ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Most baseball teams change their uniforms as if they were underwear. An alternate third jersey (and sometimes a fourth and fifth), along with home and away, has become de rigueur. Logos get tweaked. Patches come and go. Color schemes get overhauled.
Throughout the years, though, the Yankees have offered a bulwark against encroaching fads.
Their uniform today is nearly identical to what it has been for generations: pinstripes at home, simple traveling grays and a dark blue cap with the iconic interlocking N and Y. The Yankees are the only team in baseball that does not have last names on the back of its home and road jerseys.
Babe Ruth would have looked little different in his uniform from the way Alex Rodriguez does in his.
So it was somewhat jarring Friday night when the Yankees came to bat here wearing new matte-finish batting helmets, something they plan to do on the road for the rest of the season.
The Yankees are hardly the only team that has departed in some way from the glossy, hard-plastic finish that baseball players wear — at least until they are covered in pine tar, dirt and scratches. The Pittsburgh Pirates began wearing them last year. The entire National League West wears matte-finish helmets this season. And the Yankees' helmets remain the same conservative shade of blue, so dark it edges up to the border of black.
But still, these are the Yankees, impervious to whims, their uniforms a proxy for their blue bloodlines.
"It's a little surprising to see the Yankees do this, because they never seem to change anything," said Paul Lukas, whose Uni Watch blog on ESPN catalogs all matter of sports uniform minutiae. "They've resisted a lot of the other trends. It's kind of like, why now? This seems more spontaneous, and spontaneity doesn't seem to be a Yankee virtue or characteristic."
As it turns out, this does not appear to be some marketing maneuver driven from higher-ups in the House of Steinbrenner. It was simple: Rob Cucuzza, the team's equipment manager, had received a prototype from the helmet manufacturer Rawlings during spring training. He got around to show ing it to players early this season. They liked it, so after checking with General Manager Brian Cashman, he ordered a set.
"It took Rawlings two to three weeks to get them to us," Cucuzza said. "That was that."
Cucuzza said the decision to use the helmets — and only on the road — was just a matter of aesthetics.
"I like the way it fits with our uniform; it looks good with the gray," Cucuzza said. "I don't think it looks good against white. We won't wear them at home."
The players' reviews were generally positive, but their enthusiasm, like the new helmets, was muted.
"This is the same helmet we were wearing; it's just a different finish," third baseman Chase Headley said. "So long as it's not neon green, I don't really care — as long as it protects me."
Manager Joe Girardi and Masahiro Tanaka and Aroldis Chapman, pitchers who will not wear the helmets unless they hit in the Yankees' remaining interleague games, at Colorado and San Diego and against the Mets, said the finish reminded them of stylish cars. Tanaka said he used to drive a matte-black Porsche in Japan.
"It's something cool," Chapman said.
Radical helmet (and uniform) designs in football have been pushed by manufacturers and embraced by universities to attract recruits, but the Yankees are not banking on winning over potential free agents with their uniform swag. Professional observers, if they are lukewarm about the new helmets, at least praised the Yankees for showing restraint.
"The Yankees have been admirable in sticking to their brand rather than being sucked in by trends — they are the antithesis of Oregon in the N.C.A.A.," said Heather Cocks, an author of a fashion blog that often mocks celebrity couture. "But I guess even the mighty Bronx Bombers aren't immune to the whims of fashion."
Lukas said: "I do find it interesting in an era when the design direction is always toward something that is flashing, glitzy, shinier, more superhero-like, this is going in the opposite direction. It's less shiny, less glossy."
Dustin Ackley, a reserve first baseman and outfielder who was acquired from Seattle last July, said he appreciated the simplicity of the Yankees' uniform — and he thinks the helmet fits with it. When he played for the Mariners, they had five different jerseys to wear.
"Here, you know what you're wearing every day," Ackley said. "In Seattle, are we wearing teal today or blue? It makes it easier coming to the park every day not having to think about what you're wearing, or if the pitcher decides he has a superstition. I like simplicity."
Cucuzza said the helmets did not signal further changes, though the Yankees, like all major league teams, do wear stylized caps on Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day. The Yankees wore their white-billed batting practice caps for a game in 2013.
"I don't think you'll ever see that — or names on the back of the uniforms," Cucuzza said.
Cocks questioned if the new helmets were being introduced on the road to avoid an angry response from fans. She also wondered, if they were a hit, how long it would take the Yankees to begin serving frozen yogurt out of miniature replica helmets.
"Then again, sometimes a new hat is just a new hat," Cocks said. "Be grateful there wasn't a push for a cartoon of Steinbrenner on the front. If Oregon has taught us anything about uniforms, it's that it could always be worse."Continue reading the main story
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