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The ultimate uniform penalty


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Breaking the law, breaking the law

By Paul Lukas

With uniforms, as with so many other things, there are rules. But sometimes the players don't follow those rules, which can lead to a warning letter, a fine, or yet another fine. Until last week, however, Uni Watch had never heard of a team forfeiting a game due to a uniform violation.

This new landmark in sartorial adjudication took place on July 24, when two American Legion baseball teams were forced to forfeit their first-round games in the Washington State Division IV District Tournament -- after they had already won those games (in one case by a score of 14-0) -- because the American Legion logo was screen-printed onto their sleeves instead of sewn on as the Legion's rules require. (There's a full treatment of the controversy here, and a short video report is available here.)

Uni Watch would be the first to agree that an embroidered patch looks way better than a screened logo, but come on. When tallying up this year's "I'm with stupid" sweepstakes, it seems a safe bet that this incident (which has already been dubbed "Patchgate" by the local Washington media, although Uni Watch prefers to call it Screen D'oh!) will rank right up there with the Craig Biggio case as one of 2007's most ill-conceived uni-related police actions.

The American Legion forfeitures probably were devastating to the teams involved, but being fined a paltry few thousand dollars for a uni violation is probably just a drop in the bucket to a millionaire athlete, right? Well, maybe -- it depends on whose bucket we're talking about. Some players simply regard such fines as the cost of doing business. When Ronnie Brown drew a fine in 2005 for wearing an unauthorized sunburst visor, for example, a marketer from Oakley, which manufactured the visor, told Uni Watch, "It really sets you apart as an individual, which I believe is the main reason Ronnie requested it. ? A lot of guys see the fine as the price of marketing themselves." Similarly, when Brian Urlacher violated the NFL's sponsorship rules by wearing a Vitaminwater cap on Super Bowl media day (not quite the same as an on-field uni violation, but it's definitely related), he was fined 100 large, but he never complained -- presumably because he was paid more than that to wear the cap in the first place.

But when Pedro Martinez was fined a comparatively measly $5000 last year for having his pant cuffs stretched down under his heels, he didn't take it too well. "Why are they going after me?" he whined. "What about all the others who do it? ?Five thousand dollars? Like $5,000 is just nothing?" (Touched by this sorry tale of financial woe from a man who makes the pauper-like sum of $13.25 million per year, Uni Watch took up a collection for Pedro and mailed him the proceeds. Alas, he never cashed the check.)

Of course, not every uniform infraction results in a sanction -- sometimes it's just a matter of creative problem-solving. Back in the early 1970s, for example, 49ers cornerback and future Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson came out for a game with his red socks pulled up so high that the white stripes were above his knees and hidden beneath his pant legs. Told by an official that he was risking a fine, Johnson had the team trainer create ersatz sock stripes for him with a few lengths of white tape (a solution that would be unnecessary in today's NFL, where half the players appear to be wearing biker shorts -- a situation that deserves some fines of its own).

Although the NFL has long been known as the No Fun League, the strictest league, at least in terms of uni-related fines, is actually the NBA, which has fined more than two dozen players in recent years for wearing their shorts too long. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, don't worry -- uni infractions have now become such a sizable sub-niche in the uniform world that they've actually inspired their own Web site: UniformViolation.com, which keeps tabs on fines, warnings, regulations, quotes, and related ephemera. The site, which launched just a few weeks ago, is the brainchild Glenn D., a web-development engineer who says he first got interested in uniform regulations when Sean Taylor and Clinton Portis drew big fines for wearing unauthorized sock patterns in 2005. After the NFL slapped the 100K fine on Urlacher, Glenn D. decided to create a site devoted to such infractions.

Like any good storyteller, Glenn D. knows he's only as good as his material. "If not for Chad Johnson, I wouldn't have much of a site," he says. "You've got to give him props for being as creative as he is."

Many folks, Uni Watch included, take a somewhat dimmer view of Johnson's antics. Like him or hate him, though, he's part of a long tradition, because uniform infractions are probably as old as uniforms themselves. Glenn D. says the earliest example he's found is listed on this page, which reports that Pittsburgh Alleghenys outfielder Pete Browning was fined in 1891 for refusing to have spikes on his shoes (although other accounts of Browning's career make no mention of this). A better-documented case occurred in 1938, when Indians pitcher Johnny Allen was fined $250 for refusing an umpire's order to cut off a loose-flapping section of his undersleeve. (Allen's ghost was no doubt hovering disapprovingly over Wrigley Field last season when Scott Williamson was cited for a similar infraction and agreed to have his sleeves cut off right there on the mound.)

So which rules would Glenn D. enforce more strictly if he were installed as the commissioner? "That's a good question," he says. "I can't really think of any -- I'd just let 'em go." Pretty laissez faire for a guy who spends his time monitoring the uniform police blotter. Has he considered applying for a job with the American Legion?

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