New uniform designs drawing plenty of scrutiny during opening days of spring training

Fri, Feb 16, 2024
MLB News (AP)

New uniform designs drawing plenty of scrutiny during opening days of spring training

What players are wearing has garnered as much attention as what they're doing at spring training.

Major League Baseball teams are wearing newly designed uniforms this aimed at improving performance and helping players stay cool throughout games in the summer months. The new gear, designed by Nike and manufactured by Fanatics, has drawn mixed reviews from players.

"I know everyone hates them," Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday. "We all liked what we had. We understand business, but I think everyone wanted to keep it the same way, for the most part, with some tweaks here or there."

Nike has been designing MLB uniforms since 2020 and Fanatics has been manufacturing them since 2017, but this is the first year for the Nike Vapor Premier jerseys

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MLB officials say these uniforms improve mobility by providing 25% more stretch and also will dry 28% faster. The lettering, sleeve emblems and numbering are less bulky in an attempt to make uniforms more breathable and comfortable.

Commissioner Rob Manfred says he expects criticism to fade.

"In baseball, any new initiative, there's going to be some negative feedback," Manfred said Thursday. "First and most important, these are Nike jerseys. So we entered this partnership with Nike because of who they are and the kinds of products that they use. Everything they've done for us so far has been absolutely, 100% successful across the board.

"The jerseys are different. They're designed to be performance wear as opposed to what has traditionally been worn. So they are going to be different, but they have been tested more extensively than any jersey in any sport."

Fanatics representatives declined comment. Nike didn't respond to an email sent to its media relations office.

Manfred noted feedback was positive when these uniforms were introduced at last year's All-Star Game.

MLB released a video Tuesday showing players raving about the new uniforms during the All-Star Game. MLB also issued a news release about the new gear this week that included testimonials from St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado, Baltimore catcher Adley Rutschman and Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., the reigning NL MVP.

"It's almost like wearing my favorite fitted T-shirt out on the field - and so easy to move around in," Arenado said in a statement released by MLB.

But when players started wearing them this week, many complained.

"Don't fix what's not broken," Phillies pitcher Matt Strahm said. "The looks of it, it just looks different. The names are smaller on the back."

Dave Meluni, an associate teaching professor for Syracuse's department of sports management, mentioned issues that could keep fans from buying the jerseys. Meluni said qualities that might help the jerseys improve performance by being more breathable and lightweight could make them less appealing to consumers.

"There's a look that they're cheaper," Meluni said. "And then you go to buy them and they're not."

Meluni said colors appear faded on jerseys for some teams, such as the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners.

While complaints about the uniforms have received plenty of attention this week, some players have offered praise.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder and three-time AL MVP Mike Trout said in an X post that "Change can be good and I'm a big fan of these!!!"

"Somehow this feels even more authentic than the ones that we've been wearing, to be honest," Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jason Heyward said in a video on the team's X account as he wore his new jersey. "The material feels that much nicer. It feels like it's going to breathe better, and I think the really cool part for the fans - the numbers on the back having that different texture."

Manfred's confident more players will come around.

"So I think after people wear them a little bit, they're going to be really popular," Manfred said.

And the players who would prefer the previous uniform designs realize they don't have much choice in the matter.

"It is what it is," Strahm said. "Deal with what we've got. Anytime you change something, there's a learning curve and adjustment period. How many people in America get to choose their work uniforms?"

BLUE JAYS ADD ESCOBAR

The Toronto Blue Jays and infielder Eduardo Escobar agreed to a minor league contract, and he will report to big league camp.

The 35-year-old hit .226 with a .269 on-base percentage, six homers and 31 RBIs in 99 games with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels last season. He has played 13 seasons and has a career .253 batting average with a .305 on-base percentage, .430 slugging percentage, 164 homers and 636 RBIs.

ORIOLES CLAIM CASTILLO

The Baltimore Orioles claimed utilityman Diego Castillo off waivers from the Phillies and designated infielder Livan Soto for assignment.

Castillo, 26, appeared in one game for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season after hitting .206 with a .251 on-base percentage, 11 homers and 29 RBIs in 96 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2022.

Soto, 23, played in 22 games with the Los Angeles Angels over 2022 and '23 and hit .375 with a .414 on-base percentage, one homer and nine RBIs.

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