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The Most Polarizing Uniform in Baseball History

Remember when the Astros had rainbow jerseys?

J.R. Richard of the Houston Astros pitches against the New York Mets during an Major League Baseball game circa 1978 at Shea Stadium.
Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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So far, it’s no contest. The award for boldest World Series fashion statement goes to Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig. With a blue fro-hawk and red tongue shaved into his head to match his uniform, Puig could not only pass for a deranged Dodgers fan but somehow managed to make his hair more noticeable than the ginger mop and beard on infielder Justin “Animal” Turner.

If it’s uniforms we’re talking, though, the Houston Astros will never live down making their players wear what’s been deemed the most polarizing jersey in Major League Baseball history. In 1975, when no article of clothing — be it socks, shoes, or shirts — was safe from rainbow-stripe accents, the Astros made players wear jerseys striped with orange and yellow. And not just any shade of those hard-to-wear colors (unless you’re, say, Viola Davis), but shades of the snack-food variety. Think Funyuns yellow and Cheetos orange. Even in the 1970s, a decade that gave us goldfish-bowl platforms, the players thought the new uniforms had to be a joke.

J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros pose before March, 1980 season game.
Photo: Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“We had all heard that we were going to get new uniforms for the start of the season,” recalled Roger Metzger, then shortstop, “and the word had gotten around that they were kind of flashy. But the first day we saw them, I think there were three or four of us [who] looked at each other and wondered if they were really serious.”

Oh, they were. The Astros even partnered with advertising firm McCann Erickson (today just McCann) on the new uniforms to rebrand the team. Previously, the team wore mostly white jerseys accented with a comet graphic. In the 1960s, when they were still the Colts, the uniforms were emblazoned with guns, a design element that would face backlash today.

What the decidedly more peaceful “tequila sunrise” jerseys were supposed to represent varies depending on the source. According to the Astros Daily website, the rainbow represented the trails of the comet from the older uniforms on a grander scale. And Jesse Caesar, McCann Erickson’s creative director in the ’70s, told ESPN that the rainbows “were supposed to be the colors of the Southwest, or a Texas sunset.” But two graphic designers on his team, Jack Amuny and Don Henry, told ESPN the stripes didn’t mean a thing.

“I had just finished another project where I was doing freehand-looking stripes for a 100-foot wall, so I guess I was in my stripe period,” Amuny said. “I think at that time I was very interested in relationships between different weights of lines and bars and stuff like that. And I always loved color sequence. So that was about it.”

Sometimes a stripe is just a stripe, but the design remains strangely controversial decades after its debut. Although the Astros abandoned the rainbows in 1986, the uniforms have divided sports fans as much as pineapple on pizza has polarized foodies. They made Esquire’s list of best uniforms of all time, and Sports Illustrated’s list of ugliest uniforms in sports history. How can the rainbow uniform be both the best and the ugliest? It’s like the gold-and-white (or blue-and-black) dress debate all over again.

Today, the Astros wear solid colors — navy, orange, gray, and white — but they occasionally bring back the retro jerseys. While they reportedly won’t wear the throwbacks during the World Series, fans can still find vintage and replica rainbow Astros gear online. Mitchell & Ness is selling a 1986 satin Astros jacket with the rainbow theme for $200. The MLB Shop has a replica men’s Nolan Ryan jersey for $119.99. And if you’ve ever wondered what Dynasty’s Joan Collins would have worn to a baseball game in the ’80s, consider Braxae Vintage Co.’s sequined Astros throwback jersey. It’s on Etsy, and it’ll only cost you, oh, $3,000.