Can MLB solve its uniform crisis?

 Illustration of a baseball player swinging the bat and becoming progressively sweatier.
Illustration of a baseball player swinging the bat and becoming progressively sweatier.

Jerry Seinfeld once said that rooting for professional sports is kind of silly — players change teams so often that "you're actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it." But nobody is cheering for the uniforms in Major League Baseball this year. The league has a "uniform crisis" to start the season, said The Athletic. Teams are taking the field with a new generation of "MLB-approved, Nike-designed, Fanatics-produced" unis that have drawn wide derision from players and fans alike.

The new uniforms "leave little to the imagination," said The New York Times. The fabric is so sheer that one online fan joked that he would buy his wife "baseball pants instead of lingerie." The chatter increased on Opening Day when members of the New York Yankees sweat through their uniforms — an unsightly look to say the least. Another criticism: The lettering on the backs of uniforms is smaller than in previous versions. The overall feeling, said the Times, "is that the new uniforms are a huge step back in terms of quality."

"They're designed to be performance wear, as opposed to what has traditionally been worn, so they are going to be different," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told PBS NewsHour. And it's true that players "like the idea of something more breathable on a hot summer day." But maybe the league was trying too hard, Washington Post critic Robin Givhan suggested. The new designs have "this element of fashion and style, which ended up leading these uniforms astray."

What did the commentators say?

"Complaints about jersey changes are far from new, in baseball or in any other sport," Amanda Mull said at The Atlantic. The bigger problem is that there are "two distinct purposes" for the production of any major sports uniform — one is to be worn by players, but also to be purchased by fans. But the impulse to design for the mass market has resulted in a worse product for everybody. "No one has to do a very good job, and they'll still get to charge you $400."

"Every sports story is a labor story," Stephanie Apstein said at Sports Illustrated. People can disagree with the "aesthetics" of the uniforms — the real problem here is "the players' belief that the league is trying to get one over on them." The men who play the game believe their feedback on uniforms has been disregarded by the league. The result? "It's crazy that my son's travel team … has better quality uniforms than the Philadelphia Phillies," said Phillies' right-fielder Nick Castellanos.

The new uniforms are "about finding ways to bring attention to the sport," Rick Morrissey said at The Chicago Sun-Times.  Baseball has problems — "sagging TV ratings and the reality of young people ignoring baseball in droves." Last year's World Series drew record-low ratings. As for the remaining fans? "They'll wear last year's jersey to weddings and baptisms."

What next?

The league keeps running into uniform problems. MLB's special edition "City Connect" uniforms — special designs, worn mostly on Friday nights — weren't being delivered by Fanatics to the teams in a timely fashion, forcing teams to play in their regular jerseys, USA Today said. "The confusion over shipments add to a long list of embarrassing errors for Fanatics, Nike, and MLB," said Forbes. And the "performance wear" justification for the new uniforms is also under scrutiny: The Detroit Tigers' Riley Gaines ripped his pants this week on a slide to home plate against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Changes are probably coming, said CBS Sports. Nike is now testing options to solve the sweat stain issues in the MLB uniforms. But it will take time to settle on a fix and "manufacture a league worth of uniforms." Which means it's "unclear if they'll be able to make meaningful changes that can correct for the problem this year."