Minor leaguers can't wait for casual dress in big leagues

BlueClaws' Jonathan Singleton might be bending the rules with what's around his neck but he follows the rules with his socks. Ryan Howard's long pants are clearly a minor violation.
BlueClaws' Jonathan Singleton might be bending the rules with what's around his neck but he follows the rules with his socks. Ryan Howard's long pants are clearly a minor violation. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff photographer)
Posted: July 14, 2011

AS A YOUNG baseball player, you could not count on three hands the advantages of playing in "The Show." The money, of course, is great, not only the salary but even the $92.50 per diem. Travel is first class, even if it happens to be on the occasional bus. You stay in wonderful hotels, dine in fine restaurants and have a staff of people whose sole job is to see to your every need.

Yes, it is an intoxicating life.

But it even gets better: On the field, you get to wear your uniform any way you damn well please. Not a small thing for Phillies minor leaguers who must follow the organization's rules that include old-style high socks.

"I look at it as kind of a rite of passage," said Garret Claypool, a righthander for the Phillies' Class A affiliate in Lakewood. "Once you get to the big leagues, you can wear your pants down."

Catcher Jeff Lanning added, "And you can wear your hair whatever way you want."

Major League Baseball is not like the National Football League, where before each game a gentleman with a clipboard surveys the players as they warm up. When a uniform is not worn to league specification, the player can be written up and fined. Players refer to it as the "fashion police." Baseball does have a policy in its rulebook (see Section 1.11), but it affords wide latitude for "personal expression" and, in so far as anyone can remember, it has never been enforced with any vigor. No Hawaiian shirts are allowed, but whatever else you can think of is, including facial growth (the bearded Jayson Werth and others); jewelry (ex-Phillies reliever Turk Wendell wore a necklace from the claws and teeth of animals); and baggy uniforms (former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez looked like he just fell out of a dryer). Players at the big level commonly wear their pants bottoms at their shoe tops, and have done so for years.

No one is exactly sure when it happened, but the stirrup-sanitary stocking look one day went the way of the Sunday doubleheader and the sports cars that used to drop off relief pitchers. Frank Coppenbarger, the director of team travel and clubhouse service, remembers that the first player he ever saw wearing his pants down at his ankles was George Hendrick back in the 1980s. Hendrick, who was called "Silent George" because he never spoke to the press, lost a clubhouse bet of some kind whereby he had to wear his pants up instead, according to Coppenbarger (who was then with the Cardinals). "He did it," Coppenbarger said. "It was the funniest looking thing you ever saw. It was not him." Hendrick may or may not have been the forerunner of the "pants down" style, but it did not catch on until the 1990s, when Barry Bonds and others popularized the look.

Contrary to what the word "uniform" seems to suggest - which to say, everyone looking the same - there is an absence of precisely that at the big-league level. On any team in baseball, you will find players who wear their pants down and others who wear them up in the old style. Hairstyles vary (as they do in the NFL) and there are an abundance of players who wear necklaces. Unless it happens to be a look that is just simply outrageous, clubs do not dictate the individual manner in which a player wears his uniforms, in part because it just would be too cumbersome to enforce. According to Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager for player development and scouting, it would be an ordeal to ask the big-league manager to "police something like that every night."

"Now if it came from the league, it would be out of his hands," said LaMar, who added that Tampa Bay attempted to enforce an on-field dress code while he was with them. "The thing is, [as a manager], you are shooting a lot of bullets. And you have to use those bullets on important things."

LaMar paused and added, "Actually, it sort of helps us that the major leaguers do what they do. Because we use it. We tell our minor leaguers: 'When you get to Philadelphia and are playing for Charlie Manuel, you have earned the right to wear your uniform any way you like. And that also goes for facial hair.' "

But not until then. In fact, the Phillies' farm system is one of the few places where you can see baseball players still dressing like baseball players (and not as if they were wearing pajamas). Given to an organizational philosophy that has been in place for years, the Phillies refer each player to the minor league handbook. To summarize: Hair is to be worn above the collar; mustaches are permitted but must be trimmed at the edge of the lip; jewelry is not acceptable; and uniforms are to be worn with the stirrups showing. That seems to go for everyone, including star big-league players down on rehabilitation assignment. While LaMar said that no one asked them to conform to the uniform policy, Chase Utley and Brad Lidge both wore their pants up this year while working their way back from injuries.

"No one ever said a word to them," LaMar said. "They just did it out of respect for the team."

Players who come into the organization are told of the dress-code expectations on their first day. Generally, players had been wearing their uniforms with the pants down, so it comes as an adjustment to some of them. Claypool said he has had to tape his stirrups to keep them up because he has small calves. Lanning said he does what he is told but added, "A lot of guys don't like it because it's not the look anymore."

Centerfielder Zack Collier just laughed and said, "I would love to wear my pants down! I never, ever wore my pants up. Even in T-ball." But two other players have an appreciation for what the organization is attempting to accomplish.

"Honestly," said infielder Alan Schoenberger, "if you wear your pants too low or your shirt is too baggy, you begin to look untidy. I think it comes down to just presenting yourself well."

Pitcher Colby Shreve echoed that. "They just want us to look like ballplayers," he said. "The pants-up style is a classic look. I like it."

But that opinion is rarely shared by the occupants of the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park, with the exception of Joe Blanton and a few others. Outfielder Domonic Brown favors the pants-down style for "comfort" and the fact that "it is just a better look." Brown said that wearing his pants up "pinched" his knees. He said, "Once you get to the big leagues, you should be able to dress the way you want. But you have to earn it."

Reserve Pete Orr prefers wearing his pants down because he wears knee pads. "That becomes uncomfortable when [my pants] are up," he said. "But I have no problem wearing them up."

Pitcher Andrew Carpenter agreed that it came down to comfort. "Until I got to the minors, I had not worn my pants up since I was 10," said Carpenter. "I always wore them down."

Carpenter was informed of how the NFL oversees the way players wear their uniforms. Overhearing that, pitcher Scott Mathieson chimed in from the neighboring locker: "No wonder they are on strike."

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