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The Unfashionable Boys of Summer
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Shiny red shirts, shiny green, and orange and blue, and black, even purple. Is that any way for Major League Baseball players to dress? Softball players, sure. And basketball players, whose silky singlets and comical baggy shorts come in many shades of garish.

But baseball is the National Pastime, with traditions and standards to which attention must be paid. That includes, I shouldn't need to say, dignified shirts and matching pants of white and gray - gray when on the road, naturally, white when playing at home.

That's how Babe Ruth dressed, and Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays and the other heroes of baseball's storied past.Yet even the venerable Boston Red Sox, the Babe's first team, are wearing red shirts these days - and wearing them, furthermore, only on Sundays, as if they were extra special rather than extra ugly.

"That's not the Red Sox," San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Bruce Jenkins observed, "that's softball night in an over-50 corporate league."

What's worse, it's also Sunday red for the Cincinnati Reds, professional baseball's oldest franchise, and for the Atlanta Braves, one of the game's most successful teams in recent years.

It's not surprising that the Astros of Houston are red-shirted on Sundays, too, given their ugly past -- those rainbow-striped shirts of the 1970s that were among baseball's worst fashion statements ever.

I don't mean to slight the wearers of shirts in other subversive colors, but let's concentrate on red, the gaudiest and most repulsive of shirt colors. If we can rid baseball of red shirts, as I and any other true believers in the National Pastime surely must now demand, the others also will be abandoned for the tried and true, the white and gray.

If we don't move quickly and decisively, we could very well revert to the 1970s, when the Astros were just one of many ugly-uniform teams. It began in 1972 when the Oakland Athletics, seeking desperately to bolster sagging attendance by pandering to a generation hooked on the garishness of color television, turned the team into an aggregation that resembled a gang of good old boys who got together on weekends to play a little softball and drink a lot of beer.

Ugly doesn't half describe Oakland's shiny gold and green shirts and white shoes (white!). But despite their outlandish costumes, the A's beat the gray and white pants off everybody else, and by the time the team won its third straight World Series in 1974, most of everybody else was following Oakland's lead.

Remember the all-red ensembles, pants as well as shirts, of the Cleveland Indians? As pitcher Catfish Hunter noted, they made the Indians' oversized first baseman, Boog Powell, look "just like Santa Claus."

As unforgettable were the Pittsburgh Pirates' bright yellow outfits that made them look like an animated bunch of very large bananas; the Chicago White Sox' Bermuda shorts; the brown, orange and yellow suits of the San Diego Padres that led slugger Steve Garvey to declare his resemblance to a taco; the baby blue traveling uniforms of many teams, and way too much more that should never have been seen on a baseball diamond. Or anywhere else.

Make no mistake: It could happen again. It's already happening. Today, red shirts, tomorrow, who knows what? We have to stop it! Now!

Copyright 2005 Dick Meister