When Jerry Lorenzo began the process of incorporating a Negro Leagues concept into the latest collection of his clothing label, Fear of God, he didn’t realize how well the timing would work out.
Major League Baseball has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues all year, and it dedicated Sunday to officially honoring the centennial, with individual recognition from all 30 teams. Lorenzo, separately, had long been examining graphics inspired by lettering and logos from the Negro Leagues, with a plan to meld that concept into the Fear of God’s upcoming seventh collection.
“It wasn’t until six months ago when I found out it was the 100th anniversary,” Lorenzo said in a phone interview with MLB.com. “I was like, 'Oh my god, we’re playing with potentially using this ‘90s Negro League graphic, how great is the timing of that?'”
It was perfect. The collection launches this week, and includes an entire category dedicated to the Negro Leagues. MLB, likewise, has dedicated a segment of its season to this important slice of baseball history, which is preserved admirably within the halls of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.
Lorenzo’s vision to incorporate baseball and the Negro Leagues into his clothing designs comes from a deeper connection to the game. His dad, Jerry Manuel, played in the Major Leagues and later managed the White Sox (1998-03) and Mets (2008-10). Lorenzo’s grandfather, Lorenzo Manuel, played in the Negro Leagues, as a pitcher for the Atlanta Black Crackers.
Lorenzo, whose full name is Jerry Lorenzo Manuel, said he was “consumed” with the story of the Negro Leagues while growing up in a baseball household. His mother decorated the house with artwork, artifacts and memorabilia, and, over the years, he heard countless tales from his parents about that part of history.
He has memories of accompanying his dad to All-Star Games when Manuel was a coach in 1995 and ’98, and making a beeline with his family to the Negro Leagues display at FanFest each year.
“It was our favorite area,” Lorenzo said. “It’s always been a part of our family history.”
And now, he’s able to pay homage to that influence through Fear of God, a luxury streetwear label he founded in 2012.
The Negro Leagues concept first captured Lorenzo’s attention in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Denzel Washington was often photographed wearing Negro League T-shirts with oversized blazers. Lorenzo also noticed Billy Crystal’s Comic Relief T-shirts had a similar look to the lettering used in Negro Leagues logos. Lorenzo has drawn quite a bit of inspiration from that era of fashion, which he views as effortless and sophisticated, with a timelessness that easily translated to today’s styles.
The letter “G” of the Homestead Grays logo, for example, reminds him of something you’d see on an Ivy League sweater from yesteryear -- think 1940s Yale. The “ABC” logo of the Atlanta Black Crackers, similarly, is reminiscent of the “USA” polo made famous by Ralph Lauren.
“To be able to celebrate the Negro Leagues, and still also keep this consistent theme of American luxury, it gave me the drive that I needed to add this expressive element to this entire collection,” Lorenzo said.
The fashion venture only tells part of the story. Lorenzo sees the Negro Leagues as a barrier breaker, not only for athletes, but for all people of color who have worked to establish careers of their own.
He connects the dots: the Negro Leagues eventually led to Jackie Robinson becoming the Major Leagues’ first Black player, which then cleared a path for Lorenzo’s own dad to manage two big league teams decades later, which then inspired Lorenzo to go on to establish a career in his field of choice: the fashion industry.
“Just as the game of baseball is better, there are other people of color excelling in other areas of life because of the sacrifices that these men made,” Lorenzo said.
And now he’s able to share the story of the Negro Leagues, and a legacy that stands tall to this day, with his large audience. It’s an opportunity Lorenzo views as a privilege.
“The things I’m learning -- I didn’t know that after the color barrier was broken, the next five or seven MVPs were people of color,” Lorenzo said. “I just found that out. I think it’s a great time in our country where the marginalized and the overlooked are finally being acknowledged. I’m really just using my platform, and understanding the responsibility of my platform, in helping to share that story.”