By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Mark Bellhorn of the Red Sox may not seem like a particularly remarkable ballplayer, but he's actually a member of a rather exclusive club: Bellhorn is one of the few players to wear a double-earflap batting helmet. He began doing it while playing for the Cubs in 2002, when fellow switch-hitter and longtime double-flapper Delino DeShields explained that it's easier to have one helmet instead of two.

The problem, of course, is that a double-flap helmet makes you look 12 years old -- just ask Jose Vidro, who switched from wearing a double-flap to a single-flap a few seasons ago and instantly looked a full decade older.

If helmet earflaps seem like an esoteric subject, well, get used to it. Uni Watch is going to deconstruct athletic attire in excruciating detail.

Why write about uniforms? Because the players come and go, but we keep on rooting for the uniforms and the logos long after they're gone. Because you've probably got a football jersey, a baseball cap, or a hockey sweater in your closet. Because you remember how cool it was to put on your Little League uniform. And because, admit it, you voted in Page 2's best and worst uniform brackets last fall.

Those of you who've read Uni Watch before (you can access the column's pre-ESPN material here and here) will find the same levels of minutiae fetishism, obsessive historical inquiry, and steadfast opposition to a certain very annoying color that you've enjoyed in the past.

For you newcomers, here are a few basic tenets of the Uni Watch manifesto:

1. Stirrups are cool, and more ballplayers should wear them.

What with the long-pants look that's now in vogue, nobody even realizes that the Cardinals' official uniform specs still include striped stirrups, or that the Phillies' socks still feature a little Liberty Bell. If players can't be bothered to wear stirrups, Uni Watch will settle for the high-stocking look, which at least gives a tacit nod to the sport's hosiery heritage. That's why we have team names like the Red Sox and White Sox, after all. In any case, the footie pajama pants have to go, preferably via an emergency edict from the Commissioner's office. (Comparatively trivial matters like mandatory steroid testing or finding a new city for the Expos can be back-burnered until this situation is resolved.)

2. Basketball uniforms are lame.

Sure, they've come up with a few cool designs over the years, like the old San Francisco Warriors or the ever-classic Celtics. But let's face it: There's just no way for a grown man to look good in shorts (although the 1976 Chicago White Sox get points for comic relief). And tank tops aren't the best look, either. Uni Watch hereby advises the NBA to let the players wear their warmup pants during the game, or else just get it over with and have them play naked. They couldn't possibly look worse than they look now.

Daunte Culpepper
It's not easy wearing purple.

3.The color purple is the title of an Alice Walker novel, not the chromatic basis of a uniform design.

Seriously, what self-respecting athlete can go out there dressed like this? Or this? What, you think it's just a coincidence that the Vikings lost all those Super Bowls? Repeat after Uni Watch: The sports world should be a purple-free zone.

4. The NFL needs to bring back sleeves.

Hard as it might be to believe, football jerseys once included genuine sleeves, just like any other shirt. Nowadays the players are obsessed with not giving an opposing player anything to grab onto, so football sleeves have devolved into little more than a gaping armhole with a teeny scrap of fabric stttrrrrrrretched over the shoulder pad. That isn't a sleeve; it's a nightmare -- especially when the paltry upper-arm coverage ends up exposing a burly lineman's armpit, something that Uni Watch, for one, does not need to see.

5. There's a difference between old-school classic and retro kitsch.

This, for example, is a thing of beauty; this, however, is an eyesore.

Those who detect a traditionalist bent at work here are on the right track. But that isn't to imply that Uni Watch is forever pining for the good old days, or is reflexively averse to modern designs. Indeed, two of today's best-dressed teams are the Atlanta Thrashers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, both fairly new franchises. But please, the Denver Broncos? The Washington Capitals? The original Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Don't get Uni Watch started.

So there we are. We'll be doing this about twice a month. It may occasionally get contentious, so grab a helmet -- preferably, a single-earflap model -- and off we'll go.

When not obsessing about uniforms (it's been known to happen), Paul Lukas writes about food, travel, design, and business history for a variety of publications. Got a uni-related question or comment for him? Send it here.


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