How Tigers’ Old English D came to be, thrive

Detroit Tigers

The Old English D has become so iconic with the Tigers that one look at the cap instantly brings up an association with Detroit. While other sports logos and letters have been fashion trends over the years, the Old English D is not only local, but it’s often civic. However,

The Old English D has become so iconic with the Tigers that one look at the cap instantly brings up an association with Detroit. While other sports logos and letters have been fashion trends over the years, the Old English D is not only local, but it’s often civic. However, it took a while for the lettering and the team to become linked.

Detroit’s baseball teams had an off-and-on relationship with the logo for many years. According to Cliff Corcoran of Fangraphs, the first use of the Old English D came from the National League’s Detroit Wolverines in the 1880s. A photo from 1881 shows the logo in the middle of the front of the jersey.

The Wolverines dissolved after the 1888 season, but according to renowned sports graphic designer Todd Radom, the logo returned with Detroit’s team in the Western League, the predecessor to the American League. The Feb. 29, 1896, edition of the Detroit Free Press, having talked with owner George Vanderbeck, references a “German letter ‘D’” on the front of the uniform.

A couple weeks later, the Free Press references the “old English letter D” on the left front of the jersey as part of “one of the prettiest uniforms on the ball field this season.”

The Free Press, worth noting, also had Old English lettering on its masthead at the time, including the D for Detroit.

The Old English D was part of the Tigers’ uniforms for the next few years, according to Radom. But when the team joined other Western League franchises in forming the American League in 1900, it was gone. The primary logo, according to Chris Creamer of sportslogos.net, was a Tiger silhouette. The hats were plain, according to a team photo, and the uniforms read “DETROIT” on the front. When the team brought back the letter D as a logo in 1903, it was a block D, according to photos.

The 1904 Tigers brought back the Old English lettering, and it remained in some form for the next decade. From 1915 into the ’30s, however, the team shuttled between styles, some simple block styles, others more ornate. The 1927 Tigers had a Tiger head logo on their jersey and an Old English D on their caps.

After a return to the block D on the cap and script “Detroit” on the jersey in the early 1930s, the ’34 Tigers went back to the Old English style and haven’t looked back, though with slight changes over the years. It might have helped that the Tigers won the AL in 1934, then won the World Series a year later.

The 1934 jerseys also had the Old English D, but with slight differences. The hat and jersey lettering didn’t match, a discrepancy that became a tradition. Aside from 1960, when the team experimented with script “Tigers” on the home uniform, the Old English D was a constant, even if it didn’t match up with the style on the cap until 2018.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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