Shared from the 8/27/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

MLB Commentary

Players’ Weekend poorly received

Kelvin Kuo /Associated Press

The Yankees’ pinstripes were nowhere to be seen in a high-profile series against the Dodgers.

In a sport often criticized for its lack of personality, Major League Baseball’s latest effort to inject some into the game has drawn mixed (and strong) reactions.

The weekend was what MLB calls “Players’ Weekend,” when players can choose a nickname for their jersey backs, and MLB tried to spice things up further by making the uniforms nearly monochromatic in black or white. The decision made the names difficult to see and received near-universal derision.

“Woof,” Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters of his squad’s all-whites. “I’d just like to know who said this was a good idea.”

Most echoed Maddon’s discontent. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona thought the duds made everyone look “like morons.” One fan joked the diamond looked like a chessboard. Former pitcher Brandon McCarthy called for MLB to present the person who signed off on the jerseys to be held accountable “for the mess they’ve made.”

Some, mostly players, disagreed. Many were indifferent, but others, such as Indians infielder Jason Kipnis, liked the “sleek look” of the all-black uniform. New York Mets outfielder Jeff McNeil called them “fun,” and he put “Flying Squirrel” on the back of his jersey. His nickname was one of the best, along with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Eric “E.T.” Thames (”Phone Home”), the New York Yankees’ Zack Britton (”With a K”) and the Washington Nationals’ Sean Doolittle (”Obi-Sean”).

Those who didn’t like it made no secret of it. The Cubs went rogue by wearing their blue hats Friday against the Nationals. Mad-don framed it as a player unity statement — Players’ Weekend caps meant different hats for pitchers (black) and position players (white) — but MLB let the Cubs know it did not like it. The Cubs wore the designated caps Saturday and Sunday.

For MLB’s effort to receive such divisive reviews within the sport dampened an effort that had an end goal capable of unanimous approval: Grow the game. These jerseys are one proposed antidote to a larger issue. They exemplify the increasing pressure baseball feels to remain relevant.

MLB needs to change to attract the younger audiences it’s struggling to gain traction with, yet it needs to maintain the nuance that made committed fans fall in love in the first place. Some of those who grew up with the game, and some of those who played it, have vocalized louder and louder frustration about allegedly juiced baseballs and the increasingly prevalent trend toward a three-true-outcomes (strikeout, walk or home run) style of play. Now, MLB finds itself in a bind trying to stay true to itself while freshening up the game.

Players’ Weekend is a marginal part of this fight. Still, MLB is unwavering in its approach. Just look at this weekend’s series between two of the best teams in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, who also have two of the most iconic jerseys in Dodger blue and Yankee pinstripes.

The Dodgers disliked the Players’ Weekend mandate so much that they asked MLB for permission to have both teams wear their traditional uniforms for at least one of the three games, according to Yahoo Sports. Yankees manager Aaron Boone was more diplomatic than his peers, simply saying the jerseys didn’t come on “necessarily the best weekend for us.”

Effectively, the Dodgers and Yankees were arguing to grow the game with the clout it already has. Still, MLB reportedly denied the request.

On a weekend when MLB could have capitalized on an opportunity to make the game fun, the design, as well as the tension between the sport and its teams, made it something less than that.

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