Basketball players don't gripe about the color of their shorts. A football player doesn't get agitated over the stripe on his helmet. The Edmonton Oilers won't be found having heated discussions in the locker room about what makes a classic hockey uniform. But scratch a major league baseball player and you uncover a fashion analyst.
"You've got to have a belt," says outfielder Fred Lynn of the Detroit Tigers. "That's the way uniforms are supposed to be made. For belts."
"I'm a pinstripes kind of guy," says outfielder Kal Daniels of the Cincinnati Reds. "I go for belts and buttons—like the Yankees."
"I like our orange-and-black," says outfielder Candy Maldonado of the Giants. "It looks very nice with that stripe in there, but I wish it said 'San Francisco,' like you see in the old pictures."
"You know what makes the Dodger uniform?" says New York Yankee pitcher Tommy John. "It's the red uniform number on the shirt. I love that."
Maybe it's all those hours spent sitting in the dugout with nothing to do but spit that makes aesthetes out of these athletes. Or maybe it's the nature of the baseball uniform itself. A football or hockey player needs the armor of a tank just to survive, but he gives up his flexibility, his freedom of movement. A basketball player needs plenty of skin exposed to the air to keep his body temperature down, so he sacrifices protection. But a baseball player, with fewer practical demands upon his attire, has a uniform that, functionally speaking, covers all the bases, which leaves him free to devote himself to the finer points of style.
Pitcher Bud Black of the Indians, who has a reputation as something of a fashion trendsetter, has studied the American League in depth from the vantage point of the bullpen. "I like the Tigers' home uniforms," he says. "I like the number of belt loops in the back. I like the Old English 'D.' I like the small pinstripe down the sides. They also have two hats, a road hat with an orange D, a home hat with a white D. I like that they have orange stripes on their shoes on the road and white stripes at home. But I don't like their away uniforms."
Now and then a player feigns indifference, but don't be taken in. He cares. "The Yankee uniform's not bad," says Yankee outfielder Rickey Henderson. "Not bad at all. But they're all the same. There's no uniform I really hate."
What about the 1976 White Sox with those weird collars? "Now that was a bad uniform," says Henderson. "I wouldn't play in that uniform."
Some care more than others. Ken Landreaux achieved a sort of fashion martyrdom in 1980 when, as a Minnesota Twins outfielder, he refused to go along with a front office edict that his blue stirrup socks be worn low enough that the team's logo on the sock show at the calf. But Landreaux liked to pull his stirrups high over his white sanitary socks and pull his pant legs low, so that only a band of colored stirrup ran up either side of his ankles, the way many players wear their socks today.