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When you think of Curt Schilling and uniforms, the first thing that comes to mind is probably that bloody sock. Watch Schilling during a game, though, and you'll see something subtler: After almost every pitch, he fidgets with his jersey collar. That's because Schilling wears two necklaces, ones that tend to pop out from beneath his jersey during his delivery, so he's constantly tucking them back in.
Schilling is a charter member of Uni Watch's Chain Gang -- players who insist on wearing necklaces on the field, no matter how impractical or annoying they might be. But not just any necklaced player can make the Chain Gang. Like any good GM, Uni Watch is applying tough, exacting standards. Simply wearing one of those bogus titanium thingies, for example, does not make you a Chain Ganger -- it just makes you lame-o. So titanium devotees such as Kameron Loe, Todd Jones and Brandon Webb, among dozens of others, won't make the cut.
Chain Gang roster spots are being reserved, however, for guys who wear anything shiny or knobby, with bonus points if the neckwear frequently emerges into full view, like Schilling's does. That's good news for Jeff Weaver (more on him in a minute), Felix Hernandez, Oliver Perez, Miguel Batista, Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez, Jon Garland, Chien-Ming Wang, Jose Lima (who, according to Buster Olney, was "preoccupied with placing the trinket from his necklace in his mouth" while sitting in the dugout Sunday), Jose Reyes, Derek Jeter, Robinson Tejada, Erik Bedard, Jesse Crain, Billy Wagner, Victor Zambrano (who appeared to be wearing rosary beads back in his Tampa days), Luis Castillo, Bartolo Colon, Jon Lieber, Ervin Santana, Gary Sheffield, Roy Oswalt and David Ortiz, among many others.
In fact, once you start looking, you'll see it's actually pretty tough to find players who aren't sporting on-field bling, which Uni Watch finds a bit surprising. Like, do these guys all have disco balls and hot tubs, too? Or as Uni Watch attaché Ruth Wedes put it while watching a recent game, "Man, if they wear that much jewelry on the field, imagine how much crap they must wear just for walking around!"
Uni Watch would rather not ponder that one. But although this is an unusually robust time for MLB neckwear, it's hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, Uni Watch History Minister Scott Turner has come up with enough past examples for us to convene a Chain Gang Old-Timers Day, where the participants could include Joe Black, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays, Willie Stargell (here's another view), Joe Carter, Rickey Henderson and Robbie Alomar (with Joan Payson serving as owner emeritus).
Like every team, the Chain Gang has its superstars. Here are the players, past and present, who stand neck and shoulders above the rest:
1. Jeff Weaver. The undisputed king of wayward neckwear, Weaver has the preternatural ability to wrap his gold chain around the right side of his face with virtually every pitch. He unveiled this maneuver while playing for the Tigers and has taken it on the road for his subsequent stints with the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels. Sometimes it even looks as if he's gnawing on the chain (among other things). Of course, it might be nice if he could pitch even half as well as he executes these parlor tricks, but Uni Watch supposes you can't have it all.
2. Turk Wendell. When you brush your teeth between innings, wave to the center fielder and wear No. 99, you're a character. When you insist that every financial figure in your contract end in "99," you're eccentric. But when you go hunting and put the teeth and claws of the animals you've shot onto a big, garish necklace, which you wear during games, you're just a freak.
3. George Scott. A true Chain Gang pioneer, the Boomer wore a shell necklace back in the mid-1970s. When a writer asked him what the necklace was made of, Scott deadpanned, "Second basemen's teeth."
4. Japan's team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. You wouldn't wear a Hawaiian lei on the field, right? But the Japanese WBC squad did the next best (or worst) thing, wearing braided titanium necklaces that lent a distinctly tropical air to the proceedings. No word on whether Don Ho tried out for the team.
5. Jerome Williams. Speaking of Hawaii: When Williams' mother died of breast cancer while he was still in the minors, he began wearing a Hawaiian puka shell necklace she'd given him. He has continued wearing it in the big leagues, first with the Giants (although Lou Piniella once made him take it off, claiming it distracted Tampa's hitters), then with the Cubs. He also has arranged to have puka necklaces sold at the ballpark, with proceeds going to cancer research. But he got a scare in 2003, when his necklace broke during a game and the shells scattered. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Williams "gathered a few [of the shells] and glued them to the underside of his cap. But it wasn't the same as the necklace, so Williams called his brother, Glenn, in Hawaii and instructed him to go to the cemetery and dig up a second puka necklace he had buried next to his mother's grave." Touching devotion or bizarro-neck-rophilia? Either way, it paid off: In his first game with the exhumed necklace, Williams tossed a shutout.
Honorable Mention: Warrick Dunn. Okay, so he plays football, not baseball. Still, Dunn's odd penchant for wearing a gold chain on the gridiron could one day give new meaning to the horse-collar tackle. Let's sign him to a minor league Chain Gang contract, just in case we need reinforcements.
And if we need still more backups, Uni Watch is assembling a supplemental team: the Braceleteers, composed of players who wear bracelets. Again, there are standards -- sweatbands and tape don't cut it. You have to wear a real bracelet. Unfortunately, the only players we have so far are Jae Seo, who sometimes wears a Korean bracelet (here's a closer look), and Victor Martinez, who has been spotted wearing a Livestrong-ish band with the colors of his native Venezuela.
And if any players out there are wearing anklets, Uni Watch doesn't want to know.
(Special thanks to Todd Radom and Tim Wiles for their research tips on this topic.)
From Bad to Norse
By now you've probably seen the Vikings' crummy new uniforms, which were unveiled just after Uni Watch's last column was posted. They don't look so bad from the front, but the same can't be said for the back and sides, which are a chaotic jumble. For the full Arena League-esque effect, go to this link and move your cursor over the photograph to make the image rotate. (You also can see a video of the unveiling ceremony here.)
As you might expect, Uni Watch has a few observations regarding some of the design's smaller details:
• What's the deal with the rounded corners on the uni numbers?
• On the plus side, the team is switching to black shoes.
• Several readers have suggested that the horned "V" on the jersey's chest wordmark might have been influenced by -- or even stolen from -- the University of South Florida logo. That's a good conspiracy theory, but in this case, the Vikes are blameless: They staked their claim to the horned letter long before USF did.
All in all, it's a textbook case of fixing something that wasn't broken. But let's say this for the Vikes: Between the jersey side panels, the pants piping, the truncated collar, the rear nameplate logo, the leotard socks, the number font and the unnecessary helmet change, they've provided so much fodder for ridicule that Uni Watch doesn't even have to mention a certain very annoying color.
Uni Watch News Ticker
The Buffalo Bisons' unis look like this. But when C.C. Sabathia made a minor league rehab start on April 27, his jersey didn't have the placket piping (nice catch by Eric Schmitz). We all know college hockey players wear face cages, but you don't often see cages in the NHL. Ottawa's Mike Fisher began wearing one April 27, however, after sustaining a facial fracture from a puck in the face (thanks to Jeremy Brahm, who also sent along some photos of that anti-concussion thingie that Pat LaFontaine used to wear). Another case of a questionable color scheme redeemed by striped stirrups: Lubbock Monterey High School in Texas (contributed by Jay Shive). And speaking of striped stirrups, the Padres wore awesome 1948 Pacific Coast League throwbacks Saturday. And look what Paul Wilson got to wear during a rehab start with the Dayton Dragons (thanks to Mark Fightmaster). And that's nothing compared with the University of Virginia's throwbacks, which they wore May 2 (thanks to Mike Iannoni). Conditions were so cold at Wrigley Field on April 25 -- 39 degrees at gametime, with 18-mph winds -- that Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez actually strapped on one of those hand-warmer pouches, like the ones worn in the NFL. But the umps made him take it off after the first inning. In that same game, Aramis Ramirez had the ski mask look. Speaking of the Cubs, Bob Kapheim has spotted an inconsistency in the team's batting practice attire: The bear on the BP jersey is walking in front of the C, but the bear on the BP cap is emerging from behind the C. "My friends didn't see the significance of this," Kapheim writes, which of course means he needs some new friends. Jose Mesa likes his glove to match his team's colors. So, now that he's on the Rockies, he's wearing a purple glove. Uni Watch will let this stylistic statement speak for itself. Check out the totally hideous jerseys this year's MLB All-Star Game participants will be wearing for the home run derby and other practice activities. Greg Netherwood and Uni Watch both wanna know how come Scott Niedermayer's jersey has "Koho" on the back instead of the Reebok logo. Uni Watch has written previously about the unusual phenomenon of catchers who wear their helmets with the brim facing forward. Uni Watch had been aware of only two MLB backstops favoring this style: Jason Phillips and Kevin Cash, neither of whom is currently in the bigs. But it turns out there's another front-brimmer, one Uni Watch had overlooked: Adam Melhuse, whose brim is particularly easy to spot under his mask when he wears Oakland's yellow-billed home helmet. Speaking of catchers' helmets, there's an odd story coming out of Minnesota, where Twins backstops Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond decided the team's basic backward flapless solid-navy helmet was no longer good enough for them. According to the team's Web site, "The two had their helmets sent in to get painted for a more 'old school' look" -- specifically, this 1970s look, which Mauer wore Sunday. But someone apparently put the kibosh on that because he'd switched back to the regular helmet Monday. Is it just Uni Watch, or does Casey Fossum need to be fitted for a mansiere? Great story here about Creighton University pitcher Pat Venditte, who wears a custom-made, double-thumbed glove because he pitches both right-handed and left-handed. The jersey-as-hanky thing is getting seriously out of hand. It mostly involves pitchers, although Kevin Walsh points out that David Wright does it repeatedly during every at-bat. It's hard to know which is weirder: all the players who keep doing it or all the photographs catching them in the act. Like, Uni Watch doesn't understand why anyone would even bother to take this photo, but at least we now have a pictorial record of this bizarre trend. Can an MLB licensing deal with Kleenex be far behind? Logo Creep Alert: Michelle Wie attended a Korean baseball game and dressed up in uniform -- but check out her belt buckle and cap (and, while we're at it, her glove, batting gloves, shoes and wristband). Speaking of logo creep, very disappointing to see that Joe Crede once again is wearing Rawlings-branded socks. And speaking of sock inscriptions, Turk Wendell briefly wore personalized "99" socks while pitching for the Rockies in 2004, and check out the handwritten "27" on Pudge Fisk's stirrups. Logo Anti-Creep Alert: Why has the Reebok logo been covered over on Alex Smith's and Warren Sapp's jerseys during mini-camp? Speaking of the Niners: Judging by this photo of first-round draft pick Vernon Davis, it looks as though the team will be wearing a 60th-anniversary patch this fall. And what was that patch on the Titans' jerseys during their mini-camp? A closer look reveals the disturbing truth: a "Baptist Sports Medicine" advertising patch (plus, it looks as if Vince Young might be gunning for a spot on the Chain Gang). These are only practice jerseys, natch, but the sight of an ad patch on NFL attire is still very bad news. Edgerrin James has persuaded coach Dennis Green to switch the Cardinals' shoes from white to black this season. With the Vikings also making the footwear switch, that brings the NFL's black-shod contingent up to 15 teams -- nearly half the league. Lions rookie linebacker Ernie Sims wore a wristwatch during mini-camp, which of course brought back memories of longtime watch wearer Reggie Roby (with thanks to Mike Morris). Doug Mirabelli, reacquired by the Red Sox on May 1, had to fly across the country and then change into his uniform in a state trooper SUV that picked him up at the airport and just barely got him to Fenway Park in time for his first game with the Sox. Wait, it gets better: Mike Comeau and Mark Mihalik note that Mirabelli always has worn Mizuno catcher's gear and cleats in the past. But here's how he dressed for his first game back with the Sox. "That looks like Varitek's gear," says Mihalik, who along with Brad Chan noticed that Mirabelli also appeared to be wearing Wily Mo Peña's "22" cleats. Idaho State has signed a deal with Nike and will now wear -- surprise! -- Nike's wraparound-bib template for the school's home and road football uniforms. Former MLB outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo wore a collared shirt under his jersey April 30. Nippon Professional Baseball promptly banned the practice the next day (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). Surprisingly early example of a batter wearing a shin guard: Ted Williams (thanks to Jeff Ahearn). Certain things in life are always funny: someone getting a pie in the face, someone stepping on a banana peel and a crotchety old man hitching up the back of his pants. Chipper Jones has become the most outspoken critic of the new CoolFlo batting helmets. "I'm never going to wear one of those," he said, inaccurately. "They are ugly, and I'm not sure that they are even safe. I'm going to stick with my old helmet and have them slap a new 'A' on the front every year." John Mattson notes that the University of Wisconsin softball team, whose batting helmets used to look like this, has switched to a design based on the school's football helmet (similar to how Michigan's football helmet motif shows up in a lot of the school's other sports). The Rangers celebrated Cinco de Mayo by wearing Los Rangers jerseys, including a commemorative right-sleeve patch. And speaking of May 5, Terry Forte wants to know: "Did Colorado's equipment manager get an early start on the Cinco de Mayo margaritas?" The reason he asks is this screen shot of the Rockies congratulating Jamey Carroll after his walk-off walk -- check out the name on Jason Smith's jersey. Most MLB teams will be wearing pink sweatbands on Mother's Day, to promote breast cancer awareness. But the Phillies, who'll be on the road that day, wore pink this past Sunday.
Glove Story Revisited
Last column's batting glove manifesto brought an avalanche of responses. Without further ado:
• As many readers pointed out, Uni Watch was seriously remiss in failing to mention Jeff Bagwell's padded left glove, which he began wearing after breaking his hand in 1994. Arguably history's most innovative glove (and certainly the bulkiest) .
• Uni Watch's rundown of current bare-handed hitters (Jorge Posada, Doug Mirabelli, Josh Paul, Vlad Guerrero, Coco Crisp, John Mabry, Bobby Kielty, Doug Mientkiewicz and Moises Alou) had a few omissions. The most interesting one is switch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr., who consistently goes gloveless when hitting right-handed but wears gloves when hitting left-handed. "I asked him why," says Rangers media-relations manager Jeff Evans. "He said it's because he doesn't bat right-handed that often and he wants to feel the bat in his hands rather than get tight with it in the palms. Gives him more of a feel. Left-handed, he just says he feels more comfortable with gloves."
Other gloveless wonders include Ben Johnson, Michael Barrett (although he often wears gloves in cold weather), Adam Everett (a new bare-handed convert -- he previously had worn gloves), Greg Norton (ditto) and Woody Williams.
• As you might recall, Uni Watch could think of only one current player who consistently wears one glove -- Jay Gibbons. But readers came up with three more: Travis Lee, Brandon Fahey and Roger Clemens (who isn't technically a current player, but we all know how that's gonna play out).
• Tomas Perez had a glovely odyssey for the ages April 30. He wore gloves for his first plate appearance, as he always has done in the past, but for some reason he went gloveless his second time up. On his first bare-handed swing, he lost control of his bat, which had to be retrieved by Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. Another swing, another bat toss, another Youkilis retrieval. At this point, it occurred to Perez that some pine tar might be in order. But he promptly tossed his bat yet again -- and struck out -- with his third swing. Not surprisingly, he went back to wearing gloves his next time up.
• Batting glove savant Chris Fleming was quoted last time around describing a photo of Mel Hall "with at least three pairs of batting gloves in his pockets" (he wasn't specifically referring to this photo, but you get the idea). As several readers pointed out, Hall kept those gloves back there so he could "wave bye-bye" during his home run trot, a move that didn't exactly endear him to opposing pitchers.
• Finally, a question that could only come from a Uni Watch reader (in this case, Travis Smith): What kind of batting gloves, if any, are worn by Antonio Alfonseca, who has six fingers on each hand? It's a moot point this season because he's in the American League, but the record shows he has had 13 at-bats over the years. Uni Watch hasn't been able to find a photo of him batting and doesn't have the heart to ask the Rangers PR department, so this mystery will have to go unsolved, at least for now.
Big thanks to all who contributed information, especially Kevin Gee, Chris Iconos, Matt Sokol, Ryan Patrick, Gabriel Armenta, Brian Amendolair, Adam Goldschmiedt, Aaron Pancoast, Ken Ritz, Brian Crisp, Bryan Redemske, Bryan Duklewski, Matthew Wolfram, Mark Meadows and Scott Mason.
Meanwhile, in other follow-up news:
• John D. Abernethy and Rachel Nathan point out that last column's rundown of facemasked MLB players (Ellis Valentine, Gary Roenicke, Kevin Seitzer, Charlie Hayes, Terry Steinbach and Dave Parker) omitted a more recent example: Terrence Long, who wore a mask in 2000. And in a related item, Eric Stangel and Zachary Rieger report that Parker's masked helmet recently was sold at auction.
• Speaking of which: Look closely at Parker's facemasked lid and you'll see it was double-earflapped (that wasn't clearly evident in this photo), which means we can add Parker to our ongoing list of non-switch-hitters who've worn double-flap helmets (a roster that also includes Trot Nixon, Bronson Arroyo, Willie Harris, Delino DeShields, Steve Garvey, John Olerud, Chuck Knoblauch and Dave Magadan). And Denis Kirstein has come up with another addition to the list: Pat Meares.
• Big thanks to the scores of rugby fans who responded to Uni Watch's request for an explanation of the thigh pads in this photo. Turns out they're not pads at all, at least not in the conventional sense. Andy Silvester explains: "When the ball goes out of play on either sideline, play is restarted with a line-out. The hooker throws the ball between the two teams, QB-style, to (hopefully) his own player, who will have been lifted by a couple of other forwards. The 'lifters' aren't allowed to grab a player's shorts to lift him up -- they have to push him up. The padding and electrical tape provide a spot where they can push, instead of trying to grip the bare thigh." Clay Shonkwiler adds: "Speaking from personal experience, if you don't wear something there, your thighs will be one big abrasion after the dozen or so line-outs that occur in the average game." The whole thing is described in greater detail here.
• Thanks also to all the soccer fans who confirmed that Alecko Eskandarian's headgear is indeed an anti-concussion device -- he had gotten his bell rung a few times. Other players wearing similar gear include Ryan Suarez, Adin Brown and Ross Paule ("but I think they're just jealous of Rafael Moreno Aranzadi," Vanessa Swenson says).
• Brian Kinder was one of many readers who explained the story behind the stick-figure-ish manufacturer's logo on the Texas Tech jerseys in this photo: "The manufacturer was bigTime Sports Apparel, but it has since been sold. They were based in Norman, Oklahoma, and seemed to outfit a lot of the Big 12. Thankfully, OU stuck with Nike, as I would take all 18 (estimated) swooshes on the average player over one of those logos that look like a cartoon version of the Cingular logo."
• We have a few more entries for our ongoing discussion of jerseys with really long surnames. Jeff Barak nominates this guy ("a player for Sweden at the 2005 World Junior Championships"). And Michael Jankolovits checks in with this: "Stetson University in Florida has a 7'1" center who's part Native American, named Chief Kickingstallionsims. SU didn't even try to fit all of that -- the back of his jersey simply says, 'Chief' [quasi-visible here]."
Paul Lukas is keeping a Chain Gang roster spot open for anyone who takes the field wearing a candy necklace. His answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.