Hockey and basketball coaches wear professional suits. Football coaches, too, either wear formal suits or don their teams’ jackets and shirts.
Today, baseball is one of the very few professional sports around the world, where the coaches wear the exact same uniform as their teams’ players. In this article, we will talk about the reasons behind this practice.
Why Do Baseball Coaches Wear Uniforms?
The Concept of Player-Manager/ Player-Coach:
In the earliest baseball days, the team’s manager would be the person responsible for handling the finances and managing the accounts. Meanwhile, the person that is referred to as ‘manager’ in modern-day baseball, was actually called ‘captain’ back in the day. The difference was that, alongside managing the team, the captain would also be one of the players on it. So, for a great many years, the team’s ‘manager’ would don the player uniform, simply because he was actually a player. However, there were a few exceptions – managers who would only take care of the planning and decision-making, and not actually step out onto the field as players. These managers wore suits or any other distinctive attire, as is the case today with many popular sports.
There have been 221 player-managers in baseball history, of which 50 have gone on to become part of the MLB Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb, Jon McGraw, Joe Torre, and Frank Robinson have been some of the most famous player-managers in the game’s history. Ty Cobb, in particular, was infamous for his aggressive (almost vicious) approach to the game and for going to any lengths to win (including sharpening his metal cleats so that they would cut through the opposition players’ flesh when he went in for a sliding tackle).
Ty Cobb reminds us of another tremendous player-manager named Pete Rose. Rose was the last player-manager, who was superstitious both on-field and off-field (especially as a gambler). His love for gambling is what ultimately got him kicked out of the sport in 1989, after it was proven that he had placed a bet on his own team. However, this disgraceful ending cannot take anything away from the fact that Pete Rose was a real beast of a player-manager. He led by example, and brought his club quite close to World Series triumph on more than one occasion.
Gerardo Parra was also permitted to become a player-coach at one point in the 2000s. However, the reason that we do not want to consider this player-coaching stint is because it was, at best, an attempt to fulfill a boyhood dream. At worst, it was a bet that went terribly wrong. As a coach, the player completed three innings at third base, before deciding that enough was enough.
With time, captains started sticking to managerial roles, and it became increasingly rare for a captain to actually play. However, instead of switching to suits, these non-playing captains decided to stick to wearing player uniforms. By the 20th century, wearing the team uniform was the norm for coaches or managers. However, a few exceptions – such as Burt Shotton (Brooklyn Dodgers) and Connie Mack (Philadelphia Athletics), continued to show up in suits and ties (although Shotton did occasionally wear his team jacket on top of his street clothes). However, once Shotton and Mack retired, the trend of managers wearing uniforms became pretty ‘uniform’.
What Does the Rule Book Say?
The popularity of uniformed managers during the latter half of the 20th century led some people to believe that the MLB mandates that coaches wear player uniforms. However, when we actually go through the rule book, there are no specific guidelines about the manager’s attire. According to the rules, all the players on the same team must wear uniforms that are identical in terms of style, trim, and color, and that the back of the jerseys should contain the players’ numbers in prints that are at least six-inches large. As far as terminology goes, the coach is defined as a uniformed team member that has been appointed by the manager to perform any duties specified by the manager. These duties need not be limited to serving as the team’s base coach.
So, even though we do find a bit of rundown regarding the manager’s roles and the rules that apply to them, there is nothing mandating them to show up in uniforms. In addition, according to Rule 4.07 (under the section titled ‘Security’), the only people allowed on the field during a game are the players, uniformed coaches, managers, umpires, uniformed officials of the law, photographers that have been approved by the home side, watchmen, and any other employees working for the home club. Once again, we find nothing about managers having to be uniformed.
Having said all that, the dugout or bench is defined as the seating facilities available only to players, substitutes, and any other uniformed members of the team when they are not actively involved in the playing field. This definition makes no exception for the team manager or anyone else for that matter. Even though the manager’s attire is not talked about anywhere else in the rules, the dugout definition does indicate that the manager needs to be uniformed, especially if they need to use the dugout. And, of course, where else will the manager sit if not in the dugout?
Our Final Thoughts:
To sum up, coaches wearing the players’ uniform is a nod to the older baseball days where coaches could also serve as players. We can conclude this because the rulebook does not require a coach to wear the same uniform as his players (at least not explicitly). Baseball is surprisingly superstitious and slow-evolving, which means that it is likely that coaches will continue to suit up in player uniforms for the foreseeable future.
To learn more about the game of baseball, please feel free to check out some of the other blogs on our website.