Some Players’ Weekend Features Should Be Permanent

MLB’s second annual Players’ Weekend was a chance for players to display their individual personalities with relaxed uniform and equipment rules. Everyone was allowed to pick a nickname to put on the back of uniforms specially designed by each club. But while that was the most obvious aspect of the weekend, I was much more intrigued by the individual players’ style choices.

The league allowed custom bats, cleats, and arm sleeves all weekend, the results of which were really quite impressive. Willson Contreras, previously prevented from wearing an arm sleeve with a Venezuelan flag, had a bat painted the colors of said flag. Javy Baez had alternating red and blue bats offering a kind of Matrix-like dichotomy.

The Reds’ Scooter Gennett honored his hero, Dale Earnhardt Sr., with a checkered flag bat and black No. 3 shoes. Stories similar to that repeated themselves across the league. It lead me to a simple question: why can’t they just do this all season long? Obviously not the custom jerseys and nicknames, but the freedom to design bats, cleats, and other gear could happen easily.

MLB has a long cultivated image as a dull stick-in-the-mud defender of the old school. The aforementioned Contreras controversy is hardly the only case of baseball clinging to its staid rules. Ben Zobrist was warned for wearing his black PF Flyers because all cleats must contain at least 50 percent of the team’s primary color.

The point of these rules has never really been clear to me. They don’t offer a competitive advantage in any way. Other than a few traditionalist fans and writers, the custom gear doesn’t seem to offend anyone. In school I was always told wearing hats in the building was a no-no. Everyone just went along with it. By junior high or high school I finally asked a teacher why? His answer: It’s out of respect. When pressed further, he wasn’t exactly sure why or how, just that it was disrespectful to don a cap.

At that moment it finally dawned on me: There was no actual reason for the hat rule at all. It was just a way for the school to add more restrictions to keep control of us. I feel the same way about these MLB guidelines. It’s just another level of control the powers-that-be can exert on their players. Frankly, I think the time for change is overdue.

Baseball is endlessly working on pace-of-play rules to speed games up and make them more appealing to younger fans. Allowing custom bats and shoes seems like an excellent strategy for marketing to millennials. Javy Baez, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor, and countless other stars should be allowed to shine, not restricted by stodgy rules. Who wouldn’t want to see what new bat or shoe design they debuted each week?

No sport is more stuck in its ways than hockey and tradition is worshiped at rinks across North America. Yet even in hockey, goalies are allowed to paint whatever they want on their masks and use any design they want on their pads. It hasn’t hurt the game. It’s made goalies the biggest characters in the sport.

Most would probably argue that the NBA is the most player-forward of the major North American leagues, though even they had maintained certain restrictions on the color of footwear. As of 2019, however, those rules are being lifted and players can express themselves pretty much however they want with what they wear on their feet.

The time has come for baseball to give up the goat and let its players’ style shine through all year long. Baseball is a game and it’s okay to have fun while playing or watching it. There are some truly dynamic and entertaining personalities in the league right now and giving them a chance to express that to the world at large for more than three days a year.

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