The MLB's Hypocrisy Extends to 9-11 First Responders
by Steve Childs
For all those upset that we didn’t wear the hats, I understand your anger. However, they physically took them from us after the ceremony,” wrote Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey to his Twitter followers after the Mets’ 10-6 loss to the Cubs last Sunday.
Dickey’s “tweet” in the wee hours of the morning on September 12 came in response to widespread discontentment with Major League Baseball’s decision to prohibit the Mets from commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11 during last Sunday’s game at Citi Field by wearing hats belonging to 9/11 first-response units. Unfortunately, the MLB’s decision drew attention from the day’s memorials, and betrayed both the excessive rigidity and glaring hypocrisy of Bud Selig and his coterie of baseball czars.
In the fall of 2001, the Mets flouted league regulations when they paid homage to many of New York City’s newly minted heroes – the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority Police (PAPD), and others – by wearing hats representing the organizations of various first-responders to the World Trade Center attacks. Many of the hats the Mets donned that autumn belonged to rescue workers whom the players met – sometimes at Ground Zero – in the aftermath of the attacks. Though Major League Baseball threatened to penalize the Mets for their uniform infractions, the league’s warnings ultimately proved nothing more than empty bluster.
But last Sunday, the Mets complied with League rules. While the MLB allowed the Mets to wear the first-responder caps for a pre-game ceremony, it permitted only regulation hats – adorned with a patch of the American flag – during play. Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice-president for baseball operations, told the Associated Press that the MLB wanted a policy that remained consistent throughout baseball. “This is a unanimity thing,” Torre explained.
And the MLB should promote consistent policies. Granting a special dispensation to the Mets on September 11 would set a precedent for the next time a team wants to recognize heroic deeds performed in its city. To delineate between worthwhile and gratuitous tributes would necessarily result in unfair treatment – or perceived unfair treatment – of teams wishing to recognize a prominent person or group in their cities, while for the MLB to allow all commemorative apparel would serve, in part, to take fans’ attention away from the game. Furthermore, Bud Selig certainly wants to avoid the predictable hailstorm of opprobrium he and the colleagues would elicit by appointing themselves the future arbiters of what the league will deem worthy of honoring. In this sense, league officials rightly decreed that teams ought to adhere to a standard set of uniform regulations.
New York Mets' pitcher Taylor Tankersley on the mound during a Spring Training game against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida. The Nationals edged out the Mets 6-5 in Grapefruit League play.
Consistency, however, does not require an unyielding commitment to rules that seem to upset everyone. The solution to this fiasco, which unduly shifted attention away from the day’s solemnity, would have been for the MLB to relax its uniform standards across the league, and allow each team, if it chose, to wear the commemorative first-responder caps. That way, the Mets could have proceeded with their homage to New York’s heroes and the league would not have granted any special favors. Of course one could argue that a league-wide easing of uniform standards for 9/11 would have effectively been pandering to the Mets. Yet because the effects of 9/11 reach far beyond New York City – indeed they afflicted a nation – no team could complain with reason that the league catered to the Mets for a mere regional remembrance.
The NFL adopted this far more conciliatory tack last Sunday when it temporarily amended its normal uniform policy to permit players league-wide to wear special gloves and cleats in honor of 9/11. Not surprisingly, NFL executives endured none of the mordent criticism that fans hurled at Bud Selig and the MLB. To be sure, the special 9/11 apparel worn by some NFL players was manufactured by NFL licensed makers. Yet the very same first-responder hats that the MLB proscribed were countenanced on NFL sidelines. Over the past week, myriad Jets, Giants, Redskins, and a host of other NFL players and coaches all sported the unlicensed hats that riled so many in the baseball world.
And there in lies the crux of the matter for the MLB whose hypocritical cant about consistency reaches into the upper extremities of the farcical. Licensing, and not some theoretical dedication to consistency and fairness, inspired the MLB to block the Mets hoped-for tribute to 9/11 first-responders. After all, licensed MLB hats sell for $36.99.
For what other reason could the MLB rationalize saying no to the 9/11 hats when it permits all sorts of outlandish uniforms that commemorate far less important issues? Just this year, the MLB has permitted teams to wear a panoply of alternate uniforms. Both the Mets and the D-Backs honored their Hispanic communities with “Los Mets” and “Los D-Backs” jerseys, respectively. Similarly, the Brewers celebrated Milwaukee’s German and Hispanic demographics by playing clad in “Bierbrauer” and “Cerveceros” jerseys at different points this year. Throwback uniforms also abound.
For Heritage Week, the Pirates played as the old Negro League Homestead Grays, while in Oakland and Philadelphia, the A’s and Phillies suited up in retro polyester uniforms for “80s day,” and, on July 2, the Rays took the field as the 1951 minor league Tampa Smokers. They modified the original uniform, however, to remove a cigar from the logo. And most absurd, the White Sox celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the Windy City by sporting green pin-stripes, a green “Sox” logo, and a green-cap on September 9 – just two days before the MLB intervened to stop the Mets from violating rules aimed at maintaining consistency.
In reality, the MLB cares only about preventing inconsistencies of the unlicensed kind. Otherwise, Bud Selig could not have countenanced any of the sartorial aberrations like the ones mentioned above and many other similar eye-sores. And while the degree of latitude that the MLB should extend to teams to deviate from a league-approved uniform may be a topic for debate, the MLB’s decision last Sunday should bring the league’s authority into question. For anyone who draws for the line for tributes somewhere between St. Patrick’s Day in September and September 11 has failed a basic test in sound judgment – and has certainly abandoned a consistent position.
Here's our Counterpoint to MLB's 9-11 Hypocrisy: Maybe Not
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