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ESPN tags Jays, Leafs unis as classics

Habs are No. 1, Raptors barely in top-100

The Oakland A’s green and gold is better than the famous Yankee pinstripes?

Oklahoma City Thunder’s simple duds are better than the Chicago Bulls’ bold?

Toronto Blue Jays’ revamped jerseys are better than the Toronto Maple Leafs standard?

These and more questions were raised in the inaugural ESPN Uni Watch Power Rankings unveiled over the course of five days at the end of August.

The cross-sport comparison covered the full uniform set of all 122 teams in the North American big four leagues, the MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL.

Attempting to put order to the subjective, nostalgic, extremely fan-biased chaos was Paul Lukas, author of the Uni Watch column housed on ESPN since 2004.

“It was an interesting exercise because it forced me to reexamine some things I had taken for granted for a while or thought I knew how I felt about a certain team,” said Lukas, in an interview on Thursday with the Toronto Observer.

“And once I looked more closely that wasn’t the case. I had to find the common language between the apples and the oranges.”

The difference between, say, basketball and hockey jerseys is that they’re a whole different animal, says Lukas. So when the Blue Jays new/old look that debuted this year ranked higher than the Maple Leafs’ time-tested classics, there was an explanation.

“[The Blue Jays] went with this redesign that drew upon their past but was also a modern updating. It’s a textbook case of how a team can draw upon their heritage without just looking retro. It’s a great design,” Lukas said.

“My issue with the Leafs, and I’m not knocking them they also ranked pretty high (23), I often feel that a hockey uniform looks better if there’s more than just one colour.

“Also the Leafs have a third uniform that is basically just a dupe of their home uniform with really slight variation. It seems gimmicky.”

Lukas also described the Blue Jays new look as a “quantum leap” over their previous outfit saying, “If we had done this chart the year before the Jays would have been very near the bottom and there’s no question in my mind they would have been the lowest ranked baseball team.

“The look they previously had was just awful on many different levels — the typography was bad, I didn’t like the cap logo, their name was the Blue Jays but they hardly wore any blue, it was bad news.”

Unlike the Leafs and Jays, the Raptors’ uniforms ranked a lowly 92nd on the countdown.

“The Raptors to me are a team looking for visual identity,” said Lukas.

“You hate to say this, but they were at their strongest in terms of visual identity although not a particularly good visual identity, at the very beginning when they had the Raptor dribbling the basketball and the pinstripe which was a horrible, horrible jersey, but at least it made a strong imprint.″

UniWatch.com was started by Lukas in 2006 to supplement his ESPN column, a column that first began in The Village Voice in May of 1999. He is sports’ only full-time uniform reporter.

These credentials make him the go-to expert on uniform design, but that doesn’t mean others see it that way.

“How do you compare a uniform that was only introduced last year to one that’s been around for decades? It’s an imperfect science, in fact it’s not a science at all, it’s just my opinion,” said Lukas.

The list inspired many fans to take to Twitter, using the hash tag #UniRank, and post comments on message boards to voice their opinions on the list and where their team’s outfit ended up.

“I got tons of feedback, some of it not printable in terms of people disagreeing with what I thought,” Lukas said. “Everyone else can make their own list and my list is no better or worse than anyone else’s.”

The Uni Watch Power Rankings will happen again next year, says Lukas, after many teams are sure to update their looks. The debate is sure to be as fierce as ever as crisp new jerseys battle timeless classics, and pluck the heartstrings of sports fans across the continent.