Wednesday, October 20, 2004 Updated: August 19, 5:11 PM ET
The Red Sox, Team Pine Tar
By Paul Lukas Special to Page 2
Whatever happens in the World Series, everyone knows the Red Sox are the unquestioned kings of baseball this year when it comes to flamboyant hair styles. Look a bit closer at the players' heads, however, and you'll see that the Sox also lead the league in a more esoteric category.
Uni Watch is referring, of course, to players who smear pine tar all over their batting helmets. The Sox feature several charter members of this
club, led by Manny Ramirez, who often spreads the gunk
so thick that you can barely see his helmet logo. Other Bosox pine
barons include Trot Nixon and Kevin Millar. And just to corner the
market, the Sox made mid-season trades this year for longtime
Cabrera (whose pine tar acumen had been honed with the
Expos) and Doug Mientkiewicz (whose tar-smeared habits go back to his days with
the Twins and the 2000 Olympic
It isn't clear who started the tar trend, although the first such player Uni Watch recalls seeing was Craig
Biggio, back in the 1990s. In any case, the idea is to turn the helmet into a surrogate pine tar rag, so the player can simply touch his helmet during an at-bat to access the sticky stuff. (Note that several of the pine
partisans, including Mientkiewicz, Jorge Posada, and Vlad Guerrero, are also among the small contingent of big league hitters who don't wear batting gloves.) This essentialy makes the pine tar crew the spiritual heirs of NFL legends
Lester Hayes and Fred Biletnikoff, who were notorious for slathering
themselves with so much adhesive goo that they essentially were walking
Although the Sox get the nod as Team Tar, Uni Watch's vote for MVP (that's
Most Voluminous Pine) goes to Guerrero, who clearly has baseball's skankiest helmet. Players who stand next to him look shiny and fresh
by comparison, as his former and current teammates have discovered. So thick is
the tar cloud perched above his head, even his happy moods seem to beg the
question, "Why is this man smiling?"
Helmet customization, incidentally, is nothing new. Back in 1963, Earl Battey of the Twins created the first makeshift earflap by attaching a metal plate to the side of his batting helmet. Brooks Robinson insisted on
wearing a mere stub of a
visor (he had problems with glare from the underside of the full-size
brim), and Carl Yastrzemski preferred an oversized earhole.
But none of those alterations did anything to obscure the helmet logo. That's a no-no, which is why there was some chatter this summer that Major League Baseball might fine some of the more heavily-tar-encrusted Red Sox players. Nobody would comment about that on the record (as you can well imagine with such an explosive issue, the pine tar situation is very hush-hush), but don't be surprised if the MLB honchos enforce a
stricter policy next season.
When it comes to pine tar, Manny's one of the best.
Could that set the stage for an entertaining spectacle such as George Brett's
infamous pine tar bat
imbroglio? Uni Watch can only hope.
Meanwhile: Speaking of helmet customization, several readers have complained to Uni Watch about the NFL's recent treatment of Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who risked the league's ire by wearing a "40" helmet sticker in honor of Pat
Tillman, who died fighting in Afghanistan.
Some quick background: All NFL players wore this same sticker during the
season's second week. But Plummer, who played with Tillman at Arizona State
and on the Cardinals, wanted to keep wearing it, even if the NFL fined him
for violating the league's uniform guidelines. After a public standoff,
Plummer agreed to remove the sticker; and in return, the Broncos are adding
tributes to Tillman to their stadium.
Sorry, gang, but Uni Watch thinks the NFL got this one right. Once you let
players start freestyling, even for a well-intentioned cause, it tends to
get out of hand. Major League Baseball learned that the hard way in 1999,
when players started inscribing their caps with little handwritten tributes to injured teammates. Soon, they were adding
notations about their kids, pro wrestling, Wayne Gretzky's retirement, and a lot more.
MLB honchos eventually had to put the kibosh on the whole thing.
It's a safe bet that something similar would happen in the NFL -- imagine Plummer's tribute being trivialized by some linebacker giving a helmet-borne shout-out to his girlfriend. Kudos to the league bigwigs for
not letting Plummer take them down that road, no matter how nit-picky it makes them look.
Update: Uni Watch's recent examination of retired
numbers gained a bit of extra resonance this week when Jerry Rice was
traded to the Seahawks.
Rice has worn uni number 80 for his entire career, first with the 49ers and then
with the Raiders. But the Seahawks retired that number in 1995, in
honor of Steve Largent. Given Rice's recent
temper tantrums regarding playing time and the loss of his consecutive-game
reception streak, how would he react to having to wear an unfamiliar
Not to worry. Calls were made, permission from Largent was requested and
received, and Rice will be wearing number
80 after all.
Contest Update: Thanks-a-plenty to the scores of readers who've
submitted uniform designs for the relocated Expos. (For submission details,
see the end section of Uni Watch's previous
column.) Entries will continue to be accepted until next Monday,
Oct. 25th, with the winners announced sometime in November.
Paul Lukas, much like the NFL, has never been afraid to appear
nit-picky. Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got a uni-related question or
comment for him? Send it here.