Known as America’s pastime, baseball has developed an ethos that has, until recently, transcended both time and pop culture. Pushing through the effects of two world wars, the Great Depression, segregation, and seemingly countless other economic, social, and political challenges, baseball has remained essentially the same in regards to its style and grace. With the exception of the designated hitter rule, the unpopular instant replay, and skyrocketing salaries, the heart of the game-the passion and substance-continues to draw fans to the park. In essence, each trip to the park is both a modern extravaganza and a reflective history lesson.
However, what has escaped the unseen preservers of baseball’s customs and has started to penetrate the game itself is the absurdity of the sloppily worn uniform. Yes, the old school pinstripes still adorn each Yankee who runs out of the dugout, and Dodger blue remains ever-present in the afternoon sun, but styles have changed. Gone are crisply worn caps, bent at just the right angle to obscure the glare of a high sky; the long solid stirrups, undercut by pure white sanitaries, and held up by slim-fitting pants that slid just inches below the knee; the well-preserved jersey, buttoned near the top and smoothly rounding out the shoulders while falling directly to a tight tuck inside the belt.
Until recently, baseball has appropriately failed to embrace the fashion trends fluctuating through regular society. While the 1920s saw men dressed in pressed suits and dual colored leather shoes with a young flapper attached to an arm, never did the third base coach wave a runner to the plate wearing the latest fedora and toting a tommy gun for intimidation. While the 1960s and early 70s revealed a society riddled with an individualistic coming of age through protest and drugs, never did a team send its players out onto the field with tie-dye button-up shirts and large peace signs as belt buckles.
The current game, however, has slacked, and, as a result, the once steadfast uniform has begun a less than holy transformation. Players now stretch pants to their shoe tops, even going so far as to use elastics to bind them to the shoes’ souls. Rather than looking like ballplayers, they resemble marching band members attempting to win a cavalcade and earn a trip to an area college bowl game. As fans, we can only pray that the low-slung drawers seen on city streets and hip-hop videos do not weasel their way in; if so, we will quickly come to know exactly who is wearing his lucky golden thongs.
Like the pants, hats have altered in appearance. Many position players and pitchers alike have elected to wear pin-straight brims. In terms of functionality, this rigid-brimmed style serves no purpose; instead, it makes a societal fashion statement, much like the overdone gold chains of the once-popular Mr. T or the flamboyant orange anti-sperm shorts worn by Richard Simmons. Soon players will go so far as to leave the stickers and tags on, so they can flap in the wind and possibly judge air speeds and direction, much like the weather probes dropped inside tornadoes on any one of three Discovery Channel shows. Good thing many have decided that a quality doo rag is a critical part of the headgear for baseball. This way, if their hats fall off from playing too hard, they will remain cool, phat, and off the hook.
Baseball has a charm and allure that will slowly disintegrate if the popular world has its way. Imagine a CEO walking into a meeting with the Brooks Brothers tag hanging off the lapel of his suit, or the cuffs of his Armani pants strapped to the bottom of his shoes. Envision Bill Gates walking out on stage to launch his newest Windows application, yet all the attention going to the multi-colored doo rag he has riding atop his head, complete with the Microsoft logo stitched into the side. If this sounds absurd, it is because it is, and baseball should take steps to protect itself from becoming the next runway for fall and spring design. Before we know it, Joe Buck will turn to Heidi Klum for color commentary and Tyra Banks for on-field analysis.