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Major League Baseball uniforms can appear sparkly clean, whether you’re watching games on television or even at live action in stadiums. Every wonder how they always look brand new? Or ask, What happens to baseball uniforms after games?
Major league baseball player uniforms are meticulously washed and pressed so they always look new for the following game. Periodically, some jerseys or pants might be replaced due to excessive staining or tears, but for the most part, MLB teams pay hard-working seamstresses to care for uniforms, or take dirty unis off-site for professional cleanings after every game.
The process takes time, and because most MLB games are played at night and end in the wee hours of the night (or the next morning), there’s quite the mad rush behind the scenes at stadiums to get up to 60 uniforms ready for the next game. While uniforms go through the wash cycle, at the same time some are mended to repair damages, or even amended like when players change numbers, or new players just joined the squad.
As you can imagine, challenges abound, like when day games are scheduled after night games shortening the time in-between. The list of problems can be endless, including lost uniform parts (think about all those stirrups and sanitary hose, not to mention jock straps!), sizing for new players, late orders for sleeve patches to commemorate a past player or special cause, broken down washers and dryers, and more.
Maybe you thought MLB players just wore new uniforms for every game, or took them home themselves for special cleaning. No, watch TV or video shots of a baseball locker room post-game, and you might notice a gigantic rolling clothes hamper for players to dump in their used uniforms (and towels!).
Baseball Uniforms from Little League to the Major Leagues
For those who have played baseball, how many of you were scolded or even cursed at after games when you slid or dove head-first? Baseball fields have dark green grasses, and infields have sharply colored dirt or even troublesome additives like dyes to enhance color vibrancy. The most active players take a part of the field home with them, in the form of brutal grass stains, dirt deeply embedded into fabrics, and even blood or the eye-black some players smear under their eyes.
Just for that reason, some moms wait until their little players get older and just teach them how to do their own laundry. However, once they become big ballplayers, commanding big salaries and expectations, they reap the benefits of their success. One is to get top-quality, super-fast laundry services.
In what other line of work must uniforms be totally cleaned so that they appear new the next day? Not many, but remember MLB uniforms are part of an overall brand, which includes the team logo, colors, stadium, and yes their image. Think of the pinstripes on Yankees uniforms, or the royal blue of Dodgers caps, or bright red St. Louis Cardinals colors. Those uniforms have hardly changed in style dating back 100 years or more because their look is part of the team brand and one reason fans are attracted.
People can forget that professional baseball is a business, no different than McDonald’s insisting on the cleanliness of its franchise restaurants, or Starbucks carefully monitoring consistent user experiences each visit. Those sparkling clean MLB uniforms are part of the marketing package and equation.
Details into MLB Uniform Care
Baseball fans might be surprised at the mayhem that ensues once a game’s final out is made. Groundskeeping crews mend and water the field, club employees must sweep and water-hose every seat and aisle, concession stands must be cleaned and closed up — and seamstresses get to work.
They often work part-time, aside from a regular job, and work only a few hours after the 81 home games MLB teams play each season. The hours and pay are not great, but the work does come with perks, like meeting famous ballplayers, or taking home memorabilia or autographs for their kids.
The Grind of Baseball Uniform Preparation
Even though they get to work in stadiums that some consider cathedrals in their town, the work can be grinding and grueling:
- They must gather up to 60 dirty uniforms, including those of coaches and bat-boys, and quickly apply special cleaning products where needed. (See grass, dirt and blood stains mentioned earlier). Advanced industrial stain removers are now used which has reduced the need for serious scrubbing like in past years.
- Scrubbing is still needed at times, particularly in stadiums that apply soil amendments to infields such as types of dyes. Sometimes uniforms get scrubbed so hard their surface can appear a bit fuzzy.
- Then they stuff the uniforms and as many as 250 towels or more into industrial-size washing machines and clothes dryers — and try to keep track of when batches are done, and what goes where.
- Finally, they fold all the items, and leave the pressed uniforms in each locker and clean towels stacked and ready for players.
Baseball Seamstress Nightmares
At any stage of this process much can go awry — adding a time crunch to the whole mix. Ever had an entire load of laundry ruined by a bad wash cycle? Or, forgetting to press the Start button? Those types of things keep MLB laundry people up at night. (Oh wait, they’re already working at night!).
Tack on late requests, like when minor league players get called up to play for the major league club that night, needing a nicely sized uni, plus the name and number sewed on the back, and the seamstresses’ jobs are never boring. Sometimes they are called the “unsung heroes” of major league baseball games, for good reason. Some pull off miracles, all the time.
As noted above, some teams have in-house cleaners/seamstresses, but others will ship uniforms to a commercial textile-cleaning operation, like the New York Yankees. Their pinstripes are washed and pressed at an athletic equipment company in New Rochelle, New York.
Do MLB players wash their caps?
For the most part, no. If they do, they probably ask the seamstress. However, baseball players can ask for brand-new hats whenever they want, though some don’t often as noticed by filthy caps in television close-ups. Baseball players are superstitious and some players will refuse new caps if they are on a good streak.
See Also: How Much Does A Baseball Cap Weigh?
Do MLB seamstresses have to root for the team they work for?
It’s not an official requirement, and most do anyway since it’s their home-town team. During games some might not necessarily root for the team, in as much as the play — regardless of the play on the field, they might root for a player not to slide or dive!
What else besides grass and dirt stain baseball uniforms?
Besides the above-mentioned blood and eye-black grease (which can be surprisingly hard to get off fabrics), baseball uniforms can be stained by excess sweat especially if infield dust sticks to it; pine tar used on bat handles; and nervous pulling and tugging. Some players have nervous routines at the plate where they consistently pull a sleeve or button area a certain way, ruining seams.
Do seamstresses get days off?
During the 6-month MLB season typically from around the start of April to early October, MLB teams get 1 or 2 days off a week. Most often the off days are Monday and Thursday, allowing travel between series, but makeups and scheduling quirks could add or subtract off days through the season.
What do visiting teams do?
It is up to the visiting teams to arrange for cleaning of their uniforms, though some teams or even individual players might make requests for a favored home-team seamstress to care for a dirty or damaged uniform during a series.