- Paul Lukas
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This Sunday is St. Patrick's Day. That means at least two things are certain to happen: People all over America will be drinking green beer, and MLB teams all over Florida and Arizona will be marking the holiday by wearing green caps and/or jerseys for their spring training games.
That's a continuation of a tradition that began 35 years ago -- March 17, 1978 -- when the Reds became the first team to wear green on St. Paddy's Day. The idea was a publicity stunt cooked up by Cincy general manager Dick Wagner, who managed to keep the whole thing a secret until the day of the game. When the Reds' players saw the emerald uniforms, many of them were not amused. Johnny Bench reportedly quipped, "Did we get traded to Oakland?" Davey Concepcion was blunter: "I'm not wearing that. I'm Venezuelan, not Irish." (Footnote: Yes, he eventually gave in and wore it.)
Thirty-five years later, Wagner's green-uni gimmick has spread throughout MLB and expanded into the larger sports world. NBA teams celebrate the holiday with green uniforms, and NHL teams don green practice jerseys for pregame warm-ups. The only reason the NFL doesn't join the party is that there are no NFL games in March (at least not yet).
If anything, the idea of wearing green on St. Paddy's Day has been so successful that's it's become passé. You can sense the green fatigue around MLB training camps, where teams used to unveil their green gear to much fanfare but now just dutifully suit up in green on the 17th with little if any advance notice. (One exception this year is the Orioles, who've announced that they'll be wearing this cap.) And a lot of the teams now just do the bare minimum. Green jerseys? A few teams still do that, but not many. Green-trimmed pants? Fuhgeddaboudit. Most teams just issue a green cap -- sometimes a snap-back, not a fitted model! -- and call it a day. Even the Reds, who came up with the idea in the first place, can't be bothered to wear a green uni anymore.
Is wearing green on March 17 an idea that's outlived its usefulness? Maybe. But this is the 35th anniversary of the green gear, and attention should be paid. Would it have killed the Reds to mark the anniversary with a commemorative patch? Maybe they’ll do that in another five years -- if teams are still wearing green by then.