By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

The weirdness continues in major-league baseball, where it turns out that the assorted jersey snafus detailed in Uni Watch's last column were just the tip of the double-knit iceberg. Now we have teams dressing like minor-leaguers and spring training squads.

Check it out: On April 20, the Padres had their sixth annual military tribute night – always a uniform watershed, because the team dons camouflage jerseys and olive caps for the occasion. (Memo to the Blue Jays: If you'll consent to dress up as Canadian Mounties for one game, Uni Watch hereby offers to kick in for the horses!) But as reader Mayer Weisel points out, there was something different about this season's camouflage game: The Padres' caps had the New Era logo on the left side, a designation that normally appears only on minor-league and, umm, "fashion" headwear.

Although Uni Watch initially viewed this as the latest insidious example of MLB's sellout to corporate logo creep, it turns out that the real explanation is more benign: New Era mistakenly sent the Padres the wrong caps, and nobody with either organization realized it until it was too late.

"We received a box, we delivered it to the clubhouse, and that's it," said Padres purchasing director Michael Babida, who ordered the green lids. "I never actually opened the box – when you've done the same promotion for five or six years, you generally don't need to open every box and inspect every cap, every jersey."

New Era media rep Crystal Howard confirmed the glitch. And judging by her reaction, it doesn't exactly sound as though anyone at New Era is too upset about it: "It looked really cool – we're like, 'Yeah, let's get all the teams to do it!'"

Hmm, innocent clerical error or calculated stealth-marketing maneuver? Uni Watch will let the conspiracy theorists sort this one out.

The next oddity came on April 27, when the Nationals played an entire game in their red batting practice jerseys, complete with the embarrassing contrast-color gussets. Batting practice jerseys are normally worn for, you know, batting practice, and also for spring training games. So why would the Nats wear them in a real game?

Because starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza asked to wear them, according to the game report. Nats manager Frank Robinson said he granted the request because he didn't want to "mess with [Loaiza's] psyche," although Uni Watch posits that anyone who'd ask to wear this outfit for a real game is already pretty messed up to begin with. Ironically, as attentive readers might recall, Robinson is the one who recently opined that today's uniforms have "too much red" (no doubt because his own psyche was messed up by being forced to wear this 30 years ago), all of which makes Uni Watch wonder: Was Loaiza's request for garnet garb a passive-aggressive swipe at his crimson-averse manager? Hmm, mutiny by uni – a tantalizing possibility, no?

Unfortunately, this potentially juicy intrigue was apparently nipped in the bud five days later, when the team wore its regular road jerseys for Loaiza's next start.

But the Nats might wear the BP duds again, and they could have company. "That's a new provision this year – we're allowing teams to wear batting practice jerseys in games if they want to," MLB spokesman Carmine Tiso said. "They just have to alert us first, and the Nationals were the first ones to do that."

And let's hope they're the last. Don't teams such as the Mets and Rockies have enough uni options without adding the BP attire to their roster of game attire? And can you imagine going to the ballpark on a nice summer day and finding your team dressed like this, or this? Uni Watch shudders at the thought.

MLB Miscellany
Uni Watch is proud to deputize two readers who've spotted truly sublime details in recent weeks. First up is Paul Beaulieu, who points out that although Manny Ramirez wears uni No. 24, lately he has been wearing wristbands emblazoned with "34," which is David Ortiz's number. Granted, the two teammates are very buddy-buddy, but it still seems kinda odd. What's up with that?

"He just likes Ortiz's wristbands," wrote Sox spokesman Glenn Geffner in response to a Uni Watch e-mail. OK, but why does he like them? You'd think Ramirez could procure whatever kind of customized accessories he wanted without having to bum them from a neighboring locker, right? Is this some sort of tribute to Ortiz? It was at this point that an apparently nonplussed Geffner replied, "To be honest, with about 500 e-mails, 100 phone calls and a couple of hundred media in person to deal with every day, I have not had the chance to ask."

Ah yes, the sarcastic brush-off with the none-too-subtle implication of pedantry, like we're supposed to believe that the condition of Curt Schilling's ankle or requests to interview Jason Varitek might somehow be more important than crucial uni-related minutiae (as if!). This, ladies and gentlemen, is the type of unenlightened mind-set your friendly neighborhood Uni Watch has to deal with on a regular basis from many of the sports world's media relations departments, a sorry barometer of our nation's misplaced priorities.

Fortunately, reader Don Whelan has a more cultivated sensibility. He has noticed that Brian Roberts of the Orioles has black padding in his batting helmet (make that both of his helmets, since he's a switch hitter), instead of the usual gray padding everyone else wears. A bit of Uni Watch research reveals that Roberts was wearing conventional cushioning early last season but switched to the black padding in late July.

"That's definitely a different ear pad than normal, but we haven't done anything special for Brian's helmets," said Dan Cullinane, marketing manager for Rawlings, which manufactures all the MLB batting helmets. "It looks like it was done by the team."

And sure enough, it was. "Basically, it's just a different piece of padding that our equipment manager came up with," said Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka, whose communication style, happily, is consistently attitude-free. "It's a little bit more padding and a little bit more comfortable. B.J. Surhoff wore the same thing for several years, but not this year; and Luis Matos wore it last year, but not this year."

So there you have it. The good news is that the black padding looks fine, since black is already one of the Orioles' colors. But let's hope the Rockies and Astros don't get any bright ideas about color coordinating their helmet padding.

Early Kickoff
Meanwhile, over on the gridiron, several teams used the media attention surrounding the recent NFL draft as a platform for introducing new uniforms. Here's a quick rundown:

• The Cardinals, having finally unveiled their long-promised "revolutionary" uniforms, are now playing in the Arena League. Or at least that's how it looks, what with the lame-o pants piping, the silly contrast stitching around the collar and shoulders, and the truly hilarious rear-yoke logo (which better not become a leaguewide trend, or else fans across America might literally die laughing). Plus, it doesn't take too keen an eye to see that the design of the new red jersey bears more than a passing resemblance to the one worn by the Falcons. It does take a keen eye, however – such as the ones working overtime over at Chris Creamer's message board – to see that the back of the white jersey appears to owe a sizable aesthetic debt to the Bills' design. Revolutionary? Judge for yourself.

• The Giants are changing their road uniform from this to this – a nod to their 1956 championship road uni. As usual with retro-inspired NFL designs, the sleeve striping looked a lot better on the full-length sleeves of yesteryear than it does on today's nonexistent sleeves, and Uni Watch has never understood the logic behind using a red-based jersey and red socks for a blue-helmeted team (shouldn't the Reebok pants logo be red too?). But the weirdest thing is that the Jints will now have two sets of gray pants: the new ones for road games, and these, which they'll continue to wear at home. In smaller moves, they're also replacing the "Giants" chest wordmark with their "ny" logo on both their jerseys and changing their shoes from white to black.

• The Lions, having already added black accents to almost every part of their uniform, are now adding a black alternate jersey, which they'll pair with black socks – another bold, creative move by this ever-progressive franchise. Toss in the team's annual Thanksgiving Day throwbacks and the Lions now have four different uniforms, including three for their eight home games. Just a thought: Shouldn't GM Matt Millen, who reportedly pushed for the black jerseys because they remind him of his Raiders heyday, stop worrying about personal nostalgia and start concentrating on, oh, maybe fielding a team that can win more than six games?

Skin Game
Uni Watch readily admits to knowing little – like, very little – about the world of competitive triathlon. Still, it was somewhat arresting to come across photos from last weekend's International Triathlon Union World Cup event and find that the competitors wear their entry numbers directly on their bodies (yes, the men, too).

Some quick research reveals that this body-art system of numbering is fairly standard triathlon procedure, from the Olympics to slightly less elite competitions. It does not appear to be used, however, in the pentathlon, heptathlon or decathlon (all of which Uni Watch likewise knows very little about). If anyone knows the story behind all of this, please feel free to fill us in.

Child's Play
James Toney talked a lot of trash about John Ruiz before and after their WBA heavyweight title fight Saturday, referring to Ruiz as "this piece of garbage" and "stupid." Toney apparently holds Ruiz's fashion sense in high regard, however, because he flat-out copied one of Ruiz's sartorial stylings in the ring.

Uni Watch is referring here to Ruiz's long-standing practice of wearing the names of his children, John and Jocelyn, at the base of his trunks, which apparently caught Toney's eye as he reviewed tape of Ruiz's fights against Andrew Golota, Fres Oquendo, Roy Jones, Hasim Rahman, Kirk Johnson and Evander Holyfield. Ruiz wore his kids' names again on Saturday, but this time they had company, because Toney had three of his children's names on the front of his trunks and the other two on the back. As it turned out, the bout was such a total snooze that all the kids are probably embarrassed to have been associated with it.

Speaking of ring regalia, has anyone else noticed that boxing shoes, which used to look really cool (Mike Tyson's signature low-cut, no-socks look notwithstanding), are now looking more like sneakers? Yet another black eye for this troubled sport. Before this gets out of hand, Uni Watch hereby urges all state boxing commissions to mandate fistic footwear with at least 10 pairs of eyelets, with violators subject to a two-point deduction. And make that an immediate DQ for anyone impudent enough to wear a Velcro closure instead of laces.

If Paul Lukas were a boxer, he'd wear his cats' names on his trunks. Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.



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