Should MLB Eliminate Uniform Numbers — and Even Jerseys — for Managers and Coaches?
A recent proposal by the Yankees could change the look of the game. Is it a good idea, or should baseball stick with the status quo? Paul takes an in-depth look.
Amidst the flurry of uni-related activity that took place around MLB’s recent Opening Day, one of the more intriguing developments was about something that was proposed but didn’t happen: The Athletic reported that the Yankees, facing a uni-numerical crunch because of their whopping 22 retired numbers, recently asked MLB to stop the longstanding practice of issuing uniform numbers to managers and coaches. MLB said no, at least for now, but the idea may be reconsidered later.
The Athletic article was listed and linked in last Thursday’s Uni Watch News Ticker, but it mostly got lost in the shuffle. Here are the key passages:
[T]he lack of numbers left over [after all the retired numbers] has become such an issue for the Yankees that they have started a conversation about no longer issuing uniform numbers to managers and coaches, and it’s gaining momentum in clubhouses around the game. [Yankees clubhouse director Lou] Cuccuzza has brought the idea to Michael Hill, the senior vice president of on-field operations for MLB. The league doesn’t want to authorize such a change just yet, a major-league source said, but it hasn’t dismissed it.
Cucuzza said that he’s spoken with equipment managers from other teams who have said they would be on board with the change, and that their next step might be to present the idea formally at the upcoming Winter Meetings [after the conclusion of the 2023 season].
So for now, big league skippers and coaches will still have roster numbers assigned to them. But should they? Have the Yankees hit upon a good idea here? Is it time to scrap the uni numbers for the coaching corps?
That question is really a proxy for a larger question: Why do MLB managers and coaches wear uniforms to begin with? After all, coaches and managers in other sports don’t dress like the players. Why does does it work that way in baseball? (Well, except for some long-ago holdouts like Connie Mack, who managed in a suit.)
Part of the answer lies in baseball’s early days, when many managers were also active players, so of course they wore uniforms. But there’s been only a handful of player-managers since 1960, and none since Pete Rose in 1986 — a drought that is probably permanent, given the demands of the skipper’s job nowadays — so the player-manager rationale for managers’ uniforms doesn’t mean much in the modern era.
A more compelling explanation is that MLB skippers and coaches, unlike their peers in other sports, routinely go onto the field of play. Think about it: The batting team always has coaches at first and third base; pitching coaches come out to talk with their hurlers; managers come out to make pitching changes and argue with umpires. By contrast, coaches in the other sports can’t go onto the field (or court, or ice, as the case might be) and in many cases are even penalized if they try to do so. So it makes a kind of intuitive sense that if you’re going to be out on the field, you wear the uniform.
But does it have to be the same uniform as the players? Couldn’t coaches and managers wear a different kind of uniform, maybe without a number? And isn’t that essentially what’s already happening on a de facto level, with so many skippers and coaches wearing pullovers and hoodies anyway?
In attempting to answer those questions, I’ve come to six primary conclusions, as follows: