Few industries are as brilliant at marketing as professional sports. Walk around any American city – especially if that city is Boston or Chicago – and half the folks you see are wearing some sports team gear. One would think that the appetite for team gear would be finite. I mean, once you have a tee-shirt, a fleece, four or five caps, and a set of coasters, what more does a fan girl need?
Well, we all know that sometimes marketing is about manufacturing a “need” that’s really more of an “I want it” than and “I need it.” And sometimes marketing is about encouraging people to get the whole set.
Major League Baseball is pretty effective at both creating bogus needs, and doing so in part by creating collectibles. One of the areas they focus their marketing genius on is getting people to fork over their hard earned cash for throwback uniform jerseys. One of the ways they get people to fork over their hard earned cash for throwback uniform jerseys is to get the current team to wear them for a game or two.
That’s what the Chicago White Sox were trying to do when they had some 1976 jerseys lined up for the team to wear last weekend.
Now anyone who knows anything about the Chicago White Sox knows that, when it comes to uniforms, they’ve come up with some doozies, including at least one that I remember where the players wore knee-length shorts.My sister Trish and I were at a Red Sox – White Sox game at Fenway decades ago when they were wearing a particularly awful edition: black clam diggers and some sort of baggy over-shirt blouse. Just hideous. As inevitably happens when we’re at Fenway, Trish and I were sitting near a loudmouth. At this game, the loudmouth was screeching to the White Sox players, “Put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits.” Whatever that meant. But the guy was on to something, in his own weird way. Those unis were weird. (At another game, this one against the Cleveland Indians, we sat near a guy who was screaming at one of the Indians, ‘'Go back to the Windy City.” Someone eventually informed him that Chicago is the Windy City, not Cleveland. As I said, wherever our seats are, we tend to find ourselves in shouting distance of a real loudmouth. Maybe Fenway is just riddled with them, and there’s no escape.)
Anyway, the reason why teams bring out re-runs of their past uniforms is to get fans to pay big bucks for them, thus enabling the team to – at least theoretically – field a better team. Or at least one that can help the team afford to pay their players such astronomical salaries.
Now, by the standards of MLB, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale’s salary is not truly astronomical, especially for one having a very good year. Sale’s salary is a mere $9.15. But that paltry $9.15 tab is picked up in part by the White Sox ability to sell merchandise.
Anyway, last Saturday, when he was scheduled to pitch, Chris Sale didn’t want to wear any hideous old throwback. But it wasn’t the hideous he objected to. His gripe was that they were getting in the way of his ability to win.
The 1976-style jerseys were navy and sported unusual collars on a hot and humid night. Sale called the uniforms "uncomfortable and unorthodox."
"When I saw that there was something in the way of that 100 percent winning mentality, I had an issue," Sale said in the interview with MLB.com. "I tried to bring it up and say, 'Hey listen, these are my thoughts and concerns,' and they got pushed away because of the business deal that was set in place. I'll never understand why we need to do something on the business side on the field that might impede us winning a game." (Source: ABC News Chicago)
It’s hard for me to understand how someone with the focus and discipline to become a $9.15 million a year pitcher for a professional baseball team is going to be bothered by having to wear a different shirt, even one with an unorthodox collar. It’s not as if he were being asked to play while wearing a fur coat or Kevlar vest or something.
But Sale was clearly bothered.
If the players don't feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix - it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that's when I lost it."
And when the White Sox powers that be ignored his concerns, he became a man of action. Or, in his own words, he “lost it.”
So he did the one thing that would keep the players from having to take the field in the objectionable jerseys: he took a scissors to them and cut them up.
That cost him a 5-game suspension, but since he’s a pitcher that doesn’t translate into many/any missed games. He did lose a quarter of a million dollars in lost salary (chump change), and had to reimburse the White Sox for the cost of the jerseys he destroyed.
I know that athletes can be high strung, and find things hinky that the rest of us wouldn’t. But I really do think that Sale was acting like a big baby here. While we do tend to sometimes ignore the fact, the teams we root for are businesses. Big businesses. Selling hideous retro game jerseys helps those big businesses pay big salaries. This is not the little guy getting screwed by excess executive pay. It’s a high paid athlete asked to don some apparel he disapproves of to help the big business pay him big bucks.
All this said, I would have minded being a fly on the wall when Chris Sale had his hissy fit, and started rampaging around the locker room with a pair of scissors in hand.