Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Updated: August 19, 4:42 PM ET
Spring jersey cleaning
By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2
Ah, spring training is there anything better? After that long winter dry
spell, all our favorite baseball rites return like old friends: the crack
of the bat, the smack of horsehide on leather, the parade of spoiled,
selfish egos. (How spoiled, you ask? This spoiled.)
Uni Watch has been keeping an eye on spring training, looking for new
uniform developments and personal stylistic quirks. Jim Thome, for example,
has been wearing his pants uncharacteristically low this spring. And Sammy Sosa's elasticized sleeve cuffs, which he began wearing in 2003 with the Cubs, have traveled with him to the
Spring training is known for its high
uni numbers, but David Wells is going in the other direction. Wells,
now with the Red Sox, is fulfilling a long-held dream by wearing No. 3, in
honor of Babe Ruth. Assuming he avoids the police blotter long enough to
make Boston's regular-season roster, Wells will become only the 13th pitcher since 1960 to wear a single-digit number, and will join Toronto's Josh Towers as MLB's only single-digitized pitchers.
Although the party line is that spring training is all about bunting practice, cutoff drills and hazing the rookies, the real point is much simpler: getting the players to pose for yearbook and media guide photos, often under less-than-glamorous conditions. Since these photos usually show the players only from the waist up, it doesn't matter if the jersey and pants don't match or if there are no pants at all.
Back in the day, teams wore their regular uniforms for Grapefruit and
Cactus League games. A few teams still do this, but most now wear their
batting practice jerseys and caps. By now everyone knows this is just a
merchandising scam, one that Uni Watch usually prefers not to dignify with
further discussion. But since they're essentially functioning as game
attire this month, here's a quick rundown of this season's new designs:
The Expos-turned-Nationals have a nice enough practice jersey and cap. But the uniform numbers, which are supposed to appear three-dimensional, instead look like they've got these weird, talon-like serifs. Chalk it up to growing pains.
Sales of sunglasses in Port St. Lucie have no doubt plummeted now that
the Mets have replaced their neon orange practice jerseys with a more subdued black-on-blue design. In keeping with that color scheme, they've also changed the bill of their practice cap from blue to black.
In this confusing and contentious world, it's nice to know there are a
few universal truths we should all be able to agree upon. For example: No
team could possibly need two practice jersey designs. Until this
spring, only the Reds, Dodgers, Tigers and Phillies failed to grasp this
premise, but now we add the Rangers to the list. The relative
simplicity of their old jersey has been replaced by this and this (note the "26" memorial patch for Johnny Oates). Think of this as subtraction by addition.
The Astros have ditched their old practice cap in favor of a Texas-centric design. As we all know, anything related to geography or maps is totally cool (it's another one of those universal truisms, kinda like "Stirrups rule," or "Purple uniforms are completely lame-o"), so Uni Watch heartily applauds this change. While we're at it, how come the only other MLB teams currently wearing state-based
imagery are the Brewers and Twins? Uni Watch hereby goes on record in support of a greater cartographic presence on uniforms.
The Padres have changed their practice jersey's drop shadow from light blue to sand, a truly revolutionary development that has surely led three fans to buy a new jersey. (Are you one of them? If so, Uni Watch wants
to hear from you.)
In keeping with modern custom, many teams will temporarily shelve their
practice uniforms next Thursday and don St. Paddy's Day outifts, a harmless enough gimmick pioneered
by the Reds in 1978 (although in more recent years they've taken a lazier
approach). Uni Watch's advice: Skip the green beer and get yourself a Shamrock Shake, another one of spring's great rituals.
Uni Watch reader Richard Polk is walking a little prouder these
days, and with good reason. He's the rare fan who can say he's had a direct
effect on a player's uniform.
To explain: Polk recently pointed out to Uni Watch that while most of the
Indiana Pacers wear the team's "P" logo at the base of their road shorts, Stephen Jackson's shorts had been logo-free all season long, and Ron Artest was wearing logo-less shorts prior to his suspension.
Uni Watch passed the query along to NBA senior apparel director Christopher
Arena. "Just when I thought I had seen everything," he e-mailed back.
"That's a great catch. You have Reebok [the NBA's uniform manufacturer]
turning the factory upside-down trying to figure this out, it's great."
After some investigation, here's what Arena now thinks took place: The
factory that had been making the Pacers' uniforms closed last year, so
Reebok moved the team's account to another factory. A set of logo-less
prototype uniforms was sent to the new factory, as a sizing guide, and some
of those prototypes may have gotten mixed in with the finished uniforms
that were shipped to the team. None of which explains why nobody involved
with the Pacers noticed the mistake, but not everyone can be as
detail-attentive as your average Uni Watch reader.
Anyway, here's the beauty part: When the Pacers played the Nuggets on March
3 two days after Uni Watch first contacted Arena lo and behold,
Stephen Jackson suddenly had a "P" on his shorts. All because of Richard
Polk. "Hey, we listen to you," says Arena, filling Uni Watch with a flush
of squishy pride.
More NBA hijinks: Rodney Rogers probably didn't mind being traded from the
last-place Hornets to the 76ers. But he wasn't too thrilled to arrive for
his first game and find his name had been misspelled on his jersey. After he raised a stink, the team
quickly procured a patch to
cover up the typo.
"It's unreal, this happens twice a year," says Arena. "The other time this
season was Raptors spelled 'Rpptors,' I think on Jalen Rose's jersey.
Carmelo Anthony had his shorts on backwards a few weeks ago and changed on the court, and Chris Andersen's name was spelled wrong on his jersey for
the slam dunk contest last year. No matter what you do, it happens twice a
year. You can set your clock by it."
Of course, the NBA is hardly unique in this regard. Major League Baseball,
for one, has had its share of uni-related typos
snafus, and you can expect to see more glitches as the number of
alternate, throwback and special-occasion unis continues to multiply.
Son of the Mask
Thanks to some truly intrepid help from reader Dana Bierce, we've
finally filled the most glaring vacancy in our rogue's gallery of masked baseball
players. That would be Dave Parker, who wore the extra protection after breaking his cheekbone in a 1978 collision with Mets catcher John Stearns. Astute readers will note that Parker's mask
(quickly identified by Helmet Hut facemask guru Curtis Worrell as a Dungard 210) made his batting helmet so heavy that he actually needed a chinstrap to keep it in place.
As for the rumors of Parker's having worn a hockey goalie-style mask for one
plate appearance before switching to the football facemask, photographic
proof is supposedly on its way to Uni Watch in the mail at this very moment stay tuned.
Paul Lukas has had his name misspelled as "Lucas" on business cards,
paychecks, utility bills, memos and e-mails, but never on a jersey.
Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got a question or comment for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.