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Three Strikes for the New Baseball Uniform

By March 14, 2024April 2nd, 2024No Comments

I live in Boston, one of the greatest sports towns in the world (if we do say so ourselves). With Spring fast approaching, we’re thinking about two things: the Marathon and opening day at Fenway park.

But this year’s pre-season baseball news has been all about one thing: the uniforms.

They were designed to be more comfortable, with more stretch and improved moisture wicking, made of recycled fibers. The shirts reportedly seem cheap and different in ways that don’t make sense, despite Nike’s claims that they are more technically advanced.

And the pants? Well… let’s just say they aren’t keeping any secrets.

Sub(par) Contracting

In early February, news hit that major league baseball players were unhappy about their uniforms, which had been redesigned by Nike and made by Fanatics. Nike designs the uniforms and Fanatics makes the uniforms. 

According to the Official MLB statement released this February, Nike’s Vapor Premier fabric would be used in the uniforms. The new fabric and design allow the jersey to dry 28 percent faster and offer 25 percent more stretch for increased comfort and better in-game performance.

Nike body-scanned more than 300 baseball players to find the ideal fit, and the MLB statement included quotes from three players who love the new uniform. As it turns out, however, Nolan Arenado, Adley Rutschman, and Ronald Acuna Jr. are all Nike-endorsed players. Their colleagues seem to be of a different mind about the changes.

Foul Fabric, Fit, and Design

When the teams came together for media week, the headlines were almost entirely focused on the uniform. Apparently more breathable also means translucent, and that has led to some uncomfortable images circulating online. 

Nike made a few types of changes in the new uniform: fabric, fit, and design.

The fabric changes have been the big story. Once the uniform is on, you can see the jersey tag inside, tucked in shirt tail in the back, and everything in between. Some uniforms are more problematic than others, for instance the NY Yankees shirts are pinstriped and those are visible through the pants, below the belt.

Nike also made a number of design changes, moving the number on the player’s back lower down, adding a sun collar, narrowing the placket, changing home jerseys from white to off-white, etc.

Some players have complained about the fact that their name is smaller on the back. Others, like the Chicago Cubs, say that the shade of blue is not the same. The general perception is that Nike’s design process favors consistency over team-level design traditions.

If all that wasn’t enough, the uniforms don’t fit as well, according to the players. In previous years, each player would have his uniform tailored for him. Now, players are put into one of four “body type buckets” and given pants with that general fit. Apparently the difference is noticeable, with some players saying they are worried they are going to split their pants in the back during a game, and others talking about the experience being like wearing someone else’s pants.

Tasha Lewis is an associate clinical professor in fashion and retail studies at The Ohio State University. She talked about the need to use different fabric for pants and jerseys. As she told an interviewer from CBS Sports, “You need a heavier, weighted fabric for pants. Bottom-weight fabric is heavier, and it gives you more coverage. Heavier yarn, more closely knitted fabric.”

Lewis talked about the fact that the fabric is the most expensive part of making the garment, so if you are looking to reduce cost, the fabric is where you would focus. Her guess is that thinner yarns were used, as well as a looser knit. That would make the fabric less sturdy, but it would also allow increased airflow to cool the player. 

Perception v. Reality

Nike says the material and thickness of the pants is the same it has been in prior years, and that they only changed the fabric of the jersey this year. Some people say you can see the translucency if you look at pictures from last season. Perhaps the more tailored fit made the pants less revealing.

It seems fair to ask how the uniforms got this far without anyone realizing there was a problem. Nike has run years of testing, including player feedback. Perhaps they didn’t include enough non-Nike endorsed players in that process. 

Now the players’ union is getting involved. According to Stephen J. Nesbitt of The Athletic, the issues have “prompted players to take their displeasure to their union, and the MLBPA is now involved in relaying the players’ concerns.”

While the jerseys have been in development for six years, MLBPA head Tony Clark told Sportico that his organization hadn’t been actively involved in the testing and feedback process since 2022. I checked: the current MLB players union collective bargaining agreement is valid through 2026. If they are posturing, this feels really early to start.

Opening day is March 28th, so the teams have two weeks to solve the uniform issue. Nike meant well; clearly they didn’t set out to design lousy uniforms. Unfortunately, progress isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.


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