so they left the league to continue as an independent club. They came back in 1926, finished second-to-last, and so went back to their independent barnstorming ways. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, leave 'em, I guess.

If the team lasted in the league longer, we would probably think about its unis more often because these are some gorgeous duds. The (presumably) navy uniforms with the light-colored accent on the collar? That's fantastic and something you so rarely see on the ballfield.

8. St. Louis Stars

While the gray road uniform with navy pinstripes is nice, there are two parts that really set this one apart: One is the font on the cap. While the Cardinals are famous for their interlocking “STL," you gotta admit that this cap with the rounded letterforms and underlined "T" is pretty cool.

The other: The uniform number was used on the sleeve. And you thought the White Sox were cool for putting it on the pants of their 1980s “softball” uniforms.

7. Chicago American Giants

One of the greatest teams in Negro League history -- the team won five pennants and two Negro World Series from 1920-33 -- also has one of the finest uniform sets, too.

While all the unis are nice -- the 1919 checker mark unis from before the league officially began are especially nice -- my favorite are the dark blue road uniforms. Forget the Yankees pinstripes -- a dark blue uniform with white pinstripes is basically a suit. You could wear this to work. You should wear this to work.

6. Baltimore Elite Giants

You want to talk about branding? How about adding the word "Elite" to "Giants" in giant script across the chest? Yeah, that looks fantastic -- even if it's an otherwise simple deisgn.

What sets this one apart is the great sleeve patch: The black baseball with red seams with "Elite Giants" in script again looks so cool.

5. Indianapolis Clowns

Portraits of Toni Stone, Peanut Johnson and Connie Morgan by Graig Kreindler, from the collection of Jay Caldwell.

Arguably the most colorful jersey in baseball history, the Clowns were -- as Andrew McCutchen explained -- like a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters, making sure to entertain the crowd with antics like running the bases backward and even shooting craps during the game. So, naturally, their uniforms should match that spirit too.

Their road uniforms they wore during the '50s -- when players like Hank Aaron and Toni Stone (the first female professional player) were on the roster -- are tons of fun. Someone should be wearing unis like this today.

4. Birmingham Black Barons

The Birmingham Black Barons pose for a team photo in 1951

This is the jersey that Willie Mays wore while playing with the team as a 17-year-old in 1948. And while the Black Barons’ jerseys are nice, it’s the “triple B” cap that the team would often wear that is my favorite. (At other times, they wore an old English-style or block "B" in the photo above).

It's such a unique look and is honestly shocking that teams don't experiment with styles like that more often.

3. Kansas City Monarchs

One of the most iconic teams -- Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson all played for the Monarchs -- with one of the greatest uniforms, too. When you close your eyes and think of a baseball uniform, I guarantee a few of you are approximating the Monarchs unis.

The paneled cap with the K&C (which you may have fallen in love with in “The Sandlot”), the block “Monarchs” on the front of the jersey, and my favorite part: The KC in a heart on the sleeve.

The Monarchs' Satchel Paige shakes hands with David Barnhill of the New York Cuban Stars before a game at Yankee Stadium in 1942.

2. Homestead Grays

What a phenomenal ensemble these Grays uniforms are. The cream unis with the white block “G” on the navy cap feels so classic, but there’s one thing that sets these apart: The extra tall “Grays” on the front of the uniform.

Many baseball jerseys tend to follow the same patterns, using similar fonts and styles, but I’ve never seen a team be able to pull off what the Grays did and for good reason.

I mean, if you don't have Josh Gibson, why even try?

1. Detroit Stars

In all honesty, this might be my favorite uniform in any sport from any team ever. Everything about it is just so crisp. The pinstripes, the white “R” over the blue in the center of the chest, the striking red star. People say you should get your uniform dirty, but I would be afraid to in duds this nice.

This -- as modeled by former Detroit Stars infielder Gene Johnson in 2008 -- is uniform perfection.