Uni Watch: MLB's top 10 uniform oddities
June, 7, 2012
By Paul Lukas | ESPN.com
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesJuan Pierre is the only MLB player who still wears his cap under his batting helmet.At first glance, the Chicago Cubs appear to wear fairly standard, traditional-looking uniforms. Take a closer look, though, and all sorts of anomalies become apparent: The Cubs use an embroidered helmet logo appliqué, instead of a flat decal; have a circle-R trademark symbol on their home jersey's chest logo; wear their primary logo on the upper-left thigh of their road pants; and wear the National League logo as a sleeve patch on their blue alternate jersey. All of these are unique uniform quirks -- no other MLB team has anything like them.
There are plenty of other uni-related eccentricities lurking out there on the diamond. You just have to be sharp-eyed enough to spot them. That, of course, is Uni Watch's stock in trade, so here's a top-10 list of today's MLB uniform oddities. Some refer to specific players, others to specific teams, and a few are micro-trends shared by several players, but all stick out like sore thumbs -- once you take the time to notice them.
1. David Wright's pants, socks, and undershirt. New York Mets third baseman David Wright is having a career year. But even before this season started, he was already leading the league in uni-related quirks. For starters, Wright has the oddest lower-leg protocol in the majors: He wears he pants down by his shoe tops for night games but goes high-cuffed, exposing his blue socks, for day games. In addition, while all the others Mets wear blue compression shirts under their jerseys, Wright has worn an orange undershirt for several years now.
(As you can see from those photos, Wright also sticks out his tongue a lot -- a trait he shares with now-disabled Mets starter Mike Pelfrey. This has made the Mets by far MLB's most tastebud-exposed team in recent years, although this quirk seems less uni-related than behavioral.)
2. Juan Pierre's cap/helmet combo. It used to be common for players to wear their caps underneath their batting helmets while hitting and running the bases. But that style began dying out when earflapped batting helmets were introduced, because the flap tended to bump up against the side of the cap's brim. For the past seven or eight seasons, only one player has stuck with double-layered headwear: Juan Pierre, who's maintained this style throughout his career.
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMust be a day game, because David Wright's going with the high-cuffed pants.
3. Hunter Pence's solo glove. Another common sight back in the day was hitters wearing just one batting glove. It was so common, in fact, that a 1970 book featured an offer for kids to order their own MLB batting glove -- not a set of two, but just one. Nowadays, though, everyone wears two gloves. Everyone, that is, except Hunter Pence. He might have some company if Jay Gibbons makes it back to the big leagues, since Gibbons -- currently with the Brewers' triple-A affiliate in Nashville -- was a single-glover. Ditto for Clete Thomas, currently in the Twins' minor league system. For now, though, Pence is the most notable single-gloved performer this side of Michael Jackson. (And yes, there are also those players who wear no gloves at all. But bare-handers, while notable, aren't as rare as single-glovers.)
4. The A's white shoes. In 1967, when the A's were still playing in Kansas City, team owner Charlie Finley got the idea to have the team wear white cleats -- something that no other big league squad had ever done. True, several other teams have dabbled in white footwear over the years, but only the A's have stayed the white-cleated course. It has become such a big part of their identity that it's hard to imagine them without it. (Note to Oakland management, however: The white footwear doesn't look so good for Philadelphia A's throwback games.)
5. Front-brimmed catchers. Everyone knows that catchers wear their helmets backward, with the brim facing back toward the umpire (or if they wear the hockey-style mask, they wear a backward cap instead of a backward helmet). Simple, right? Wrong. At least three current MLB backstops -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Red Sox, Wellington Castillo of the Cubs, and Jose Lobaton of the Rays -- wear their helmets with the brim facing forward. This style was pioneered in 2001 by Jason Phillips of the Mets and has also been used over the years by a few other MLB backstops. But Saltalamacchia, Castillo, and Lobaton are, to Uni Watch's knowledge, the only front-brimmers currently plying their trade in the bigs. (Salty, of course, also has the longest name ever to appear on an MLB jersey, so he gets bonus points.)
6. Double-flappers. Double-ear-flap helmets are mandatory in the minor leagues, but most players switch to single-flapped helmets when they make it to the majors. A small cadre of holdouts, however, prefer to go double-flapped. (Until a few weeks ago, that list would also have included longtime double-flapper Willie Harris, but he's currently back down in the minors. Similarly, Zach Lutz had a cup of coffee with the Mets back in April but is now back down at triple-A.) The reasons for going double-flapped vary: Some players like the extra level of protection; others think the double-flapped helmet feels more balanced on the head; and some are switch-hitters who prefer the convenience of sticking with one helmet. Or maybe they just like the youthful appearance, since a double-flapped helmet tends to make its wearer look like he's 12 years old.
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo is one of the double-flap stalwarts.
7. Josh Outman's stirrups. A handful of players still wear stirrups, but none do so with the 1970s-style Úlan of Rockies pitcher Josh Outman. He first came to Uni Watch's attention during his time in Oakland, where his hosiery stylings were highlighted by the A's gold sanitary undersocks. Now that he's with Colorado, the visual effect is slightly less pronounced, but there's still only one word for it: Outmania!
8. The Tigers' belt loops. Most MLB pants have wide belt tunnels. But not in Detroit, where the Tigers use conventional belt loops -- lots and lots of them (and as you can see, they're not just for plus-sized guys like Prince Fielder). It's a style that's been the norm in Detroit at least since the days of Al Kaline. Why? No real reason -- just one of those things that make uni-watching such a nuanced exercise.
9. Tim Lincecum's footwear carousel. Some players change to different shoe designs as the season goes on, but Tim Lincecum takes things a step further: He changes brands. He's already worn shoes from at least three different companies this season. Most players couldn't do that even if they wanted to, because they're tied down to exclusive shoe-endorsement contracts. Given how poorly Lincecum has pitched so far this year, it's tempting to speculate on how his footwear may be correlated to his pitching. Would his mound performance be more consistent if he stuck to one brand? Or should he keep trying new brands until he returns to Cy Young form?
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJosh Outman keeps hoisery alive with the stirrups.
10. The pocket brigade. Back in 2006, dozens of MLB players began wearing their back pants pockets inside-out. A few players had done it before then, but ’06 was when it really caught on as a widespread phenomenon. The trend died out a season later when the commissioner's office cracked down on it, but a few players have kept it alive: the Marlins' dynamic duo of Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. (One footnote: Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper refer to inside-out pockets as "elephant ears." But Uni Watch doesn't care for that term, since it dishonors a noble beast and an even nobler pastry.)
Honorable Mention: Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison wears his wedding band on his necklace. As you may have noticed in the photos of Juan Pierre and Hunter Pence, the Phillies have little Liberty Bell icons on their socks and stirrups. More than a third of the way through the season, the Marlins have worn their orange caps only once -- on May 15. It's been a while since an MLBer has worn a helmet while playing the field, like John Olerud and Dick Allen used to do. Wouldn't mind seeing someone do that again, just for kicks.
Did Uni Watch miss any double-flappers or front-brimmers? Know of any other uni-related quirks that deserve some attention? Send your nominations here.
Paul Lukas never gets tired of tracking this stuff. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch website, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.