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Do Modern Baseball Uniforms Dishonor Sport's 'Hosiery Heritage'?


Major League Baseball has a day off today. The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals now regroup and head to Boston tomorrow for game six of the World Series. Last night, the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 3-1, pulling ahead in the best of seven. Aside from vigorous debates about which team has the advantage, there's another lively discussion going on about hemlines. Yes, baseball is causing a veritable fashion flap. The litany of complaints starts with the baggy pants and keeps going from there.

We asked Paul Lukas about this. He writes about athletic uniforms for ESPN and told us he has his own list of baseball fashion faux pas.

PAUL LUKAS: Well, there's more and more players who wear their pants down to their shoe tops, which many of us think that sort of dishonors baseball's hosiery heritage, if you will. Some old-school purists don't like that some players wear their caps sort of rotated a little bit off-center. And I think all of these complaints are kind of similar to what people say about certain non-athletic apparel, right, the sort of hip-hop style clothing. Whether it's baggy pants or saggy jeans or sideways caps or all of that, we see a lot of these same things being mirrored on the baseball field.

I'm one of those people who thinks it is sloppy, but it also has practical implications. Some of the pants that we see now sort of billowing out pretty much like clockwork once or twice a season, I'll hear about and I'll read about and I'll see the highlights of a player who is chasing after a fly ball and he trips on his own pants because his spikes get caught in the pant leg that's billowing out from his other leg. And so it's not just a matter of style or aesthetics or the visuals, there are actually practical implications to this, as well.

CORNISH: So how does this compare to other sports, football or basketball? Are those leagues better about enforcement or more sort of stringent about regulation of uniforms?

LUKAS: You know, it depends on the league. Football - the NFL is sort of notoriously cantankerous about regulating. But what we see in almost every sport is generational and cultural change in the uniform. Basketball shorts used to be short. That's why they were called shorts. But now, they're long and baggy, like baseball pants have gotten baggy. And most basketball players now wear their shorts down pretty much to the knee.

In football, the jerseys used to have sleeves because the jersey is a shirt and a shirt has sleeves. But football players have gotten obsessed with giving their opponent as little as possible to grab onto and so sleeves have largely disappeared. There's really just a little scrap of fabric that kind of stretches over the shoulder pad. And so, there's lots of generational changes across decades and across eras in the look of a standard uniform for a given sport.

CORNISH: Now, baseball is so tied to a kind of tradition and nostalgia, really. And do you think that's why people are being so hard on them for kind of getting away from the original look?

LUKAS: I guess that's why some people are being hard on them. It's - you know, I grew up in a certain era. And to me, baseball is, quote, unquote, "supposed to look a certain way." But if you ask, you know, the typical 20-year-old baseball fan or, for that matter, the typical 20-year-old baseball player who has grown up with the current look, that's what they're used to seeing. To them, that's how baseball is supposed to look.

So I think we're all used to what we grow up with and we develop a nostalgia for that. But by the same token, things are always changing. And I'm sure this look will change as well, and people will be pining, maybe - although I can't imagine it - people will be nostalgically pining for the current look. I think it's all a matter of what you're used to.

But the one thing about baseball is we have these teams called the Red Sox and the White Sox for a reason. And when you don't even show the socks anymore, that's a pretty important change in the whole conception of what a baseball uniform is supposed to be, not just how it looks but what it's supposed to signify.

CORNISH: Paul Lukas, thank you so much for talking about this with us.

LUKAS: You're welcome. Always happy to talk about the deep, deep rabbit hole of athletics aesthetics.

CORNISH: Paul Lukas writes a column on uniforms for ESPN and runs the blog UniWatch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.