The rollout of Nike's MLB uniforms reaches a new level of frustration — a shortage of pants

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt, Patrick Mooney, and C. Trent Rosecrans

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When players walked into the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse Thursday morning, they found white and gray baseball shorts on chairs in their lockers. More pants were stacked on a table in the middle of the room, and a message appeared on the screen above asking players to try them on. Doing so brought the familiar feeling of wearing an old pair of pants.

Because that's exactly what they are.

Among the many issues surrounding the introduction of Nike's new MLB uniforms this spring is the shortage of pants. Some teams reuse pants from previous seasons — made by Nike or Major League Baseball's former official supplier, Majestic — because they don't have enough new Nike pants for all the players and regulars. The Reds have asked players to plan to wear their old pants for the rest of spring training.

“The global interest is gasping,” said Tony Clark, MLBPA executive director.

Nike did not directly respond to questions but offered to do so The athlete Its first statement since player complaints first surfaced last week.

“We always put the athlete at the center of everything we do,” Nike said in a statement. “We worked closely with MLB players, teams and the league to create the most advanced uniform in MLB history that is lighter and more flexible.

“The quality and performance of our product is of the utmost importance to us. We will continue to work with MLB, the players and our manufacturing partner to process uniforms for players.

Through a spokesperson, Major League Baseball also issued a statement. “Like every spring training, Fanatics Team Services, Nike and MLB representatives visit camps to meet with all players, conduct uniform fitting sessions with them, and get their feedback on how their uniforms will fit,” the MLB statement said. “Based on player requests, adjustments are made to shirt size, waist, inseam, length, hip size and bottom of pants.

“The aim of these meetings is to provide players with the most comfortable uniform available for opening day. We are liaising closely with our clubs and uniform partners to ensure clubs have what they need for opening day.

As Clark and officials from the players union make the rounds at spring training, they continue to hear widespread complaints. After meeting with Chicago Cubs players Thursday morning in Mesa, Arizona, Clark acknowledged, “It's disappointing that we've gotten to a place where uniforms are a topic of discussion.” Even the negative reactions to the uniforms are not centered around a single issue.

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“Every conversation with men yields more information,” Clark said. “Much of the speech (Wednesday) was an assertion that the pants appear to be transparent.”

But the broader issue — beyond the see-through nature, design changes, inconsistent quality and fit issues that players have complained about — is the lack of pants available for teams to distribute.

“There are teams that have pants and T-shirts,” Clark said. “There are some teams that don't wear pants. There are other teams that are supposed to get certain things before the year starts. There are others – in case they have a problem with the pants and the player needs a new pair – that don't have anything in reserve.

Nike began a 10-year contract as the official uniform supplier for MLB ahead of the 2020 season. Fanatics has produced Nike jerseys since 2020 from the same factory in Easton, Pennsylvania, where the Majestic uniforms are manufactured. A spokesman for Fanatics, which makes the uniforms but has no hand in design or engineering, declined to comment.

In his Grapefruit League speech last week, MLS Commissioner Rob Manfred defended Nike and its new uniforms, praising the company's record and players' concerns.

“I think after people wear it for a short time, it will be very popular,” he said.

However, as spring training games begin, players and coaches are still wearing old pants — some by choice, others by necessity.

One of the National League stars has so far refused to wear the new pants. One American League All-Star had a moderate experience with his build: too tight in one place, too loose in another, right on third down. One coach tried on a new Nike uniform on the first day of practice, then came home afterward and found an old pair that he's been wearing ever since. The stirrup-wearing player laments the fact that he can choose the cut of his pants high or low but nothing in between. On Wednesday, one club received just one set of new Nike shorts, the set they coincidentally were wearing on the official photo shoot day.

In past years, players were outfitted early in spring training and could request all kinds of customization, and would receive the final designed product a few weeks before Opening Day. Now, according to several players who have been fitted recently, requests to take the fabric down an inch on the thigh or bicep have been denied. Instead, players are categorized by four body types, based on a body scan of more than 300 players conducted by Nike and Fanatics last spring, and are given three options — slimmer, regular and plus size — with five different pants openings. Nike will adjust the length of the sleeves and pants but will not customize specific areas.

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During the start of Game 1 of Cactus League play on Thursday, Padres outfielder Joe Musgrove put on last year's pants. When asked when he would receive the new units, Musgrove said, “Hopefully it will be by opening day.” Musgrove recalls his first try on Nike's new jersey, called the Nike Vapor Premier, last spring. He said the samples provided were not the right length for each player, so it was difficult to gauge fit at the time.

“Pants are pants,” Musgrove said. “We'll wear them. If they don't fit, you'll deal with it. That's not the most important thing. …Honestly, our job is to go out there and play baseball. So you can—all you want is to not like the pants, but you've got to deal with it.”

Some players are concerned that if Nike cannot supply enough pants to meet current clubs' needs, players will not be able to wear them during the weeks leading up to the regular season.

“Guys are going to get mad,” the player said. “You don't want to worry about those bulls—on opening day.”

“It's like – the show,” echoed another player.

Reds catcher Luke Maile doesn't mind the new uniform. It fits well. Feel good. He's frustrated that the uniform confusion continues, and the people responsible for resolving the mess are the clubhouse attendants. They were left retooling players and rummaging through storage rooms to find enough old pants to stock the roster.

“I think the biggest misconception right now is that players don't just complain and basically act about the pants they wear,” Miley said. “We work with our club attendants every day. They care about almost everything in our lives, and the amount of work they had to do, and then to see that kind of negligence is very disappointing – not just on our part, but for them as well.

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Nike he claimed in a statement Last week the new shirt has been developed over several years. The shirts were presented to the teams during 2022 spring training. According to MLB.comThe Players Union also reviewed the uniforms. Clark confirmed that talks about new uniforms go back “a few years,” however, he does not feel the union's suggestions have been heeded.

“We gave input — and suggested what the challenges were — and they needed to be addressed on the front end. They weren't,” Clark said. “There was an announcement about Nike and the league (last week), and then all of a sudden you started hearing from the players what they were seeing on the floor.” . (There were) very few answers given.

“That's why I say it's been a constant conversation where every day produces something new that doesn't make as much sense as you'd like it to.”

It is not clear if Nike intends to make changes to the uniforms before Opening Day. Some of the design changes are understandable, Clark said. For example, the thinner and lighter performance fabric of the Nike Vapor Premier, necessitating smaller numbers and letters on the shirt.

“However, in the feedback we have received, some players are disappointed in the tops,” Clark said. “Other guys will work through those.”

Pants are a bigger concern for most players, Clark said. “But I'm not sure what the solution is or how quickly we'll be able to get there.”

The Reds had a supply of old pants on hand in case there was a uniform hiccup. They also wear red jerseys during spring training, so, in their case, wearing the old pants won't clash with the new jerseys (which are slightly white). No one is sure what will happen by Opening Day, but the Reds at least have a month-long workaround.

Miley explained that he doesn't expect perfection, he just expects pants.

“Will we succeed?” “Of course,” he said. “Was the old way better?” probably. But again man, our job is to be competitive. This is what we have to do. We'll do it over anything.”

The athleteDennis Lin contributed to this report.

(Reds pitchers and infielders in spring training: Karim El Gazzar/The Inquirer/USA Today)

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