New ESPN column today — here’s the link.
Meanwhile: While the rest of the baseball world focused on the hot stove league, the real story was on the uniform scene, where MLB exec Bob Watson announced “the Francona Rule,” which according to Watson means, “You can only wear your uniform top or jacket.” In a truly inspired elaboration that will go down as the uni-related quote of the year, Watson added, “You can’t wear your nightshirt, or whatever it is. You can wear it before games, or after games, but not during games. You have to have your uniform top at all times.”
Watson’s commentary on sleepwear notwithstanding, this means no more sweatshirt for Francona (among others), no more smock for John Gibbons, and I think Buck Showalter just cancelled his latest comeback plans.
There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about this story and the history surrounding it. I can’t clear up all of that confusion, but I can help with some of it, FAQ-style:
Didn’t MLB and Francona butt heads over this issue a few months ago?
Yes, back in August.
So if they were already enforcing the rule then, why did they have to enact a new rule now?
Doesn’t the rulebook already require the manager to wear a uniform, at least if he leaves the dugout and goes onto the field of play?
No. Rule 3.15 states: “No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club.” Note that the “in uniform” stipulation is applied to coaches but not to managers.
On the other hand, I recently came across this page, which tells the story of how two beat reporters — George Lederer and Phli Collier — managed a Dodgers intrasquad game during spring training in 1964. Lederer actually donned a Dodgers uniform, but Collier skippered in civvies (you can see them both here). As the account of the game then explains:
Collier, dressed in street clothes … broke the rules when he charged onto the field to argue an umpire’s decision at second base. At this stage of the game, with the score still 1-1, Lederer was sharp enough to remind the umpires that Collier had no right to be on the field.
So this suggests that non-uniformed managers were understood to be barred from the field of play at least as early as 1964, even if the rulebook doesn’t specify this. Why? In going back over my research files, I found a 2005 listserv post by Frank Vaccaro of the Society for American Baseball Research that may shed some light on the subject:
Nearly all non-playing managers before 1900 wore civilian clothes. … [T]here was a [National League] rule in place from 1879 to 1891 preventing non-playing managers from appearing on the field. This was referred to as the “Harry Wright rule.” After he won the championship in 1878 — his sixth in seven years — this rule passed, I suppose, to give other teams a chance. Wright used to stand on the sidelines shouting orders to his players: “WAIT” to take pitches and “FACING” to hit to the opposite field, as well as the names of players who should catch flies, etc. Other teams were in a panic.
So the “Terry Francona rule” is apparently the latest version of the 128-year-old “Harry Wright rule.” I have a feeling Bob Watson doesn’t know this.
Why do managers wear uniforms anyway?
In baseball’s early days, many managers were also active players, and player/managers persisted longer than most people realize. There were three three of them as recently as the 1970s (Frank Robinson, Don Kessenger, and Joe Torre), and one in the 1980s (Pete Rose).
But Connie Mack wore a suit while managing, didn’t he?
Yes. Mack’s a bit of a red herring, though — he owned the A’s, so he wore a suit in large part because he saw himself as a businessman/executive type and dressed accordingly. For a broader analysis, let’s turn once again to Frank Vacarro’s 2005 SABR listserv post:
[T]he interesting question is “How did baseball managers evolve to become the only team leaders in sports with the tradition of wearing the team uniform?” The answer is four-fold. Nearly all managers in the 1890s were playing managers, but a 1900-1920 manager could manage in civilian clothes if:
1) He embraced the style created by the [Harry Wright rule].
2) He wanted to exude the authority of a magnate.
3) He did not want to play or to appear as a base coach.
4) He had never played baseball professionally.
By 1940 these reasons became archaic. The 1880s NL style was forgotten; managers “like magnates” did poorly; teams carried enough coaches (and players — roster sizes grew) to do all delegatable tasks; and all managers had at least some professional playing experience. Offsetting these [factors] were the layout of the grass and the diamond and the fact that a manager could participate, on any corner of the field, in pre-game activities that were low on effort but high on skill, such as hitting grounders or fungos, bullpen catching, or even pitching BP. All these contrast sharply with activities high on athleticism that characterize pre-game practice in the other sports. It’s sometimes said, rightly or wrongly, that baseball is more a game than a sport.
For good measure, Vacarro provided a list of 20th-century managers who skippered in civvies (an asterisk indicates that the manager was known to don a uniform on occasion):
• Bob Allen, Reds, 1900
• Connie Mack, A’s, 1901-1950
• Horace Fogel, Giants, 1902
• Tom Loftus, Senators, 1902-1903
• Bill Armour, Indians, 1902-1904; Tigers, 1905-1906
• Frank Selee, Cubs, 1902-1905
• Ed Barrow, Tigers, 1903-1904; Red Sox, 1918-1920
• John McClosky, Cardinals, 1906-1908*
• Hank O’Day, Reds, 1912; Cubs, 1914
• George Stallings, Braves, 1913-1920
• Hugo Bezdek, Pirates, 1917-1919
• Clark Griffith, Nationals, 1917-1920*
• Branch Rickey, Cardinals, 1919-1925*
• Wilbert Robinson, Dodgers 1928-1931*
It’s not clear how many of these skippers, if any, went onto the field of play during a game, but this photo shows Hank O’Day wearing spikes with his suit while managing the Cubs, suggesting that he went onto the field at some point.
But MLB doesn’t want Francona wearing a pullover even in the dugout. So when did not wearing a full uniform go from being rare to being banned?
I haven’t figured that part out yet.
Couldn’t MLB have avoided this whole mess with Francona if they hadn’t created so many different kinds of officially licensed outerwear for him and other managers to try on?
Gee, what do you think?
Membership Update: Remember, today is the last day for ordering a gift membership at discounted holiday rates.
Beantown Reminder: Uni Watch party tomorrow, 8:30 p.m., at Boston Beer Works. The gathering got a little preview write-up in today’s Boston Herald, plus Randy Moss is gonna stop by and explain why he keeps wearing those upside-down 8s, so come by and join us.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Wisconsin wore their long-awaited throwbacks on Monday night, and man did they look sweet, although it turns out that the beat writer for Madison’s Capital Times totally Doesn’t Get It™ (with thanks to Nicole Haase). … Expect to see lots of NBA throwbacks beginning this Friday. Details here. … Duke guard DeMarcus Nelson is wearing some interesting kicks. Details here (with thanks to intern emeritus Vince Grzegorek). … Awesome female Black Fives photo and info here. … Spectacular discovery by Jared Wheeler, who found a shot of Magic Johnson from the 1980 NBA All-Star Game with two initials on his NOB! … Jeff Meyers, who works for the independent Ft. Worth Cats, informs me that the team has a cat eyes alternate jersey. Look closely and you’ll see that the pupils actually spell out “F” and “W.”