What we know — and don’t — about MLB’s ongoing issues with Nike uniforms


Saturday, March, 2024

by Patrick Reevell

Hockey-GettyImage

In the sweltering summer of 1994, back when Russell Athletics was Major League Baseball’s official uniform supplier, the New York Yankees suddenly switched jersey fabrics, from polyester to a more breathable cotton, to beat the heat. Yankees players raved about the cotton uniforms in a front-page story.

Thirty years later, Nike, MLB’s current uniform supplier, introduced a new jersey — 90 percent recycled polyester — that got equally glowing reviews.

It’s easy to imagine this suggestion from Yankees assistant to the traveling secretary George Costanza to manager Buck Showalter now on a Nike pitch deck: “Imagine playing games and your team is five degrees cooler than the other team. Don’t you think that would be an advantage? They’re cooler. They’re more comfortable. They’re happier — they’re going to play better.”

It’s been 10 days since we started reporting about the many missteps in the Nike Vapor Premier rollout, and the groans have only grown louder. Here’s what we know — and don’t — about MLB’s ongoing jersey issues.

Depends on the day. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said new issues keep arising as he moves from camp to camp during spring training. The first complaints were about the design and feel of the jerseys. Concerns have since coalesced around the pants. Players have complained that instead of receiving fully tailored pants as in the past they now are measured, put into one of four body-type buckets and given pants that should fit someone shaped like them. Many are not satisfied.

Enough to see tags and logos underneath the white pants. Enough to make the long tails of the tucked-in jersey top look like a diaper. Enough that spouses are making jokes about it. No one asked for this kind of transparency in baseball.

A source familiar with the process said the pant fabric has not changed; another said the material and thickness are the same. That sentiment has been shared in several tweets and stories. However, a Nike spokesperson did not respond to The Athletic’s requests for clarity on whether this exact pant design — belt loops aside — was used last year, and, if so, what year this pant was first introduced.

Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas, who has written extensively about the new Nike jerseys on his site and Substack, said he saw a “somewhat similar phenomenon” in photos from previous years’ photo days. “To me,” he said, “it was not as severe.”

That seems to be the general consensus on Baseball Twitter. On one hand, everything about these uniforms is being more closely scrutinized than any jersey in recent memory. On the other, this see-through effect is not just occurring in the studio lighting of photo day. We’re seeing players’ undergarments in poorly-lit lobbies and on outdoor ballfields as well.

That’s right, teams are short on pants. Typically, according to a handful of players surveyed, they’ll have about five pairs of tailored game pants in their locker a couple of weeks before Opening Day. Currently, some teams have none, and some one. It’s not clear which company is at fault for the shortage — Nike, which engineered and designed the uniforms; or Fanatics, which manufactures them.

In the simplest explanation — following the responsibilities as laid out by MLB, Fanatics and Nike before Nike became MLB’s official uniform supplier in December 2019 — blame would primarily fall on Nike. That’s how Lukas sees it. That’s also how Clark, the union chief, sees it. Nike had four years to land its transition from the Majestic Athletics template to a Nike one. It so far has flopped.

Fanatics, however, has taken most of the heat from fans for the new jerseys. That’s because of Fanatics’ history of selling sub-par (or worse) products to consumers as it dominates the licensed sports apparel market. It is an earned reputation. In the case of these Nike jerseys, Fanatics produces the final product, so any imperfections or inconsistencies in the stitching, lettering and patchwork could be attributed to them. But the material and design changes are Nike choices.

Patrick Reevell

Patrick Reevell serves as the principal political analyst at RicanMagazine, specializing in American politics. He delves into elections, public sentiment, demographic shifts, and polling trends. With a keen eye for detail, Reevell provides insightful commentary on the dynamics shaping the political landscape.