“Uniforms Means Uniform!”

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The Metropolitan Baseball Nine, New York, 1882

Which is it going to be guys—socks hiked up to your knees or pants tugged down to your ankles? If you’re gonna be a team, you can’t have it both ways.

With opening day of the baseball season last week came the spectacle of players wearing different versions of their team uniform.

Look at this photo. Pants knee-high … pants ankle-high … pants in the turf. Three Yankees, three uniforms:

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Perhaps no other sport has produced as decorated and nostalgic a uniform as baseball: 

  • The first official baseball uniform, adopted in 1849 by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City, consisted of a white flannel shirt, blue wool pants and a straw hat.
  • In 1868 the Cincinnati Red Stockings introduced knickers, which were little changed since the early 1900s. The stockings often became a team signature. The Cincinnati Red Stockings in the 1860s paved the way, followed by the St. Louis Brown Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings.
  • Since 1976 alone, however, some 4,000 different styles have been worn by major league baseball players.

And now we must suffer both knee-length and full-length pants on the field at the same time.

You know what this really means? Still another English word has lost its meaning.

Awesome, for instance, has lost its original meaning of fearsome. A guru is an expert instead of its accurate translation as teacher. And now uniform has a new and totally opposite meaning.

For Webster, a uniform was long defined as “dress of a particular style or fashion worn by persons in the same service or order by means of which they have a distinctive appearance.”

Not anymore.

Today uniform connotes dress that is habitually worn as an expression of individuality.

Sue Wicks, the Women's Basketball Hall of Famer, once said, “Everyone is an outsider until you're given a uniform.”

But instead of defining your membership in something larger and grander than yourself, a uniform now attempts to define the grandeur of your individuality: 

  • The signature look of author Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities) is an ice-cream-white suit
  • Apple founder Steve Jobs wore a black mock turtleneck—always
  • Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg follows suit with his jeans and hoodies

IBM’s infamous “unwritten dress code” of vested blue suit, white shirt, sincere tie and wing-tipped shoes grew out of founder Thomas J. Watson’s reaction to the typical salesman’s snappy get-up of the time--a look not unlike Robert Preston's in the 1957 Broadway production of The Music Man.

Although IBM sold elementary accounting machines in those early days, Mr. Watson differentiated the IBM sales force from the gaggle with a look that projected an organization of global scope and gravity—the “International Business Machines Corporation.”

During my own years at IBM, my humble group of speechwriters occupied prime space near the CEO’s suite. Whenever we were summoned to a meeting with him, we would don our jackets before heading to his office. We might not have been sales people representing IBM before its customers, but our “uniform” made us feel a prideful part of an organization that back then truly was one of global scope and gravity. 

Uniforms used to mean more—before the era of free agentry and universal individuality. For example:

  • In a time before athletes “trash-talked” their opponents in advance of a contest, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg—whose .989 fielding percentage remains the major league record at second base—said, “You never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform.”
  • Joe Torre, who guided the Yankees to four World Series titles, said, “As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I knew what the Dodgers uniform represented.”
  • And Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda used to say, “I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer.”

Jarod Kintz, author of This Book is Not FOR SALE, summed it up nicely:

We all wear uniforms, even if we’re conforming to unconformity. People who try so hard to look different end up looking the same as all the other people who try so hard to look different.

Maybe, just maybe, at this point in my career, I will revert to my old IBM ways and head to my study each morning in vested suit, white shirt, sincere tie and heavy wingtips.

I always wrote better dressed like that.

In my next blog, "On the Cusp of A-Mortality?"


Buy my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Guy-Boat-Peter-Yaremko/dp/0990905012/

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

 

 


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