Nicknames on Yankees’ Backs? What Would the Bambino Think?


Clint Frazier will be wearing a jersey with “Red Thunder” on the back. Aaron Judge will wear “All Rise” on the back of his. C. C. Sabathia will wear “Dub” — short for Double C. And Todd Frazier, the proud Jersey guy, will wear “The Toddfather” on his back. It will also be the first time the Yankees — the only franchise to never have veered away from buttoned jerseys — will wear pullover tops.

In addition to the uniforms, players will be allowed to wear individually designed spikes, batting gloves, wristbands, compression sleeves, catcher’s masks and bats. And each uniform will have a blank patch on the right sleeve for players to write the name of a person or organization that was instrumental in his development.

In the past, the Yankees have worn throwback uniforms and tweaked their look to conform with whatever Major League Baseball might have designed for a holiday commemoration. But it is unlikely that the Yankees, who carefully police the length of their players’ hair and do not allow beards, would have gone along with something like Players Weekend if they had not been obligated to do so.

In this instance the team has no choice but to be part of an initiative driven by the players’ union and Majestic Athletic, the M.L.B.-apparel licensee, which is selling the replica uniforms for $200.

“Their tradition is so rich that a little bit of change in the tradition won’t upset the apple cart,” Allen Adamson, a branding and marketing expert, said of the effect the weekend might have on the Yankees’ image. “I’m not suggesting the Yankee go to polka dots, but the iconic nature of the brand is so sharp, they have the latitude to shake it up a bit.”

Photo

From left, the nickname uniforms of the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia, Todd Frazier and Didi Gregorius.

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MLB

The weekend initiative by baseball is an acknowledgment of — and an attempt to address — the notion that the sport does not engage young fans in the way that other sports, particularly the N.B.A., do. In an interview with ESPN The Magazine last year, the Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper said: “Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport because you can’t express yourself.”

The World Baseball Classic in March drew raves for the flair and passion that many countries besides the United States displayed — be it an audacious bat flip by Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands, the dyed blond hair of the Puerto Rican players or the raucous Dominican Republic fans (and reliever Fernando Rodney’s good-luck golden plantain).

Sabathia, who often wears an Oakland Raiders cap or jersey to the ballpark and organizes trips to N.B.A. games with his teammates, says he is keenly aware of the criticisms of his sport, particularly compared with how well the N.B.A., via social media and other platforms, has connected with young fans.

“This is the first step in getting there,” said Sabathia, who is among 11 major leaguers who served on an advisory committee for the coming weekend. Among the others are the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, Baltimore’s Manny Machado, Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor.

“It shows a different side of the players,” Sabathia added. “It allows you to show your personality a little bit, show what you would do if you had no rules. I think it will be fun to see that and to see the imagination that some guys have.”

Todd Radom, a graphic designer who has designed the logos for the Los Angeles Angels and the Nationals, and a patch honoring the inaugural season of the new Yankee Stadium, says he sees this move as following a greater trend in sports.

The N.B.A., which in 2014 allowed players to wear uniforms with nicknames on the back for a selected game, has recently done away with home and road uniforms, giving teams an option of four uniforms to wear.

“It’s the Oregon Ducks syndrome writ very specific for M.L.B.,” Radom said. “I think you’re seeing the barriers erode of traditional notions, and I think it does stem quite a bit from college football. Seeing it bleed into baseball isn’t surprising.’’

Adamson, the branding expert, said that while baseball had much work to do to draw younger fans to the ballpark — including speeding the pace of games and making tickets more affordable — the Players Weekend is a modest, fleeting step in the right direction.

“Unlocking the individual characteristics of the players is one of the levers they need to push,” Adamson said. “The story is richer if each player has his own unique story.”

In the Yankees’ clubhouse, reliever Tommy Kahnle, who wore a print short-sleeve shirt with Darth Vader logos to the ballpark on Tuesday, said he would not have a nickname on the back of his jersey, but he is having Marvel Comic-themed spikes made. Clint Frazier, who got in hot water in spring training for not cutting his hair to Yankees standards, said he would have spikes with an outline of his face, and other surprises.

“I think a lot of guys are keeping it pretty bland,” he said with a smile. “But I’m not doing that.”

Judge said he was just going to put his last name, or his childhood nickname on the back of his jersey, until Todd Frazier told him that would be too vanilla.

“I said: ‘Man, are you kidding me? Get your brand out there. Everybody loves you,” Todd Frazier said. “You put ‘All Rise’ on there, 1), you know how many people are going to buy that jersey? and 2), if you have Judge, you’re going to be Plain Jane out there.”

But in an era when nicknames are often contrived or colorless — where have you gone Mudcat Grant and Blue Moon Odom? — it is not easy to come up with something attention-getting and clever.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, hardly the frivolous type, said he was not sure what he would put on his uniform. Though he gives just about all his players a nickname — borrowing from the hockey tradition of adding a y to their last name — he said he never had one.

“The players might have one for me,” he said. “I personally don’t.”

Correction: August 9, 2017

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a player from the Netherlands national team. He is Wladimir Balentien, not Balantien.

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