We hear it all the time: Wearing the Yankees' pinstripes is a thrill, an honor and a privilege.
But some players are, shall we say, a bit more privileged than others. Joba Chamberlain, for example, has at least 26 pinstripes on the front of his jersey (and presumably a similar number on the back), while the diminutive Phil Rizzuto had only about 20.
So with the Yankees having signed a player who might charitably be described as being a bit on the robust side, the question has to be asked: Will CC Sabathia, with his prodigious proportions and preference for a loose, baggy fit, be wearing the most pinstripes of any player in Yankees history?
It's a trickier question than it might initially seem, full of complexity and nuance. For example, do we include the pants when counting pinstripes? No, that's too involved. What about sleeves? Let's skip those too, since they're just short, truncated stripes. For Uni Watch purposes, a Yankee's pinstripe count will refer to the torso of his jersey, front and back. And only players will be eligible, since coaches and old-timers could skew the results.
With these ground rules established, Uni Watch called upon the services of Tom Shieber, senior curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame, who confirmed that pinstripe counting is an inexact science. "You're embarking on a new field of study here, so we have to make up our own rules and standards as we go," he said. "For example, depending on how a jersey is tailored, the number of pinstripes at the top and at the bottom aren't necessarily the same. Also, the space between the pinstripes has changed a bit over the years, and the pinstripes themselves are thinner today than in the old days."
To illustrate his point, Shieber examined four Yankees jerseys from the Hall's collection and provided the following numbers:
|PINSTRIPES TALE OF THE TAPE|
|Jersey||Chest size*||Number of pinstripes**||Pinstripe spacing***||Pinstripe thickness|
|Babe Ruth, circa 1930||27.5 inches||48||1.1 inches||1/8 inch|
|Lou Gehrig, 1939||27.5 inches||49||1.08 inches||1/8 inch|
|John Wetteland, 1996||24.5 inches||50||1 inch||3/32 inch|
|Hideki Matsui, 2004||26.5 inches||52||1.03 inches||3/32 inch|
*As measured from armpit seam to armpit seam.
**As measured from one armpit seam to the other on the front of the jersey, and then again across the same area on the back.
***As measured from the center of one stripe to the center of an adjacent stripe.
As you can see, the pinstripe spacing on the modern jerseys is a smidge tighter than it was back in the 1930s (and it's even tighter now, down to 27/32 of an inch), which means Ruth and Gehrig were effectively pinstripe-penalized, even though their jerseys were larger across the chest than Wetteland's and Matsui's. So in the Yankees' pinstripe sweepstakes, modern players will always have an advantage. Think of it as the pinstripe equivalent to playing a 162-game schedule versus the old 154 games.
So how many stripes will Sabathia be wearing? Unsurprisingly, neither the Yankees nor Majestic (MLB's official uniform supplier) wanted to help to answer that question, but Uni Watch has obtained information suggesting that the total may be as high as 62! That figure can be corroborated by examining how CC looked in the Brewers' pinstriped Friday throwback. Uni Watch counts 13 stripes from the right side seam to the center placket; assuming an identical count on the left side and then that total amount again on the back, we'd have 52 stripes. But the Brewers' pins are spaced 1.0625 inches apart, while the Yankees' are only 27/32 of an inch apart. Factor in the difference, divide by the square root of pi, carry the 2, and you end up with about 64. Granted, these are all rough calculations, but they appear to confirm that CC's pinstripe count will be in the low 60s.
Now then, how does that number stack up against some other famously plus-sized Yankees? Let's have Sabathia go 12 rounds against a murderer's row from the Bronx Bombers' Big & Tall Department:
1. Babe Ruth. The Bambino wasn't anyone's idea of a Slim-Fast "after" photo, but he was actually fairly normal-sized by the standards of today's pro athletes: 6-foot-2 and about 215 pounds for most of his career (ranging up to 254 in his final seasons), making him a mere twig compared to Sabathia's 6-7, 290. And as noted above, the Babe played in the era when the Yanks' pinstripes were a bit more widely spaced, so that was working against him as well. His late-career pinstripe count was probably a bit more than the 48 stripes Tom Shieber counted on that 1930 jersey, but there's no way he ever came close to 60. Advantage: Sabathia.
2. Cecil Fielder. Big Daddy played only parts of two seasons in the Bronx, but he made a big impression. He appears to have 13 stripes from the placket to the left side seam here, and perhaps as many as 14 stripes from the placket to the left side seam here (although it's tough to be sure exactly where the side seam is), for a projected total of 54 to 56 stripes. Close, but not close enough. If only Cecil had worn his jersey on the baggy side, he coulda been a contender. Advantage: Sabathia.
3. David Wells. Ah, Wellsie -- a big spirit and a jersey to match. Uni Watch counts 14 stripes from the right side seam to the placket here, here and here, and at least 14 more from the placket to the left side seam here and here, which projects to a total of 56 or 58 stripes -- enough for him to appear in CC's rearview mirror, but not enough to stake a serious claim to the crown. Advantage: Sabathia.
4. Hideki Irabu. Destined to be forever remembered as the object of a Steinbrennerian insult that defies the normal rules of conversation and grammar, Irabu was chunky but not really fat. Still, photographic evidence suggests 14 stripes per front panel, for a projected total of 56 -- substantial, but still no threat to CC. Advantage: Sabathia.
5. Jason Giambi. Giambi's weight and silhouette expanded and contracted a few times during his Yankees tenure, so it's hard to know when he maxed out on pinstripes, but this 2006 shot indicates a count in the mid- to upper 50s -- warning-track power, but no home run. Advantage: Sabathia.
6. Rick Reuschel. Admit it, you'd forgotten that Reuschel was briefly a Yankee in 1981. Photos of him in pinstripes are scarce, but he looks like a low to mid-50s guy to Uni Watch. Too bad he didn't play for the Yanks later in his career, when his physique reached its full portly potential. Advantage: Sabathia.
7. Steve Balboni. Although Balboni had the heft to rack up some impressive stripeage, he played during the snug-fit era, which severely restricted his pinstripe count. Too bad. Advantage: Sabathia.
8. Randy Johnson. There's no question that the Big Unit wore the longest pinstripes ever to grace the Bronx, but you'd figure his narrow frame wouldn't make for a high stripe count, right? Wrong -- when you're 6-10, you pretty much have a big chest by definition. Based on the stripes seen here and here, Johnson's pin count was clearly in the upper 50s and may have hit 60. A serious contender. Advantage: Sabathia, pending further investigation.
9. Richie Sexson. Another freakishly tall player whose pinstripe count owes more to his height than his girth. He had only 28 at-bats for the Yanks, and half of those were on the road, so photographic evidence is spotty, but he appears to have topped out in the upper 50s. Advantage: Sabathia.
10. Sidney Ponson. Although barely an afterthought in Yankees history, Ponson turns out to be a formidable pin baron. Based on these photos, he almost certainly led the team in stripes last season, with a total that may have cracked the hallowed mark of 60. We might need a side-by-side comparison with Sabathia, here, assuming we could fit both jerseys in the same room. Advantage: Sabathia, pending further investigation.
11. Roger Clemens. Oh my goodness gracious, how rich would it be if the much-despised Rocket ended up as the most pinstriped player in Yankees history? He had two things going for him: a barrel-chested torso and a baggy jersey. Alas, views of the left and right sides of his jersey suggest that he's yet another mid-50s guy. Advantage: Sabathia.
All of which brings us back to ...
12. Joba Chamberlain: Much like Clemens, Chamberlain is a big, stocky guy who likes his jersey loose, which makes for a lot of pinstripes -- at least in the mid-50s, judging by these photos. Impressive for a guy who's only 6-2, but he's still no CC (at least not yet -- Joba could still fill out a bit). Advantage: Sabathia, for now.
And there you have it. After extensive (and admittedly makeshift) investigations by Uni Watch Research Laboratories, it appears that only Johnson and Ponson can get within even sniffing distance of Sabathia's projected total. So when the Yanks introduce Sabathia to the media and have him pose with a jersey (the news conference is tentatively scheduled for Thursday), it's likely to be the most pinstriped player jersey in Yankees history.
It's worth noting, by the way, that there's another Bronx Bombers figure who's worn even more pinstripes than CC -- but not on a jersey. Those Yankees, always outdoing each other in their quest for excellence.
(Special thanks to Nicole Haase and Uni Watch bench coach Phil Hecken for their research assistance.)
Meanwhile, About Those Other Teams ...
Several of the Yanks' division rivals have unveiled new uni elements in recent weeks, including the Red Sox (full details here), Orioles (details here) and Rays (that's their new alternate jersey). Uni Watch is very happy to report that none of the changes involves pinstripes.
Paul Lukas would probably have about 47 pinstripes if he played for the Yankees (assuming his flesh didn't melt at the mere touch of a Yankees jersey, that is). His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.