Nick­names on Yanks’ backs? What would Bam­bino think?

Uni­forms con­tin­ues // S6

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - BILLY WITZ

For nearly a cen­tury, the New York Yan­kees’ uni­forms have re­mained dis­tinctly uni­form: white with navy blue pin­stripes at home, trav­el­ling grays with navy trim on the road. They are the only Ma­jor League Base­ball fran­chise that has never placed names on the back of their jer­seys at home or on the road.

While the Hous­ton Astros may have sported tequila sun­rise uni­forms, the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates pill­box caps and the Chicago White Sox short pants, the Yan­kees have been im­per­vi­ous to the sport’s fash­ion trends.

For the Yan­kees, it is a point of pride that Babe Ruth did not dress much dif­fer­ent from Joe DiMag­gio, Mickey Man­tle, Reggie Jack­son, Don Mat­tingly or Derek Jeter.

But later this month, the Yan­kees will play a home se­ries against the Seattle Mariners look­ing like some­thing else al­to­gether. As part of a Ma­jor League Base­ball-wide “Play­ers Weekend,” Aug. 25-27, the Yan­kees will wear an al­ter­nate uni­form with a script “Yan­kees” across the front, grey caps and — take a deep breath here — the play­ers’ nick­names on the back of their jer­seys.

Clint Fra­zier will be wear­ing a jersey with “Red Thun­der” on the back. Aaron Judge will wear “All Rise” on the back of his. C.C. Sa­bathia will wear “Dub” — short for Dou­ble C. And Todd Fra­zier, the proud Jersey guy, will wear “The Toddfa­ther” on his back. It will also be the first time the Yan­kees — the only fran­chise to never have veered away from but­toned jer­seys — will wear pullover tops.

In ad­di­tion to the uni­forms, play­ers will be al­lowed to wear in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed spikes, bat­ting gloves, wrist­bands, com­pres­sion sleeves, catcher’s masks and bats. And each uni­form will have a blank patch on the right sleeve for play­ers to write the name of a per­son or or­ga­ni­za­tion that was in­stru­men­tal in his de­vel­op­ment.

In the past, the Yan­kees have worn throw­back uni­forms and tweaked their look to con­form with what­ever Ma­jor League Base­ball might have de­signed for a hol­i­day com­mem­o­ra­tion. But it is un­likely that the Yan­kees, who care­fully po­lice the length of their play­ers’ hair and do not al­low beards, would have gone along with some­thing like Play­ers Weekend if they had not been ob­li­gated to do so.

In this in­stance, the team has no choice but to be part of an ini­tia­tive driven by the play­ers’ union and Ma­jes­tic Ath­letic, the MLB ap­parel li­censee, which is sell­ing the replica uni­forms for $200.

“Their tra­di­tion is so rich that a lit­tle bit of change in the tra­di­tion won’t up­set the ap­ple cart,” Allen Adam­son, a mar­ket­ing ex­pert, said of the ef­fect the weekend

might have on the Yan­kees’ im­age. “I’m not sug­gest­ing the Yan­kees go to polka dots, but the iconic na­ture of the brand is so sharp, they have the lat­i­tude to shake it up a bit.”

The weekend ini­tia­tive by base­ball is an ac­knowl­edg­ment of — and an at­tempt to ad­dress — the no­tion that the sport does not en­gage young fans in the way that other sports, par­tic­u­larly the NBA, do. In an in­ter­view with ESPN The Mag­a­zine last year, Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als star Bryce Harper said: “Base­ball’s tired. It’s a tired sport be­cause you can’t ex­press your­self.”

The World Base­ball Clas­sic in March drew raves for the flair and pas­sion that many coun­tries be­sides the United States dis­played — be it an au­da­cious bat flip by Wladimir Balen­tien of the Nether­lands, the dyed-blond hair of the Puerto Ri­can play­ers or the rau­cous Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic fans (and re­liever Fer­nando Rod­ney’s good luck golden plan­tain).

Sa­bathia, who of­ten wears an Oak­land Raiders cap or jersey to the ball­park and or­ga­nizes trips to NBA games with his team­mates, says he is keenly aware of the crit­i­cisms of his sport, par­tic­u­larly com­pared with how well the NBA, via so­cial me­dia and other plat­forms, has con­nected with young fans.

“This is the first step in get­ting there,” said Sa­bathia, who is among 11 ma­jor-lea­guers who served on an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee for the com­ing weekend. Among the oth­ers are the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, Bal­ti­more’s Manny Machado, Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Cleve­land’s Fran­cisco Lin­dor.

“It shows a dif­fer­ent side of the play­ers,” Sa­bathia added. “It al­lows you to show your per­son­al­ity a lit­tle bit, show what you would do if you had no rules. I think it will be fun to see that and to see the imag­i­na­tion that some guys have.”

Todd Radom, a graphic de­signer who has de­signed the lo­gos for the Los An­ge­les An­gels and the Na­tion­als, and a patch hon­our­ing the in­au­gu­ral sea­son of the new Yan­kee Sta­dium, says he sees this move as fol­low­ing a greater trend in sports.

The NBA, which in 2014 al­lowed play­ers to wear uni­forms with nick­names on the back for a se­lected game, has re­cently done away with home and road uni­forms, giv­ing teams an op­tion of four uni­forms to wear.

“It’s the Ore­gon Ducks syn­drome writ very spe­cific for MLB,” Radom said. “I think you’re see­ing the bar­ri­ers erode of tra­di­tional no­tions, and I think it does stem quite a bit from col­lege foot­ball. See­ing it bleed into base­ball isn’t sur­pris­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

New York slug­ging su­per­star Mickey Man­tle hangs up his uni­form June 8, 1969, in the Yan­kee Sta­dium locker-room.

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