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Pity the lot of the poor umpire. The fans are always booing you, the players are always showing you up, and let's not even get started on the veterinary bills for the seeing-eye dog. Why, it's enough to make you and your colleagues stage a mass resignation (just for kicks, of course). And it's no wonder that you might be prone to the occasional slightly off-color remark. That's just human, right?
In an attempt to redress this unjust state of affairs, Uni Watch will now give the umps some long-overdue attention, beginning with an observation from eagle-eyed reader Dave Shucosky, who noticed an odd bit of cross-sport synergy during the April 25 Pirates-Astros game: Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez was wearing the National Hockey League logo on his chest protector.
Clear visual evidence is spotty, but you can get a vague sense of what Shucosky is talking about in this photo, where the NHL crest appears as an orange smudge. Was this a show of labor solidarity for the locked-out hockey officials? A subtle plea for the NHL players and owners to get back to the bargaining table? Or maybe just the latest brilliant marketing scheme from the NHL braintrust?
No, no and no. According to MLB spokesman Carmine Tiso, the logo which Marquez has since stopped wearing was in memory of NHL linesman Stephane Provost, who died in a motorcycle accident on April 22. So this is history's second MLB-to-NHL memorial gesture (the first one having been, of course, the "9" sleeve patch that the Expos wore in 2000 in honor of Maurice Richard).
There's also an umpire headwear issue that's arisen over the past few years. To fully appreciate it, bear with Uni Watch for a quick rundown of on-field sombreros: The pitcher, infielders, outfielders, coaches and base umps wear caps; a home-plate ump using a conventional mask also wears a cap, often with a truncated brim; a catcher using a conventional mask wears a backwards helmet (except for the Dodgers' Jason Phillips, who wears his helmet facing forward); a catcher using a hockey-style mask wears a backwards cap; and the batter, baserunners, batboys, ball boys and ball girls wear helmets.
All pretty obvious, right? But here's the payoff: When the plate ump wears a hockey-style mask, he doesn't wear anything beneath it. So if he takes off his mask, he suddenly becomes the only person on the entire field with an uncovered head an unseemly abrogation of the ump's traditional air of formality.
And if you don't think formality matters, think again. As Elizabeth K. Martin notes in her 1997 master's thesis, The Development of Baseball Umpires' Uniforms, 1846-1996 now there's a good use of higher education! umpiring jurisdiction was originally rooted in clothing. The earliest umps in the mid-1800s were usually well-dressed lawyers, doctors or merchants, whose formal apparel marked them as de facto authority figures. Some early photos and illustrations from this period show the umpire wearing long tails, a top hat and a broad-brimmed hat with a duster jacket.
It's been a long trip around the bases from those days to the casual-Friday approach used by today's umps. A comprehensive survey of all the neckties, bow ties, caps, jackets and patches that umpires have worn along the way is beyond even Uni Watch's scope. But with a big assist from Martin's thesis, which is on file at the Baseball Hall of Fame library, here's a selective timeline of notable moments in umpire attire:
Early 1880s: An umpire wears a protective face mask for the first time. A wisecracking sportswriter questions the need for this, since the ump in question is "so ugly that his face alone would deflect oncoming baseballs."
1882: The American Association decrees that all its umpires will wear blue wool suits (with a $10 fine for those who fail to dress accordingly), marking the first time that umps wear uniforms instead of their own clothing. The National League does likewise the following year, and so does the American League when it debuts in 1901. The blue suit remains the standard for ump wear for the better part of a century.
Early 1900s: Umpire Jack Sheridan buys a heavy hotel ledger book and positions it inside his umpiring jacket, thereby creating the first "inside" chest protector. Although Sheridan works in the American League, NL ump Bill Klem quickly becomes the champion of the inside protector, while AL ump Thomas Connolly turns his league into the domain of the inflatable "outside" protector, setting up a schism that lasts for half a century.
1913: AL umps wear white flannel suits on holidays and other special occasions, much to everyone's amusement. The experiment is soon quietly abandoned.
1927: AL umps wear a blue blazer and gray flannel slacks on Mother's Day, with carnations tucked into their lapels, leading to hoots and catcalls from fans and players. White slacks show up again in 1941, leading many players to "accidentally" kick dirt on them. Umpire Joe Rue later recalls, "The players called us a bunch of sissies. They'd sneak up behind you and spit tobacco juice on your pants legs. Every time we'd see one of them walking by, we'd say, 'Get the hell away from me.' "
1936: In an unprecedented show of informality, NL president Ford Frick allows his umps to remove their suit jackets and work in shirt sleeves during an intense July heat wave. AL umps, given no such leeway, have to sweat it out in their full wool suits.
1956: Every fan's worst suspicion is confirmed, as Ed Rommel and Frank Umont become the first umps to wear eyeglasses on the field.
1964: The Umpire Development Program is created to streamline the training of new umps. Although the program provides umps for both leagues, it's staffed primarily by NL umps who encourage use of the inside chest protector, and therefore marks the beginning of the end for the outside protector.
1968: The navy suit's reign comes to an end, as the AL officially adopts the blue blazer, white shirt and gray slacks, with a hot-weather provision for umps to skip the blazer and just wear a blue shirt with the AL logo on the breast pocket.
1970: The NL establishes the first umpire uniform numbers, which are worn on right jacket and shirt sleeves. The AL soon does the same. Thirty-five years later, not a single baseball fan can name a single ump by number.
1975: AL umps begin a 20-year run of wearing maroon blazers.
1982: A luggage mixup leaves the umpiring crew working a Yankees-Twins game in Minnesota without their uniforms. As game attendee Stew Thornley later recounts, "The base umpires wore white shirts and red Twins hats, while plate umpire Ken Kaiser wore a windbreaker and green shin guards over his sweatpants. Kaiser seemed even crankier than usual that night, possibly because of the sartorial snafu."
1985: Jerry Neudecker, the last AL holdout wearing the outside protector, retires.
1996: The AL's fascination with red umpiring garb reaches its garish peak with the appearance of scarlet shirts.
1999: With an aghast Uni Watch in attendance, NL ump and noted Judaica scholar Bruce Froemming who is, shall we say, a bit on the robust side splits his pants while umping the plate at Shea Stadium. Unable to bend over to sweep the plate clean, he pathetically kicks the dirt off the plate with his feet for the balance of the game.
2000: The two leagues' umpiring staffs are merged, ending the use of distinct AL and NL caps, which are replaced by a generic MLB cap. In the postseason, the letters are replaced with the ubiquitous MLB logo.
As for this season, ump attire has become the latest breeding ground for Uni Watch's arch nemesis, logo creep. Up until now, the umps had only worn the Majestic "M" logo on the right cuffs of their windbreakers. But this year the logo is appearing on the left sleeves of the umps' blue polos, black polos and black long-sleeve shirts. Only the rarely used sportsjacket appears to have escaped unscathed for now.
Speaking of formality, the topic of NFL coaching attire which Uni Watch addressed in some detail last fall is back in the news, courtesy of 49ers head coach Mike Nolan. He wants to wear a business suit on the sidelines, à la Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi and his father, Dick Nolan, who coached the Niners back in the early 1970s. Think of it as the coaching version of a throwback uni.
But get this: The NFL won't let him, because they insist that all coaches wear Reebok's official NFL sportswear.
This runs counter to what Uni Watch was told last fall by Dennis Kayser, the NFL's senior director of on-field operations, who said at the time, "Pretty much you have to wear the approved licensed apparel or else more formal attire. But nobody wants to wear the formal look anymore."
Now that somebody does, the NFL is singing a slightly different tune. "Technically it's in the coach's contract that he has to wear the licensed product," Kayser told Uni Watch this week. "We were very respectful of Mike's reasons to honor his dad, but we needed to resepct the contracts and what the coaches and clubs are obligated to do. Reebok is going to look for ways to assist him with something he might like a little better not a shirt and tie, but maybe a mock. Not to insinuate that what they have now is not good, of course."
Of course. But isn't it a bit silly to tell a grown man that he can't dress like, well, a grown man? "It's a tough situation," Kayser acknowledged. "But the business model has changed from the days when coaches wore shirts and ties there wan't an established licensed apparel business back then. So I think we're comparing apples to oranges, almost."
The obvious solution, then, is for the NFL and Reebok to branch out into the upscale menswear market. Any chance of that happening? "Probably not," said Kayser. "Otherwise, I think we would have seen it by now." Ah, but at least one enterprising observer has already envisioned what such a product line might look like now that's licensed apparel! Put Uni Watch down for a 38 regular.
No Logo for Lugo
Quick quiz: What do the Pirates and Devil Rays have in common? No, besides an empty stadium and a long-suffering fan base.
Here's the deal: Most vest-clad teams use plain, unadorned undersleeves. But the Bucs and Rays wear a logo patch on the left sleeve or at least they're supposed to. But more and more players on both teams have been going logo-less, with the roster of offenders including Julio Lugo, Carl Crawford, Toby Hall, Daryle Ward and Jose Mesa, among several others.
This issue has been around for a while, but it's gotten worse this year. The problem is that Majestic makes all the MLB jerseys, including the vests, but Nike is now making most of the undersleeves (which is why undersleeves suddenly have that annoying white seam stitching this season). If a team with a normal, sleeve-inclusive jersey wears a sleeve patch, Majestic sews it on as part of the manufacturing process. But Nike doesn't sew patches onto the undersleeves the vested teams have to do that themselves, and the equipment managers don't always bother to do it, especially for the tight-fit undershirts. Why not? "No particular reason," said Devil Rays spokesman Jason Latimer. "There's only a couple of guys who wear those sleeves anyway."
Latimer's a really nice guy, but the Rays will never get out of the cellar with that attitude. It's worth noting that the Reds and Royals used to wear left-sleeve patches too, but both clubs are going plain-sleeved this season, presumably to avoid these sorts of problems. Can't really blame them the Reds no doubt got sick of Junior Griffey always looking out of step with his patch-adorned teammates.
Of course, the simplest way for vested teams to avoid sleeve-patch problems is to wear the patches somewhere else. Back in 1942, when most teams supported the war effort by wearing a "Health" patch on the left sleeve (this was the logo of the "Hale America" fitness campaign), the Cubs wore the patch on their chest. And in 1969, when teams wore an MLB 100th anniversary patch (some clubs putting it on the right sleeve, others on the left), the A's wore it like this, and the Indians like this. More recently, when most teams wore a Jackie Robinson sleeve patch in 1997, the Reds wore it on their vest, as did at least one minor-league club.
One current team appears to have learned from these examples: the Rangers, whose Johnny Oates memorial patch is usually worn on the right sleeve but migrates to the chest on the team's alternate vest uni.
Uni News You Can Use
Yet another MLB jersey snafu was narrowly avoided on May 10, when A's reliever Octavio Dotel got the call to warm up, took off his jacket and found he was wearing a green jersey while the rest of the team was wearing gray. A clubhouse attendant rushed the proper jersey to him a few minutes later. The Buffalo Bills plan to unveil an alternate jersey on June 4. They were originally planning to showcase it during the draft, like the Lions, Giants and Cardinals did with their new uni designs. But the Bills needed some extra time to ensure that the new jersey is even uglier than their current ones. The Canadian Football League has come up with new uniforms for all its teams. Uni Watch would love to compare the merits of the new designs to the old, except that, y'know, nobody cares. In much more important news, Royals interim manager Bob Schaeffer earns Uni Watch's highest rating for wearing real stirrups. Take the "interim" tag off of this guy, pronto! A recent article in The New Yorker found MLB exec Bob Watson holding forth on the topic of on-field fashion: "There's a ton of people who are offended by the way the Red Sox look 'they're the world champions and they look like slobs.' Well, I hear you loud and clear." Watson (who apparently has never seen a Rockies or Padres game) may have been referring to the current habit of several Sox players to turn their pants pockets inside-out (which, let's face it, does look pretty lame). Speaking of the Bosox, David Ortiz recently inscribed "BL R.I.P." on his batting helmet, a tribute to Fenway clubhouse cook Bernie Logue, who died in a fall. Uni Watch reader Bill Henderson has compiled The Double Knit Era Collector's Reference, an amazing CD-ROM that profiles every MLB team's jersey from 1970 through the present, including hyper-detailed info on numbering and lettering, embroidery, BP jerseys, alternates, throwbacks, patches, tags, etc. Although intended for game-used jersey collectors, it's also a great reference for uni obsessives not to be missed. For details, look here.
As noted in Uni Watch's last column, the Washington Nationals recently wore their batting practice jerseys for a regular-season game. But it turns out that they're not the first team to have done this. Reader Jerry Wolper points out that the Dodgers wore their BP jerseys on July 20th, 1999, against the Pirates (Uni Watch has seen visual proof, but it's not web-linkable). The circumstances behind this anomaly are uncleaer -- if anyone knows, or if you have other examples of teams playing in BP attire, do tell.
Over in Boston, where Manny Ramirez was wearing David Ortiz's "34" wristbands for several games this season (he has since stopped), Ortiz has now returned the favor by wearing Ramirez's "24" wristbands. Good stuff, but if these guys are wearing each other's jockstraps, Uni Watch doesn't wanna know.
Ramirez and Ortiz aren't the only BoSox players with misnumbered accessories, incidentally. Reader Matt Barber notes that Edgar Renteria, who wears No. 16, has a "3" on his shin guard. It's a safe bet, however, that this isn't a shout-out to David Wells, the Red Sox player now wearing that number Renteria is simply using his old shinguard from his days with the Cardinals, where he wore No. 3.
And these numerology games go beyond the Red Sox. Ryan Hester reports that when the Suns beat the Grizzlies in Game 4 of their NBA playoff series on May 1, Jason Williams wore a "6" armband for teammate Bonzi Wells, who'd been told not to show up for the game after missing a practice and being late for a shootaround earlier in the series.
And as long as we're talking about wristbands: Uni Watch readers were no doubt busy treating Mom to a nice Mother's Day, so you might have missed that most MLB players showed their support for breast cancer research that day by wearing some combination of pink wristbands, pink jersey ribbons and pink cap ribbons a natural counterpart to the blue Father's Day sweatbands that players have been wearing in recent years to support prostate cancer research.
Meanwhile: Thanks to the several readers who helpfully informed Uni Watch that the sneaker-like boxing shoes being worn in this photo are actually wrestling shoes. As Tony Gosse explains, "Wrestling shoes are made to be really light for better movement, and the grip centers around being more on the front of your foot compared to the back. So the lighter boxers who use speed as much as muscle probably prefer the lighter, quicker wrestling shoes." Gosse even identified the orange shoe in the photo as the Nike Takedown II, while fellow reader Andy Vogel ID'd the blue one as the adidas Pretereo.
Finally, there's the topic that inspired an avalanche of responses: the question of why the triathlon uses direct-body numbering, while the pentathlon, heptathlon and decathlon don't.
Contrary to what dozens of readers wrote in, the answer is not as simple as, "Because the triathlon is the only one of those events that involves swimming, you moron!" As even poor addle-headed Uni Watch knows, the pentathlon has a swimming component, so a mere romp in the water isn't enough to necessitate tattoo-style numbering.
A better and more nuanced explanation comes from Todd Turner: "The triathlon is unique in that it combines three separate events into one, whereas the [pentathlon, heptathlon and decathlon] are essentially separate events with time off in between each event. You start a triathlon swimming, immediately run out of the water, strip off a wet suit, put on some bike attire and hit the road. Once the bike portion is completed, you strip out of your bike gear, don some running clothes and start the marathon portion of the race. The only piece of equipment you have during the entire event is yourself, hence the numbers on the body."
And Brian Hilleary adds an additional bit of info: "If you will notice on the ankle of each athlete [in this photo], there is a visible band around the ankle. It is holding a computer tracking chip. In the pre-chip days, the only way they could easily track competitors was by marking them on the upper arm, calf, and thigh with permanent marker."
Last But Not Least
Did anyone else notice that Mike Smith, the jockey who won the Kentucky Derby, wears a bow tie? Talk about formal! Maybe he was an umpire in a former life.
Paul Lukas would love to hear the NFL's reaction if a head coach wanted to wear a bow tie. 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.