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It’s Not About the Shoes It’s What You Do in Them!

During a recent ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast, veteran announcer Karl Ravech (best known locally for his long-tenured association with the Little League World Series) conducted a pre-game interview with Baltimore Orioles sensational shortstop Gunnar Henderson. Henderson, a member of the American League all-star team and participant in this year’s Home Run Derby, showed excitement when Ravech presented him with a new pair of baseball cleats.

The shoes, which Henderson proudly displayed to teammates in the clubhouse and wore during the game, were designed by Marcus ‘Soles By Sir’ Rivero. The multi-colored footwear included the Sunday Night Baseball logo, the Oriole bird, and a LEGO figure on the tongue of each shoe, referencing Henderson’s avid LEGO hobby.

Henderson wore the cleats on the field and, while mic’d up, announced he would be participating in this year’s Home Run Derby. With the shoes in full display, Henderson struck out his first three at-bats. Shunning his new gift, he wore his regular orange shoes for his final ninth-inning at-bat. The results were the same: he not only struck out for the fourth time, ending his 36-game on-base streak, but ignominiously gained the Golden Sombrero, baseball’s nomenclature for a player striking out four times in a game.

Just as many players before him fell victim to this unwanted recognition, many more have played the game with superstitious shenanigans. Our National Pastime is steeped in tradition and guided by ‘unwritten rules,’ and the game’s lore decree could bring about misfortune if violated.

Professional baseball players, as well as those in other sports, enjoy many perks. Among them are free shoes provided by various brand manufacturers. Nike leads the way, with 50% of MLB players wearing their shoes, followed by New Balance 22%, Adidas 16%, and Under Armour 8%.

Until recent changes were made in the players’ uniform dress code, the rules used to state, “Shoes have to be 51% covered in their primary team colors spread throughout the exterior of the shoe.” The league rule existed to prevent players from wearing outlandish, vibrant, or otherwise distracting color combinations. While they could be a problem for opponents, they also made them look unprofessional.

Baseball tradition dates back to the turn of the century (the 20th, not the 21st) when the uniforms were white and gray, and the early TV broadcasts were in black and white. Sometimes, when ‘tradition’ meets a written rule, strange things can happen.

On May 2, 2018, Ben Zobrist, a Chicago Cubs infielder with baseball tradition in his soul, decided to wear black shoes in a game against Colorado. His shoe decision was inspired by watching highlights of baseball greats such as Ernie Banks and Stan Musial, two Hall of Fame stars of the 1950s & 60s.

His manager, Joe Maddon, supported Zobrist’s plan.

“I love the shoes that he’s wearing, and the reason he gave is outstanding. He was doing it to bring back the history of the game. Hopefully, kids are watching. Those are the kinds of things your kids are looking for, and I’m right on board with it.”

However, MLB wasn’t and proceeded to blow a gasket. The league sent Zobrist a warning that wearing black shoes violated the league’s aforementioned 51% color policy and stated he would be fined/suspended for continued violations of the rule. Zobrist then planned to wear pink on the upcoming Mother’s Day.

The league ‘saw the light’ on what seemed like a misguided ruling, and today, nearly anything goes when it comes to shoes the players wear.

A 1966 Nancy Sinatra song “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” rose to the top of the charts. MLB player’s footwear is made for running more than walking, but some styles and colors are indeed “outlandish & vibrant,” and today, ‘bling has become the thing’ in a 180-degree turn from what it used to be.

There have been many changes in the uniforms and accessories MLB players now wear on the field, but restrictive rules are in place. The MLB dress code includes:
– Players must wear team-provided pants with a belt to keep the shirt in place, may not wear anything extra that looks like a baseball or a bat, and keep their clothes in good condition.
– Players can’t change their shoes while running the bases.
– Shirts must be tucked in at all times while they are in the game.
– The hat must be worn facing forward, though catchers and home run derby participants can wear them backward.
– All undershirts must match the team’s colors for uniformity.
– Coaches will wear uniforms if they want to be allowed on the field.
– Coaches wear a team uniform based on tradition, but they can also wear team jackets or sweaters.

MLB also imposes a dress code for sportswriters stating: “Sportswriters wear professional clothing, shoes that cover all or most of their feet, and shorts or pants long enough to cover their legs.

Violators of the above rules are subject to fines.

Creative professionals have always found ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Though it is a team game, baseball players with their feet on the ground are finding ways to join in.