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The appearance of professional baseball players is typically so uniform, that even the slightest alteration or personalization can stick out for onlookers. For instance, what’s with all the bling? Why do baseball players wear chains or other jewelry items while on the field for games?
Some pro baseball players wear chains, earrings or other jewelry items for various reasons, namely superstition, to display individuality, respect religion, boost performance, or in honor of someone (or something).
The bottom line is most baseball players who wear neck chains do so because they think it makes them look good, feel good, or play better — or a combination of these reasons. Gold chains seem to be most popular, being a valuable metal and very shiny and clean-looking at that.
Wearing neck chains (and jewelry like earrings) while in uniform has been seen at MLB games for about 50 years now. It seems the trend of player individuality started around the start of the 1970s — think the Oakland A’s and their long hair at the time — and blossomed more deeply in the 1980s. Barry Bonds wore dangling earrings for most of his career.
Today, notable chain-wearing players include Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts, who let one bounce around while circling the bases during the World Series. (It was given to him as a gift from a fan during spring training a few years ago). Others include known stars like Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Javier Baez, Josh Bell and Francisco Lindor.
Breakdown of Reasons Why MLB Players Wear Chains
Unlike other major sports, Major League Baseball does not discourage players from expressing themselves on the field — to an extent. The MLB doesn’t even frown when players wear long chains that show over their uniforms, nor when they leave jersey tops unbuttoned to better show off their bling.
Where the league draws the line is if jewelry impacts game play. This could occur in two ways. First is glare from the sun or lights. If an umpire deems glare from a chain or jewelry item is distracting a batter or fielder, he can order the item removed or covered. Second is pitching. In general it’s up to the umpire to determine if anything on a pitcher can distract a batter, which is not only related to performance but also safety.
If a batter loses sight of a pitch for even a split second, he could be hit by the ball and seriously injured. This means pitchers often tuck in their chains while on the mound. They are also forbidden to wear other potentially distracting items or do uniform alterations like making sleeves overly loose to flap when they throw.
But overall, neck chains are fair game in the MLB. Here are some details:
- Appearance. Many major leaguers trudge through years in the minor leagues to make The Show, and when they do they want to show off their hard-earned fortune. Letting a $10,000 necklace bounce around while on television is a way to do it.
- Superstition. Professional sports athletes can be superstitious, and many think none more than baseball players, who will make it a point not to step on baselines for good luck, or even wear pants inside-out to keep winning streaks alive. Some players swear by good-luck charms around their neck.
- Religion. Either on their own, or accessorized with a cross or other religious ornament, players can respect their spirituality with jewelry and hope for safe and successful game outcomes. Much of baseball play is related to confidence, which some players believe they gain when God or the Spirit of the Universe is with them.
- Honor. As stated above, Mookie Betts wears a gold chain received as a gift from a fan. Sometimes people wear jewelry items not for their value or appearance but because it means something special or reminds them of someone or something. Some players wear the same chains for many years for this reason.
- Performance. Over the years manufacturers have promoted chains made from materials like titanium that are thought to improve blood flow through the neck, or provide other health benefits that could let baseball players perform better. These products seem to come and go, and there is no solid scientific proof for the validity of these claims.
Not Just Gold Chains
Over the years players have donned necklaces other than gold chains, including a run of puka shell necklaces in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s — made by stringing together a lot of small puka shells like this from Hawaii. These, too, were thought to bring good luck; and some players just liked the look.
Some players wear simple thick strings or ropes as necklaces, usually not for looks but for good luck. Silver chains also are favored by some players. Some choose the metal type for the best ability not to fade or stain when inundated with salty sweat and dust all the time.
No Necklace Numbers Cap in Baseball
Sometimes it’s not just a necklace that captures fans’ attention, but the number of them players wear. Former star hitter Manny Ramirez was known to wear 3 or more necklaces during games, and could be seen often adjusting them while standing in the batter’s box. Fans were left to wonder: do they ever get tangled up?
Potential Game Impacts
While jewelry is forbidden to impact opponents, there is nothing to stop neck chains from impeding the play of the person wearing them. Sometimes a player’s chain will break during a slide or dive, and television crews capture the silly aftermath as a player digs around the dirt gathering pieces.
Players who wear jewelry on the field always run the risk of fingers or uniform parts getting caught in them during a play. Also, necklaces (or even earrings) that are too long can blur or otherwise negatively impact a player’s vision during strenuous play. Clear vision is vitally important in baseball; the ball is small and hard and can come at a player very, very fast.
Some baseball players go a bit over the top with their necklaces. Notable players include former relief pitcher Turk Wendell, who wore a rather gaudy necklace made from the teeth or claws of animals he hunted and killed.
Baseball Old-Timers’ Lament
Some longtime fans, or so-called baseball “purists,” despise necklaces or jewelry on the field. Mainly because they can be distractions to the game and play. Some just harken back to simpler days of baseball when all players wore simple all-black cleats, no jewelry and, sometimes, no facial hair. Baseball still is a game of tradition in some areas; in other areas, not so much.
Baseball Chain Industry
Making and selling baseball-related necklaces has become an industry along with the prolonged existence of jewelry items on professional baseball fields. Any online search will reveal both major retailers and private makers of homemade necklaces pitching their chains to people who either want to wear them during games like the players they see on TV, or want them for fashion statements off the field.
Baseball jewelry can be quite valuable, especially for items proven to be worn during games, or jewelry handed to players for successes like the rings that come with championships, or other jewelry items for notable achievements like no hitters. News items feature auctions for these sports memorabilia items all the time.
More on Superstition
Today’s supreme premium on winning and putting up solid statistics for professional sports athletes means most will do anything to gain an edge — any edge. It’s why instances of cheating abound in all the major sports, and also why players wear jewelry or do other things for good luck like writing names or organizations on cleats.
For baseball players, the list is long of things they do to improve karma or juju for themselves or their team.
Question: Is there a limit as to how many chains a baseball player can wear?
Answer: No. It’s up to how good (or ridiculous) a player wants to look; and whether or not an umpire believes it is distracting to opponents. It is important to note that much is left to an umpire’s discretion, if he feels a uniform or accessory is impeding the ability of an opponent, or making game play unsafe.
Q.: Don’t chains break often during baseball play?
A.: Not really. Most players prefer thick chains, or necklaces made by interweaving two or more metal ropes. Thinner chains like those often found in rosaries or connected to a cross can break more easily. But overall, players hardly notice the chains they wear in game play. The neck area is not one involved greatly in baseball play action, after all.
Q.: Can basketball or football players wear chains?
A.: Not in the National Basketball Association (NBA), at least during games. Players in the National Football League (NFL) can wear jewelry as long as it’s underneath uniforms, and not “hard.” This last requirement is rather vague and at least one player was fined for wearing a fancy watch during NFL game play. Those sports feature more contact between players than typically found in baseball games, so having chains can mean entanglements or other problems between players.