SBJ/Aug. 19-25, 2013/Franchises

Baseball largely a lawless territory with looks

In his third start of the 2012 season, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett took the mound against the Washington Nationals. He allowed just two runs and six hits in eight innings, and struck out 10 batters.

It was his best game so far that season, and because it was a Tuesday when the team is scheduled to wear its alternate jersey, he pitched in black. It’s a color he asked to wear again and again last year.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett chose to wear black in 2012 after a good outing.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
“He got off to a good start, so every time he pitched the rest of the year he said, ‘We have to wear the black jersey,’” said Lou DiPaoli, the Pirates’ former chief marketer who is now an executive vice president with the Mets. “It was just superstition. A.J. liked it. It worked. You go with it.”

The Pirates don’t typically allow pitchers to choose what the team wears, but DePaoli said Burnett was on such a roll that it changed its policy. The team wore black in all but two out of 18 games Burnett pitched between June and September, and he went 14-4 on the mound.

“We sold a lot of black Burnett 44 jerseys that season,” DePaoli said.

The episode highlights just how different Major League Baseball and its teams choose what they wear. Compared to the NBA and NFL, which have strict guidelines for when teams can wear alternate uniforms, MLB is a lawless territory.

The league has no cap on the number of uniforms teams can have. Teams don’t have to submit what they plan to wear to the league office. The only real rule is that they have to wear each uniform a minimum of six times each season, and they have to wear white or cream pants at home and gray pants on the road. Teams are supposed to tell opponents what they plan to wear before a game.

“There is dialogue,” said Anne Occi, MLB’s vice president of design. “You can’t come out of the locker room with whatever you want.”

But that’s about it.

As a result, teams have a variety of ways that the uniform is chosen. Many allow the starting pitcher to choose what the team wears. Several teams let their equipment manager choose. Some teams have a schedule, developed by the business side, that dictates what colors it wears each day.

That was the case in San Diego where former Padres President Tom Garfinkel designed a system where the team wears camouflage uniforms on Sunday, its alternate blue jersey one game per road trip and its home and away jerseys every other game.

The system was developed in response to a period in 2010 when the starting pitcher was allowed to choose what the Padres wore. The team started winning in its alternate jersey, and every pitcher picked it for road games. Garfinkel didn’t like the fact that the main road jersey fell out of rotation.

“The alternate jersey should be an alternate jersey, not something worn every day because the pitcher decides to wear it,” Garfinkel said. “The fans should know what we wear.”

The Atlanta Braves’ approach is emblematic of how many teams choose what they wear. The executive team asks the team to wear its red alternate jersey at home on Fridays, which it markets as “Fireworks Friday,” and it asks the team to wear cream uniforms at home on Saturdays and Sundays. But it lets the starting pitcher determine whether he wants to wear gray or blue jerseys for road games.

“It’s just personal preference,” said Mike Plant, the Braves’ executive vice president of business operations. “Some guys feel better in a certain color than another.”

Just because pitchers have the option of choosing doesn’t mean they spend a lot of time thinking about it. Braves pitcher Tim Hudson says he always chooses the gray jersey on the road because he’s a traditionalist. Occasionally, if he’s lost a game or two in gray, he’ll switch to blue, but it’s not something he thinks about a lot.

“Our game is hard enough as it is,” Hudson said. “If a guy thinks too much about what they’re going to wear, then they’re probably in the wrong business.”

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