A uniform decision? It’s a different look and attitude on All-Star jerseys
Dodgers’ Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Chris Taylor share their excitement being part of the 2021 MLB All-Star game in Colorado.
In 1933, in the inaugural All-Star game, the National League players wore gray wool uniform shirts, with seven buttons down the front and the words “National League” spelled out in blue felt letters.
Those uniforms are so historic that one is displayed in the Hall of Fame. In every year since then, players have worn their team jerseys in the All-Star game.
Until Tuesday night, that is. For the first time in 88 years, the National League players will wear National League jerseys. For the first time ever, the American League players will wear American League jerseys.
“I don’t know if I’m necessarily in love with that,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, a two-time All-Star. “To wear a Dodger uniform on the field for an All-Star game, it’s something to be proud of.”
The jerseys have a bold and innovative feel, or a slow-pitch softball feel, depending on your point of view. The NL jerseys are white and the AL jerseys are blue, with a three-letter abbreviation for each team in red, descending from the chest, and partially obscured by the team logo. The two buttons give the jerseys a Henley look, and each sleeve has floral trim.
“Kind of boring,” said San Diego Padres closer Mark Melancon, a four-time All-Star. “I don’t like it. I like to see everybody’s personal uniforms, show all the teams’ different colors. I’m not sure why they went this route.”
There is a four-letter answer: Nike. When Major League Baseball signed a billion-dollar contract with Nike in 2019, MLB did more than cash in. The league asked for help resolving its persistent problem in attracting newer and younger audiences.
“It really was about being able to harness their expertise in reaching younger audiences and in elevating sport, and in the power of the marketing brand that is Nike,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said.
In addition to the All-Star uniforms, Garden cited Nike’s “City Connect” uniform series, most recently seen in a San Francisco Giants jersey in which letters and numbers rise out of a fog, with Golden Gate Bridge icons on the sleeves. The Dodgers’ City Connect uniform is scheduled to be unveiled next month.
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“If you look at those jerseys, they are a total departure from where teams have traditionally gone with their jerseys,” he said. “We put our trust in our partner and work collaboratively with them to come up with these designs that, fortunately, have resonated with our fan base.”
MLB officials did not consult with players about the new All-Star uniforms. In Nike they trust.
In 2003, MLB floated the concept of dressing the All-Stars in AL and NL uniforms. The league backed off, but not before New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi ripped the idea.
“Stupid,” Giambi told Gannett News Service. “It’s just stupid. It’s just another stupid idea. Fans want to see the players in their own uniforms.”
Angels manager Joe Maddon, a two-time All-Star manager, said he loved the tradition of players lining up for introductions in their team uniforms — a few Dodgers standing together, later a few Padres, and so on. In the NBA and NFL, players wear conference gear rather than team gear in all-star games. Baseball stands alone — or, at least, it did.
“There’s a lot of great things to be done marketing-wise, but we can market tradition too,” Maddon said.
“There’s got to be a catering to the group you’re trying to embrace, but how do you do that? Just by conceding to different hats and uniform tops? Or actually teaching them what the game is about, and how to play it, and how to watch it, and how to understand it? It’s a complex game. I think that’s what we’re missing. We’re not educating the masses properly.”
Todd Radom, who designed the most recent iteration of the Angels’ uniforms and wrote a book called “Winning Ugly: A Visual History of Baseball’s Most Unique Uniforms,” said MLB is forfeiting an element of the timelessness of the sport. You can look at a picture of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays on the same field, each wearing the home white uniform of his team, and you would know the picture was taken at an All-Star game.
“Baseball is rooted in tradition, including visual tradition,” Radom said. “This is quite a step, to say the least.”
He is not a fan of floral trim, or the two buttons, and definitely not of the oversized team abbreviations read not from left to right but from top to bottom.
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“The human eye is not accustomed to reading things that way,” he said. “There are a series of disparate pieces that all kind of converge into something that is less than harmonious.”
Then again, Radom is 57. Garden is 50.
“It’s not supposed to appeal to me,” Garden said. “It’s supposed to appeal to my kids.”
On that score, the new jerseys appear to be a success. They are “essentially sold out,” an MLB official said.
Freddie Freeman, a five-time All-Star first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, said he is a proud member of the old school. He is nonetheless willing to let the fans vote with their wallets.
“It’ll be interesting to see if people like it,” Freeman said. “That’s what it’s all about. If the fans like it, that’s all we care about. We want the fans to be excited about it.”
Said Turner: “I’m all for new and change. Maybe it will be something that catches on and it will be super popular and we’ll be doing it for years to come.”
For one more year, at least, in Los Angeles. Nike is designing new NL and AL jerseys for the 2022 All-Star game at Dodger Stadium.
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