We have a lot of ground to cover today, kids, beginning with something you almost never see: the same uniform mistake made by two different players on consecutive days.
The follies began on Thursday night, when Gary Matthews Jr., who’s a switch-hitter, wore a left-handed batting helmet while batting right-handed for his first at-bat, leaving his left ear exposed. Nobody appeared to notice, and Matthews grounded out without incident. He switched to a proper helmet for the rest of the game.
The following night, in Baltimore, Brian Roberts — another switch-hitter — stepped up to the plate in the 7th inning wearing a left-handed batting helmet — which would have been fine, except he was batting right-handed. He took one pitch, and then someone brought the problem to his attention, at which point he trotted over to the on-deck circle and traded in the lefty helmet for a righty one.
The Roberts incident prompted a small earflap discussion between Orioles broadcasters Fred Manfra and Buck Martinez:
Manfra: That flap makes a difference. That has been such a, uh — well let’s just say at times a career-saving addition to the batting helmet, that flap.
Martinez: Yeah, it’s interesting how it came into being. A lot of players were very reluctant to wear it. I know Ernie Whitt, who’s the first base coach for the Blue Jays, he wore the traditional baseball cap, without the earflap, for a long time, and he was grandfathered in. If you had played with it when the new rule came in, you could stick with that old baseball cap. Ernie wore that cap, and he didn’t have that flap on his helmet for a long time. And you remember Bob Montgomery for the Red Sox, he wore that skullcap inside his baseball cap.
Martinez: This has been a tremendous improvement for protecting hitters. If you see minor league hitters, they wear both flaps.
Martinez’s “analysis” here is so garbled, a translation is in order. First of all, when he says Whitt used to wear a “traditional baseball cap,” he appears to be referring to a basic flapless helmet. The grandfathering Martinez mentions is set out in Rulebook section of 1.16(c), which states: “All players entering the Major Leagues commencing with the 1983 championship season and every succeeding season thereafter must wear a single ear-flap helmet (or at the player’s option, a double ear-flap helmet), except those players who were in the Major League during the 1982 season, and who, as recorded in that season, objected to wearing a single ear-flap helmet.”
The last player to invoke this clause — or so it appeared at the time — was Gary Gaetti, who went flapless for a few games with the Red Sox in 2000 and then retired. But then Tim Raines, who had retired after the 1999 season, came out of retirement. His 2002 season, with the Marlins, now stands as the end of the flapless batting helmet era.
As for Martinez’s mention of Bob Montgomery’s “skullcap”: Much as earflaps were grandfathered, so were batting helmets themselves. Players who didn’t want to wear them could instead opt to wear a plastic insert, sometimes called a liner, inside a regular cloth cap. Montgomery, who retired in 1979, was the last player to go this route. You can see his cap/insert setup here.
But the biggest failing of Martinez’s commentary is that he hints at the story of the earflap’s origin without actually explaining it, leaving his listeners hung out to dry. Luckily, smart people like you read Uni Watch, so you can get the full scoop, which goes like this: Double-earflap helmets began appearing in Little League in the late 1950s. According to Peter Morris’s essential A Game of Inches (see link at right), Jim Lemon of the Indians was reported to have worn an “‘earmuff’ or Little League helmet” — presumably a double-flap model — in 1960, which provoked “much merriment” among teammates and opponents. As for the single flap, that came about in 1963, when Earl Battey of the Twins — who’d twice had his cheekbones broken by pitches — created a makeshift flap by attaching a metal plate to his helmet in 1963. (I’ve been looking for a photo of this for years — anyone?) Tony Gonzalez of the Twins had a real single-flap model made for himself the following year.
(Special thanks to readers Brian Dascenzo and Bryan Redman, who brought these two helmet happenings to my attention.)
Throwback Special: The Mets celebrated the 20th anniversary of their last World Series championship by wearing 1986 throwback unis on Saturday and Sunday. Although racing stripes and pajama pants are a brutal combination (note the black belt too, instead of the proper blue), the team nonetheless got a bunch of subtle details right, including the use of nameplates instead of direct-sewn player names (ugly but historically accurate) and the blue cap button that the team wore back in those days (instead of the current orange button, which was introduced in 1997). They even removed the orange dot on the batting helmets, so they were solid blue to match the caps — an impressively detail-obsessive move.
The throwbacks prompted some good uni chatter in the Mets’ broadcast booth, where the two color commentators — Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez — are both alums of the 1986 team. On Saturday night, there was this exchange during the 8th inning:
Hernandez: Another thing about those pipes, piping, on the uniforms. You’ll notice the piping that runs down the side of the torso on the jersey top — it’s very important that you line up the stripes. Very important. [Darling and play-by-play man Gary Coehn crack up.] I used to make sure that my piping lined up with my pants, so it was all one line. [Well, sometimes.] Very critical.
Cohen: You don’t wanna be off-center with your piping.
Hernandez [as the camera shows Michael Tucker’s perfectly aligned piping]: Look at that. Look how pretty that looks. Perfect!
Cohen: Perfect piping, every time.
Not bad, as uni banter goes (although if they really wanted to be on the ball, someone should’ve pointed out that the last time the Mets wore 1980s throwbacks, in 2002, the piping was missing from the waistline region). And there was more at the outset of Sunday’s game, as Orlando Hernandez took the mound:
Cohen: El Duque is old enough that he could have worn those racing stripes in his prime.
Hernandez: Oh, look at that, he’s lined up! I’ll tell you, that’s a “W” right there, I’m guaranteeing it.
Darling: Nice! You are the, uh, Le Cosini, the Le Cosini of, uh, uniform wearing.
Hernandez: They’re back to the purple buttons on top, Gary, the hats. I mean not the purple, the orange. The Mets’ hats. [Actually, they’re still wearing blue buttons, except for El Duque, who has orange.]
Cohen: That would be out of uniform for 1986. Gotta have a blue button.
Hernandez: I liked those uniforms, I’m sorry.
Cohen: Well, you looked good in it.
Hernandez: Well, that’s debatable.
[Brief tangent to discuss non-uni matters. Then…]
Cohen: Let’s check in with another uniform expert, Chris Connor.
Connor: I do agree about the piping, El Duque certainly got it right today. But he’s wearing the blue socks. Now that’s different from the ’86 uniform — no stirrups. Willie Randolph was asked about that the other day and he said, “Ah, my legs are too skinny to wear stirrups, my calves have atrophied.” He said back in the day when he used to put two or three pairs of socks on, the stirrups were alright, but now he wouldn’t go that route. And the other thing too about El Duque, you’ll notice he has the pants right below the knees. I was talking to [former Mets broadcaster] Ralph Kiner yeterday about the uniforms and he said back in the day, no player would ever wear his pants down to his shoetops the way some of the players do now. And that actually helped umpires in reading the strike zone — looking at the bottom of the player’s pants, right at the knees. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why you have inconsistent strike zones these days.
Hernandez: That’s a very good point that Ralph made right there, and I’m glad Chris brought that up. Because when you wear your pants at the knees, the umpire does get a clearer view of where your knees are in the strike zone.
Cohen: So why wouldn’t you just hike your pants over your knees, to shrink the strike zone?
Hernandez: That would look like you have knickers on or something.
Cohen: But anything to get an advantage, right?
Hernandez: I draw the line there, I’m sorry, Gary.
(Big thanks to John Ekdahl, Chris Herles, and Bruce Rosengrant, who all contributed crucial tips and info for the preceding section.)
Now then, before we get to today’s Uni Watch news ticker, a few bits of scheduling business:
Uni Watch Road Show Update: I’ll be in Milwaukee on Thursday evening and will be happy to meet readers at the fabulous Art Altenburg’s Concertina Bar beginning at 7pm. There will also be someone on hand from WUWM (Milwaukee’s public radio station) to interview me about the new Bucks and Admirals uniforms, and I’m sure they’ll want to get some local opinions as well, so clear your throat before coming on down.
Holiday BBQ: I’m going to throw a cookout party at Uni Watch Gardens (i.e., my back yard) on the afternoon and evening of September 3rd — that’s the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Everyone reading this is invited, at least theoretically, but my yard has a pretty limited capacity, so here’s the deal: If you want to attend, send an e-mail to unibbq at earthlink dot net (note that this is not the usual Uni Watch address). Be sure to state if you’ll be bringing any guests. Once I get a feel for how many people want to come, I’ll get back to you with details regarding time, place, directions, and so on. If more people want to attend than I can accommodate, I may have to prioritize the invitations according to the order in which people responded to this notice, so if you want to be on board, speak up now.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Major uni-watching from SI.com columnist Don Banks: Check out the fourth and fifth bulleted points on this page. … Whenever I think of ballplayers who inscribe numbers or initials on their caps, I instinctively think of Jose Lima, who had all sorts of numbers (most of them shout-outs to injured teammates) written on his cap in the late 1990s. The bad news is that I’ve never been able to find a good photo of this; the good news is that Jeff Tripodi just provided one for me. … Several folks have asked why I haven’t had any coverage of the Little League World Series. And here’s the answer: The Little League World Series is, for the most part, a disgusting spectacle that teaches adults to act like children and children to act like idiots. I prefer not to associate myself with it. … The Bruins are nixing their Pooh bear alternate jersey and will instead wear a vintage jersey for home games against Original Six opponents. Full details in the middle of this page. … Gotta love the news that Jamie Moyer has been traded to the Phillies. Since Moyer always wears stirrups, hopefully this means we’ll see a revival of the Phils’ Liberty Bell stirrup logo. We should find out on Tuesday night, when Moyer’s slated to make his Phillies debut. … The latest Japanese baseball observation from Jeremy Brahm: The Rakuten Golden Eagles have hearts on their pants. … Interesting note from J.D. Arendshorst, who writes: “Matt Hasselbeck came out for the warmup for Sunday’s Seahawks/Colts preseason game with white shoelaces in his black shoes. The announcers showed this (in the 2nd quarter) and briefly mentioned that the officials made him switch shoelaces before game time, since — evidently — shoelace color must match shoe color. He came out for the game wearing the standard black laces.” This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a shoelace rule in the NFL (which certainly would’ve been news to this guy). And Hasselbeck’s worn white laces in the past. Anyone else know anything about this? … Speaking of football laces, kinda looks like Aaron Brooks has removed the laces from his pants fly, no? … Good work by Jeff Scott, who writes: “Preston Wilson signed with the Cards Friday morning and was in the lineup Friday afternoon. Looks like his jersey was made up by the Wrigley clubhouse guys, who clearly don’t get much practice sewing names onto jerseys –the letterspacing was way off [see top photo here]. His jersey from Sunday [the lower photo] is consistent with the Cards’ style.” … Last week I mentioned that the Vikings were wearing mesh nameplates. Matthew Wolfram reports that the Bears appeared to be doing the same thing on Friday, although photographic confirmation has so far proven elusive. … The Titans wear their wordmark logo just above the front uni number. But that logo was missing from Vince Young’s jersey last night, and may have been missing from Lendale White’s jersey as well (good catch by Jack Byers). … No comment.