Nike’s MLB uniform rollout reaches new stage of frustration — a pants shortage



By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Patrick Mooney and C. Trent Rosecrans

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When players walked into the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse on Thursday morning, they found white and gray baseball pants on the chairs at their lockers. More pants were piled on a table in the middle of the room, and a message on a monitor above asked players to try them on. Doing so brought the familiar feeling of pulling on an old pair of pants.

Because that’s exactly what they are.

Among the numerous issues surrounding the rollout of Nike’s new MLB uniform this spring is a pants shortage. Some teams are reusing pants from previous seasons — made by Nike or Major League Baseball’s previous uniform supplier, Majestic — because they don’t have enough new Nike pants for all players and uniformed personnel. The Reds have told players to plan to wear their old pants for the rest of spring training.

“The universal concern,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said, “is the pant.”

As of Thursday evening, Nike and Major League Baseball had yet to respond to questions provided by The Athletic.

As Clark and officials from the players union make the rounds in spring training, they continue to hear widespread complaints. After meeting with Chicago Cubs players on Thursday morning in Mesa, Ariz., Clark acknowledged, “It’s disappointing that we’ve landed in a place where the uniforms are a topic of discussion.” Even the negative feedback on the uniforms does not center around a single issue.

“Each conversation with the guys is yielding more information,” Clark said. “A lot of the rhetoric (Wednesday) was confirmation that it appears the pants are see-through.”

 

But a broader issue — beyond the see-through nature, the design changes, the inconsistent quality and the fit issues players have complained about — is the lack of pants available for teams to hand out.

“There are teams that have pants and jerseys,” Clark said. “There are some teams that don’t have pants. There are other teams that are supposed to be receiving certain things before the start of the year. There are others that — in the event they have an issue with the pants and a player needs a new pair — don’t have anything in reserve.”

Nike began a 10-year contract as MLB’s official uniform supplier prior to the 2020 season. Fanatics has produced Nike’s jerseys since 2020 out of the same Easton, Pa., factory where Majestic’s uniforms were made. A spokesperson for Fanatics, which manufactures the uniforms but has no hand in the design or engineering, declined to comment.

At his Grapefruit League address last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred defended Nike and its new uniform, praising the company’s track record and hand-waving player concerns.

“I think after people wear them for a little bit, they’re going to be really popular,” he said.

Yet, as spring training games begin, players and coaches are still pulling on old pants — some by choice, some by necessity.

A National League star has so far refused to wear the new pants. An American League star had a Goldilocks experience in his fitting: too tight in one spot, too loose in another spot, just right in a third spot. A coach tried on the new Nike uniform on the first day of workouts, then went home afterward and found an old pair he’s worn since. A player who wears stirrups bemoaned the fact he could choose his pants cut high or low but nothing in between. One club on Wednesday received just one set of the new Nike pants — the set, coincidentally, that they needed to wear for official photo day.

 

In past years, players were fitted early in spring training and could request all sorts of customization, and they’d receive the final, tailored product a few weeks before Opening Day. Now, according to multiple players who’ve recently been fitted, requests to take the fabric in an inch on the thigh or the bicep are rejected. Instead, players are sorted by four body types, based on body-scanning of 300-plus players Nike and Fanatics conducted last spring, and given three options — a slimmer, regular and baggier fit — with five different pant openings. Nike will adjust sleeve and pant length but not tailor specific areas.

While starting the first game of Cactus League play Thursday, Padres starter Joe Musgrove wore last year’s pants. Asked when he’d receive the new ones, Musgrove replied, “Hopefully by Opening Day.” Musgrove recalled first trying on the new Nike jersey, called the Nike Vapor Premier, last spring. He said the samples provided weren’t the proper length for each player, so it was hard to gauge the fit at that time.

“Pants are pants,” Musgrove said. “We’re going to wear them. If they don’t fit right, you’ll deal with it. It’s not the most important thing. … Honestly, our job is to go out there and play baseball. So you can b—- all you want about not liking the pants, but you’ve got to deal with it.”

Some players are concerned that if Nike cannot supply sufficient pants to fill clubs’ current needs, the players won’t be able to wear them in during the weeks before the regular season.

“Guys are going to be pissed,” the player said. “You don’t want to be worried about that bulls— on Opening Day.”

“It’s a s—show,” another player echoed.

Reds catcher Luke Maile doesn’t mind the new uniform. It fits fine. It feels good. He’s frustrated that the uniform snafus persist, and the people responsible for sorting out the mess are the clubhouse attendants. They’re left refitting players and rooting through storage rooms to find enough old pants to outfit the roster.

“I think the biggest misconception right now is it’s not just players complaining and being prima donnas about what pants they’re wearing,” Maile said. “We work with our clubhouse attendants every single day. They take care of virtually everything in our lives, and the amount of work that they’ve had to go through, only to see this kind of fall short is pretty disappointing — not just on our end, but for them as well.”

Nike claimed in a release last week that the new jersey was developed over multiple years. The jerseys were shown to teams during 2022 spring training, according to MLB.com, and the players union also reviewed the uniforms. Clark confirmed conversations about the new uniforms went back “a couple years,” however, he doesn’t feel the union’s suggestions were heeded.

“We offered input — suggested what the challenges were going to be — and they needed to be remedied on the front end. They weren’t,” Clark said. “There was a Nike and league announcement (last week), and then suddenly you start hearing from guys what it is that they’re seeing on the ground. (There were) very little answers being provided.

“That’s why I’m saying it’s been an ongoing conversation where each day has yielded something new that doesn’t seem to make as much sense as you would like it to.”

It’s unclear whether Nike intends to make changes to the uniforms prior to Opening Day. Clark said some of the design changes are understandable; the thinner, lighter performance fabric of the Nike Vapor Premier, for example, necessitating the introduction of smaller numbers and letters on the jersey.

“Yet in the commentary we received, some guys are disappointed in the tops,” Clark said. “Other guys will work through those.”

The pant is of greater concern to most players, Clark said. “But I’m not sure what the fix may be or how quickly we’ll be able to get to it.”

The Reds had a stockpile of old pants on hand in case there were hiccups with the uniform. They also wear red tops during spring training, so, in their case, wearing old pants won’t clash with the new tops (which are slightly off-white). No one is sure what will happen by Opening Day, but the Reds at least have a workaround for a month.

Maile made it clear he’s not expecting perfection, just pants.

“Will we make it work? Of course,” he said. “Was the old way better? Probably. But again, man, our job is to be able to compete. That’s what we have to do. We’ll do it in whatever.”

The Athletic’s Dennis Lin contributed to this report.

(Reds pitchers and catchers at spring training: Kareem Elgazzar / The Enquirer / USA Today)





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top