Imagine New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick or K-State coach Bill Snyder walking up and down the sideline wearing a football uniform.
Picture Kentucky University coach Rick Pitino or San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich seated on the sideline dressed in a basketball uniform.
Or, imagine Royals manager Ned Yost wearing a suit and tie while managing a baseball game from the dugout.
Former manager Lou Piniella once said: “It would be weird to walk to the mound in a suit. I’d feel like part of the security force.”
Former manager Bobby Cox said: “Could you imagine going out there in shiny dress shoes? How would you kick dirt on the umpire?”
OK. I get that, but why is baseball the only major sport in which a team’s manager actually wears his team’s uniform?
From what I can tell, baseball managers have dressed like their players for so long that fans seldom ask themselves why.
In the earliest years of the game, the person who was called the manager of a team was the business manager. That person made sure the bills were paid and train schedules were met. He didn’t make any decisions about what took place during a game.
That person was called the captain, and he did what a manager does today, except that he also played. So at first, it appears the person we would today call a manager wore a uniform because he was a participant in the game.
Apparently there’s no rule stating that managers have to be in uniform. There is a rule stating, “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs.” But nothing suggests managers have to be dressed like the rest of the team.
Unlike other sports, baseball managers are allowed to go onto the field to change pitchers and argue with umpires. But managers, unlike the players, aren’t on the diamond when the ball is actually in play.
However, at some levels, particularly in college baseball, the man in charge also serves as the third-base coach, which requires some physical activity, such as giving signs, waving base runners home and avoiding hard line drives fouled in his direction.
That raises yet another question. How come we call the one in charge of a professional team a manager, but the one in charge of a college team is called a coach? I digress.
In researching the subject about the managers-in-uniform tradition, I learned about Paul Lukas, who runs a website dedicated to the aesthetics of sports, and who writes about the subject for ESPN.com.
“I don’t want to say that it’s just one of those things, but it’s just one of those things,” Lucas said.
Bob Costas broadcasts many sports, but loves baseball best. His position on managers wearing uniforms is clear-cut. “I like it. Can it be amusing? Yes. What’s the reason for it? The answer is, ‘That’s baseball.’ And as with most baseball questions, ‘That’s baseball’ is good enough for me.”
Many managers, though, don’t like wearing just a uniform top. Buck Showalter, while managing the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, always seemed to wear a team jacket. Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona were rarely seen in their actual uniform tops, preferring pullovers instead.
Major League Baseball made an adjustment to its policy because of Francona’s proclivity for wearing a pullover. A rule instituted in 2007 said that managers must wear a uniform top underneath a pullover or jacket.
It’s probably not all that surprising to learn that Francona was subject of a “uniform inspection” during one game at Yankee Stadium in 2007.
Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa once said: “If we didn’t have to go on the field, I’d just as soon wear my stylish jeans.”
Connie Mack, a manager from 1901-1950, was an exception to the practice of wearing a uniform. He wore a suit, tie and top hat in the dugout for nearly half a century. Apparently Mack sent uniformed coaches onto the field to make pitching changes and harangue the umps.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”