As the saying goes, you should always play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back of the jersey. But what if your name is on the sleeve of the jersey?
Derek Jeter might be contemplating that question right about now. That's because he and the rest of the Yankees have started wearing a Derek Jeter tribute patch on their sleeves (and also on their caps, for good measure). The patch was added to the team's uniforms this past Sunday and will be worn through the end of the season -- which is, of course, Jeter's final season in the bigs.
Not everyone is thrilled about the patch. Some see it as the latest example of overkill in Jeter's farewell tour; others think it's inappropriate to wear a patch for an active player and even more unseemly for the player himself to be wearing his own patch. When ESPNNewYork.com's Yankees Blog recently ran a reader poll about the Jeter patch, only about half of the respondents approved of it -- and that's for a blog whose readership presumably consists of Yankees fans.
Unseemly or not, though, this isn't the first time an active MLB player has worn his own tribute patch. By Uni Watch's count, there have been three previous examples:
• In 2001, the Padres commemorated Tony Gwynn's imminent retirement with players wearing a right-sleeve patch for the final series of the season.
• 2001 was also Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season, and the Orioles marked the occasion with players wearing a right-sleeve patch for their final two games.
• In what might now be viewed as something of a warmup for the current Jeter patch, the Yankees wore Mariano Rivera patches on their left sleeves and caps this past season. The patches were added Sept. 22 and worn for the team's remaining home games -- but not on the road -- for the final week of the season.
As you can see, the shelf life for these gestures is getting longer: a couple of games for Ripken and Gwynn, a week for Rivera and now three weeks for Jeter. Some of this might be due to the sports world's increasing tendency toward bigger and more extensive promotions -- the baseball equivalent of mission creep. But it's likely also due to financial considerations. As ESPN.com's Darren Rovell has reported, the game-used uniforms with the Jeter patch will be sold by a major memorabilia house. The more games the patch appears in and the more exposure it gets, the more those uniforms will be worth.
So will the next patch for an active player be rolled out at the All-Star break? On Opening Day? Maybe, except that it's hard to imagine who that next player might be. Gwynn, Ripken, Rivera and Jeter all wrapped up their careers as surefire Hall of Famers who played for only one team. Given the increased player movement caused by free agency and salary dumps, along with the cloud of uncertainty that steroids have cast on Hall of Fame elections, it's hard to think of another current player who meets that two-pronged test.
Interestingly, Chipper Jones fit the bill, but the Braves chose not to wear a patch to mark his retirement in 2012. They did create a logo for him, but it appeared on the Braves' on-deck circle and on bases during the team's final home series of the season -- not as a patch.
(As a footnote, it's worth mentioning that Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens -- but not his teammates -- wore a "300 Wins" patch on his glove on May 26, 2003. The odd thing is that Clemens had only 299 wins at the time. He was attempting to win his 300th, but he hadn't yet won it, which gave the patch a presumptuous "Don't count your chickens" aspect. As it turned out, home plate umpire Bill Miller ruled the patch was an illegal distraction, so Clemens had to switch to a patch-free glove. Just as well because he lost the game.)
What about other sports? To Uni Watch's knowledge, only one player in any of the other major professional sports leagues has ever been honored with a patch while still active: Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary. In 1992, his final year, the Bears honored him with a chest patch for the final three games of the season. And just as with the MLB examples, this created the odd spectacle of a player wearing his own patch.
Are there other active players who've been honored with a patch? If you know of any additional examples, please speak up. Thanks.
More Jeter Oddness
The patch isn't the only uni-related issue that's surfaced during Jeter's victory lap. This past week there was a report the Yankees would be retiring his number this past Sunday. The Yanks quickly disputed the report, and Sunday's festivities for Jeter proceeded without his number being retired. (That ceremony will presumably take place at a later date.)
Retiring a player's number before the player himself has retired might seem absurd, but it's not unprecedented. When the Yankees added that patch for Rivera the past Sept. 22, they also retired his No. 42, so Rivera pitched the final week of the 2013 season wearing a number that was technically no longer in circulation. You think that doesn't make any sense? You're right! But that's nonetheless what happened. (Of course, Rivera was also the last player permitted to wear No. 42, which had already been retired on an MLB-wide basis in 1997, so that makes the situation even more unusual.)
Then there's the case of former White Sox star Harold Baines. On July 29, 1989, he was traded from the Sox to the Rangers. Baines had been an extremely popular player for the Sox, and fan outcry after the trade was severe, so team management decided to retire his No. 3 during the Rangers' next series in Chicago. The number retirement took place on Aug. 20, 1989. Baines was only 30 years old at the time, which made him probably the youngest MLB player ever to have his number retired. (If anyone would like to do the research to confirm this, please feel free.)
But here's the kicker: Baines ended up playing two additional stints with the Sox -- in 1996-97 and in 2000-01 -- and his number was "unretired" for him each time. It was brought out of mothballs yet again when he joined the team's coaching staff in 2004. He continues to wear No. 3 today as the team's assistant hitting coach.
Are you aware of any other active players who've had their uniform numbers retired? If so, you know what to do.
Paul Lukas looks forward to stumping people years from now by asking them, "What did Derek Jeter and Mike Singletary have in common?" If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. 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.