Pitchers & Poets Style Academy, Volume 1: The Best and the Worst

Fashion blogs are all over the Internet these days, from the Sartorialist’s style-making streetside photos to 1990s First Basemen Week contributor Jesse Thorn and his men’s fashion blog Put This On. Troops of professionals and weekend stylists scour the streets of Brooklyn and the world snapping portraits of youths in leather shoes and old men in double-breasted suits. I enjoy these image-heavy style blogs. Their subjects are often idiosyncratic and interesting and more bold than your average Joe. Mister Mort, one of my favorites, finds some real characters whose style often includes just one fantastic adornment amidst an ensemble of crazy.

With Mort’s work being a more extreme example, style blogs chronicle this continual tension between the traditional, the contemporary, and the futuristic. Baseball fields are another such battleground, where a few intrepid sports put heat to the glass of tradition and warp it into some novel shape. Others, in my humble opinion, succumb to the overwhelming weight of skewed tradition and/or mediocrity. In any event, I’ve got my opinions, and that’s what I’ll do here.

And so, taking my own turn at the wheel, I present the Pitchers & Poets Style Academy, Volume 1, in which I decide for myself which players’ style on-the-field sets them apart, and which players’ stand out for their sourness.

Note: In this volume, I am taking into account only on-field presentation. I am not bold enough to venture into what some of these dudes wear in their privatest times (Exhibit A).

Fashion Five: The Height of Style

Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro, whose style has personified the Japanese look in America for a solid decade now, creates harmony among the disparate elements that comprise his rig. A glint of silver in his high tops echoes the shimmer of his batting gloves, which in turn calls out to the silver in the Mariners cap. The neat crest of his pant leg where it meets the high sock, and the close fit of his jersey on his narrow frame accentuate the speed that comes with the silver lining.

Jose Reyes

Dreadlocks are more commonplace now than ever, and now that Manny Ramirez has retired, they can return to respectability as a charming style component, best displayed by Reyes, the kinetic, quick-footed shortstop. What better to trail a speedster as he takes the extra base, like built-in motion lines? Reyes’ modern baggy pants also reflect his kinetic style.

Jayson Werth

Proprietor of the beard with its own Twitter feed, Jayson Werth pulls off dramatic facial hair while maintaining a sense of decorum that a showman like Brian Wilson jettisoned long ago. While Wilson clings to the meme that began last year, letting his boot polish bristle expand, Werth doesn’t fear change, and he’s known to trim down to a soul patch (causing his Twitter doppelganger to enter SOUL PATCH MODE). Beard aside, Werth’s pants and jersey are of a full cut that looks back to an age-old style while remaining contemporary.

Vladimir Guerrero

photo by Keith Allison

For decades, now, this man mountain’s visual style has worked in perfect tandem with the way he plays baseball. Who else could successfully tuck his pant cuffs into his high tops but a player of Vlad’s trademark aggressive effectiveness. Guerrero’s giant legs help the idiosyncratic gambit succeed. Subtract batting gloves, add pine tar, finger tape, and one of the very few successful chin-only goatees, and the swing-away vision of Vlad is complete.

Mike Napoli

I don’t necessarily agree with Mike Napoli’s style. I’m not a gold chain guy. But I respect the completeness of the effort. Chain, tightly bounded beard, ornamental arm tats, hair flowing from his helmet, wide red armtape. If Russell Crowe played a major leaguer, I would expect to see the same full-bodied commitment to the aesthetic. Not since Piazza’s handlebar mustache has a catcher so boldly defied the aesthetic limitations of life behind the mask.

Honorable Mention

Derrek Lee, John Axford, Prince Fielder, B.J. Upton, Hunter Pence (with points off for magic necklace), Derek Jeter, Rickie Weeks. Please feel free to write your own suggestions in the comments.

Fashion Five Hole: The Dregs

Luke Scott

I’m not immune to the impact of Luke Scott’s politics when evaluating his look, but it seems fair to say that his style choices hint at his strange brew of ideas and behaviors. For years, his sideburns have been cut higher than a Monty Burns employee, and the snug fit of his jersey top and his devotion to gaudy Oakley sunglasses suggests an unhealthy attachment to the Reagan Era. And, of late, some kind of
mullet thing has been seen creeping out of the back of his helmet. Also, this.

Josh Beckett

Beckett is, in my eyes, the lead culprit in the disparaging trend of nausea-inducing magic necklaces and repulsive chin beards that are so common in today’s game (there are whole Houston Astros teams from 2007 to 2009 that lionize and emulate Beckett’s style the way hipster ladies look to Zooey Deschanel). Back during his rise to prominence with the Marlins in 2003, Beckett was a fresh faced young power pitcher sporting a chin disaster. Follies of youth can be excused, if only Beckett had abandoned the gaff in the interim. Instead, he’s elevated the chin beard to an art form, like a Thomas Kinkaid painting or a faded tag on a stop sign in Topeka.

C.C. Sabathia

Big men don’t have it easy when it comes to looking good in a baseball uniform. The solution, however, is not to add twenty-four square feet of additional fabric to the ensemble. Plus, he wears his cap less crooked/awesome than he used to.

Hideki Matsui

Sometimes, a single fatal flaw can sink an entire presentation. In Hideki Matsui’s case, it’s the grandpa-grade altitude of his waistline.

Shawn Marcum

With his “roadie for the WARPED tour” multi-leveled beard, his “roadie for Led Zeppelin” bell-bottom pants, and his “roadie for the Chili Peppers” necklace menagerie, Shawn Marcum could front a crappy rock band in any of three decades.

Honorable Mention

C.J. Wilson, Kevin Youkilis, Johnny Cueto, Corey Hart

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7 Responses to Pitchers & Poets Style Academy, Volume 1: The Best and the Worst

  1. Brian K says:

    Can we say that players with gimmicks like handle bar mustaches are getting tiresome? Is it just me?

  2. Jesse Gloyd says:

    You could probably do 1,500 words on Ionic Titanium necklaces for enhanced performance… actually… that might just be how I spend my morning…

  3. dougiejays says:

    Man, I love crappy rock bands and I love Shaun Marcum. Only wish he’d gone full beard earlier.

    The Jays have some candidates…Eric Thames rocks a 70s sideburns look, Jose Bautista’s beard is legendary and Travis Snider recently shaved this thing – http://tinyurl.com/688p7jo – leaving him looking more Linklater than Ron Jeremy nowadays.

    The one that kinda bugs me on your good list is Vlad. Just like he’s no longer a top 5 player, I don’t think his style has held up. Maybe it’s the short hair.

  4. mabel says:

    Ted, you are a man after my own heart. Fashion/style and baseball, together? Two of my favorite things.
    We might also consider walk up music as part of the conversation.
    My comment however is that we should also connect the look of a player to political meanings and broader issues of especially racial identity, identity politics and the role of MLB in policing those both explicitly and implicitly. There’s a column by Todd Boyd from a few years ago over at ESPN.com that touches on some of the issues at stake in terms of the politics of style, MLB’s conservatism and the decline of blacks in baseball. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=boyd/070702
    There he emphasizes how basketball, empitomized by players like Dr. J, became a public site in which black identity could be displayed through both athletic performance style and visual appearance. MLB, both as an institution and in individual clubs, on the other hand, has long had a much more complex relationship to style and the spectacular individual, especially the spectacular black individual, the persona of so many black stars has been critiqued for being too flashy, an aesthetic that flies in the face of everything MLB wants to stand for and how it wants to operate– management controlling and disciplining teams and players. (This is not to say that MLB and MLB clubs haven’t had issues with flashy white players but the political dynamics are necessarily distinct.)
    I have often wondered about the seemingly changing attitudes toward tattoos in MLB, which though ostensibly governed by the “Justin Miller Rule” seem to be inconsistently enforced. Would those rules have been differently enforced if it had been predominantly black players with tattoos? White players with tattoos connote not gangs but alternative culture, just what MLB seems to be courting with teams like the SFGiants.
    Another curious case in point is Dontrelle Willis who was told not to wear his hat cocked to the side. Whether or not a racial slight, it certainly gave the message that style had no place in MLB.

    Undoubtedly many would accuse me of reading too much into both style and the racial politics of MLB (if we’re talking styleblogs check out http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/ for excellent insights into how interrelated and how not trivial those things are). Those mentioned above are just a few examples which upon closer scrutiny might well turn out to be unfair readings. Nonetheless, the relationships between style, star persona, race and sport/MLB can productively be interrogated to examine the visual politics of the national pastime. (sorry that last sentence totally sounded like I’m writing an academic paper.)

  5. Rube says:

    When I think of style in baseball, I immediately think of the pants and socks as the most important component. And, as a big fan of uni-watch.com, I naturally think that all players ever should be wearing stirrups. But the exact arrangement of the socks and pants, more than anything, defines a player stylistically, perhaps second only to facial hair. There, you’ve got real heroes and villians – Nyjer Morgan, Reed Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, being heroes, Manny and pretty much everyone else being the villians. The evolution of the sock and pants set-up is, for me, by far the most interesting part of the baseball uniform evolution.

    It’s interesting to think about the long pants as part of maybe a valid stylistic choice, and one wonders how it came about. (I’m not being entirely unserious when I say that I wonder if hipster skinny pants ever played a role, at least in a much broader cultural sense. And, uh, yeah, I wear skinny hipster pants.) My gut reaction is to say, “We should be preserving something that’s so unique to baseball uniforms, preserving this tradition – any sport can wear pants, but how many have such beautiful hoisery?” And I’d still much rather see it that way – nevertheless, it worth wondering if in part it’s part of a larger unconscious effort to suppress current culture, African-American or not, and that, in a sense, we’re suppressing a valid style of the age. (If only Griffey chose once to wear his hat backwards during a game.) It’s the fashion of the era, as every era has to have, and despite baseball sticking to tradition, as stirrups remained a staple until the 90s, plenty of other things came and went that people had a chance to complain about. I just hope it’s not permanent and doesn’t erase that “history of hosiery.” Hopefully, 50s years from now, teams will be having retro days at the ballpark with long, baggy pants, lithium necklaces, and cool-flo helmets, and announcers will remark on how kids these days with their colorful stirrups, baggy pants, and solid-color-top-alternate-less jerseys don’t remember how the old school guys did it in the 2000s and 2010s.

    Another final thought: With my hopes that stirrups will return, has there ever been a style that has come in and out? Usually the uniforms simply evolve – for example, stirrups are established in the 20s or so, Ted Wiliams and the like bring their socks higher, clothes get tighter in the 60s, stirrups get super high and thin in the 70s and 80s, pants go ankle length in the 90s and by the early 2000s, everyone’s wearing long pants which slowly become more and more baggy as the decade goes on. There hasn’t been one “fad” – say, long, baggy pants – that’s simply gone in and out of style. Instead, it’s progressed – which makes me a bit pessimistic. As much as I love Ubaldo’s uniform choices, it seems unlikely that they’ll usher in a wave of simply returning to stirrups – it’s a bit more complicated then that.

  6. Rube says:

    Wow that was long. But actually, I just thought of a style that definitely has come in and out: buttons. Practically ever team except the Yankees were wearing pull-overs at some point or another, but the teams themselves chose to go back to tradition and use buttons on their uniforms. So maybe there’s hope.

  7. Ted says:

    @Brian, we’ve definitely gotten to the point where the quirky detail alone does not make a style icon. It can be a part of it, but the player must take it further than simply that. That said, I just realized that all of my most stylish players have some kind of facial hair.

    @Mabel, you have elevated the conversation, as usual, and all of your queries are intriguing and bear much more thought.

    @dougie, everything you said was drowned out by that Travis Snider mustache.

    @Rube, sometimes I feel like the high stirrups look is a way for only semi-stylish people to pretend that they have a distinct look. There was a time, early on, when Chipper Jones, for example, looked cool in the high stirrups, before every college kid started wearing them high. Thanks for all of your thoughts, really enjoyed them.