The immutable traditions of baseball require players to scratch and spit. What’s often overlooked is that the rulebook demands that the potato-shaped manager wear the same uniform as the players, no matter how horrific the results.
This crime against nature leads some who don’t attend the Church of Baseball to shake their heads in befuddlement. But it’s all spelled out in the major league's rule 1.11 (a) which, in part, states:
"All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs..."
“Ah, ha!” say the unbelievers. “The manager isn’t a player so why is he wearing a uniform?”
Listen up, pettifoggers, because there are three basic reasons for this continuing double-knit atrocity:
First, tradition. Baseball is b-i-g on tradition, except when it comes to the catastrophe known as the “designated hitter,” a haven for one-dimensional players or gimpy-kneed geezers ready for the rocking chair. Luckily, this affront to the universe is limited to the American League. And, come to think of it, there’s also artificial turf, a crime against nature that’s going the way of the US automobile industry. Still, the tradition argument does little to ease the pain of watching a walrus-like manager waddle to the mound in uniform.
Second, managers routinely step on the field to change pitchers or check a player for possible injury, and it would be weird for the skipper to leave the dugout and cross the baseline wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, surfer duds, or even L.L. Bean’s finest. In baseball lingo, this argument is a pitch right down Broadway -- i.e., straight, meaty, and ready to be knocked out of the park.
Third, stylish pajamas, aka baseball uniforms, are unlike anything else worn in sports. They help to underscore Major League Baseball’s marketing savvy. This point may not be elegant, but if a runner can tag up and score on a foul fly ball down the line, it sure as hell passes as logic.
The rule on uniforms has been on the books since 1957 and, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t carried down from the mountain top by Abner Doubleday, the reputed inventor of baseball.
Burt Shotton, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1950, hedged his sartorial splendor by wearing a team jacket over a suit. The legendary Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1950, also wore a suit during his Hall of Fame career as a manager. Both had a sense of decorum and sent uniformed coaches onto the field to bring in a relief pitcher or argue the finer points of logic with the umpire.
Separation of diamond and fashion makes perfect sense because a manager wearing tasseled loafers, or even snakeskin cowboy boots, would destroy the shine when kicking dirt at the umpire to protest a nitwit call.
Even a pair of jeans would look out of place on the field. A manager wearing a corduroy coat, tie, and jeans could easily be mistaken for a professor of English, or worse, a reporter. Fans don’t pay to see that kind of stuff -- and small children ought not be exposed to it.
Pete Rose was the last player-manager in baseball, leading the Cincinnati Reds to an 89-72 record in the National League west and a second-place finish in 1985. He wore a uniform as did Cap Anson, Lou Bourdreau, Ty Cobb, Joe Cronin, Connie Mack, John McGraw, Frank Robinson, Tris Speaker, and Joe Torre in their player-manager days.
Barbarians with no sense of history sometimes suggest that baseball needs to be speeded up and argue that eliminating the manager’s trips to the pitcher’s mound to discuss strategy is a good place to start. Sacrilege! Gutting tradition would mean less ad time for ESPN
(NWS), and local affiliates, and would eliminate the time true fans spend trotting to the kitchen for a Budweiser
(TAP), or other life-saving libations. Of course, that might mean fans’ replica jerseys would fit better, assuming they don’t want to emulate the typical manager’s burgeoning gut.
Remember: Baseball is an odd, quirky game played by odd, quirky people -- and putting the manager in a uniform is just another of the game’s continuing oddities.
This should settle forever and ever without end, amen, the cosmic question about why pudgy baseball managers wear a uniform, even if the horror can’t be mitigated. But as Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”
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