|Friday, September 20
When it comes to fashion, teams just don't get it
By Jim Caple
Watch out. Baseball has gotten ahold of football's playbook.
The NFL has long been notorious for stamping out any sign of individuality, prescribing everything from how high socks must be worn to the wording on a headband. Just last weekend, the league prevented Peyton Manning from wearing black hightops in a tribute to Johnny Unitas.
And now baseball has taken the cue.
One of the least known elements of the latest collective bargaining agreement is the introduction of a major league guideline for uniforms. League executive vice president Sandy Alderson told Bloomberg News that the league doesn't want to be the fashion police, but that it will try to crack down on baggy jerseys and oversized pants that hang down over a player's spikes.
I'm glad baseball is finally doing something in this area, but they're focusing on the wrong people. When it comes to fashion do's and don'ts, baseball needs to crack down on the teams, not the players. The teams have always been the biggest fashion culprit, regularly dressing their players in the most hideous styles imaginable, dating from the 1916 Giants, who wore plaid uniforms -- yes, plaid -- to the current Padres who wear a camouflage jersey one day each year.
Hank Aaron's 715th home run is on the ballot of baseball's magic moments but for me, that moment is forever ruined by the videotape that shows Aaron wearing that awful white and blue jersey. There he is rounding the bases as the holder of sports' most revered record, baseball's new all-time home run king, and all you can think is, "Why is he wearing a bowling shirt?''
Those '74 Atlanta uniforms date from baseball's most notorious fashion era, when everyone wore double-knits with garish, solid colors. Even at the time, no one thought those all-red Cleveland uniforms or those brown-and-mustard Padres uniforms looked good, but dammit, they wore them anyway.
No wonder Dave Winfield signed with the Yankees in 1981. He probably just wanted to wear a uniform he wouldn't be embarrassed to show in public.
Fans outside New York may hate the Yankees, but you've got to give them their fashion due. They and the Dodgers have the best, classiest uniforms in baseball. And both know it, never altering the style. Aside from some subtle differences in material and tailoring, the Yankees and Dodgers are wearing essentially the same uniforms they were when Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson played. New York's Tiffany-NY design is probably the most famous logo in sports while the Dodgers' jerseys always seem as pure as Himalayan snow.
Everyone else, however, just goes from uniform to uniform in an obvious attempt to sell more souvenir caps and jerseys. Some styles are good, some are bad and few last for more than a couple seasons.
So crack down on the teams and let the players dress themselves. I like that David Wells used to go out to the mound with his shirt unbuttoned. I like that Eric Gagne wears the same sweat-stained cap the entire season. I like that Seattle's Charles Gipson wears his pants a little baggy and his blue socks up to just under his knees.
Look, when I grew up, we used to slice our stirrup socks and insert elastic so that we could wear the socks with the stirrups pulled up high and tight to near our knees. I still remember my brother carefully teaching me how to fold them into the pants legs so that just enough stirrup sock and just enough white sanitary sock showed. It could take 15 minutes to get them just right.
And now? Players not only don't the let stirrup sock show, most don't even wear stirrup socks -- almost everyone just wears the solid soccer sock. And the only thing the white sanitary sock is used for is holding autographed baseballs and bats.
But that's all right. If Manny Ramirez wants to wear baggy pants that hang over his spikes, it doesn't matter to me. He can wear bell-bottoms for all I care just so long as they don't affect his swing.
Besides, if you don't like today's fashion, just wait.
"The fashion is set by the young players coming up,'' Gipson said. "In a couple years some kid will start wearing his uniform tight and then everyone will copy him and start wearing their uniforms tight again. And then the league will say we're wearing them too tight.''
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.