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Typically uptight MLB lets its hair down for Players Weekend

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We’re approaching Major League Baseball’s second annual Players Weekend, the three games in 162 when players don’t risk fines for showing personality.

The league that complains about the struggle to market its game, and its players, is briefly letting its hair down for the weekend of August 24-26. For these three games, players have the option to choose a nickname other than their surname to emblazon their backs, and also get the opportunity to honor someone special in their lives.

In its inaugural season last year, Players Weekend was a hit with fans and players alike. It offered fans a window into the personalities of many of their favorite players. In addition to the nicknames, jerseys will have a patch on the right sleeve where players can write the name of someone who supported them on their journey from Little League to the Bigs.

Said Commissioner Rob Manfred of the event:

“By highlighting their positive influences, Players’ Weekend showcased the significance of youth baseball and its role in the development of Major Leaguers. We look forward to the event returning and continuing to bring fans closer to the greatest baseball players in the world.”

Game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, a body focused on supporting amateur baseball and softball programs in the US and Canada. 

It’s odd that MLB should need a designated weekend for the guys who literally make the league possible, though. This seems to indicate two things: MLB is aware that the game is less representative of the actual guys who play it than it should be, but MLB is also not willing to give them much more than a weekend to ameliorate the issue. Manfred said:

“We were extraordinarily pleased that the first Players’ Weekend gave fans greater insight into the players, their stories and their paths to the Major Leagues.” 

Manfred also told the AP ahead of this year’s All Star Break:

“Player marketing requires one thing for sure — the player. You cannot market a player passively. You can’t market anything passively. You need people to engage with those to whom you are trying to market in order to have effective marketing. We are very interested in having our players more engaged and having higher profile players and helping our players develop their individual brand. But that involves the player being actively engaged.”

Unfortunately, MLB spends the other 159 games of the season stamping out any self-expression players deign to show on the field, the ideal time for players who have a grueling schedule and little time to devote to marketing off the field, to build a brand by showing fans their personality.

Whether it’s the unwritten codes of conduct associated with showing emotion on the field, or choosing to rock a pair of spikes, batting gloves or other accessory that strays from the arcane tenets set down by the official rule book, self-expression is frowned upon.

And when it comes to sartorial self-expression, MLB steps in directly, quietly fining players who fail to conform to the league’s interpretation of dusty rules:

“All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style … Any part of an undershirt exposed to view shall be of a uniform solid color for all players on a team … No player whose uniform does not conform to that of his teammates shall be permitted to participate in a game.”

The rulebook continues:

“Sleeve lengths may vary for individual players, but the sleeves of each individual player shall be approximately the same length … No player shall attach to his uniform tape or other material of a different color from his uniform.”

Some player have even been known choose to wear offending equipment with the advance knowledge that there’s a price tag on showing your personality in baseball.

Nevertheless, for at least three days in August, players will be allowed to augment the uniforms MLB describes as patterned after a Little League-style in “colorful concoctions and youthful designs” with accessories pursuant to their stylistic choices, within reason, of course. 

Notes

The Giants play the Rangers for Players Weekend and a list of the nicknames they’ve selected can be found here.


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @insidethepark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.

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