Former Tucson Toros general manager Jack Donovan refers to the uniforms the team wore in 1980 as a “good idea gone bad” and “the worst uniforms ever.” Much of the baseball world would agree.
So, naturally, the uniforms are making a comeback this season.
For “Disco Night” on June 8, the Tucson Padres — the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate — will don the retro duds in tribute to the unsightly threads and the now-defunct Toros.
Before the 1980 season, the Toros made a deal to become a minor league affiliate of the Houston Astros. Donovan thought it would be neat to pay homage to the Toros’ new partner by designing a uniform similar to the Astros’ famously bad “tequila sunrise” outfits.
Donovan began scrawling out some ideas on paper, incorporating Arizona’s blue skies and famous sunsets. What he came up with was a bizarre conglomeration of orange with a red and yellow diagonal sash and blue backs. The jerseys came with orange and white caps and orange pants.
“When the players first saw them, they went, ‘Oh boy, wow,'” Donovan said. “The players weren’t quite used to seeing a multicolored uniform.”
But the Toros never got to wear those uniforms in a game — at least not in that incarnation. A laundry mishap made the already-hideous uniforms even worse. The team’s clubhouse manager had, as he always did with uniforms, washed them in warm water.
“I have this clear vision of the clubhouse manager coming into my office the day before the season,” Donovan recalled. “He comes into my office and all he says is, ‘It’s not my fault!’
“He held up a jersey and I said, ‘Oh my God.'”
The colors on the sash had bled in the wash, turning the jerseys into a dreadful rainbow mess.
“Wherever it was orange on the tops turned brown, and the colors in the sash changed,” Donovan said. “Then the bat boys came in and they were fine. The difference was their moms had washed (their jerseys) in cold water.”
Some of the jerseys had been spared, but Donovan ordered every one of them be washed in warm water for consistency’s sake. Uniforms ought to be uniform, he said, so the whole batch was altered and the Toros had new colors, like it or not.
Because of the mishap, Donovan never ended up paying for the uniforms. A tailor at the manufacturing company determined the material in the jersey and sash never should have been mixed.
“He said, ‘Don’t charge him. Kid, don’t pay,'” Donovan said. “They went from the worst uniforms to the best!”
The uniforms weren’t used after that season — even though the Toros won the first-half Southern Division title — and seemed to disappear. Donovan assumes they got thrown out.
But Donovan, now a senior adviser with the Triple-A Padres, and Padres general manager Mike Feder, also a former Toros GM, wanted to pay tribute to the Toros this season. The jerseys were one of their ideas, only this bunch won’t get ruined in the laundry, so the original design will finally be worn, though without a sash or the orange pants.
“I don’t think anybody was interested in trying that again,” Donovan joked.
Donovan says the jerseys could be auctioned for charity sometime later in the season, but if the team wins in them and enjoys wearing them, perhaps they’ll be around a little while longer.