We’re almost halfway through the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and fans are still a little startled by the new-look Arizona Diamondbacks. This, of course, is what the Diamondbacks were hoping for. The team knew that having eight different uniforms that combined their original teal (or a close approximation) with Sedona red and Sonoran sand would ruffle some feathers.
But guess what? The new look is designed to ruffle feathers, and perhaps be the start of something of a movement in baseball uniform design. According to Graham Rossini, a vice president with the team, the Diamondbacks had already doubled last year’s merchandise sales by the end of May, and their in-stadium sales ranking has jumped 10 spots this year.
I spoke with some of the players who were famously involved with the redesign (covered in depth by Chris Creamer during the offseason) to see how the new look was being received around the league.
Grumpy Old Traditionalists Are Grumpy and Old
Dbacks closer Brad Ziegler summed up the early reaction to the uniforms best: “Baseball is one of the sports,” he said, “you’ve got the traditionalists, and they feel like you shouldn’t make drastic changes to the game.”
“People who have been around the game for a long time probably don’t care for them as much,” said shortstop Nick Ahmed, “and the younger generation probably likes them a little bit more.”
Manager Chip Hale, who played in the 1990s for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers—a couple of teams with traditional uniforms—acknowledges that they knew going in that there were people who would not like the new look.
“Baseball has a hard time with change,” Hale said. “We know it’s an old-school sport. We’re just trying to appeal to a younger group.”
But old traditionalists are not the target market for the new look, and to be fair, the Diamondbacks are not a traditional team. Not only is the new look intended to appeal to younger fans, it’s intended to appeal to a young fan base—one that’s been around for less than 20 years.
“They’re trying to build a fan base in Arizona,” Ziegler said. “A lot of the fans there have transplanted from elsewhere. They’re loyal to the team back home. We’re trying to build a fan base, and we’re trying to appeal to kids, so we need something we feel is a little edgy, compared to the rest of the game to get kids excited about it.”
“The people in Phoenix have accepted them, which is great,” Hale said. “That’s our own place. That’s all we really care about.”
Reaction Around the League
Those on the outside looking in have been talking and writing and tweeting about the Diamondbacks uniforms since we first saw them in December. But what are the Dbacks hearing from their competitors on the field?
“Other players will kind of mock us every now and then,” Hale said. “You hear the old, hey, why you guys wearing softball uniforms?”
“I think early on, spring training especially, the opposing teams didn’t care for them all too much,” Nick Ahmed said.
Relief pitcher Daniel Hudson isn’t just hearing it on the field, but on his phone, too. “I would get text messages from former teammates that we played against in spring training,” he said. “Not a lot of people were big fans of the colors at the bottom of the pants.”
And Paul Goldschmidt, who plays that most social of baseball positions, hears about it more than most of his teammates. “You go into a new city or a new team you haven’t played or a team that you haven’t played in a while and that’s the first thing that the first guy who gets to first base asks,” he said. “Hey how about those uniforms?”
While it seems that the Dbacks uniforms have been a constant source of conversation among fans, Nick Ahmed said he hears mostly from other players rather than fans. That said, it’s hard not to notice when some fans comment.
“There’s been a couple of tweets, I think the Dodgers, someone was sitting there tweeting,” said relief pitcher Patrick Corbin. “It might have been Rob Lowe.”
It was indeed Rob Lowe:
The Diamondback's uniforms make them look like futuristic maintenance men working on a trash truck in space. pic.twitter.com/hZ3eompYvy
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) April 12, 2016
The New Normal
Maybe, in a few years, this whole thing won’t seem like a big deal. Teams with eight uniforms and trendy colors and patterns printed on their backs and caps and pant legs will be like interleague play or having two wild cards in the playoffs or the designated hitter or any of the other million changes decried by traditionalists over the years.
For the Diamondbacks players, who have been living with these uniforms for half a season, a sense of normalcy is already setting in.
“Now guys don’t even comment about it. We talked about it the whole first two weeks of camp,” Ziegler said. “They’ve gotten used to it. This is how we are.”
And for Paul Goldschmidt, who will likely represent the Diamondbacks’ in the All Star Game, the focus is on the field rather than on his uniform.
“We get so used to it,” Goldschmidt said. “You kind of forget that it’s anything different, besides making sure that you’ve got the right hat and jersey on and pants. For us, that’s probably the biggest change. There’s a lot more combinations.”
What to Wear When
Speaking of making sure you’ve got the right and jersey and pants, that’s a bit more complicated for Arizona than it is for most teams. The Diamondbacks made news this month when, more than two months in, they wore the same uniform two games in a row for the first time all season. This, of course, is not by accident. The team has carefully orchestrated which uniform the team will wear and when in order to showcase all of the different permutations.
“There’s no asking the pitcher, asking the players, hey, what do you want to wear today?” Chip Hale said. “It’s set in stone.”
“They have set days, we walk in and they tell us, this is what you’re wearing today,” Ziegler said. “So they’re trying to make sure we don’t get stuck in one and forget about another.”
Of course, knowing that baseball players will wear the same underwear for a month if things are going well, the team sort of has to impose some restrictions.
“It would be nice if we went on a little run in one certain color and we’d be able to wear that more often,” Daniel Hudson said. “But they’re really trying to get all the uniforms out there and displayed. Obviously, baseball’s a very superstitious sport, so if we get on a run we probably won’t wear anything else other than that.”
This is something Brad Ziegler can attest to personally from his experience on his previous team. “In Oakland, the starting pitcher would choose what jersey we were wearing that night,” he said. “If we got on a roll wearing a certain jersey—I remember one time we went about 10 or 12 games in a row wearing the gold tops the first year we had those.”
Players Dig the Teal
If players were allowed to choose their uniforms, Chip Hale says that fans would have seen a lot of the home alternate for exactly the reasons above. “Early, we struggled,” he said. “We struggled at home. The only uniform we were winning in was the white with the teal, so everybody wanted to keep wearing that.”
But an affinity for the teal home alternates isn’t just borne of superstition. When I asked point blank which of their eight uniform options the players liked best, Patrick Corbin, Nick Ahmed, Daniel Hudson, and Paul Goldschmidt all specifically identified the home alternates with the teal highlights.
Nick Ahmed went full fashion critic with his analysis of color trends. “I heard about the whole neon green phase for a while, where everybody was wearing the highlighter color,” he said. “They’re hoping the teal is going to be that next big phase. We’ll see if it is.”
What the Future Holds
Now that they’ve seen them in action, there are things about the uniforms that the players might change. For one player, the sublimated design printed on the bottom of the pants didn’t quite turn out how he was expecting.
“The biggest thing to me, at the bottom of the pants, I think we kind of underestimated kind of the baggy look that a lot of players like to wear,” Ziegler said. “When you saw at Spring Training 70 guys out wearing the pants and probably 95 percent of them were nice big and baggy, at that point it just looked a little different than we anticipated.”
But these are just details, and true success for the Diamondbacks will be measured by the impact they have on the future of uniform design throughout the league. I wrote earlier about the fact that players anticipate that other teams will adopt the Arizona’s dark grey road uniforms. But now that they’ve thrown this edgy gauntlet down, what’s next for the Dbacks?
“I think we’re going to make some changes,” Hale said. “I don’t want to let those out of the bag, but I think we’ll do some different things for next year. We’ll make them more toward the traditional side.”
Of course, as with all things baseball, it comes down to success on the field. If the team doesn’t perform, who’s going to want to be associated with this wacky new look? And doesn’t just go for fans, it goes for the players.
“Honestly, if we play well, we’re going to like them a lot more than if we don’t,” Goldschmidt said. “Winning solves everything, and that includes uniforms.”
With the exception of the standings in the NL West, the Diamondbacks are right where they want to be. Their sales are up, people are talking about them, and young fans are engaged with the team. To be sure, there are people who think that Arizona’s fashion choices are bad for baseball, and wonder why teams can’t just play baseball in normal home whites and road greys. If you do think that, you’re not alone, but for every one of you, the Diamondbacks know that there’s someone else out there who sees that cap with the front-facing snake head with the teal outline and thinks, “I need to get one of those.”
And that person is probably younger than you.