Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There's Something (Weird) About A Man In Uniform

Watching the Dodgers-Marlins game yesterday, I saw a few shots of the Dodgers' coaching staff in the dugout and two thoughts kept popping into my head: these men need to eat better, and these men need to wear less tight-fitting pants.

Why do baseball coaches wear uniforms? No other sport does this. NBA and NHL coaches wear suits. College coaches are the same. In some sports, you will see coaches in polo shirts. At the most casual is the NFL coach, who wears whatever he wants as long as it is branded with the NFL logo - this generally equates to team warm-ups, jackets or sweatshirts, and Bill Belichick certainly tests the "whatever he wants" portion of this rule. But none of them wear a uniform!

So why baseball coaches? They are not players on the teams. So why do these fat, droopy men all wear unis? There are the Ozzie Guillen/Willie Randolph types who look like they could still play; there is Dusty Baker and his wrist bands who looks like he thinks he does still play, but then there are the Tommy Lasorda/Don Zimmer types who really need to just put on some slacks and a sweater and save us all from looking at things that would be cruel and unusual even at Guantanamo.

Baseball prides itself on being glacially slow to change so it must root back into the game's past. Perhaps it is from the turn of the 20th century when the team captain was essentially the manager, so they obviously would need uniforms on. Later, when teams started hiring non-player managers and coaches, those guys were likely former ballplayers and likely had a hard time giving up the they wore the uniform.

That is perfectly reasonable, but don't coaches in every sport probably still want to play? Why doesn't Byron Scott hang desperately onto his playing days and wear sneakers, short shorts and a jersey? Football coaches in pads and hockey coaches in sweaters and skates would be a little silly, so it makes sense that those coaches wear something else.

So over 100 years later, Tony LaRussa still wears a jersey because some former ballplayer in 1908 had a midlife crisis? Connie Mack thumbed his nose at tradition and wore a suit. Why did others not follow his lead? Are the cleats, long socks, tightish pants and jersey that comfortable?

I get that it is tradition and I get where is originated from, but Major League Baseball eventually went so far as to make a rule that coaches on the field must be in uniform. No other sport invites coaches onto the field during a game, so maybe that is why other sports never adopted a similar rule. But again, why did baseball?

Would a coach waving a runner home from the box behind third tarnish the game if he was in a suit? Last August, MLB executive Bob Watson approached Red Sox manager Terry Francona before a game and reminded him that it was a league rule that he wear a jersey at games, and that a team jacket was not sufficient. Then during the game that day, Watson sent a security official to check under Francona's jacket to make sure he was wearing it...during an inning when the Yankees had a runner on base, not in between!

I get the desire to keep to tradition, but this is all a little bit weird. These are grown (often overgrown) men, and they look almost as silly as Josh Childress trying to pull off Buckwheat's afro (Josh, it's 2008 and you are not a teenager anymore, plus Ben Wallace already pulled this off far better). What does the bench coach need cleats for? Managers choosing to follow a tradition is nice and quaint and as baseball-ish as pitchers jumping over the foul line. But the league mandating tradition takes all the tradition out of it!

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