Sixties relic still swinging in the desertPosted 31 March 2011 by Tex Connally
Strange stirrings deep in the desert could herald the return of a expansion-era baseball icon. The San Diego Padres retired their beloved Swinging Friar logo in 1985. Since then, a modified version of the Friar has appeared as a secondary graphic, but the original cleric has remained missing — until a recent sighting in Arizona.
San Diego’s new minor-league team in Tucson will take the field in caps bearing the likeness of the original Padre. The new team’s uniforms and logo also feature the team’s groovy, late-70s-early-80s font, a bold style from the days when serifs were considered stuffy and uncool.
The familiar cleric looks odd in navy blue. San Diego established a distinctive image with the use of brown as the team’s primary color. The Padres were the only major-league club to do so from their inception in 1969 until 1991, when the team replaced brown with navy in a craven effort to look like a “normal” baseball team. San Diego abandoned the unique visual identity it had spent over two decades constructing.
The Padres have subjected their fans to one of the most incoherent and bizarre graphic histories in baseball. A detailed account of San Diego’s eccentricity is in order. But first, a look at the Swinging Friar himself, perhaps the franchise’s greatest design triumph.
The Padres entered the National League in ’69. Crudely-drawn cartoon logos had long been a part of athletic art, but the motif became dominant in the 1950s and 1960s. A cartoon friar had been an occasional logo of the city’s old minor-league teams, also called the Padres.
The Swinging Friar represented the club through its first World Series appearance in 1984. During that Series, the Padres found their “Taco Bell” uniforms to be the subject of national ridicule. San Diego returned the following season with new uniforms and a new, dull logo … no more portly Padre.
Since the 90s, the club has since made occasional use of a modified Swinging Friar, actually a copy of the old monk, but with a new head and face. The effect is a more generic appearance.
Will the 1969 Padre ever regain his rightful spot on the roster? The older friar resembles a cartoon pinhead from the liner art of a Ramones album. As such, looks like he was born to knock the hell out of the baseball. His grin is both confident and satisfied.
Original Swinging Friar is a horse. Every year, he hits .260, 20 homers, 70 RBI. On a good club, he’s a number-six hitter. Friar bats fifth for the Padres. Hasn’t played a position other than right field since Double-A ball. Critics say Friar’s game isn’t balanced. True, he’s basically a stationary object in the outfield. And his progress around the basepaths is akin to Pluto’s trajectory around the Sun. None of this matters. Original Swinging Friar’s job is to drive in runs. He’ll also take a pitch in the back, if necessary. Anything to help the team.
In contrast, consider New Padre…cloying and false. This cookie-cutter monastic could be mistaken for Friar Tuck, or the lecherous cleric from Canterbury Tales. Suspiciously, New Padre no longer wears the brown of the Franciscan order. His robe is a foppish burgundy. New Padre doesn’t bat fifth. New Padre spends most games in the hot tub in the trainer’s room. He props up his iPad by the tub and watches Netflix while sipping vermouth and nibbling on camembert. Utterly useless…an embarrassment.
Please watch this space for a righteous exposition of the San Diego Padres’ uniform history in the coming week. There will be Seventies Softball Suits. And say a “Gloria” for Original Swinging Friar, right now battling in the desert, hoping for a return from decades of unjust exile.