By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

In this cold and unfriendly world, rife with pain and injustice, you have to take solace where you can find it. So listen up, people, because Uni Watch has some good news: Those annoying dot-patterned Nike undersleeves (which not only look totally bogus but also seem to be a violation of Rulebook section 1.11(a) (2) , which states, "Any part of an undershirt exposed to view shall be of a uniform solid color") have gotten a measure of comeuppance.

The first step came on April 6, when Reds starter Brandon Claussen began the game wearing two undershirts -- a standard model with three-quarter-length sleeves and, under that, the dot-matrixed long-sleeved thingie, with some of the dots exposed on his forearms. After the second inning, home plate ump Ed Hickox told Claussen that the stadium lights were reflecting off the dots, causing a distraction for the hitters. So the Reds staff had to stretch down the lower part of Claussen's Nike sleeves, produce a pair of scissors, and cut off the offending sleeve sections, leaving Claussen partially bare-armed.

Two days later, just prior to the start of a Yankees-Angels game in Anaheim, umpire Joe West took a more direct approach. He walked out to the mound before the first pitch, pointed at Ervin Santana's accursed dotted sleeves, and told him they'd have to go. Instead of tracking down a pair of scissors, Santana just switched to a dot-free garment.

Meanwhile, that same evening, Uni Watch reader Keith Chambers arrived early for the Mariners-A's game at Safeco and struck up a quick conversation with A's pitcher Rich Harden, who wasn't scheduled to pitch that night but was signing autographs during batting practice.

"I noticed he was wearing the new sleeve design, so I asked him what he thought about them," Chambers writes. "He quickly said, 'Well, the league won't let us pitch with these on because it's a distraction.' " Uni Watch has since learned that a memo to that effect was sent to all teams last week. Chalk one up for aesthetic sanity.

Too bad the same can't be said for the situation in Atlanta. Mere weeks after Uni Watch had lauded the Braves for rendering their player names in the ultra-classy typographic style known as vertically arched lettering, the team has taken the field this season with the vertical arch conspicuously absent.

What gives? Why would a team switch from sleek and streamlined to boring and clunky?

The depressing answer comes from a member of the Braves' PR staff: "Prior to the 2006 season, the Braves used a specific lettering cut that was only available through special order from Majestic [the team's uni supplier]. So if we called up a player from the minors, we had to use a more basic cut that didn't match the other players' lettering until Majestic was able to provide us with the special lettering. In order to avoid having the names looking inconsistent, the Braves decided to go with the more basic cut."

Sounds like a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Just because one or two nameplates occasionally might be out of sync for a day or two, the entire team has to sacrifice the game's coolest rear-jersey typography? Lame-o-rama. As Atlanta-based reader Stephen Owens notes, "I don't think it's too much to assume that the Braves' streak of consecutive division championships will fall as a result." (Want to express your outrage over this fiasco? The Braves have a handy fan-feedback page here.)

The other big early-season mystery that readers have been clamoring to have answered: Why has Trot Nixon, a left-handed hitter who's always worn a single-earflap batting helmet in the past, suddenly been wearing a double-earflap model? He started wearing it late in spring training (thanks to Jason Fox for that photo) and has stuck with it during the regular season.

Double-flap lids are mandatory in the minors. But in the bigs, they're generally worn only by a select few switch-hitters (two current examples are Orlando Hudson and Mark Bellhorn; past ones include Jose Vidro and Jeff DaVanon, who've both switched to single-flap models in recent years). So why is Nixon wearing one? According to this Boston Herald article, kindly forwarded by Todd Radom, he made the change "because of the better balance that the helmet has on his head, which provides a more consistent view of pitches."

This puts Nixon in a very exclusive club, because double-flapped non-switch-hitters are extremely rare. Uni Watch can only recall two of them: Delino DeShields, who last played in 2002, and Willie Harris, who's currently a free agent. But while Nixon was MLB's only double-flapped non-switch-hitter on Opening Day, he lost that distinction just two days later, when Bronson Arroyo, who hits right-handed, went double-flapped in his National League debut. But Arroyo switched to a single-flap model on April 11, thereby restoring Nixon's exclusive status.

Other early-season observations, including some team updates that weren't covered in Uni Watch's recent MLB season-preview column:

• Uni Watch has written about Keith Foulke wearing the Texas state flag on the thumb of his glove, and about his tussles with Bud Selig over wearing the American flag on his cap. Reader Ryan Barto notes that those two stories have merged this season, because Foulke's wearing a really big American flag patch on the heel of his glove.

• Speaking of the Sox, they're probably the first MLB team to start the season with two players wearing numbers above 75: J.T. Snow, who's wearing 84, and Josh Bard, who's wearing 77 (both visible in this photo from Fenway Park's Opening Day ceremonies). Snow's wearing 84 as a tribute to his dad, Jack Snow; Bard's wearing 77 in part because he coudn't have 7 (Nixon's wearing that one) and in part because he's a huge Denver sports fan and knows 77 was worn by Karl Mecklenburg and Ray Bourque.

• Still more Bosox arcana: Nick Tomkavage points out that Coco Crisp wore No. 10 on his jersey and No. 12 on his batting helmet on Opening Day. Here's the story behind that one: When Crisp played for the Indians, he wore No. 10, but that number was already taken by Tony Graffanino when Crisp was traded to Boston last winter, so Crisp took No. 12 in spring training. When Graffanino was released in late March, Crisp reclaimed his old number, but apparently the equipment manager forgot to change the decal on his helmet in time for Opening Day. It has now been corrected.

• Graffanino, meanwhile, was claimed off waivers by his old team, the Royals, where he promptly became involved in another numerology situation. Here's the deal (with research assistance from Al Stone): When catcher John Buck joined the Royals in 2004, he wanted to wear No. 14, which he'd worn in the minors as a tribute to his late brother, who was born on April 14. But 14 wasn't available because Graffanino had it. So Buck took No. 2 instead. But with Graffanino over in Boston when spring training started this year, Buck switched to 14. So what number did Graffanino take upon rejoining the Royals? Buck's old No. 2.

• On the memorial front, the Twins are wearing "34" on their right sleeve in honor of Kirby Puckett (plus they've emblazoned his number on the centerfield turf for their season-opening series), and the Orioles have "44" on their left sleeve in memory of Elrod Hendricks. Two broadcasters are also being remembered: The A's have a memorial patch for Bill King on their right sleeve (special thanks to Bill Blevins for the close-up) and the Blue Jays have one for Tom Cheek on their left sleeve (black with white type for their home and road jerseys, and reverse-field for their black alt jersey), which creates a weird bookend effect with their 30th-season patch.

• The White Sox celebrated their championship reign with a cap patch and sleeve patch for their season-opening series. But they haven't worn these patches on the road, and it remains to be seen if they'll wear them again when they return home this weekend, or if the patches were just a one-series thing.

• As Uni Watch forecast two weeks ago, the Rangers added blue piping to their belt tunnels (home and road) once the regular season started.

• Anyone else think the Pirates' All-Star Game chest patch looks a bit plus-sized?

• Regarding those CoolFlo batting helmets: True to what MLB officials said during spring training, players on CoolFlo-equipped teams are being given the option to wear traditional helmets, which is leading to mismatched-helmet scenes like this. Meanwhile, Vlad Guerrero has wasted no time getting his CoolFlo gunked up with pine tar, just like his old lid. (Also note that Guerrero has joined the group of players who wear their flags of national origin on their shoe tongues.)

Jack Wheeler notes that Jerry Hairston has been wearing a "34" inscription on his cap. This would presumably be in honor of the injured Kerry Wood. But if that's the case, wouldn't you also expect Hairston to have a "22" inscription for the team's other injured starter, Mark Prior? The other side of Hairston's cap, however, is blank.

Oh, and one final note regarding April baseball: It's not so unusual to see players wearing a few extra layers during cold early-season games, but Tod Meisner and Elena Elms both spotted something on April 5 that Uni Watch had never seen before: Yadier Molina was wearing a knit woolen cap (which you can just barely see under his mask here). Could this herald a new generation of cold-weather gear? Uni Watch can almost hear the Nike engineers scurrying off to their drawing boards right now.

Manny Being Manny
The season's barely started and Manny Ramirez has already pulled a classic stunt. While watching the Red Sox home opener, Uni Watch noticed that Manny had a pin on his jersey, or a button, or something, right between "Red" and "Sox.". He wasn't wearing it during the pregame festivities, but it was definitely there during the game. Uni Watch couldn't make out what it was, and calls to the Sox PR staff were unavailing, all of which was very frustrating -- what was Manny wearing?

Thanks to Photo Czar Sean Hintz, we now have our answer. Manny was wearing -- get this -- a little cherub swinging a bat!

There's gotta be more of a story behind this, and Uni Watch is on the case -- stay tuned.

Uni Watch Lifetime Achievement Scholar Mark Mihalik is tracking an interesting trend: MLB players who wear cleated versions of basketball sneakers. Among those he's identified, past and present, are Eric Chavez (wearing the Jumpman Team Flow, plus he previously wore the Nike Shox BB4); Frank Thomas (the Nike Shox Team Up -- here's a close-up); Jermaine Dye (the Nike Air Max Flight); and Orlando Cabrera (Nike Zoom Generations, plus he's also worn Jordan Trunners).

"There's also a decent list of other players who've worn altered sneakers that weren't basketball shoes," writes Mihalik, "including Brad Wilkerson and Victor Martinez (who wears an altered Mizuno trainer). My brother, who had a stint in the minors, told me he could order altered shoes through Nike, but they were just basic baseball cross-trainers with cleats added. This trend is likely what made Nike take this sneaker and mass-produce it as this cleat."

Uni Watch, of course, is still waiting for a cleated version of this sneaker.

Uni Watch News Ticker
Late-breaking MLB news out of Pittsburgh, where John Dankosky has spotted the first appearance of the short-sleeved version of the dot-matrixed sleeves -- ugh... By now you've probably heard that the NBA is thinking about banning tights next season. That should be welcome news to reader Malcolm Aboud, who writes: "The new trend at my school is for girls to wear black leggings under their skirts. Needless to say, when I look at a pretty girl, I really don't want to be reminded of Kobe Bryant." … adidas has inked a deal to become the NBA's official uniform supplier (replacing Reebok, which adidas recently acquired). But team unis will not carry any adidas logo imagery, just as they haven't carried any Reebok marks, because David Stern remains the only league commish who understands that putting sportswear manufacturer logos on a jersey is an affront to the team and its fans. … Two weeks ago Uni Watch saluted the Royals for ditching all their ill-advised black trim and urged the Mets and Reds to do likewise. That prompted this dispatch from a reputable Reds source who prefers to remain anonymous: "The Reds' new ownership group is ready to dump black as one of the team's colors as soon as the 2006 season is over. If they didn't have so much black and red merchandise, they would have made the switch for this year. The best part? Navy blue is going to be the new third color, like in the days of old." You heard it here first, people. Now could someone please tell the Mets to get with the program already? … Speaking of the Mets, they have some company in the world of two-tone batting helmets: Northern Illinois University's softball team. Draw your own conclusions (with thanks to Garrett Malcolm). … Encouraging news from reader Matt Smith, an outfielder for the Union College Dutchmen in upstate New York: "Inspired by the links you frequently provide in your articles regarding stirrups, particularily the striped ones, my teammates and I took a vote and decided we wanted to wear throwback stirrups this year with our home uniforms. April 1 was our home opener, and we took two from one of our league rivals." Uni Watch salutes Smith and his teammates for their fine taste in diamond hosiery. … Lots of teams wear anniversary sleeve patches, but check out the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League: Their anniversary celebration is part of their main jersey insignia. "Will they put '51 Years' on there next season?" asks Robbie Lloyd. … Hilarious story here about Bobcats guard Raymond Felton, who intentionally failed to bring bench-appropriate attire to the arena in an (unsuccessful) attempt to avoid being scratched (with thanks to Erin McIntyre). ... Nice catch by Kurt Rozek who wonders why Bill Russell's jersey in this photo says, "Celtics," while his teammate's has "Boston." … Yet another minor league hockey team with a history of St. Patrick's Day designs: the AHL's Chicago Wolves, who come up with a new St. Paddy's jersey every year. … The Pacers retired Reggie Miller's number on March 30.… The Vikings are expected to unveil their new unis during the week of April 24, to coincide with the NFL draft. The helmet will still feature horns, the purple pants are definitely coming back, and one newspaper report says the overall look "resembles a cross between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers." And you know what that means. … Remember last year when the Giants saluted the team's Hispanic heritage by dressing up as the Gigantes? The Brewers are planning something similar for July 29, when they'll become the Cerveseros. They'll also salute the Negro Leagues on June 2, by donning the unis of the 1923 Milwaukee Bears. Full info on both promotions here. … The Giants, meanwhile, plan to wear their 1982 orange jerseys on June 23. … In minor league news, the triple-A Fresno Grizzlies have a new Wednesday throwback uni. They'll be dressing up as -- get this -- the 1906 Fresno Raisin Eaters (here's a close-up of the chest logo). … Alex Ovechkin, who'd been wearing a smoke-tinted visor for most of this season, went back to his old mirrored model (like he used to wear in Russia) on March 30, because of glare at the Bell Center (good catch by Abhinav Agrawal). … UK soccer news: Glasgow Celtic memorialized former team great Jimmy Johnstone on March 19 by wearing his No. 7 on their shorts, plus his name and number on their backs. ... Logo Creep Alert, courtesy of Andrew Mizener, who writes: "Unless I was seeing things, Joakim Noah had a Nike swoosh on the front of his clear mouthguard in Florida's Final Four game against George Mason. It made it look like the swoosh was etched onto his teeth. … There's logo creep, and then there's full-scale logo assault (thanks to Tom Young). ... Back in November, Uni Watch wrote about the frenzy of speculation that ensued in Cleveland when Browns owner Randy Lerner was shown on the NFL Network's "Six Days to Sunday" program and appeared to be reviewing prototypes of a throwback jersey and a gray-facemasked helmet. According to a Cleveland newspaper report, those changes are now official: "Browns owner Randy Lerner is bringing back the team's old duds for next season, including gray facemasks, original striping on jersey sleeves and the old, darker shade of brown. The team will wear only white pants and alternate between brown and white jerseys -- never orange." … Latest team to opt for asymmetrical sleeves: the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team, home and road (with thanks to Sean Heffernan, who adds, "Fortunately, the men's team is sticking with traditional jersey styling"). ... The Dallas Stars are eliminating their third jersey next season. In addition, the team will have a new primary jersey design the season after that, because the NHL is slated to debut its long-rumored slim-fit unis in 2007-08, and the Stars' current star-patterned design won't fit the new silhouette. . . Genius observation from Matthew Lepke, who writes: "Wes Walz of the Wild has been trying different gloves for the past several weeks. But on April 11, I saw something I hadn't noticed in previous games: He was using two different brands of gloves at once!" … More masked hoops players: Krista Rappahahn and Lorenzo Mata.… Speaking of masks, here's a note from Gabe Bombara: "As a Venezuelan-American, I'm disappointed that no one has mentioned Carl Herrera, the first Venezuelan to play in the NBA. He broke his nose when he played with the Spurs and wore a mask for a while." …Ohio State is eliminating the gray from its football jersey and changing the sleeve stripes from this to this. More details here. … Uni Watch auction consultant David Brown has spotted some amazing century-old items up for bid, including this (click on Photo 2), this, and this. … Speaking of auction items, check out this 1962 beer ad, which shows inaugural Mets skipper Casey Stengel wearing white-bottomed stirrups, something that, to Uni Watch's knowledge, neither he nor any Met actually wore for real. … In one of baseball's worst-kept secrets, the Devil Rays might change their team name, which of course would mean new unis. … Interesting to see that Auburn players, who'll be wearing Under Armour unis for the upcoming football season, lready were wearing Under Armour cleats but still had their old Russell Athletic practice jerseys in last week's spring scrimmage (gold star to Mike Baucom) . ... The Blues retired Al MacInnis' number on April 9, and the whole team wore MacInnis jerseys during warmups for the occasion. … The Pawtucket Red Sox -- Boston's triple-A affiliate -- are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the longest game in professional baseball history with a left-sleeve patch (here's a closer look). … On April 8, while most of the Orioles were wearing this cap, Luis Matos played the first inning in this cap (nice catch by Joshua Knudson and Rob McLaughlin). … Kudos to Alex Rubin for alerting Uni Watch to the Reno Silver Sox, who play in the independent Golden Baseball League. Their logo is truly inspired: an anthropomorphized sock. … The Citadel and College of Charleston will wear some serious throwback duds on April 25. Full details here. … Great observation from Ron Samiano, who writes: "Have you caught any Clippers games on the tube? Vladimir Radmonivic's shoe design of white leather with two thick black stripes across the top of each foot makes it look like he's wearing white socks and black open-toe sandals." Indeed! … Kenneth Clark, travelling through Asia, reports that the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame is currently featuring an exhibit on uniforms. … In more international news, Mountain Goats bassist and longtime Uni Watch enthusiast Peter Hughes, currently recording in Australia, reports a bit of a dust-up in the world of Australian rules football, where Collingwood (shown here in black and white stripes) is resisting the league's edict that all teams must come up with an alternate jersey. Full details, including some great defiant quotes from the Collingwood team president, here. … Awesome story coming out of Buffalo (courtesy of Steve Mesmer): The Sabres took their annual team portrait on April 11, but goalie Martin Biron couldn't attend because his wife was about to give birth. So media relations manager Chris Bandura dressed up in Biron's uni and pads -- that's him in the first row, far left -- and Biron's face will be Photoshopped into the picture later on. … Just when you thought you'd seen everything, check out the latest news release from the Arena Football League: "For the first time in sports history, a professional franchise will wear Bible-themed jerseys during a game. On Saturday, May 5, the Birmingham Steeldogs will don jerseys with the name of Bible hero Samson embroidered on the front. Specific Bible chapter and verse references will be created by combining the names and numerals on the backs of each player. Steeldogs offensive specialist Kerry Wright regularly wears number 1, so on May 5 the name on his back will change from 'Wright' to 'Genesis,' in reference to Genesis chapter 1. Free Bibles will be handed out, so those in attendance can search to find the Bible references on the jerseys of each Birmingham player. The Bible-themed jerseys are the latest creations of Christian Throwback Jersey Company of Birmingham."

Follow-Up Roundup
Last column's item about Braves farmhand Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whose 14-letter surname will become the longest ever to appear on an MLB jersey when he's eventually called up, led several readers to point out two omissions in Uni Watch's rundown of past players with 13-letter names, and Uni Watch's own research turned up a few other examples. So in addition to the ones players identified last time around (Todd Hollandsworth, Tim Spooneybarger, William VanLandingham, Steve Wojciechowski, Ossee Schreckengost, and Lou Schiappacasse), let the record show that MLB's 13-letter club also includes John VanBenschoten, Kirk Dressendorfer, Gene DeMontreville, and Ken Raffensberger.

Those guys share the big-league record. But as Bryan K. Beban points out, "The longest name in professional baseball history is Eric Stuckenschneider (16 letters), a 30th-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1994." Stuckenschneider never reached the bigs, but his name made him a minor league legend. As he explained in this article, "There were some people from other cities who would come down just to take a picture of the back of my jersey." Unfortunately, Uni Watch has so far been unable to turn up any of those photos. If anyone has any leads, you know what to do.

Meanwhile, Uni Watch's call for additional examples of player names on jerseys featuring Roman numerals yielded several examples from the world of college football: David Overstreet II, Nino WIlliams II, Hank Baskett III, and John Brown III (whose nameplate not only had Roman numerals but also featured his initials). Thanks to all who chipped in on this one, including Brad Schmidt, Anthony Martin, Alfredo Moreno, Doug Keklak, Eric Bangeman, and Michael O'Malley.

Several readers -- most of them former catchers -- had theories regarding Mike Lieberthal's habit of wearing his knee-saver pads at two different heights. The most popular explanation, as summarized by Chris Cornick: "Catchers aren't completely square to the pitcher or to the field when there's a runner on base, especially one who's a threat to steal. Since all catchers are righties, the right leg is usually a little farther back than the left. Wearing the right knee-saver up allows for more support when Lieberthal's in this position." But Josh Foster sees it slightly differently: "I kept my knee-savers at two different positions when I caught, because I tended to lean more to the left or right, depending on whether the pitcher was a righty or lefty. Ever try catching a wicked slider in the dirt from a southpaw?"

Finally, remember our discussion about blood jerseys and other replacement jerseys a few months back? Here's a related story from Princeton media-relations rep Andrew Borders: "Our women's basketball coaching staff had to make an interesting improvisation when the airline we took down to Tennessee in December lost one of our uniforms. We had no extra jerseys, so we had 14 available bodies and 13 uniforms. In order not to deprive anyone of a chance to play, the coaches chose to take our No. 22's jersey after she was done for the game, put black electrical tape over one of the 2s, give it to someone else, and voila, we had a No. 2 on our roster."

Paul Lukas wouldn't mind if undersleeves had stripes instead of dots, like this. His answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.