Uni Watch: The 411 on the MLB sock rule

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There's only one part of the baseball uniform that has served as the basis for team names: the socks. That's how we got teams called the Red Sox, the White Sox, and the Red Stockings (now the Reds).

But more than a century after the founding of those teams, baseball's sock game is in disarray. Most MLB players wear their pants down to their shoe tops. And even among players who choose to go high-cuffed, there's little uniformity. One high-cuffed player on a team might be wearing solid-colored socks, while his high-cuffed teammate might be wearing striped socks, and yet another high-cuffed teammate might be wearing stirrups.

MLB is hoping to revitalize baseball's hosiery heritage by partnering with Stance, which Monday became MLB's first official sock provider. That makes MLB the second major pro league to ink a deal with Stance, which is now completing its first season as the official sock of the NBA.

So what will this mean for MLB socks and pants? Here's a quick explainer on the major points:

When will we start seeing players wear the Stance socks on the field?

This July at the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. Stance has created special sock designs for those events.

Will the Home Run Derby and All-Star participants be required to go high-cuffed, so they can show the new socks?

No. But MLB is hoping that the new gear will encourage more players to go high-cuffed.

The derby and All-Star Games are exhibitions. What about real games that count in the standings?

After the All-Star break, Stance will be providing teams with basic solid and striped socks for players to wear. These socks will carry the Stance logo.

Will players be required to wear the Stance socks?

No. They can wear any team-colored socks they want, as long as they don't have a non-Stance manufacturer's logo (which shouldn't be much of an issue, since maker's marks on MLB socks have been exceedingly rare over the years).

Does Stance make stirrups?

No. But players who prefer stirrups can continue to wear them if they want, just as they can continue to wear non-Stance socks.

So it sounds like this new sock contract won't have much of an effect on the lack of sock uniformity.

Correct. By adding a new sock brand to the mix, it might even increase that lack of uniformity.

Stance is known for bold sock designs, like the Home Run Derby and All-Star patterns. Will something like that be coming to regular-season games?

Not this season. MLB says "a more comprehensive lineup of styles" will be coming in 2017. The hunch here is that Stance will provide unique designs for holidays and special events (as it has done in the NBA), and possibly for everyday use. But if there's no mandate for players to wear the socks, or even to go high-cuffed, the visual effect may be muted.

How many MLB players go high-cuffed, anyway?

MLB estimates the number at about 10 percent, although your friendly uniform columnist thinks it's more like 15-20 percent. Over at the Uni Watch Blog, we're actually trying to get an accurate team-by-team count.

The NFL is notorious for enforcing its uniform rules. Why doesn't MLB enforce its rules about pant-leg length and sock uniformity?

Because, surprisingly enough, no such rules exist. While the MLB rulebook is specific about many aspects of the uniform (all players on a team must wear the same color undershirt, for example), there has never been anything about inseam length or hosiery.

Then why don't they just add a rule?

Because that would have to be approved by the players' union as part of the collective bargaining process. And the union would never agree to that, because it wants to preserve the players' freedom to dress however they choose.

But I see some minor league teams that all go high-cuffed with matching socks.

That's because minor league players aren't unionized, so teams or managers can impose all sorts of rules that wouldn't fly in the big leagues.

OK. So, bottom line, is this new Stance deal good news for those of us who care about uniforms?

Honestly, it's too soon to say. But if you're hoping that this will put a dent in the pajama pants look, it's probably too late to get that toothpaste back in the tube.

Paul Lukas goes high-cuffed with stirrups when playing softball. 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.