I am a bit of a uniform junkie. I love jerseys, hats, logos, their history, their significance, all of it. I am fortunate enough to be a fan of a team whose uniform and brand is recognized and worn worldwide, and for plenty good reason.
In another opinion piece, I already discussed MLB’s identity crisis in regards to uniforms. In this piece, however, I want to briefly contrast that by discussing the importance of balancing flashy modern brands with timeless ones. Then, I will specifically dissect the uniqueness and importance of the undisputed king of sacred uniforms: The New York Yankees.
There are a few teams besides the Yankees who have traditional uniforms that allude to old baseball. The immediate other team that comes to mind is the Dodgers. You can also throw in the Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Orioles, Red Sox, and Tigers in that “traditional” category even though they went through a few more changes than the Yankees and Dodgers in the past 50 years.
The common thread between all of these is that you cannot picture any of them wearing the home uniform that you have always known them by. The uniform we recognize is the same as the ones our parents recognized, and to an extent, even our grandparents. I quickly noted in a previous article that I strongly believed there is an essential place for tradition even among changing times. I hold that position still true. It is vitally important that MLB has a balance between its adventurous expansion teams like the (Devil) Rays, Diamondbacks, and Marlins to change and update in contrast to the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs who remind us of our roots.
I do think MLB knows the value of its traditional teams because they tend to be the teams with the most nationally televised games. I also compliment them on understanding the importance of the balance since 2021 is giving us the Field of Dreams game (to celebrate the old) as well as the City Connect Jerseys (to be adventurous in the now). I think it was intentional that these were both done during the same year.
Since 2010, five MLB franchises have rebranded themselves completely (Astros, Blue Jays, Marlins twice, Padres, Brewers), and the vast majority of the rest of MLB has either added a uniform(s) to their lineup or altered a uniform in some way. (do NOT get me started on the Indians/Guardians) As of the time this is being written, 27 MLB teams have at least one alternate jersey. The New York Yankees are not included in any of these groups (I am not counting the black stripe, or numbers on sleeves when people pass away, nor the cancer charity hats from the 2010s).
While some fans argue the Yankees should add names to the backs, or join the alternate uniform trend, I argue the Yankees are best remained untouched. Forever.
In my heart, I truly believe the New York Yankees uniform to be the most sacred in all sports. From a simple, materialistic standpoint, the Yankee pinstripe uniform is timeless, but never dated. The Yankee uniform, both home and away, looks just as good today, as they did when we first saw them. While it may reminisce back to an older time, it is never stuck in that older time. The Yankee uniform is the apple pie of American sports uniforms: it is always a good choice.
“But Scooter” you might add, “No one is calling for the Yankee uniforms to change.” Au, contraire fellow reader. If you have ever been on Twitter, you would have likely seen the alarming amount of fans who would welcome last names on the back of the on-field Yankee uniform. (P.S, fan jerseys can have whatever names they want on the back. Stop gatekeeping fan apparel, be happy that someone else cheers for the same team as you.)
This brings us to the topic that is: team culture and identity. Culture is the common thread that binds groups of people so that they find comradery within a shared knowledge, history, or experience. The Yankees have plenty of shared experiences that are unique from other teams such as Bleacher Creatures roll call, monument park, the frieze, and of course, the uniform.
What is so important to understand about the Yankee pinstripe uniform is that it remained so untouched for so long. It simultaneously exists in the past, present, and future. It is the constant, unchanged rock that anchors the rest of the ever-changing American sports world. Aaron Judge wears the same uniform as Joe DiMaggio. That means something.
Not having names on the back of the Yankee jersey is a long-standing tradition that has been ingrained in the culture of the Yankees, so much so, that the Yankees are the only team in MLB without names on any jersey. To add names on the back of the jersey after over 100 years, would be to betray our shared culture, history, and uniqueness.
Yes, I know that the Yankee pinstripe uniform was altered a few times in the early years of the franchise. And yes, I also know that the sleeve stripes and white outline to the road grays didn’t come until the 70s. So yes, there is one change to the road grays since the 1930s. I do not consider the acceptance of one minimal change over the span of 80 years as a good argument to add names on uniforms that have never had them for over 100 years, especially when the Yankees are notorious for not having those names to begin with.
Hand-in-hand with the no-names tradition comes the absence of alternate jerseys. My argument against the alternate jersey comes in the same vein: The Yankees have never had an alternate jersey, and that has become a part of our uniqueness and therefore culture.
Make no mistake, I think the spring training blue “New York” jerseys look fantastic. I look forward to seeing them every spring. I own one, and it would honestly be the best choice for an alternate in the case that the Yankees ever did wear one (with matching blue pants). But I am not willing to sacrifice an age-old tradition when we already see this uniform in a healthy dose anyway.
I have also observed many fans express their admiration for the black-on-black 2019 Players Weekend jersey. This should come as no shock: while I did think they looked sharp for three days, I do not believe the Yankees should adopt them into the regular jersey lineup. Consider this: black jerseys are a Mets thing (and frankly they did it better than anyone else in baseball). I would be against adopting the black-on-black just for the symbolism that it looks like we are copying the Mets. The Yankees copy no one. The Yankees are the anchor.
The Yankee brand is very clear: no names, no alternates.
I hinted at this earlier, but if I were in a position of power on the Yankees, I would get creative and create a plethora of alternate uniforms to wear exclusively during spring training over the years. This satisfies fans who want to see the Yankees wear fun new jerseys and avoids stepping on the toes of the traditionalists (like me) during the regular and post-season.
For spring training, I would keep the blue “NY” jersey and the blue “New York” jersey, and add a new third and fourth jersey every year. I would also eliminate the pinstripes entirely from Spring training, just to bring an added sense of accomplishment and completion to opening day when they are finally used again.
Another idea would be for the Yankees to have a line of alternate batting practice jerseys to be used during pregame warm-ups and sold at the team store. They can even be some of the same jerseys from spring training. Again, we can preserve the tradition of the Yankees while also getting creative with modern jersey styles by having players wear them outside of regulated gameplay. Hell, you can even have fan submission contests to really get people involved.
Identity and culture are centric to building a fan base. No other baseball team has an identity and culture as worldwide recognized as the New York Yankees. The centerpieces of Yankees culture are history and tradition. The Yankee uniform is the physical manifestation of history, and the closest connection we have left to our roots since the old stadium was torn down.
As the world changes, society likes to find the anchor that keeps them grounded and comforted. I feel like this is something we can understand now more than ever in 2021. So as baseball has changed, and will change over the years and generations, the Yankees and their uniform have always been, and should always be the constant and the anchor.
It is my fear that one day the Steinbrenner family will sell the Yankees to an owner who does not understand this.
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Main image credit Embed from Getty Images