Friday, June 17, 2005

The S-Word

Is it killing baseball?

PSAYINGS.5S.4-8. When the United States Congress decided to hold hearings about the unaddressed problems in baseball, I was exhilarated. I thought that the greatest game in the world might be salvaged in spite of itself. I looked forward to an in-depth investigation of the rummy doings with the S-Word. But I was bitterly disappointed. All the beltway crowd wanted to talk about was steroids. No mention of the real S-Word: socks.

I began to wonder if I'm the only one who's noticed. Anybody else? Take the picture up top. It's a college team. Most of the players are wearing their pants to just below the knee, where the baseball socks begin. But just as in the major leagues, there's something else going on in the picture too. Something sinister. Starting in the middle of the picture, you can see a player with his pants extending all the way to the ankles. To the right of him there's another and another doing the same. And the player who's out in front of the rest of the team is wearing his pants all the way to his shoe tops.

This isn't an isolated phenomenon. It's like a cancer on the game, a creeping malignancy that will destroy baseball as surely as the ludicrous spinnaker costumes worn by basketball players have transformed the NBA into a clown show.

Babe Ruth vs. Derek Jeter

"So what," I can hear some of you saying. "Big deal." Well, it is. For three reasons. First, why do you think they call them uniforms? Members of a team are supposed to dress alike. Yet it's clear that players are doing whatever they want with their trouser lengths. It's unprofessional. Second, the result is jarring to the eye. Especially for those of us who grew up with baseball -- all those generations of baseball socks embedded in our brains -- the pants-to-the-shoe-tops look is akin to the hip-hop fad of displaying four inches of boxer shorts above the low-riding waistband. It gives the impression that something has fallen down that shouldn't. Baseball pants are supposed to show plenty of sock, a fact borne out by the third reason this is such an outrage: it undermines a mysterious but not insubstantial element of the history of baseball.

Sandy Koufax vs. Randy Johnson

For whatever reason, major league baseball has always been obsessed with socks, even to the point of naming teams after them. You don't find any NFL teams called The Purple Helmets or The Black Shoulderpads. But baseball has the Chicago White Sox, the Boston Red Sox, and the Cincinnati Redlegs (as far as I know it's still their official name). So it's kind of important even if none of us understands where this peculiar fixation came from. And it's damned annoying when disrespectful players tarnish the legacy of their own teams with displays such as this:

The Boston Red Jax?

Scarcely a red sock in sight. And why exactly is it better to look like a housepainter than a major league baseball player?

Still think I'm over-reacting? Then explain this:

Detail from Red Sox photo

It's the next step in the process, pants that follow the mall fashion mode of wrapping under the heel of the shoe. In this direction lies the end of baseball as a sport -- players tripping and falling and losing games because of their own feckless sartorial affectations. It has to be stopped forthwith.

The worst thing is that it's happening everywhere. Even little league teams are looking motlier than usual because some of the kids wear their pants right, and others wear them wherever. Can't we get back to some standards of decency in at least this one small category of tradition?

Which do you prefer?


...or this?

Some things -- especially small things -- really should be held sacred.


Well, I'm glad I got it off my chest, anyway. It's been bothering me. Now, hopefully, it will bother you too.

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