Jim Sankey: Extra Innings: Ununiform Uniforms form the norm

Apr. 30—I remember about 25 years ago, in a Mercer County summer league baseball game, the home team took the field with one player wearing his cap backwards. The umpire told the team's manager that all of the players had to wear their hats the same way. Uniform, you know.

That came to mind as the controversy continues over this season's new major league baseball uniforms, beefs that started when they were first delivered to teams during spring training.

Major League Baseball had been actively developing these new uniforms since 2018. Five years ago, the league signed a 10-year deal for uniforms with Nike and Fanatics.

All three groups were involved with getting the new Nike Vapor Premier uniforms onto the players this season: Nike designed them; Fanatics made them and MLB approved them.

Check. Check. Check. Seems simple enough to me.

But from the start, players balked at them. The general complaint was that unlike uniforms in past seasons that felt and looked special, the new uniforms are lacking.

The Athletic quoted one player who put into words what many other players felt: "They're not bad jerseys," he said. "Just, in my opinion, they're not 'big-league' jerseys."

Many criticized the new duds as looking cheap and resembling more of a replica or knock-off jersey, not something worn by a professional athlete.

Seemingly, the goal was to create standardizing decorative additions and reduce the weight and stiffness of the uniforms. Numbers are smaller and perforated. Names are 2 1/2 inches tall, with a consistent arc. Sleeve trim has changed, and patches are no longer embroidered, but are printed.

Complaints focused on the fact that the that lighter, more breathable fabric is not as well suited for those traditional-sized lettering; and the usual, embroidered way gave way to printed components.

Photos of players in the new uniforms showed an almost see-through material, one in which the tucked-in shirt was clearly visible through the home white pants. The tighter-fitting unis also show more sweat stains, especially in the road gray pants, and in many cases the gray used in the jerseys don't match the gray used in the pants.

Problems continue to occur, including a "wardrobe malfunction" during a recent Tigers-Pirates game in Pittsburgh. Detroit's Riley Greene experienced the snafu as he slid into home. His pants ripped open at the seam, revealing his compression pants. Many of his teammates were shown laughing hysterically at the scene. Pirate fans, however, were crying as the run was part of a come-from-behind Detroit victory at PNC Park.

The logical course to solve the problem would be to make some changes or even return to the uniforms of previous years.

And this is where "logical" becomes the problematic word.

None of the three entities wants to accept responsibility. Fanatics created the uniforms as Nike designed them to be. And MLB approved both the design and the uniform.

In addition, this three-way megadeal is worth more than $1 billion.

Yes, that's with a "B."

The Athletic reported in a statement that MLB had praised Nike's "expertise in bringing innovation and design improvements" and its "extensive multi-year process" in arriving at the 2024 uniforms while acknowledging there are issues for Nike to address.

"Nike chose the letter sizing and picked the fabric that was used in these jerseys," an MLB statement said. "Fanatics has done a great job manufacturing everything to the exact specifications provided by Nike. As part of this significant transition, Nike will continue to explore necessary adjustments to certain elements of the new uniforms to meet the needs of MLB clubs and players."

Translation: There's a problem, but it's not anyone's fault.

The last time uniforms caused such an uproar occurred in 1976, thanks to off-the-wall Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck. In 1951, Veeck signed 3-foot, 7-inch Chicago native Eddie Gaedel, who actually appeared in a major league game. In 1961, Veeck introduced an exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park which lit up the sky after White Sox home runs.

In March of Bicentennial 1976, Veeck introduced new Pale Hose uniforms. The outfit had a long pullover top with a fake collar and early 20th century lettering. An alternative to traditional pants featured shorts, which the team wore for several games in August that year.

Even the Pirates contributed ununiformed uniforms, which Extra Innings will discuss next week.

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JIM SANKEY is the Pittsburgh Pirates columnist for Allied News. His baseball views and periodic fashion history appear weekly during baseball season.