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M.L.B. Goes Black and White in Search of Green

Nigel Tufnel, the dimwitted lead guitarist of the fictional band “Spinal Tap,” is Major League Baseball’s kind of guy. Upon seeing the all-black cover of a new album, Nigel decides that he loves it.

“There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like, how much more black could this be?” he says, in Rob Reiner’s indelible 1984 mockumentary. “And the answer is: none. None more black.”

None more black. None more white. That is what baseball unveiled Tuesday as the uniform styles for Players’ Weekend from Aug. 23 to 25. For three days, every game in the majors will feature one team wearing all black against another wearing all white. That means black logos and lettering on black caps and jerseys, and white logos and lettering on white caps and jerseys. The pants will be black or white, too.

This is the third iteration of Players’ Weekend, an initiative from the league and the union that gives players wide leverage to express themselves. The nicknames on the jerseys are fun: Polar Bear for the Mets’ Pete Alonso, a lightning bolt emoji for Seattle’s Dee Gordon, and so on. The players can choose stylish accessories — cleats, socks, sleeves, equipment — that might pop a little better in contrast to the monochrome uniforms.

But, seriously, all white versus all black? It is hard enough to read the names and numbers on the Marlins’ black-on-black jerseys. (Although it helps to avoid recognition while playing for the worst team in the National League.) And now, for a three-day slate of games, the whole sport will look almost indistinguishable, with logos, numerals and lettering all but impossible to see.

As grievances go, this is trivial stuff. And, yes, there is clearly some irony in quoting from a 35-year-old movie to make a point about an event geared for kids. But most fans tuning in will be confused by the whole thing, until they realize it is simply a marketing ploy — up to $219.99 for a jersey and $37.99 for a cap, available now at the league’s website.

Major League Baseball is a business, of course, and certainly entitled to collect every dollar fans are willing to pay. (Gotta offset declining attendance somehow, right?) But when Commissioner Rob Manfred took over in January 2015, he said he had little appetite to make changes to the uniform, specifically in regards to advertisements.

“It’s interesting, there was more chatter about that in the game 10 years ago than there is now,” Manfred said then. “It’s just not a hot issue for us. I think people have great respect for the way our uniforms look. I don’t foresee that one, I really don’t.”

The Players’ Weekend jerseys will not have advertising patches, but now that the N.B.A. has ads on its jerseys — with the Golden State Warriors fetching $20 million annually from their sponsor, Rakuten — baseball has been emboldened. Last month, Noah Garden, M.L.B.’s executive vice president for business and sales, told Sports Business Journal, “I’d say it’s inevitable down the road.”

ImageCreditNorm Hall/Getty Images

Sigh. Baseball simply cannot resist tinkering with the one thing that should be so easy to get right: the visual presentation of the product. Occasional throwback days are plenty profitable, to judge by the retro jerseys that dot the stands at nearly every ballpark. But the specialty uniform craze — avert your eyes, it’s a holiday! — has gotten unseemly, and unsightly.

The primary baseball uniforms, almost all of them, are genuinely gorgeous: the Athletics, Braves, the Cardinals, the Dodgers, just to begin alphabetically. Most teams have an alternate top to mix it up now and then, and lots of those look sharp: the bright orange of the Orioles, the powder blue of the Rays, the signature brown of the Padres. That’s plenty of variety.

Players’ Weekend is a wonderfully progressive concept, a chance for players to market themselves and showcase the sport on social media. Players are encouraged to use mobile devices on the field and in the dugout before the national anthem, another smart idea.

Maybe these all-black and all-white jerseys and caps will be big sellers. Sportswriters — ahem — are hardly qualified to dictate fashion trends.

But here’s something about Players’ Weekend that the M.L.B. marketers do not mention: It gives fans a powerful reason to bask in the magic of baseball on the radio.

More Baseball Coverage‘We’re Lab Rats’: A Baseball League Where Stealing First Is O.K.Aug 2, 2019Jim Bouton Opened Up the Major Leagues to EveryoneJul 11, 2019‘Just Come Out and Say It’: Players Want Answers on the Changing BallJul 9, 2019


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