MLBPA picks up a win, awful uniforms will see changes

And the Players Association would like everyone to know Fanatics wasn’t the issue here.

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Not every labor win has to wait for bargaining. Take the recent issue with MLB’s uniforms, for instance: in short, they’re terrible, and now they’ll be fixed. The when of that is a bit more up in the air — according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’ll be early 2025 at the latest — but hey. The players won, despite the defense of MLB this spring basically being a gaslighting, “no, we’ve always been able to see your balls.”

It’s not just that the fabric was see through, either. Pants and tops didn’t match. The lettering on the jerseys was small, and looked like it belonged on children’s replica jerseys. The pants would rip at seemingly the drop of a hat. The supposedly breathable fabric of the new-style jerseys resulted in a lot of pictures of players absolutely dripping with sweat from games played during the coldest part of the season. It was all a terrible experiment in… well, in who knows what, really. The kind of innovation companies always looking to make more money or cut costs play around with, that results in messing with what already works in a way that makes it worse? The Google, if you would. Nike didn’t need to do any of what they did here, with the players even warning them they didn’t like the directions they were taking, and yet, here we are.

One thing I find a little fascinating in Passan’s piece is a bit about Fanatics, who has taken the brunt of the punishment from fans about the uniforms:

The union also absolved Fanatics, the manufacturer of the uniform that has received the majority of public scorn for the uniform mess, saying the company “recognizes the vital importance of soliciting Player feedback, obtaining Player buy-in and not being afraid to have difficult conversations about jerseys or trading cards. Our hope is that, moving forward, Nike will take a similar approach.”

I find it fascinating for a few reasons. For one, we know that Fanatics is a garbage company that makes garbage products. They might not be the reason that the uniforms made for the 2024 season are bad, with Nike’s meddling being the issue, but please, find me a regular person who actually likes any of what Fanatics is doing with cards or merchandise, and not just some other person or company who is aligned with them financially. Listen, I had a tweet go semi-viral making fun of Fanatics just last week, and it took until half-a-million people had seen it before one person even stepped up in their defense. Do you know how difficult it is to find any subject in which some social media scold won’t immediately pipe up in the defense of a thing that objectively sucks?

More seriously, this is not me saying that the PA is absolving Fanatics because they have not only licensing agreements with them but also a financial stake in Fanatics itself, but it’s still important to remember, just generally, that this is true. It’s important for both MLB and the MLBPA that Fanatics succeeds, so, with that in mind, taking the time to defend them in a memo makes a lot of sense. Again, I don’t think it’s some nefarious ploy, it just helps explain why they’d bother singling them out as innocent while laying all the blame at Nike’s feet. It’s a truth worth pointing out to them, in the financial sense.

Fanatics being innocent here is believable, even, but part of the reason they need defending is because they’re so disappointing just on a general basis. Of course people will assume they’re at fault for the uniform fiasco! Their reputation was in the pits even before we saw entire pant legs explode on slides or a dude’s entire genitals through the fabric of unexploded pants. This is the same company whose social media channels are mostly replies apologizing for the embarrassing quality of a piece of clothing shown in a customer’s photo. This is the same company that somehow managed to not have enough Caitlin Clark jerseys to meet demand for the night they were released, which should have been the easiest layup in the world. How many Caitlin Clark jerseys do you need for the WNBA’s draft night when they go on sale? Just keep ‘em coming, don’t stop making them — it’s not like her ultimate destination was a surprise, WNBA teams themselves were even promoting her being on the Indiana Fever with their ticket packages before it actually happened. Fanatics looked like a company completely unprepared for the moment, though, which, you know. That’s Fanatics.

They might be willing to listen to player feedback and engage in a more respectful partnership with leagues than Nike, and that’s commendable given how Nike goes about their business. But at the end of the day, they’re still Fanatics. And the fact everyone seems to just be stuck with them is a shame, because it’s not just the player uniforms that are an embarrassment for the league.

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