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Monday, Mar. 30, 2015

So why do they wear a uniform anyway?

Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2012, at 10:10 AM

When Daily World sports editor B.J. Hargis begins a statement with "dumb question" usually anything but that ensues. And in the case of what I'm about to reflect upon the same holds true.

With myself being the resident baseball junkie, B.J. has a tendency to refer any and all related questions toward me, which is fine.

I usually have some kind of answer, but this one momentarily had me stumped.

"Why do managers wear uniforms?"

After some research and reading I discovered that it was as much to do with tradition and ego as anything else.

In the early days of organized baseball, circa 19th century, managers of teams were really more on the side of securing travel arrangements, making sure players had a place to stay and all of the typical business functions you might expect.

At the same time most teams of the era were coached by player-managers. While the practice has been limited as the year's have passed -- Pete Rose for the Reds (1984-86) was the last, Don Kessinger for the White Sox (1979), Frank Robinson for Cleveland (1975-76) are the most recent and sporadically in the independent minor leagues -- in the early days of baseball it was quite prevalent.

Just for the record prior to the turn of the century in most cases that I've researched, the player-manager back then was referred to as a "captain". As such they were in charge of things on the field while the managers did the business end and had little, if anything to do with the on-field affairs of a team.

That may also tie-in with today's vernacular of baseball that splits the duties between a general manager and a field manager.

Of course there's long since an even further division by carving up the operations side of a franchise by the monikers of baseball and non-baseball operations, but that's not really relevant to the question hanging in the air.

The managers of old have been described more like the traveling secretary of Major League Baseball teams today -- an even deeper dissection of the subject.

As the captains aged and became less and less effective on the field, they took to riding the bench and directing teams from there. They also became a sought after commodity to guide teams because of their experience.

At the time when the captains were prevalent, the idea of a manager sitting on the bench was still in its infancy and thus their knowledge of the game combined with the diminishment of their skills opened up a whole new demand among baseball teams.

Thus it was the next trend and along with that trend came the wearing of the uniform by the managers.

There were exceptions to the movement, Connie Mack and Burt Shotton who were historically the last to clad themselves in a suit and tie. And in the case of Mack a straw hat on his head and a scorecard in his hand.

Shotton, who piloted the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first years after the departure of the great Leo Durocher, did wear a team jacket over his street clothes, but shunned the uniform much in the same mode as Mack, the stoic boss of the Philadelphia A's.

Mack's and Shotton's reasoning was simple according to all accounts I could find, they were no longer players and no longer needed to wear a uniform.

To further enhance his point about not needing a uniform, Mack didn't make an appearance on the field after the day's game began. Instead he had uniformed coaches make pitching changes and do the on-field work.

Just as a sidenote here, according to informal researchers at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Shotton was the last manager to wear street clothes and both he and Mack retired from managing on the same day, Oct. 1, 1950 -- I guess the Dodgers game ran late that day.

While there is apparently no hard and fast written rule that specifically requires a manager to wear a uniform, the rule book does state that coaches on the field must do so (namely the first and third base coaches).

There is also a clause in the book regarding the bench or dugout area as being a place that is designated for players, substitutes and team personnel in uniform (Rule 2.00), so that ads to the validity of managers being in the same attire as their players if nothing else.

Though I will admit the practice is almost as easy to completely understand as the tuck rule in football, but that's another story.

Baseball by far is more steeped in tradition than any other sport -- at least in my humble "baseball and hockey are the really true sports in this world and everything else is just window dressing" opinion (he said tongue-in-cheek) -- I can hardly wait for the emails to start flying in on this one.

So perhaps the tradition of the man in charge on the baseball diamond being in uniform is as much a carryover from the days of Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby being managers when their playing days were over as it is anything else.

Plus as baseball tends to adapt within itself to itself, it was just another step in that process.

Rick Curl is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 20. He can also be reached by email at rcurl@gcdailyworld.com.

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