Talking Memorial Day Uniforms with Nick Francona

Monday is Memorial Day — the day when we remember and mourn fallen military members. As most of you know, I’ve been critical of the way Major League Baseball has handled this holiday in recent years, for reasons that I won’t belabor here. (I’ve also given MLB credit for having a better approach to the holiday this year.)

I’m not the only one who has had issues with MLB’s treatment of this holiday. One of MLB’s most prominent Memorial Day critics is a man named Nick Francona, who has repeatedly questioned MLB’s handling of camouflage uniforms and merchandise. His thoughts on the intersection of MLB and Memorial Day are particularly notable because of two prominent entries on his résumé: He has served in the Marines and he has worked in the front offices of several MLB teams, all of which gives him more insight, perspective, and moral authority on this topic than the average observer.

Francona, who is the son of Cleveland manager Terry Francona, no longer works in baseball. His most recent MLB gig — assistant director of player development for the Mets — ended last summer. He says he was let go because of his criticisms of MLB’s handling of Memorial Day. MLB has said there’s no truth to that; the Mets have simply said they wish him well.

I’ve been aware of Francona and his thoughts about Memorial Day but had never communicated with him until last week, when he commented on something I had tweeted. With MLB teams having just worn camouflage for Armed Forces Day, and with Memorial Day right around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to pick his brain. We spoke on the phone earlier this week. What follows is an edited and slightly condensed transcript of our conversation.

Uni Watch: First, please tell me a bit about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you currently do for a living?

Nick Francona [shown at right; click to enlarge]: I’m 33. I live in New York now, moving to Boston soon. And I’m waiting to hear from some grad schools.

UW: I know you were in the Marines. When did you serve, and in what capacity?

NF: From early 2009 to 2012, I was an officer. My MOS — that’s military occupational specialty — was ground intelligence officer, and my role was scout sniper platoon commander.

UW: Where did you serve?

NF: I was stationed in California, and then I did a deployment to Afghanistan.

UW: I’m sorry to ask such a sensitive question, but did you personally serve alongside anyone who died in combat?

NF: The battalion I was in — 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines — lost five Marines during the deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. No need to apologize for asking. It’s the reality of it.

UW: I know you’ve also worked for several MLB teams. Which teams were they, and what did you do for them?

NF: I was coordinator of major league player information for the Angels, and then I was the assistant director of player development for the Dodgers and the Mets.

UW: I know you’ve had concerns with how MLB distibutes the proceeds from sales of Memorial Day apparel. Could you please summarize those concerns for me?

NF: Before getting to the proceeds and the financial aspect, I want to step back a bit. Memorial Day should be a dignified way to honor those who’ve fallen during service to our country. And I think any reasonable observer would say that that’s not even remotely close to what’s been happening with Major League Baseball.

UW: How do you mean?

NF: If you go back and look at it through the recent years, the one consistent theme is that it’s a commercial campaign to sell apparel. I don’t see how anyone could look at this and say, “MLB is honoring the fallen by pushing camouflage hats on people.” It’s just not the case.

UW: But they would probably say — and this brings us back to the financial aspect — that they’re donatiing their profits to military charities and so forth. But I gather that that’s what you’ve been taking issue with, either in terms of their transparency or their follow-through.

NF: Right. But making a charitable donation and coming up with a dignified campaign don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I think a lot of people started looking at all this with a little more skepticism after Brandon McCarthy [MLB pitcher who was then with the Dodgers, now with the Rangers] sent out that tweet a couple of years ago.

I had actually put together a document that proposed how MLB could do this the right way. I highlighted a lot of the issues where we were totally missing the boat with it. Like, just for one example, the Dodgers sent out photos of players in their Memorial Day hats, and it said, “Fresh,” with a fire emoji.

It’s like, really? That is so tone-deaf. I mean, that is just patently offensive, to suggest that that’s even approaching anything like a dignified way to memorialize people. And now it’s not just camouflage caps and jerseys — you have the camouflage eye black, the cleats, the socks, the arm sleeves. It’s turning into dress-up at Halloween. And what you don’t see, through any of this, is any acknowledgment of “This is so-and-so who died. This is their name and their story.” These are real people who died, they have families left behind. And when you actually talk to the families, they care about their lost loved ones’ stories and keeping their names alive. They don’t care about camouflage.

And it’s not just the camo itself — it’s how it’s presented. When you have to really dig and find the fine print that says they’re donating the proceeds — and even then, the fine print is basically “Take our word for it, we’re donating to charity” — that’s problematic. Nobody would look at that and say it looks like a benevolent charitable campaign.

UW: Do you have similar concerns about the proceeds of sales from MLB’s Independence Day merchandise, which have also been targeted for military charities, or just Memorial Day?

NF: There are a lot of overlapping concerns there, but I’ve focused more on Memorial Day.

UW: Let’s talk more about how the proceeds from the camouflage merchandise are handled. MLB says it donates its profits from this apparel, but of course they’re not the only ones profiting. Let’s say, for example, that Lids is selling a camouflage Yankees cap from Armed Forces Day for $40. Now, their web page for that item says — and this is the fine print you were referring to — “Major League Baseball will donate its licensed royalties from the sales of such items to MLB Charities to support programs for service members, veterans and military families.” Do you happen to know roughly how much of that $40 retail price goes to Lids, how much goes to New Era, how much goes to the Yankees, and how much goes to Major League Baseball as a royalty? Because only that last part, the royalty, would be targeted for charity, while the rest would still be taken as profit by the other participants in the supply chain, right?

NF: You have hit the nail on the head, and that is the issue I’ve asked about very specifically. I mean, that’s a very simple question: How much of this is going to charity? MLB has refused to answer that question, and so I couldn’t give an answer to Gold Star families who wanted to know. It’s embarrassing that they refuse to provide that information.

UW: So there’s no transparency there about how they slice up the pie.

NF: Exactly. And if you look, even the language of the fine print has changed.

UW: Right, it used to say “net proceeds,” and before that it said, “a portion of the proceeds.”

NF: This is the first year they’ve mentioned “royalties.” They’re very lawyerly about it, but they won’t even say how much the royalty is. And I am positive that they are making money off of this directly, because MLB also serves as a retailer in various shapes and forms. Plus there’s an enormous economic advantage to having your partners profit, whether through volume discounts or whatever. There’s economic value there. But there’s no transparency.

UW: Let’s assume that the designated royalties do indeed go to MLB Charities. What do you know about MLB Charities, and how do they, in the words of the fine print, “support programs for service members, veterans and military families”?

NF: That’s a really good question. I do know that they’ve made some donations in the past. How much, and when, and where, is an open question. Which is pretty remarkable, because that’s not usually how charities function. I spent a lot of time trying to research MLB Charities’ paper trail. From the best I can tell, for a while it was being done through the McCormick Foundation, which had a program called Welcome Back Veterans. But when I started digging into it, what I found is that Welcome Back Veterans is basically a phrase and a program, but there’s no entity, no organization, no board — nothing by that name. And I asked MLB, “Who’s in charge of this? Who runs Wecome Back Veterans?” And they had no earthly idea, because there isn’t anyone in charge. It’s not a registered entity — it’s just a tag line.

MLB would ostensibly give this money to McCormick to distribute, but one of the problems is that the McCormick Foundation is so large — they do charitable programs on orders of magnitude larger than MLB — and there’s nothing earmarked as “this is the MLB money.” And I reached out to McCormick on many occasions and never got a response.

And again, these should be easy questions. This is not “gotcha” stuff. If you’re selling a product and saying the profits go to charity, that’s elementary. There’s so much smoke and mirrors behind it.

When I drew up that document to show how they could take a better approach, I thought they’d eagerly embrace it because they were catching hell over the whole thing on social media. And the response was basically, “Stay out of our business.” It was very defensive. And when people would ask questions, it would result in almost this comedy of lawyers and and PR gurus, off-the-record briefings for reporters, all this stuff. Like, guys, this shouldn’t be so hard.

UW: If you could run the program involving MLB’s military-themed apparel and how the funds are channeled to charities and so on, what would you change from the way it’s currently run?

NF: Again, a lot of it is in that document. From an aesthetic standpoint, I’d probably do away with the camo. But most importantly, regardless of the aesthetics of the uniforms or caps or whatever, there would be complete financial transparency.

UW: One issue with charities and nonprofits of any kind, military or otherwise, is that not all charities follow through on their mission statements and not all of them spend their donated funds efficiently. For example, the Wounded Warrior Project sounds like a good organization, but it had a scandal a few years ago regarding lavish spending on parties, which resulted in several of its executives being fired and even led to a Congressional investigation. If a Uni Watch reader doesn’t want to buy a hat but does want to contribute to a military charity, are there any good ones that you can personally vouch for or recommend?

NF: I would encourage people to go a bit deeper than “military charities” in general. There’s a lot of different types of things out there — veterans transitioning to the civilian world, guys that are wounded, stuff for families, stuff for children of people who’ve died in combat. And within each of those categories, there are hundreds of organizations, if not more. So there are lots of areas.

One that I particularly like is the Travis Manion Foundation. The guy it’s named after, Travis Manion, was a Marine lieutenant who was killed in Iraq. And one of the things they do is help veterans participate and play meaningful roles in their communities, and really bridge the gap between the military and civilians. And one thing I love about them is that it’s not limited to veterans — civilians can go join that as well. That gets to the bigger picture of what I think is missing in a lot of this discussion, creating that bridge between the military and society. Like, instead of supporting our troops by buying a hat, how about if we support them by being educated voters on the issues that affect them.

UW: Leaving aside the question of money and charities, I’m curious to know how you, as a former Marine, feel about the use of camouflage sports uniforms as a sort of all-purpose military signifier. One of my readers, a guy named Scott Rogers, recently posted a comment about this on my website. It’s fairly long, but I’d like to read it to you:

I object to the spectacle of teams signaling their patriotic commitment by forcing their athletes to play dress-up in soldier costumes.

American pro athletes can be divided into two categories:

1) Citizens of foreign countries, whose loyalty in the event of a conflict would properly align with their home countries, and so no decent American would seek to force them to pantomime wartime loyalty to the United States; and

2) American citizens who are young; who are spectacularly physically fit; who are highly trained and capable in teamwork and small-unit physical and mental coordination; and who are, mostly, college graduates. That is, they are exactly the people who should be serving in [the armed foces].

But because we do not have compulsory service, these young athletes have chosen not to serve their country. Which is fine; we allow young people to make that choice. But having made that choice, it’s obscene for any of these young Americans to play dress-up in soldier costumes. Want to wear camo uniforms? Want to wear the flag on your sleeve? Great! Go find your local Armed Forces Career Center. If you can play at even a minor-league professional level, you will almost certainly qualify to become an officer in the armed forces of the United States, and you can serve for a short enough term that you’ll still have plenty of years left to pursue professional sports after your discharge.

Any thoughts on that, or on the sports world’s use of camouflage in general?

NF: I would start by saying it’s probably overstating things to say that any professional athlete is automatically qualified to serve in the military, and it probably undersells the officer corps a little bit there too.

But aside from that, there are some really good points there. I’ll start by addressing the foreign players, because that is something that stood out to me from the get-go. I mean, I’m a proud, patriotic American, and that’s why I served, but when I worked in baseball I was always a little uncomfortable with the idea of forcing people from other countries to wear American military camouflage. It’s something I brought up with Major League Baseball. I mean, if someone made me wear another country’s military pattern, that wouldn’t sit well with me, since I’ve worn a real American military uniform.

Anytime this point is brought up, the responses usually devolve into, “They’re making milliions of dollars, they should be grateful” type of thing. Which I don’t think is a particularly useful conversation. I just think there are better ways to go about this, in a way that can meaningful to families. So last year, when I was still with the Mets, there are lots of Dominican players in MLB, and specifically on the Mets. And there’s also a large Dominican-American community in the New York area, and quite a few of them have been killed in combat.

So I matched up players with local families, based on shared commonalities in their backgrounds — where they were from, where they went to school. For example, there was a Dominican individual who was killed, and his family was matched with Amed Rosario. There was a Venezuelan with Wilmer Flores. It’s a lot more organic and personal. And the players, it was very emotional for them, but they loved it. And the families, it meant the world to them — that people who would never have heard their loved ones’ names were now hearing them.

And the players all had these metal Memorial Day bracelets for the people they were honoring. In case you’re not familiar with those, it’s a stamped-metal bracelet that shows the person’s date of death, unit, location, and so on. It’s something very recognizable in the military community. And it was a big success — the families loved it, the players loved it. Everyone wins, eveyone looks good.

UW: In the past, I’ve been critical of MLB for using camouflage uniforms on Memorial Day, because Memorial Day is a day of mourning, not a day to celebrate. This year they’re using remembrance poppy jersey patches instead of camouflage, and they’re not selling any of the Memorial Day uniform merchandise this year, both of which I think are big improvements over their previous practices. What do you think?

NF: It’s definitely a step in the right direction. But to me it’s nakedly transparent that they wouldn’t have made this change if they hadn’t come up with this other holiday, Armed Forces Day, that lets them sell camo stuff. So I don’t think the folks at MLB sat down and said, “How do we appropriately celebrate Memorial Day?” I think it was more like, “How do we sell camouflage hats and get away with it, now that we’ve been criticized for how we handle Memorial Day?”

———

Obviously, Francona feels very, very strongly about all of this. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to read that set of proposals that he repeatedly referenced. Lots of good ideas in there.

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Click to enlarge

Uni Watch media blitz continues: First there was Hal the Hot Dog Guy wearing a Uni Watch cap on TV. Then there was Mets TV broadcaster Gary Cohen mentioning Uni Watch and me on the air. Uni Watch’s unexpected but enjoyable 2019 media tour continued last night, courtesy of Mets radio broadcasters Wayne Randazzo and Howie Rose.

The seeds for last night’s radio shout-out were sown earlier this spring, when I heard Randazzo, who’s a new addition to the radio booth this year, mention some sort of admirably esoteric uni detail on the air (sorry, I don’t recall what it was). I looked him up on Twitter and saw that he was one of my followers, so I sent him a quick DM to introduce myself and compliment him on his uni-centric broadcasting style. He said he was a longtime fan and added, “Let me know if you make it to a game. Would love to say hi.”

As it happens, Phil and I attended last night’s Mets/Nats game, so I arranged for us to meet up with Randazzo before the game. Peach of a guy. After chatting with us for a bit and obligingly joining us for a few photos (that’s Randazzo in the center), he went back to the booth to prepare for the game.

Later on, during the game, I started receiving emails from Uni Watch readers who said Wayne and Howie had mentioned Uni Watch on the air during the bottom of the third inning. When I got home, I listened to the archived audio. Here’s a transcript:

Wayne Randazzo: Got to meet the guys from Uni Watch today — Paul Lukas and Phil Hecken are at the ballpark today, big Mets fans. Big fans of yours, Howie…

Howie Rose [sounding a bit sad to have been left out]: Yeah, I would like to have said hi. Where were they?

Randazzo: Well, they sent me a message earlier tonight that they were over on the other side of the press box.

Rose: Huh. So you’re a uniform kind of fanatic too..?

Randazzo: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why I like to usually tell the uniforms before the game, if we have time.

Rose: I haven’t been to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in many years. But when I was there, one of my favorite exhibits was on uniforms. And certainly the way the lettering and embroidery jumped out, the colors were so much more bold and vivid, I think, on the old flannel uniforms than on the double-knits of today.

Randazzo: You know, baseball history, when you look back and see all the different types of uniforms, some teams have kept their classic look. Obviously the Yankees have generally looked the same. The Mets have too, for the most part, outside of those black jerseys that you like so much.

Rose: [Indistinct shuddering noises.]

Randazzo: But it’s such an important part of the histories of the franchises — the way that they were dressed! It seems very unique to baseball in that way. And Uni Watch, they do just an incredible job covering all the little idiosyncrasies of baseball uniforms, and really all sports as well.

Rose: Just think about it — there’s really nothing like that classic look, and the fans usually respond that way, look at how they’ve implored the Brewers to go back to their traditional look, and the Padres to their brown and gold colors.

Randazzo: It’s a big part of the fabric of the franchise. In Pittsburgh, all the teams have the same colors throughout all the sports there.

At this point, game action took precedence and that was the end of the uni discussion.

It was funny to hear Rose sounding disappointed to have missed out on meeting us. I’ve emailed with him on and off for about a dozen years now (sometimes during games), but my policy when dealing with “famous” people is that I never ask to meet them or tell them that I’m going to be “in the neighborhood.” I figure if they want to meet in person, they’ll say so (like Randazzo did). But I’ve been listening to Rose in various capacities for most of my adult life, and of course I’d love to meet him. Maybe next time I’m at the ballpark.

Meanwhile: Phil and I had a little fun at the ballpark’s New Era shop, and I brought my customary stash of capers (click to enlarge):

Also: Phil had a big surprise waiting for me once we settled into our seats. It has to do with Uni Watch’s 20th anniversary (now just three days away!). More on that soon.

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The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball NewsLuis Castillo pitched for the Reds in Milwaukee yesterday. Cincinnati wore their road grays, but injured 2B Scooter Gennett donned Castillo’s red No. 58 from the dugout (thanks to all who shared). … The Cardinals accidentally used a Braves logo instead of a Royals logo when publishing their starting lineups yesterday (from Preston Salisbury). … The Yankees have been handing out a WWE-style championship belt to the player of the game (from Keith Seminerio). … Cool promotion by the Astros, who will host a “Touch of History” tour and allow fans to handle historic equipment, like the oldest jersey in franchise history and the jersey Craig Biggio wore during his final game (from Ignacio). … During the regular season, Stephen F. Austin’s road jersey and pants were slightly different shades of grey. But for the first round of the Southland Conference tournament, they wore an old uniform set with matching greys (from Chris Mycoskie). … The Mahoning Valley Scrappers will wear Peppers in Oil uniforms on July 13. … The Florence Freedom of the independent Frontier League have a promotion where one player wears a different jersey than the rest of the team. That jersey is then auctioned off after the game, and the money is donated to a local charity (from Tim Stoops). … The Potomac Nationals will give away a bobblehead of Washington RF Adam Eaton as Mighty Mouse. … The Corpus Christi Hooks will wear Blue Ghosts uniforms on June 21-23. … ESPN announcers had a brief chat about Georgia Tech’s faux buttons during the Yellow Jackets’ game against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament (from Don Schafer). … Mitchell Boe of Iowa has been wearing a double C-flap after suffering an injury earlier this season (from Jesse Gavin). … The ballplayers in the children’s book Goodnight Baseball unfortunately, don’t Get It™️ (from Jeff Wilk). … This piece about Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea talks about how he helped modernize softball by eliminating shorts and introducing baseball-like uniforms (from Alex Parisi). … Per yesterday’s post, Paul noted that he wasn’t familiar with Brooks cleats. For anyone else unaffiliated, here are a few shots (thanks to everyone who sent photos along). … Cubs P Steve Cishek has the name “Manuel Domingos” on his glove. Why? It’s his grandfather’s name. … Here’s a weird one: Wheeling Central Catholic in West Virginia wears white jerseys with grey pants (from Jason Martin). … The Mets now have two Davises on the roster: IF/OF J.D. Davis, who’s been with the team all season, and OF Rajai Davis, who was called up yesterday. Both are just wearing “Davis,” with no first initials (from Sam Brochin). … The Auckland Tuatara of the Australian Baseball League have started work on their new stadium, which will be a dual-purpose rugby/baseball facility. To fit the diamond into the space, they’re removing 6,000 seats and creating a Fenway-inspired “Teal Monster” outfield wall (from Camryn Brown). … Former Phillies P Cole Hamels, who’s now with the Cubs, asked the Phils for one of their David Montgomery memorial patches. It’ll be interesting to see if he tries to wear it on his Cubs jersey. As you may recall, there was a similar situation in 2013, when several Mariners players wore the Angels’ memorial patch for Dr. Lewis Yocum (from Patrick Bourque).

NFL NewsNice observation by Derek Reese, who notes that the logo being used on the Dolphins’ white throwback uniforms isn’t using a true throwback, but rather a hybrid of logos from different eras. … Steelers CB Cameron Sutton wore a helmet visor with a badass graphic yesterday (from Jerry Wolper). … Matthew Jean spotted the Patriots team plane and noted a sixth Lombardi Trophy has been added to the tail. … Hatch Show Print at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville makes hand-pulled letterpress posters for concerts, and they made a series of posters for last month’s NFL Draft (from Dave Landesberg).

Canadian Football NewsWe were supposed to get a glimpse of New Era’s new CFL uniforms last week, but labor disputes pushed the unveiling back. But the start of training camp has brought about some hints, including the Montreal Alouettes’ and he BC Lions’ new helmets. It also appears the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are re-adding a yellow stripe to their helmet (from Wade Heidt).

Hockey NewsNew logo for the Bay City (Michigan) Americans of the Interstate Hockey League (from Ryan Keberly). … This designer came up with a royal blue concept for the Sabres’ 50th season (from @walbergLines)

NBA News: Apparently the Raptors were nearly the Toronto Grizzlies — and would have used the same logos as the team that eventually ended up in Vancouver (from Aron Burks). … Shahin Ourian made a set of Lakers concepts.

College Hoops NewsBoise State’s basketball arena has a new corporate name. … A vote by Uniswag followers has determined that Pitt’s gold throwbacks are the “Uniform of the Year” in college basketball (from Phil).

Soccer NewsIt’s kit leak season, meaning we have lots of stuff from Josh Hinton: Atletico Madrid has unveiled their new home uniforms; staying in Spain, here are all the new La Liga kits for 2019-2020; both Arsenal’s new home and away kits have leaked (also from Riles); Newcastle’s home jersey for next season has leaked; Preston North End of the English Championship unveiled their 2019-2020 home uniforms; French club Nantes has released its new home jersey for next season; Peru and Ecuador have released their jerseys for the upcoming Copa America (also from Ed Zelaski). … Real Betis of La Liga unveiled their new home uniforms (from Ed Zelaski). … Sporting KC will wear new warmup tops for Pride Night on May 29 (from @jason3thousand). … New Copa America kits for Bolivia. … “D.C. United played Spanish team Real Betis in a friendly,” says our own Jamie Rathjen. “DCU wore a mix of NOB and NNOB, with players who normally play for DCU wearing NOBs and players who normally play for their USL Championship team, Loudoun United, going NNOB. The Betis players were all NNOB.”

Grab BagThis blog post has a great collection of vintage mid-century airline logos (from Eric Bangeman). … A car lot in Des Moines is using a logo and font inspired by Iowa State (from Brian Madsen). … A winner has been selected in the competition to redesign the logo of New York City’s privately owned public spaces (from James Gilbert). … Couple of cricket items from Phil: This story about the evolution of the Cricket World Cup makes some notes about changes to uniforms; and the Indian team will wear a high-resolution unit under their jerseys. … The West Wing Weekly podcast had a discussion about campaign logos and fonts, featuring the designer of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign logo (from Jason and @tonsoffun57). … Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka is getting her own logo and clothing line from Nike (from Brinke). … Longtime reader Marty Hick’s wife, Holly, is a St. Louis-area teacher. Her principal’s last day on the job was yesterday, and he wore these Uni Watch stirrups that Marty got for him. He even went high-cuffed in the school hallway! … Check out the amazing striped socks (and one missing shoe)! That’s Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Hasley Crawford, who won the gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (from Pro Football Journal and Miles Filbert). … Former racing driver and current Mercedes F1 team head Toto Wolff wore a black armband in remembrance of former driver Niki Lauda, who passed away earlier this week (from Jack Wade). … Several Nike-sponsored female athletes are speaking out about how the company has treated them poorly once they got pregnant (WaPo). … The men’s lifetstyle website InsideHook wrote a profile of Paul to mark Uni Watch’s upcoming 20th anniversary.

• • • • •

Our latest raffle winner is Calvin Lasister, who’s won himself the Uni Watch Trifecta — a cap, a T-shirt, and a membership card. Congrats to him, and major thanks to longtime reader/contributor Eric Bangeman for sponsoring this raffle.

64 comments to Talking Memorial Day Uniforms with Nick Francona

  • JamesG | May 23, 2019 at 9:01 am |

    I am a Navy veteran and I despise all the camouflage and other things associated with Memorial Day. The remembrance should be much more solemn. I like Francona’s idea of the unit patches, though I would include Navy ship patches, Air Force unit patches as well as Marine and Army. That being said, a simple symbol that reflects internationally would be much better. Something like the poppy as used in other nation’s observances. Still, a small unit patch on the sleeve and for international players something memorializing their fallen. All this other stuff is pandering and merchandizing. I dislike it.

    • Nick Francona | May 25, 2019 at 8:36 pm |

      James,

      That’s a great idea on the ship patches for the Navy and the Air Force unit patches. I hope they will consider doing that type of thing in the future. Overall, there are so many meaningful things they could do if they get the right people involved and do it for the right reasons. – Nick

  • Memal | May 23, 2019 at 9:04 am |

    Thank you Nick for your service, your thoughts and insight into this subject. You’ve highlighted some other things I should be upset about concerning these kind of promotions.

    • Nick Francona | May 25, 2019 at 8:32 pm |

      Thanks Memal.

  • Random reader | May 23, 2019 at 9:15 am |

    Thank you for posting Nick Francona’s thoughts on the camo pandering, wished more people would follow his lead.

    Re: Atletico Madrid’s kits, maybe edit the copy to reflect it’s for Atletico Madrid and not just “Madrid”, as I had assumed wrongly the link would be about Real Madrid.

  • El Lobo | May 23, 2019 at 9:16 am |

    Maybe that visor graphic is preventing Cameron Sutton from being able to catch the ball

  • Kenny Ocker | May 23, 2019 at 9:17 am |

    I’ve been reading Uni Watch for well over a decade now, and this is one of the most interesting and poignant posts I can remember reading here. Great interview, Paul — plus, the Mets details were fun, too.

    • Eltee of DC | May 23, 2019 at 11:37 am |

      I heartily concur with Mr. Ocker’s take.

      Mr. Lukas et al are on a roll. More stories of this caliber please.

      On an aside, being a former USAF Officer myself, I occasionally wore an MLB ball cap on the flight line, the Californy Angels back then, but I wasn’t the first to do that at all. A grisly old Chief Master Sergeant shouted at me “Who the hell do you think you are… Jimmy *effin Stewart? Only he didn’t say hell.

      He told me that General Stewart (thats right sportsfans!) used to wear a St. Louis Cardinals cap and not just because he made a movie about SAC… he was a Cards fan.

  • Drew B. | May 23, 2019 at 9:18 am |

    Thanks for today’s post. I have discussed previously about taking students from China or Hong Kong to Royals and Twins games. I tell them to stand silently, respectfully, and observant while “the American’s national song” is being sung at the beginning of the game. My students have always been respectful.

    I probably would not have taken them to a Memorial Day game. Yes, I am sure many countries have some sort of holiday set aside to honor fallen soldiers. I just do not think they do it at a game. Again, I am not qualified to even make a suggestion of how to improve the current situation, but I do not think “honoring the dead” and then 10 minutes later arguing balls and strikes should really be in the same setting.

    My grandfather and all four of his brothers were drafted into World War II. Some of them were drafted straight from in high school and post-war never returned to school. My grandfather never told me, “It is Memorial Day. Let’s buy you an MLB hat.”

    Not to pile on, but the whole thing seems tacky and disingenuous.

    • Chance Michaels | May 23, 2019 at 10:18 am |

      “Not to pile on, but the whole thing seems tacky and disingenuous.”

      A-men.

  • Marc | May 23, 2019 at 9:35 am |

    Hands down the best interview ever on this site. No wonder ESPN is hemorrhaging viewers and talent like you because they would NEVER allow something like this on the air.

    • Tim | May 23, 2019 at 1:24 pm |

      MLB won’t allow something like this. Thus why the young Mr. Francona was let go.

      I think the poppy is sufficient.

      • Nick Francona | May 25, 2019 at 8:41 pm |

        Funny you should say that. When people started asking some hard questions, MLB responded in the most bizarre way possible, running out lawyers and PR gurus who didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about, so it was fairly apparent that something was amiss. I think if this were truly some noble undertaking on the part of MLB, they would be proud to discuss it openly. I’d be happy to engage in a dialogue with them on this in any forum publicly but they obviously won’t do that.

  • MG12 | May 23, 2019 at 9:47 am |

    Definitely agree, thank you for sharing Nick’s unique perspective.

    MLB’s merchandise money-grab over the last 10-15 years has been borderline disgusting. Honestly it’s a big reason why I have almost completely tuned-out to “America’s Pastime”.

    • Tim | May 23, 2019 at 3:06 pm |

      Is the NFL (color rash), NHL (warmup sweaters), NBA (“City” uniforms), Collegiate (12 uniform combinations for each sport) merchandising any better?

      • Pedro N | May 23, 2019 at 3:26 pm |

        Maybe not better but those examples are certainly different, none of those are tied to “honoring” the military and/or fallen soldiers, that’s the main point here (I think). All these leagues are businesses, meaning here to make money, just don’t include the military (and all that encompasses) in any of your cash grabs.

      • Chieftain Navarre | May 23, 2019 at 3:39 pm |

        As a young sports fan myself, I concur that the NBA “City” Edition unis are actually pretty solid in concept. Some teams have well-though-out designs that harken towards city elements (The distinctive blue of the Chicago city flag contrasts nicely with Bulls’ red, and the jerseys seem to be a big thing there. If my homeplace of LA did that with their city flag… sight for sore eyes, though…) Other teams use monikers (Rip City, of course) and even tie in with influential people from that city (Minnesota’s Prince jerseys, Brooklyn’s jerseys, and the Sixers’ current Rocky-inspired City alts). Some have been pretty poor, though. I will take the opportunity to call out the Lakers. Sure, having your team’s legends design jerseys is great, but no one should have the Lakers ever wear pinstripes. Period. Clippers have been doing better, imo. The recent City Edition jersey with the LA mark reminded me of the old LA Sports Arena’s basketball court, and the stars could have been a visual/literal callback to the Los Angeles Stars ABA team. My two cents about Nike’s City Edition uniform series.

        • B-bo | May 24, 2019 at 11:46 pm |

          Well, to be fair, there’s undoubtedly a fair amount of crossover between Laker and Yankee fans, so pinstripes make sense. Figure out a way to work in a Cowboys star and many of those folks would be set for all their sportswear needs.

  • Shaftman | May 23, 2019 at 9:48 am |

    Great read Paul – these human interest stories of late have all been home runs – immensely enjoyable and informative.
    ——-
    How about honoring those in military uniform by changing the names on back of the entertainment uniforms to those that have served (armed forces day) or died in combat (memorial day). A different name for each uniform, no name repeated through out the teams. Then have each stadium give out a program with all the names and their stories.

    Obviously it would be great if it call be personalized to a point, those from NY have names on NY teams or a fan of the Reds would be on a Reds jersey and so forth, but I think it works either way.

    Francona nailed it on in the “Use MLB Platform to Honor Individuals” section “Perhaps the most important way we can honor those who have given their lives in service to
    this country is by simply telling their stories and ensuring that their names live on in our
    collective memory.
    “.

    • ChrisH | May 23, 2019 at 10:50 am |

      NASCAR has a similar practice for their Memorial Day Cup race.
      The driver name on the windshield is removed and replaced with the name of a fallen member of the military:

      https://www.nascar.com/gallery/special-nascar-salutes-project/#/0

      I believe each veteran is acknowledged during the pre-race ceremonies and TV broadcast as well.

      Regrettably, the entire “NASCAR Salutes” program now has a corporate sponsor that will most likely receive than a mere mention!

      • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 2:16 am |

        I actually sent MLB an update with some of the examples from NASCAR. As you noted, I thought some of it was well done, but I wish that we could do this kind of thing without corporate sponsorships being so prevalent. The corporate sponsorships raise some really sticky questions, particularly when the leagues/teams aren’t transparent about the nature of the sponsorship. Are these sponsorships being sold? Are they covering the costs of the event donation? The details are pretty important here and I think if the leagues and teams are going to take it upon themselves to put these sponsorships in place, they should incur an obligation to be transparent about it. I really don’t think that is asking too much.

    • RS Rogers | May 23, 2019 at 11:07 am |

      I second Shaftman’s commendation on the quality of UW lead articles. Twenty years in, and lately it feels as fresh as a typical first-year project still burning through pre-launch story ideas.

      I don’t know if they still do it, but back in the 2000s the Nats used to honor individual service members or veterans and their families by name during games. I believe the honorees and their families were also given free tickets and some amount of concessions vouchers, and between innings the public address would ask fans to stand to honor them, say their names and something about their service, and show them on the scoreboard. I really liked that gesture, especially since the honorees were often wounded servicemembers who were recovering at one of several regional military hospitals. That sort of thing is right in line with Mr. Francona’s excellent recommendations for MLB.

      • BurghFan | May 23, 2019 at 6:34 pm |

        Was the Defense Department paying the Nats to do that?

  • CHRIS | May 23, 2019 at 9:51 am |

    As a long time reader/lurker that was an outstanding interview!! Thank you Nick for your service. Im not a fan of the camo in any of the four major sports but as always with the four major sports, its always about the money.

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 2:17 am |

      Thanks Chris

  • James Gilbert | May 23, 2019 at 10:02 am |

    Just a quick note to remind everyone of the VFW Buddy Poppy program.

    https://www.vfw.org/community/community-initiatives/buddy-poppy

  • Jason Smith | May 23, 2019 at 10:12 am |

    Been coming here for years, and I have to say that your interview with Nick Francona is outstanding. It’s one of the best pieces I have read anywhere in a long time. Well done.

  • Mark LaFountain | May 23, 2019 at 10:18 am |

    Here’s a very worthy charity of the kind Nick Francona alluded to right here in my neck of the woods:

    https://travismillsfoundation.org/

    I’m sure they could use the support for their mission.

  • Chance Michaels | May 23, 2019 at 10:21 am |

    “I do know that they’ve made some donations in the past. How much, and when, and where, is an open question. Which is pretty remarkable, because that’s not usually how charities function. I spent a lot of time trying to research MLB Charities’ paper trail. From the best I can tell, for a while it was being done through the McCormick Foundation, which had a program called Welcome Back Veterans. But when I started digging into it, what I found is that Welcome Back Veterans is basically a phrase and a program, but there’s no entity, no organization, no board — nothing by that name. And I asked MLB, “Who’s in charge of this? Who runs Wecome Back Veterans?” And they had no earthly idea, because there isn’t anyone in charge. It’s not a registered entity — it’s just a tag line.”

    Shaking. With. Anger.

    The only thing worse than this kind surface-level, phony, pandering patriotism is profiting from this kind of surface-level, phony, pandering patriotism.

  • Graf Zeppelin | May 23, 2019 at 10:26 am |

    The Mets, for as long as I can remember, have done without FIOBs when they have two players with the same surname (most recent example I can think of is Alex and Carlos Torres; there are plenty of others, Orlando and Roberto Hernandez, John and Matt Franco, the two Bobby Joneses, &c.). Howard Johnson wore “H. JOHNSON” in the mid-’80s (the other Johnson being manager Davey), but that’s the last one I remember.

  • Derek | May 23, 2019 at 10:49 am |

    Outstanding interview. Absolutely on point.

    IMO if MLB, or any sports league, wants to honor those who have served and their families, they ought to just get out there, donate to the (good) charities and volunteer. Don’t make it a “look at what we’re doing!” moment, don’t sell crap, just do something respectful and low-key.

    An entertainment venue is nowhere near the appropriate place for somber reflection and remembrance (Memorial Day), jingoistic camo-clad rah-rah flag waving (July 4th/”Armed Forces Weekend”) or compulsory patriotism (the national anthem before games).

    Leave that stuff for the appropriate place and time, and leave the ballparks for baseball!

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 2:32 am |

      Well said Derek. It would be great if MLB would approach this differently. Sadly, I think the only way that will happen at this point is if they are shamed into it. I thought they would be open to having some help and making some changes after receiving so much criticism in previous years. However, they didn’t even seem to be bothered by it and brushed it off. Incredibly, they were convinced that they had a “messaging” problem and were very open about stating this. I think they may have even said this on the record. A few people tried telling them that their messaging might have been the only thing that was authentic – the priority was to sell apparel and the ad campaigns reflected that. I think it is abundantly clear by now that if this were truly a benevolent undertaking they would handle it much differently, including how they respond to criticism.

  • Calvin Lasister | May 23, 2019 at 11:04 am |

    Just wanted to say a special thanks to Eric Bangeman for the contest. Thanks for putting that out there!

  • KT | May 23, 2019 at 11:09 am |

    And, oddly enough, whatever algorithm serves up ads served up one for New Era’s MLB camo caps right up near the top of this interview. Oy.

  • mike chamernik | May 23, 2019 at 11:19 am |

    Why don’t you like the Canucks’ unis? (per the Inside Hook profile)

    • Paul Lukas | May 23, 2019 at 11:24 am |

      Hate-hate-hate having the city name spelled out above the crest, and I’ve never really loved the crest either!

      • Wafflebored | May 23, 2019 at 11:53 am |

        Really hoping the rumoured new uniform is true, and that the city name is removed and logo is changed. My understanding is the “Vancouver” was added prior to the 2010 Olympics in order to appeal to all of the tourists here for the games, so they could buy something to take home that said Vancouver on it.

        It’s really a mess of a uniform. My guess is the orca stays, though.

      • Wade Heidt | May 23, 2019 at 12:50 pm |

        Yup – I remember the uniform unveiling in 2007. Was so excited about the return to blue and green full time. Then saw the script on the chest. Never liked the script “Vancouver” above the logo on the chest from the beginning.

        Been waiting 12 years for the change we will likely get. Expecting it will be removed.

        Uniforms were great, except the script was a minor irritant.

        It was like having a pimple on the face for grad photo day, or a large scratch on a beautiful car.

        • Oakville Celery Root | May 23, 2019 at 7:52 pm |

          While the logo on the uniform design wise is fine. I find it plain looking in that it’s all one color. And yes the script should go.

        • Patrick | May 23, 2019 at 9:43 pm |

          Way past time for them to get rid of the fish on their sweater. Replace it with the skating Johnny Canuck logo please! And of course get rid of the wordmark.

  • mike 2 | May 23, 2019 at 11:48 am |

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever read on this site. Well done.

    It feels like things are starting to change a bit with respect to military tributes, and I have a gut feeling that this piece is going to jumpstart a much larger conversation.

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 2:33 am |

      I hope you’re right Mike!

  • Tommy Turner | May 23, 2019 at 12:36 pm |

    I was a Marine officer in the early 80’s. I wear a Nationals Memorial Day hat and wore the 2019 Armed Forces hat at Nats Park last week. When I wear a military themed Nats hat in Philly or NY, I never get any lip for being a Nats fan.

  • Josh Bradford | May 23, 2019 at 1:57 pm |

    Unreal post today Paul! This information/story needs to go viral!! So much truth! Another reason today why Uni-Watch is the best !!!

  • AJ Kane | May 23, 2019 at 2:33 pm |

    One of the best interviews you’ve ever done, Paul. Thanks for this incredible piece.

    I think, like a lot of people here, I’m against teams wearing league-wide holiday uniforms that have everyone wearing the same color. From an aesthetic standpoint it looks tacky, and it dilutes the individual identities of the teams. On top of that, I despise the dress-up soldier element of the camo hats. The whole thing is a pandering, profit driven sham designed to sell people tacky-looking hats, plain and simple.

    I’m glad MLB is moving in the right direction with Memorial Day this year, but Nick is absolutely right, they just moved camo-hat weekend to another weekend so they could sell the hats without the criticism.

  • Wade Heidt | May 23, 2019 at 3:00 pm |

    I consider each of the 3 new CFL primary helmets an upgrade.

    -Like the return of the striping to the Tiger-Cats helmet (though I will always hope for a return to the traditional yellow helmet someday).

    -Applaud the return of the primary logo to the Lions helmet. The striping is good and like the large numbers at the back. Upgrade compared to the Michigan Panther-style logo they’ve had on the helmets for 3 years.

    -The Alouettes helmet design will take some getting used to, but like the navy helmet with the red mask. Purely an upgrade due to its uniqueness and the cartoon bird logo is gone.

  • Parts | May 23, 2019 at 3:22 pm |

    I love that Howie “gets it”. He’s so much fun to listen to. Let’s go Mets!

  • Phil P | May 23, 2019 at 4:09 pm |

    I think one thing that all these promotions, tributes, appreciation days totally leave out is the damage done to people, or it gets conveniently overlooked in the rush to honor and, in some instances, serve as recruitment tools. Yeah, they talk about money going to charities and what not, but it seems like the broader public seems to just accept that lots of people emerge with physical and psychological scars and no one asks why people are being put in that position to begin with (i.e putting pressure on preventing conflict) or what happens during service that people are emerging with issues.

    But apparently asking the hard questions isn’t really welcome in a lot of places. Just curious if anyone else feels like I’m on to anything with this take.

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 2:48 am |

      Phil,

      I think the observation is valid and it something that has been commented on quite a bit by people inside and outside the military. I did an interview for NPR last year and the other person that was featured in the program, Bill Astore, touched on this. Andrew Bacevich, a retired professor at BU and former Army Colonel, wrote an interesting piece that is related to this topic. From the baseball side, I don’t think it is always a consciously cynical thing and often is just mindlessly going through the motions. In my opinion, one of the most important things we can do is bridge the gap between the military, veterans and the civilian population they serve. We have a tendency as a society to fit them into narrow stereotypes, when that just isn’t accurate. The military is enormous. There are people from all walks of life doing all types of different things. I think the more we can get away from the esoteric things that occur at sporting events and move towards more genuine and meaningful interactions, we will be much more equipped to understand and address the more difficult issues that you raised. I included a few links below to articles that you might find interesting based on the points you raised.

      https://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2018/07/20/military-sports-astore-francona

      https://www.thenation.com/article/playing-ball-pentagon/

      https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/07/25/heroes-villains-and-victims/

  • Judy A | May 23, 2019 at 4:41 pm |

    Great interview today, Paul. I wonder how many people buy the hats and other crap without ever questioning where their money is going or who they’re really helping.

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 2:54 am |

      Judy,

      I think that is probably a good portion of the people. But I don’t really blame anyone. The marketing is highly misleading and I think the onus should be on MLB to get this right. There have been plenty of shady “charitable” organizations that have raised money or sold products in the name of supporting veterans causes. I think this issue has gone under the radar for so long because it is inconceivable to most people that an organization with the size and visibility of Major League Baseball would be so brazen about it.

      -Nick

  • Ryan M | May 23, 2019 at 4:48 pm |

    I think the way Nick paired players & coaches up with military families who lost loved ones and had something in common is about as tasteful as such a day could be made. No merch dumps; maybe a poppy or the logo of a charity or charities to which MLB is transparently donating money (not just ambiguous net proceeds or royalties given to an ambiguous charity)–perhaps each team could select a different one active in its own city.

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 3:01 am |

      Ryan,

      Meeting those families was by far the most fulfilling aspect of it all. I personally spoke to every family and there were quite a few conversations where it was tough to keep it together. They were from all types of different backgrounds and from all over the political spectrum. And doing it this way put the focus where it should be – on their loved ones – and removed a lot of the aspects of these programs that cause issues.

      I agree with you on finding local charities for each team. That was initially part of the plan and it quickly became “a bridge too far” once we realized that we couldn’t even get answers on where all the money was going in the first place.

      Nick

  • Steve | May 23, 2019 at 4:57 pm |

    I’ll never understand all this adulation to the military all the time. Star Spangled Banner, assinine camouflage unis, the idiotic 7th inning God Bless America song, hey everyone here’s a military guy in the crowd let’s all give him a standing ovation cause ‘Merica! It’s a fucking baseball game. One can be patriotic without all that shit. I just want to sit and watch a baseball game.

  • dave t robb | May 23, 2019 at 5:25 pm |

    Another nod to a great interview with a perspective I endorse. However, I’m sure to anger many with the following thought. I’m disgusted when people say -like above me here in today’s blog – to a military vet or active “Thank you for your service.”

      • dave t robb | May 23, 2019 at 7:56 pm |

        Yup. Funny. Haven’t seen that before. Dare I say, he always gets it.

    • Tim | May 23, 2019 at 6:39 pm |

      And if people say it or don’t say it to me, as a veteran, I really don’t care.

      However, I say it as a veteran because I’m THANKING them for doing the job that I once did and keeping the line going.

  • CWac19 | May 24, 2019 at 6:57 am |

    Paul, a day late here, but I just wanted to echo the thoughts of so many other commenters. Incredible interview, and as a veteran myself, I couldn’t agree more with Nick’s perspective. Thanks to both of you!

    (And if Nick’s interested in being dialed in to the young(ish) veteran community in Boston, I’d be happy to facilitate.)

    • Nick Francona | May 26, 2019 at 3:11 am |

      Thank you. Please send me a DM on Twitter (@NickFrancona) and we can connect from there.

  • Omar Jalife | May 24, 2019 at 8:05 am |

    Just a quick note on the soccer ticker.
    In soccer, when you say Madrid, it normally refers to Real Madrid. Atlético de Madrid is shortened to Atlético.
    The item is from Atlético, but the way it is written it suggests it is Real Madrid’s jersey.

  • Nick Francona | May 25, 2019 at 3:14 am |

    I wanted to thank all of you for your thoughtful feedback and for sharing this story. There are also some awesome ideas and suggestions that I hope will receive some serious consideration. I appreciate all of you sharing this story and raising awareness to try to make things better. I received numerous messages from Gold Star families about this article. Their words of support were a humbling reminder that some things are worth standing up for. I am truly grateful for all of the thoughtful engagement and support, ideas, and suggestions.

    I hope that this will lead to more change and people continue to examine these programs with a critical eye and demand accountability. As Paul showed with the update recently with the additional information sent in from reader Warren Junium, even basic levels of scrutiny will shed light on areas that need to improve. Reading the comments from so many of you gave me a renewed sense of optimism about the potential for meaningful change on this issue.

    I will do my best to respond to those of you who had questions or comments. If you need to reach me, feel free to send me a DM on Twitter (@NickFrancona).

    Thanks again to all of you for the thoughtful dialogue.

    -Nick

  • Jerry Reuss | May 27, 2019 at 9:34 pm |

    Many thanks for telling the story and for standing up for what you believe in!

    JR