October 22, 2012
The Hooded Menace
A scourge of epic proportions has infected Major League Baseball these past few years and it is now threatening the very integrity of the game.
For generations, baseball has been the American pastime by connecting today's youth and the greatest players in the world with those of the past. A twelve-year-old boy in New York today might idolize Derek Jeter whereas eighty years ago that same boy might admire Lou Gehrig. Home runs, World Series rings, no-hitters, perfect games, timeless stadiums—this shared history has united baseball fans around the country and the world more than anything else. More than the moon landing, more than the fall of the Berlin Wall, more than Tony finally admitting his love for Angela.
So why is Bud Selig letting something so insidious destroy it right before our eyes? The game that we love so much is about to be torn apart, decades of majesty and glory thrown out the window, all thanks to the good-for-nothing hoodie.
The scene on Thursday night, when the Tigers beat the Yankees in Detroit 8-1 to clinch the pennant and head to the World Series: Prince Fielder frantically waves off Omar Infante to catch the pennant-winner, Phil Coke slams his glove to the mound in celebration... and a swarm of ugly, impersonal, gray sweaters come out to celebrate with the players on the mound. Is that Justin Verlander slapping Miguel Cabrera on the butt? Or is it Al Kaline? Maybe Joe the Plumber from Auburn Hills slipped out of the stands and onto the infield grass? And when did Jose Valverde and Jim Leyland have the same body type?
People talk about PEDs and greenies and even gambling as the sickness that could lead to the death of baseball. But have you ever seen a steroids needle or Pete Rose's bookie run out onto the field in the most highly watched moments of the game? Imagine the scene in Dodger Stadium in 1988, Kirk Gibson hobbling around the basepaths, pumping his arm enthusiastically, Vin Scully letting us soak in the moment, the crowd cheering, the palm trees swaying... and Tommy LaSorda running out onto the field with Don Sutton and Mike Scioscia, all doing their best to look like awkward middle schoolers—fat, white-haired, middle-aged middle-schoolers. Or Carlton Fisk being greeted at home plate by a pudgy and unrecognizable Carl Yastrzemski in the 1975 World Series. Or any of the countless images we automatically recall when we think of our favorite players and our favorite team. All would be ruined by the hoodie, as if Anthony Perkins were suddenly replaced by Vince Vaughn in "Psycho".
When reached for comment on this sad state of affairs, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, the man at the center of the controversial "Hoodie Ban" nearly three years ago, met me in his back garden for a quick conversation*. Sipping a cool drink and wearing a relaxed, off-season outfit (a blue Hawaiian shirt with a Panama hat, as if there were any doubt), Maddon reiterated a statement he made three years ago: "It's almost like a security blanket for me. Managing without a hoodie on a cool night could be very disconcerting." When pressed about why a hoodie is necessary when players and managers have gotten along so well with only their uniform for so many years, Maddon cut the interview short. "Baseball is changing and history means less today than even ten or fifteen years ago. And, frankly, the aesthetic of someone like me or my friend Ron Gardenhire in a baseball uniform is far from what the sport should be trying to push. Thank you for the interview. Now, kindly, get off my lawn."
* This conversation may not have actually taken place.