December 14, 2011
Not many baseball players change their uniform numbers during the season.
In fact, the only player I can remember recently changing his number during the season is Gerald Laird, who went from No. 8 to No. 12 in 2010 with the Detroit Tigers. And the only reason I remember that is because I'm a Tigers fan and watch almost all of their games.
Laird was hitting .154 when he decided he needed to change his luck with a new number. He ended the season batting .207, so it's debatable how well that worked out for him.
But any player who might contemplate making such a change next year should probably look more closely at MLB's new collective bargaining agreement.
Besides all the stuff about the two additional wild-card teams, revenue sharing, HGH blood testing and so forth, the new CBA includes an intriguing new rule that the New York Times' Ken Belson noticed. Players who change their numbers during the season will be obligated to buy all of the unsold jerseys and other licensed merchandise bearing his name and former number.
How much might that cost a player? MLB's licensing department can't say for certain. After all, manufacturers surely produce more Derek Jeter jerseys and T-shirts than Johnny Giavotella merchandise. Jeter would be on the hook for much, much more if he made the unlikely choice to change his No. 2.
From here on out, players who want to change their numbers have to give MLB eight months notice. As Belson points out, that means requests for a number change will have to be submitted by July 31 for the next season. So anyone who wants to bust a slump or pay tribute to a favorite player will really have to attach himself to that choice.
Of course, this is a concession to MLB's licensing partners. Who wants to be saddled with a bunch of merchandise that's become outdated because of a player's whim? The best that can be done is to sell it off at bargain prices. Or perhaps donate the apparel to developing countries.
But MLB says this is being done for the fans. Anyone who invests in a jersey or T-shirt with a player number shouldn't have to worry about that garment being obsolete.
That is, unless a player is traded. Then the rule wouldn't apply because the player would wear a different uniform. In that case, apparently, an obsolete shirt becomes a collector's item, bittersweet keepsake or ironic statement.