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Ever notice how shiny-new the uniforms of major league baseball players look on television? How do they do that? It can make a fan wonder, Do MLB players wear new uniforms every game?
Major league players do not wear new uniforms every game — it just looks that way. They are just expertly and painstakingly washed and pressed to appear new for every game. During the process some uniforms are also mended, to fix tears or damages, or amended to switch numbers, or add a last name or patch.
Teams employ seamstresses who arrive in the wee hours of morning after night games and hurriedly apply special cleaning products, fill washing machines and clothes dryers, and sew like crazy to prepare for that day’s new game.
Challenges abound, including when new players arrive from the minor leagues or via trade and last names must be sewn onto the backs of jerseys. What other obstacles do these special workers face?
Making Uniforms Look New All the Time
Granted, sometimes the uniforms you see on TV or at games are indeed new — if a jersey or, especially, pants are torn beyond repair or get serious blood stains during the prior game. But for the most part, the uniforms you see have just been superduper-cleaned overnight.
How do they do it?
- In recent years, advanced industrial stain removers have reduced the need for the exhaustive scrubbing of years past that left some uniforms a tad fuzzy.
- Scrubbing is still needed, however, especially in stadiums that apply newfangled soils to infields such as types of dyes.
- Some teams have in-house cleaners/seamstresses, while others ship uniforms off-site for an industrial-like uniform-cleaning operation. For instance, New York Yankees pinstripes are washed, mended, and pressed at an athletic equipment company based in New Rochelle, New York.
About Cleats and Caps
- Baseball caps can be another story. Baseball players are superstitious, and some are fashion-conscious regarding their head gear, so sometimes you will see major leaguers with filthy caps. Some players like the look of a nice salt-stain line above the brim, or pine tar smeared over the team logo. How long they can get away with it depends on league and team rules. Basically, players can get new caps if they just ask.
- Pro baseball cleats are usually very clean because most players have deals with brands, and have requirements for contracts that they want to keep. Plus, clubs try to protect their team brand, so most have rules regarding the appearance of all elements of uniforms.
Uniform Hazards of Baseball
Some team seamstresses watch baseball games not for the action, but to root against certain actions, like sliding or diving hard. Baseball as a game may look rather tame compared with contact sports like football or hockey, but perils exist including for uniforms:
- Infield dirt. Probably the most consistent challenge for those responsible for cleaning MLB jerseys is dirt stains. Most position players will get a dirt splotch or more during game play, whether to slide on their rear ends or dive on their bellies into bases, or to dive or take a knee while fielding. Modern MLB infields can have exotic soils or amendments, including waxes and dyes (think of the splendid color of some stadium infield dirt) that can seriously challenge even the most-experienced uniform cleaners.
- Grass stains. Outfielders can get serious green stains on uniforms when diving at full speed on natural grass, or burn or tear clothing on artificial turfs (which are becoming more and more rare). Infielders and even pitchers and catchers, too, can grab grass stains depending on the play.
- Blood. Sliding or diving on dirt can scrape or cut the skin; and baseball cleats and catcher’s gear are notorious for causing rips and tears to uniforms. Player collisions, too, can cause bleeding and stains to uniforms.
- Sweat. Baseball is played through the summer, and overall during the warmest 6 months each year. All that sweat makes dust from infields stick to cloth, causing yet another challenge for baseball uniform cleaners.
- Pine tar, nervous habits and eye-black. Some players are quite sloppy with the pine tar applied to bat handles; or destroy seams on jerseys with nervous pulling of fabrics during competition. The eye-black that some players smear under their eyes to reduce glare sometimes is quite greasy and also can cause troublesome stain spots. Often these jerseys need special attention after every single game.
Deeper Insight Into MLB Uniform Preparations
Pro baseball uniform cleaners each have their own secrets and formulas to clean jerseys and pants without the hours of scrubbing that was required in the past. Some use off-the-shelf pre-wash cleaners like Spray ‘n’ Wash, or pre-treat with oil eaters (purchased in bulk of course), with a final touch of tossing softener sheets in the dryer.
They can wash up to 60 pairs of pants and jerseys nearly daily (typically major league teams enjoy 1 or 2 days off a week, April through September). And don’t forget towels: some cleaners must wash and fold 250 towels after shifts, sometimes more.
Question: Do all teams feature players’ names on the back of jerseys?
Answer: No, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have skipped the practice in favor of tradition. The Yankees in particular are big on tradition, staying with the same uniform makers and cleaners for many years.
Q.: Why don’t more teams take uniforms off-site for cleaning?
A.: It’s up to each team, but most likely it’s due to cost. Team seamstresses aren’t paid well and work brutal part-time hours, often starting work at 3 a.m. and only logging a half-day’s worth of hours. But the work is consistent during seasons, and of course comes with perks like meeting major leaguers and bringing autographs home for kids.
Q.: Can players ask to change their number on jerseys?
A.: Of course. Numbers on the backs of jerseys began with the New York Yankees in 1929 — the first were issued according to where players batted, a reason why Babe Ruth was No. 3 and Lou Gehrig wore No. 4. Today, players (and coaches, who for whatever reason wear numbers too) can change their jersey number, often with little notice to the seamstress.
Q.: What about visiting teams?
A.: They’re on their own, but some home teams have seamstresses who will pinch-hit to mend fabrics or other requests. As with the MLB, there are all-stars among the seamstresses, some who are sought out for special requests like sewing on temporary commemorative patches. Some call them “unsung heroes” of the game, since the uniforms are a major attraction-point for professional baseball.