The Yankee tradition is unlike any other. Part of this tradition is the fact that they are the only MLB team to never have had player names on their uniforms. Some teams, like the Red Sox, have names on their away jerseys, but not the home ones. But neither the Yankees’ home nor away jerseys feature names. That’s why when I first saw this, I was slightly outraged.
But after reading the article, not only am I not opposed to it, I’m in support. Let me explain.
When I read the headline, I pictured names on the back of the Yankees’ classic pinstripe jerseys. The pinstripes are the most iconic jersey in the history of pro sports (don’t @me), and putting names on the back of those is some bullshit that shouldn’t even be in Modell’s, let alone on the field. Everyone knows that real Yankee fans buy the jerseys without the names because that’s what they actually wear in games. Plus, it can be a jersey for multiple players. If you buy a #18 Yankees jersey, is it a Didi Gregorious jersey? Or Johnny Damon, or Scott Brosius? All of the above. Talk about bang for your buck. But that’s beside the point.
I would have been totally opposed to names on the pinstripe jerseys, but the nickname jerseys are completely different alternates. They’re a little like the Yankees Spring Training/BP jerseys, and they’re actually pretty cool. I could do without the white hats, but I’ve seen worse looking baseball jerseys (i.e.: 1999 “Turn Ahead the Clock” uniforms).
Now, most people will criticize this because they’ll say the MLB is messing with the integrity of the Yankee uniform to make money off of jersey sales. While I don’t disagree with the fact that MLB is trying to cash in on some nickname jersey sales, it’s not like they don’t do stuff like this all the time. Stars & stripes jerseys for the 4th of July, pink jerseys on Mother’s Day, blue ones on Father’s Day, and even camo uniforms for military appreciation. Those jerseys help raise money and awareness for certain causes, but I doubt MLB minds the income from alternate jersey sales. However, I don’t think money isthe only reason for these nickname jerseys. The nickname jerseys will help to grow individual players’ brands, and therefore the popularity of the sport itself.
If you’re a real baseball fan, you know how exciting of a time this is for the sport. So many young stars have taken the game by storm. Some of these guys are 23, 24, 25, with over a decade of baseball ahead of them. Guys like Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Cody Bellinger, Xander Bogaerts, Nolan Arenado… the list just goes on and on. Bryce Harper could be called one of the best hitters of all time by the time he hangs up his cleats. And that Mike Trout guy? He might be the best player this game has ever seen, period. So if the sport is stocked with young stars, it must be huge with young fans, right? Wrong.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has concerns about the sport’s popularity with young people. In this Washington Post article, they point out the fact that baseball viewers were the oldest of any sport, with 50% being over the age of 50. In ESPN’s list of the 100 most famous athletes in the world, not a single baseball player was named. And youth participation in baseball has dropped significantly in recent years. In my hometown, the Babe Ruth league (7th and 8th graders) consistently boasted 8-10 teams when I was growing up. This year, they fielded just four teams. Kids are turning to other sports, lacrosse especially, as many of them don’t view baseball as exciting or fast-paced enough for them.
So where do nickname jerseys come in to play?
Baseball is finally beginning to market its players to America’s youth. While an “All Rise” Aaron Judge jersey might seem like a stupid gimmick to a classic baseball fan, people need to realize that it’s gimmicks like this that could help make young kids love baseball. Plenty of kids grow up today idolizing LeBron or Steph Curry or Aaron Rodgers. But where are those guys in baseball? Ability wise, they’re right in front of us. But they need to be marketed better.
Like I mentioned before, Mike Trout has a legitimate chance to be the best baseball player of all-time. This guy has done nothing but put up MVP numbers since he got to the bigs in 2012. So why don’t we hear about him more? Yeah, he plays on a perennially bad team in a West Coast market, but he’s still Mike Trout. The guy should be as popular as Ken Griffey in the 90’s, or Jeter in the 2000’s. What I’m trying to say is, the problem with baseball isn’t a lack of talent on the field. It’s how that talent is being presented and marketed. If players wearing nickname jerseys a few games a year can help grow the popularity of baseball within young people, count me in.
Now, to address my fellow Yankee fans. I know wearing names (nicknames, no less) on the back of jerseys isn’t exactly the “Yankee way.” But stop acting like the Yankees wearing nickname alternate jerseys for a weekend is the equivalent of pissing on Joe DiMaggio’s grave. Like I said, they wear alternate jerseys all the time where the classic pinstripe jerseys are given different looks and colors, which I’m not crazy about but isn’t the end of the world. And these nickname jerseys aren’t the end of the world, either.
Some people blame millennials’ shortened attention spans in the social media generation for baseball’s diminished popularity. And sure, that definitely has something to do with it. If a kid growing up today loves basketball and then tries to get into baseball, it would definitely be tougher. But I don’t care how long the games take or how slow they move, if you get kids into baseball early enough you can’t tell me that a lot of them wouldn’t absolutely love it. They don’t call it America’s pastime for nothing. Nothing compares to the smell of fresh cut grass, or the sound of the ball cracking off the bat. One of my favorite baseball quotes is from Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver when he said “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and five the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
No, I’m not sitting here and saying that putting nicknames on jerseys is gonna completely revive baseball. But it’s a step in the right direction. MLB needs to make these players seem larger than life to these kids (not an Aaron Judge pun.) I didn’t even know what baseball really was or how it worked when I was little, but Derek Jeter made me want to play baseball. It should be the same way today with guys like Trout and Harper. That’s the real solution to making baseball popular with kids, not pitch clocks that will shave maybe at best ten minutes off of a game. Millennials may have shortened attention spans, but that doesn’t mean we’re physically incapable of focusing – it’s just harder to peak our interest. We’ll binge watch a Netflix series for 7 straight hours if we’re into it. Give me a good Yankees/Red Sox game, and I’ll happily sit through all five hours and 12 pitching changes.
So for everyone complaining about the integrity of the Yankees being ruined with these nickname alternates, just stop. The bigger picture here is growing baseball’s popularity. And how can you do that without the most iconic team in the sport? Take it from a millennial Yankee fan who has been in love with baseball for as long as I can remember: if you’re of the belief that these nickname jerseys are hurting baseball, you are actually the one hurting the sport.
I’m literally the king of “Jeter wouldn’t have done that” when arguing with my anti-Yankees friends, but this is a ridiculously dumb statement to make. I think Jeter was a little too busy playing shortstop at an All-Star level to be making jersey decisions for MLB. Just a hunch.