Nicknames on Yanks’ backs? What would Bambino think?
Uniforms continues // S6
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.”
New York slugging superstar Mickey Mantle hangs up his uniform June 8, 1969, in the Yankee Stadium locker-room.