- Paul Lukas
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The Major League Baseball All-Star Game will take place next Tuesday in Kansas City. And if history is any guide, we'll see plenty of players exhibiting something that's become an All-Star Game staple: They'll be wearing white shoes.
White shoes for the All-Star Game is a tradition that goes back several decades, and it's had an impact that extends well beyond the baseball diamond. You know how NBA players always showcase special sneakers for the NBA All-Star Game? That's a direct outgrowth of MLB's long-standing protocol that a special game calls for special footwear.
Until recently, however, it wasn't clear when this tradition started. The earliest documented case in the Uni Watch archives came from the 1976 All-Star Game, when Dave Kingman of the Mets went ivory-footed, although Uni Watch had a nagging suspicion that there were earlier examples.
Now, thanks to researcher Jon Helfenstein, who runs the excellent Fleer Sticker Project blog, we have the answer. It's a timely bit of info, too, because it turns out that the white All-Star Game shoes debuted in 1973, which happens to be the last time the Midsummer Classic was played in Kansas City.
Helfenstein discovered this while watching a video of the ’73 game, which featured at least four white-shod players, all from the National League squad. "I've watched the highlight film of the 1972 game, and nobody other than players on the A's were wearing white shoes," he says. "So I think its fair to say the 1973 All-Star Game was the first time this happened." (The 1973 game also featured at least two players who apparently forgot to bring their own batting helmets, which is another well-established All-Star Game tradition.)
A bit of additional research reveals that at least eight players wore white shoes in 1974 -- again, all from the National League. So the white footwear phenomenon apparently began as a Senior Circuit thing, then spread to the American League.
White All-Star shoes were particularly popular among players from the late-1980s Mets. One fan who took note was a young Mets enthusiast named Alex Rodriguez. A quarter-century later, A-Rod always wears white for the All-Star Game, a habit he's credited to those 1980s Mets. According to a 2006 post on A-Rod's personal website: "I grew up a big Mets fan, as many of you know, and I always noticed that the Mets All-Stars wore white spikes for the game. For the past few years, Nike has designed white shoes and wristbands for me to wear as a tribute to my childhood heroes."
OK, enough about shoes. Here are a few additional All-Star notes:
• Last year MLB tried something new during the run-up to the All-Star Game: Players named to the All-Star rosters wore little stars on their jerseys and caps during the week before the game. That little experiment has been quietly mothballed this year.
• Have you seen this year's All-Star BP caps? They're not bad. The piping is ridiculous, natch, but those logos are really nice. There's also a bunch of graphics on the undervisor, if you're into that kind of thing.
• It's the same story with the All-Star BP jerseys: nice logos, brutal template. You'll see these during the Home Run Derby.
• Remember our recent discussion of players wearing nicknames on their jerseys? Here's a new one: In the 1986 All-Star Game, Chili Davis of the Giants wore "Chili" on his jersey. The Giants have confirmed to Uni Watch that Davis wore "C. Davis" during the regular season that year (they also had Glenn Davis on the roster at the time), so Davis apparently wore a special nickname jersey just for the All-Star Game.
(Special thanks to Rick Pearson for his research assistance.)
Heroes of Zero, Revisited
Last week's column about athletes who've worn the number zero or double-zero generated a lot of good responses. First and foremost, Uni Watch was incorrect in stating that Robert Parish was the only zero-clad player to have his number retired. As several readers pointed out, the Spurs have retired 00 for Johnny Moore. Thanks to everyone who set the record straight on that one.
Other zero-centric updates:
• From reader Ben Zoss: "When Mychal Thompson was traded to the Lakers in 1987, he wore 00 with no name on the back for at least the first game with his new team, if not more. I was 10 at the time, but somehow this made an impact on me." Thompson later switched to his more familiar 43.
• From reader Larry Wiederecht: "Your list of MLB players left out George Scott, who wore 0 with the Royals."
• Uni Watch's chart of MLB players who've worn 00 included Don Baylor, from his short stint with the A's in 1988. Uni Watch had two sources for that: Jack Looney's book on baseball uniform numbers and Baylor's entry on baseball-reference.com. But longtime A's equipment manager Steve Vucinich got in touch with the following note: "Baylor never wore 00 in Oakland. He wore 12. Can't remember him even wearing 00 for even one game. Then again, so much to remember!"
• Several readers pointed out that author George Plimpton wore 0 while working out with the Lions in 1963 (an adventure that resulted in his classic book "Paper Lion") and then wore 00 during preseason action with the Bruins (which led to the book "Open Net").
Paul Lukas thinks A's players should wear gold shoes for the All-Star Game. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, 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.