By Vince Grzegorek
Ceremonial first pitches are one of those baseball traditions that seem to be pretty standard across the board. A politician, an actor, a local hero, or someone important trots out to the mound before the game and hurls a “pitch” that more often resembles a dying bird. The guest of honor then walks up, shakes the catcher’s hand, retrieves the ball, and waves to the crowd. End of story.
You might think a longstanding tradition that includes the word “ceremonial” would have some sort of standard dress code, maybe even a formal one, but you’d be wrong, wrong, wrong (although, some of you might think those last two are very, very right). Given all the various accouterments, one might wonder if there was any etiquette at all.
What started as a very buttoned-upp and formal occasion when President Taft began the tradition of tossing out the first pitch on Opening Day in 1910 has evolved (or maybe devolved) into a sub-casual Friday affair that some participants “honor” by dressing like slobs.
Sure, times change, and no one shows up to the park in a top hat and a three-piece suit anymore, but shouldn’t the first pitch honoree be held to a higher standard? He’s representing the guy who usually occupies the space on the mound and/or the guy who started the tradition. Whether it’s dressing in “throwback” Sunday best or tucking the jersey in like you were suiting up for fantasy camp (keep the comments tame on that pic, folks), I think the ceremonial first pitcher should at least look like a real ballplayer, or else like President Taft (although not Taft as a baseball player, which of course would look ridiculous).
Perhaps we can blame it all on some of the more recent men to occupy Taft’s post. POTUS used to look all spiffy and official when tossing the ball (from the stands, no less) — suits, hats, vests, ties — but after President Reagan, the fashion standard dipped considerably. Clinton did the jacket thing, and Dubya slaps on some apparel from whatever city he’s in while he does the job. A sad departure from this. (The lone exception was the patriotically apropos FDNY jacket President Bush wore while tossing out the first pitch during the World Series after 9/11.)
So if the leader of the free world can’t even dress up for the occasion, why would anybody else? It seems that there’s no sartorial protocol when it comes to performing one of the most recognizable baseball events. If you’re an athlete, you can wear the home team’s jersey, or you can go ahead and wear the jersey or shirts from your own team and sport. If you’re a retired baseball player, you’re expected to wear the team logo or colors in some way. If you’re a celebrity and a huge fan, you can wear a jersey, a cap, or just your regular clothes. And if you’re a monkey, you can wear a diaper.
But should athletes be able to wear whatever they want when it comes to uniforms? Hell no! Would a baseball player dropping the ceremonial first puck at a hockey game wear his baseball jersey? No. That would look ridiculous. Would a basketball player flipping the coin at the start of a football game wear his basketball jersey? Again, no.
Call it nitpicky and say that baseball is a casual game and whomever throws out the first pitch should be able to dress like any other real fan at the game, but I won’t listen. From actors to politicians to other celebrities, the sleeves-rolled-up look has gone too far. Dress like it’s a ceremony or dress like it’s a game, but not in between.
If Harry Truman could throw a ball from the stands, over rows of photographers, past players scrambling for a view, and into the mitt of the waiting catcher (including a time in 1950 when he threw out two first pitches, one lefty and one righty!) is it too much to ask for first pitchers to honor the ceremony of the moment by looking at least at least a little bit dignified and professional for a couple of minutes on the mound? If they did, maybe we’d see more of this, and less of this.
(Note: I mentioned Harry Truman and not Franklin Roosevelt, because Roosevelt’s first pitch in 1940 hit a Washington Post camera, missing his target by juuuuuuust a little bit.)
Gateway My Ass: Paul here. I’m still in St. Louis, thanks to some nasty weather in NYC that led the airline to cancel my Wednesday-evening flight home. Should be Brooklyn-bound later this morning, though.
The video shoot at Liebe yesterday went really well (or at least that’s what I thought, and the camera and audio guys seemed to agree). Got tons of great footage, learned a lot, saw some really talented people practicing their craft, and came up with a few dozen different ways of saying, “That’s so damn cool!” A really great day. Aside from all the material we got on tape, there was lots of fun chatter, including two good stories that were related to me off-camera:
- The Cubs once sent Liebe some pants to be repaired during a swing through St. Louis (teams on road trips often ask the host team to do minor uni surgery — common practice). So one of Liebe’s sewers stitched up the rips and tears. And then, on the inside of the pant leg, where nobody could see, she stitched “Cubs Suck” in dark thread. (In a vaguely related item, I noticed that several file folders of Mets materials were marked “METS — Pond Scum.”)
- Strict instructions from the Dodgers: All of Tommy Lasorda’s pants were to be tagged as having a size 40 waist, even though they were significantly larger than that. (Which reminds me: A certain MLBer whose name I’m not at liberty to reveal insists that his batting gloves be tagged “XL,” even though they’re actually large. When his supplier once mistakenly left the “L” tags on, instead of swapping them out for “XL,” the player called the supplier and said, “You sent me the wrong size gloves.” The supplier explained, “No, they’re the same size you always wear — we just forgot to switch the tags.” To which the player slowly repeated, “They’re the wrong size” and hung up.)
I’ll have lots more to share about the St. Louis trip later on — maybe on Friday. Stay tuned.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The level of hosiery ignorance has now gotten so bad that Lee Jenkins’s column in yesterday’s New York Times included the following: “Leaning back in his chair, Bonds stretched a black sanitary sock over his face, like an eye pillow. … At one point, St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols walked over to Bonds. … Feeling Pujols’s presence, Bonds lifted the sanitary sock.” Memo to all concerned: Sanitary socks are not black. The sock in question was simply a sock, not a sanitary sock. Jeez. … Uni Watch auction consultant David Brown notes that this must surely be a record price for a garter-related item. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: All Virginia Tech teams will wear a memorial patch this fall. … I’ve lost track of which soccer jersey web sites have previously been mentioned in this space. So at the risk of repetition, here are two more (with thanks to Peter Ripberger and T. Faust). … Kenn Tomasch says he’d buy one of the new L.A. Galaxy jerseys, “but I’m afraid three wise men would start following me around.”