Let’s Take a Vote: Marketing or On-Field Performance

John Gilbert

Liam Sabino took a strike as he showed off the Duluth Huskies special “Christmas in July” camouflage jerseys without protest last Sunday against St. Cloud. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Liam Sabino took a strike as he showed off the Duluth Huskies special “Christmas in July” camouflage jerseys without protest last Sunday against St. Cloud. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Reliever Trevino Rodriguez found that camouflage jerseys didn’t make him invisible against the St. Cloud Rox. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Reliever Trevino Rodriguez found that camouflage jerseys didn’t make him invisible against the St. Cloud Rox. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Huskies catcher Austin Bernard watched his popup soar against St. Cloud. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Huskies catcher Austin Bernard watched his popup soar against St. Cloud. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The spillover from the uniform-gate hassle involving the Chicago White Sox is amazing.  When I first heard that star pitcher Chris Sale was upset about the strange fit of the throwback 1976 uniforms the White Sox were supposed to wear last week, I didn’t think a lot about it.
Then the story escalated. Sale, a brilliant left-hander with a 14-3 record for the decidedly mediocre White Sox, expressed his displeasure with the dress-up plan in the clubhouse. A White Sox front-office type was in the room and apparently there was an argument with Sale.
Now, every team tries to think up creative ways to make their teams more of an attraction. One of the simple ways is to put on uniforms from out of the past. Presumably the glorious past. Hockey teams wear old jerseys, football teams wear ancient outfits – except for the helmets – and it happens everywhere.
But when you think back to past White Sox teams, there have been some pretty strange outfits that passed for uniforms. Remember the weird black ones? Remember the ones with loose-fitting tops over shorts – shorts?! In this case, whatever outfits were chosen for the White Sox for their Friday game, Sale didn’t like them. Maybe they fit weirdly. Maybe they didn’t let him feel free when he swung into his motion.
In any case, it occurs to me that if I’m the GM, I want to make sure my staff ace, who is having a fantastic season, feels good about it. I guess I wouldn’t force some weird outfits on the players, risking disagreement and possibly embarrassment when they take the field before 35,000 or more fans.

So they had a disagreement, and the front-office guy left. Sale, steaming we think, got a pair of scissors, and started portraying the made slasher, chopping up the prospective uniforms until they were unwearable.
The White Sox didn’t take kindly to this bit of outrageous insubordination. They officially “sent Sale home” for his action, and fined him for destroying property and damaging equipment. On top of that, they suspended Sale for five days.
Five ubsdays? Now, he was sent home and missed his turn to start, and Major League  pitchers go five days between starts, so how harsh was this “suspension?”
A lot of teams have been contacting the White Sox about the chances of obtaining Sale. Do we think that this whole incident makes him want to stay with the Sox? What surprises me most is that some otherwise reasonable media types have descended on Sale from high altitude – ripping him for being so childish and for not following “team rules.”
I couldn’t disagree more. We’re in an age of marketing, and people get paid enormous amounts of money to come up with clever, creative ideas to attract attention. And yes, some of these ideas are great, and do attract fans. But some of them are just cheap, superficial gimmicks, too.
I’m primarily a purist when it comes to the game. Any game, but particularly baseball, which is so tradition-rich, but which also has evolved gracefully. If I was the boss, on-field performance would matter the most, and any promotion or gimmick would be ordered with great care, and if there was any hint that it might affect on-field performance, the promotion idea would be sent home, not the ace of the staff.
If I’m the White Sox manager or general manager, I might ask Chris Sale exactly what kind of uniform he feels most comfortable in. If he says he’s got a ragged old T-shirt that he prefers, I’d order up a crate full of ’em for the whole team to wear.
Beyond that, I might call a metting and take a half-dozen samples of different retro uniforms into the clubhouse.  I’d let the players vote, and the players would never make a mistake on something like that – or challenge the majority of the clubhouse if they disagreed. For certain, I would ask my starting pitcher, particularly if it was my best pitcher. In this case, if Sale told me how much he hated these jerseys, I’d simply schedule the weird jerseys for the next day, when somebody else was pitching. After all, this wasn’t a gigantic Saturday or Sunday special game.
Those ideas were still circulating in my mind when I stopped out at Wade Municipal Stadium to watch the Duluth Huskies face the St. Cloud Rox. It was, as is all Huskies home games, the site of a special promotion. This one was “Christmas in July,” and it was only about 85 degrees and sultry. Luckily, the Huskies management hadn’t scheduled the lads to wear red fur suits with white cuffs and a weird pointy hats.
No, but they WERE wearing camouflage jerseys!  Apparently, camo jerseys stands up for Christmas in any month you might choose to celebrate it.
The Huskies were leading the Rox 2-0, and Ryan Tapani was pitching a gem. He had allowed one hit into the seventh inning, although he walked five. If the name “Tapani” sounds familiar, he is the son of former Twins right-handed pitcher Kevin Tapani, and ol’ dad was at Wade Stadium watching, proudly I’m sure.
St. Cloud tied the game 2-2, and with reliever Trevino Rodriguez pitching, pinch-runner Drew Freedman scored on a wild pitch to give the Rox  3-2 lead after eight innings, even though the Huskies were outhitting them 6-2. Wade Regas came in to pitch the next inning, and gave up two more runs, and the Rox rolled 5-2.
Wonder what the Huskies record is, when wearing alternative uniforms?

Cubs Gain Edge

There aren’t a lot of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans in our Northeast Minnesota/Northwest Wisconsin region, but in my opinion – and speaking of ace pitchers – the Cubs and manager-supreme Joe Maddon just secured themselves a better chance to go all the way and win their first World Sesries in a century.
The Cubs might be the best team in the Major Leagues right now, and they have an outstanding 19-year-old shortstop named Gleyber Torres in the minors. The New York Yankees have good depth, including in the bullpen, and even though this isn’t one of their best years, the Yankees have three closers. One of them is Aroldis Chapman, a tall, lanky left-hander who you might have seen in ESPN highlights, firing 105.1 mph fastballs. He was born in Cuba, and pitched for Cincinnati until last year, when he was suspended for 29 games for a domestic abuse charge by his girlfriend.
For the Yankees, Chapman appeared in 30 games this season, getting 20 saves in 21 tries, with a 3-0 record and a 2.01 earned run average. The Yankees said they were dealing from strength and had two other great closers, although I don’t recall seeing the others on ESPN, so they sent Chapman to the Cubs in a multi-player deal that includes Torres. Torres may mature into the Second Coming of Derek Jeter, and I hope he does, but I think the menacing presence of Chapman in the Chicago bullpen might make the difference in 10 Cubs victories from here on in.
Remember this, when the Cubs are leading 4-3 in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.