Special to Page 2
You think you have it rough? Consider the lot of poor Uni Watch, who for the past few weeks has had the unpleasant task of staring endlessly at MLB players' posteriors.
The reason for that, of course, is the latest stylistic affectation spreading throughout big league ballparks: the inside-out pants pocket. It's not a brand-new trend, but it really has picked up steam this season, effectively turning Uni Watch into Pocket Watch.
Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper sometimes refer to this style as "one flap down," but that's not a good term because it invites confusion with Jeffrey Leonard's home run trot. Krukow and Kuiper also refer to the exposed pocket as "elephant ear," but Uni Watch doesn't like that either, because it dishonors a noble beast and an even nobler pastry.
So Uni Watch will use a simpler term: flappage. As in, "Whoa, he's showing some major flappage there," or "He had so much flappage going on, I thought his pocket was gonna drag all the way to the grass!"
The friar of flappage is unquestionably Tony Batista (who was released by the Minnesota Twins a few days ago, but he'll presumably hook on with a new team soon enough), who routinely turns his right pocket inside-out so kids will know he's not carrying any tobacco or snuff. He has done it throughout his career, including his stints with the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Orioles, Expos, A's and Twins -- even during batting practice.
But Batista has a lot of company these days. This season alone, Uni Watch has spotted varying degrees of flappage from Emil Brown, Magglio Ordoņez, Carlos Guillen (who occasionally has exhibited double-flappage), Trot Nixon, Royce Clayton, Mike Redmond, Ryan Freel, Juan Uribe, Angel Berroa, Manny Ramirez, Reggie Abercrombie, Michael Young, Pablo Ozuna, Barry Bonds, Adam LaRoche, Doug Mientkiewicz (who apparently has been going double-flapped for some time), A.J. Pierzynski (another player with a long flappage history), Willy Taveras, Vinny Castilla, Melvin Mora and Ray Durham, among others. (Special thanks to reader Gary Thomas for his contributions to this list.)
Krukow and Kuiper seem to view flappage as a good-luck charm (they supposedly were quite fond of Deivi Cruz during his Giants days), but Uni Watch just thinks it looks lame-o. OK, so it's understandable that your pocket might turn inside-out occasionally as you pull out your batting gloves. And maaaaaaybe the Craig Biggio types can be forgiven, as they'll do anything to increase their chances of being hit by a pitch ("Oooh, and he's nipped in the flappage!"). But to go for this look routinely, intentionally, that's just pathetic. No, not because it "disrespects the game," not because it's "unprofessional," but simply because it looks so damn stupid. Like, would you walk around town like that? (Anyone who answered yes, please report for reprogramming immediately.)
Why do baseball pants have pockets, anyway? After all, pockets don't exist in the other major team sports. Pockets appear to owe their baseball existence to the fact that early baseball pants were essentially basic wool knickers, which always were tailored to include pockets. Back in those days, fielding gloves were so small players routinely kept them in their hip pockets while batting. A few early teams also had chest pockets sewn into their jerseys, most notably the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose jersey pocket sometimes was blank and at other times was emblazoned with a "P."
But it's the pants pockets that continue to play a major role in the aesthetics of the diamond, because of all the things players put in them. Batting gloves are the most obvious example, followed closely by tobacco and snuff. Not as many players chew or dip these days (it has been banned in the minors, so young players are less likely to get in the habit), but you still can see the telltale circular container outlined in the pockets of Joe Crede, Barry Bonds, Chase Utley, Ramon Castro, Billy Wagner, Gregg Zaun, Marco Scutaro, Todd Jones, Hanley Ramirez, Craig Monroe, Chris Duncan, Nick Swisher, Mike Thompson, Jose Molina and Bill Hall, among others (along with pitching coach Bob Apodaca).
After that, things get interesting. Like, what does Corey Patterson have in his pocket -- a wrench? Manny Ramirez has been known to keep a water bottle in his pocket. Coaches and managers often have stopwatches (the little string always looks soooo dorky). And Richard Musterer tells Uni Watch, "I've seen Marcus Giles of the Braves pull a bag of sunflower seeds out of his back pocket between pitches while playing in the field. In fact, I just saw him do it again a few days ago -- there he was on the giant high-definition replay board at Turner Field, pouring sunflower seeds straight from the bag into his mouth and then stuffing the bag back into his pocket while playing second base."
Players have kept all sorts of things in their pockets over the years. The most notorious example is probably Tim Raines, who had a cocaine problem in the 1980s and reportedly learned to slide headfirst because his back pocket was where he kept his crack pipe (or his coke stash, depending which account you read). Then there's Joe Niekro, who was accused of scuffing the ball during a 1987 game, obligingly turned his pockets inside-out when the umps came out to frisk him, and then acted surprised when an emery board flew out from one of the pockets.
Looking back a bit further, Uni Watch is just barely old enough to remember the days when players kept their caps in their pockets while batting. And Jim Bouton's classic tome "Ball Four" includes the following tidbit: "Note about Rico Carty -- he doesn't trust banks. He also doesn't trust the clubhouse valuables box. So that big lump you see in his back pocket during baseball games is his wallet."
If you squint a little, you can almost convince yourself that Carty's wallet is visible here and here. Hoping to hear more, Uni Watch got in touch with Bouton, who said he became aware of Carty's wallet when he was traded from Seattle to Houston during the 1969 season. "I had just come over from the American League, so I didn't know about it, but someone in the bullpen pointed it out to me," he said. "Hey, pockets are important -- you need a place for a fingernail file, sandpaper, pine tar and all sorts of things like that."
(As an aside, Bouton is also the man behind Big League Chew bubble gum, which is packaged in a pouch. "We couldn't put it in a canister," Bouton told Uni Watch, "because lots of coaches wouldn't let kids play if they had a container like that in their pockets.")
Want to learn more? Uni Watch has stashed an additional pocketful of pocket-related stories here. And if you never thought so much could be written about such an inconspicuous uniform element, here's something to consider: Just imagine how much longer this column would have been if baseball pants also had front pockets.
World Cup Fever Revisited
Several readers have justifiably pointed out that last column's rundown of World Cup uniform designs would have been much stronger if Uni Watch had been aware of this amazing PDF file, which spells out FIFA's official uni regulations. Here's a typical entry, which should give you a sense of the document's immensely satisfying geeky specificity: "The letters used for the [player's] name must be in a contrasting colour to the colours of the shirt. For better legibility, they may be surrounded by a border or shadow outline. In the case of striped or chequered shirts, the name must be either affixed to a neutral coloured patch or surrounded by a border or shadow outline." Lots of great diagrams, too.
Speaking of geeky specificity, Page 2's Michael Davies recently linked to "this ridiculously esoteric Web site" (his words, not Uni Watch's), which breaks down the typefaces used on World Cup jerseys, in one of his recent blog entries -- worth checking out.
Paul Lukas likes funnel cakes even better than elephant ears (because, as everyone knows, you can't spell "funnel cake" without f-u-n!). His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his 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.