Guess who’s making a comeback. No, not Steve Carlton, Kiteman, Benny The Bomb, Paul Revere or Phil and Phyllis.
Returning for a one-night engagement are -- are you ready? -- those all-burgundy uniforms.
The current Phillies will wear them on Saturday night, July 27, on 1970s Retro Night against the Atlanta Braves, who also will wear uniforms from that era. It is also Photo Night in which fans will be allowed on the field pregame to take close-up photos.
Originally, the uniforms were to be part of “Saturday Night Specials” at Veterans Stadium in 1979. They were worn for the first and last time on May 19, which also was Photo Night.
Bill Giles, then the executive vice president of the Phillies, thought it would be neat to have a solid burgundy uniform with white trimmings. They would be worn only on Saturdays, making them special.
Losing 10-5 to the Montreal Expos didn’t help. The immediate overall reaction of the media, fans, and players alike was negative, with many describing the despised uniforms as pajama-like. As such, the idea was “Outta here!” as Harry Kalas would say.
“They just didn’t match up to our expectations. They also didn’t fit well,” Giles recently said, laughing.
Larry Christenson was the starting pitcher for this “special” night. “I’m getting dressed next to Jim Lonborg, I looked at him and said, ‘check out the Bull [Greg Luzinski].’ Lonnie [Smith] yelled across the clubhouse, ‘Hey Bull, you look like a giant grape.’ Bull didn’t take it as a compliment. Hey, none of us liked the uniforms. We stood out like a sore thumb.”
Once it was decided the uniforms were “one and done,” the Phillies received calls from fans around the country wanting to buy them, according to a May 27, 1979, Philadelphia Inquirer clipping. The Phillies decided to sell them for $200 (jersey, pants, cap) with proceeds going to special needs children in the Delaware Valley.
Twice more a burgundy uniform would appear. Mike Schmidt wore one during the MLB All-Star Tour of Japan following the 1979 season. Christenson wore one for the closing ceremonies of Veterans Stadium in 2003. “Why me?” he asked of me. “Oh, I know, I was the losing pitcher.” A year later, I received a gift from LC, framed photos of the Vet implosion and him in his favorite uniform.
Giles' burgundy uniform idea didn’t work. The year before, his idea for a giant, green creature turned out to be a gigantic success. Phillie Phanatic. Unlike the burgundy uniforms, the Phanatic is still around. For that, everybody’s happy.