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Memo to Ryan Howard: Pull Up Your Pants

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Watching baseball players on TV, I'm just glad not to be any of their mothers. I'd always be stifling an impulse to tell them to pull up their pants, so their uncuffed hems aren't dragging in the dust of the base paths and getting ground under their heels any time they take a step backwards.

You can blame gravity but, big-picture-wise, it's more a case of fashion insinuating itself into the supposedly sacrosanct precincts of the former National Pastime. Like the penetrating scent of a bowlful of chopped garlic carelessly left uncovered in the fridge, fashion gets into everything now. We spend so much of our lives staring at images, moving and still, and somehow they change our sense of the way things ought to look without our even noticing.

This is why most baseball players' pants, which used to stop just below the knee, are now long enough to be stepped on with every backward step. Of course, it's not just baseball players. Last year I bought a pair of Old Navy jeans at the Goodwill for $3. They fit perfectly. Only one problem: They were raggedy just above the hems at the center back of each pant leg. Their previous owner, apparently, was a heedless teenager three inches shorter than I, who liked her jeans long enough to drag on the ground. (They weren't that hard to patch.)

Ballplayers' pants now remind me of the long floofy trousers Armani--and then everybody else--made in the 1980s. One week, masters of the universe were wearing trousers cuffed to end precisely halfway down the heels of their shoes and then, almost out of the blue, their trouser cuffs were practically puddling up around their feet: Something that would've seemed utterly bizarre a couple of years before suddenly looked normal, even cool.

Connie Mack Use This.jpgThis year's big-league players--with the possible exception of the famously elderly Jamie Moyer--were sucking their thumbs then, or not even born, so you can't blame their too-long pants on Armani.

I'm guessing the influence comes from the gigantic-falling-down-pants meme perpetrated by rappers, hip-hop fans and other urban young people. It's also why basketball shorts, which actually used to be short, now come down to--and sometimes past--the knees, even though they're still called shorts instead of, say, something more accurate, such as basketball pedal-pushers.

Notice, though, that the look has been able to infiltrate baseball uniforms only so far: The pant cuffs drag, and the seats bag, but the waist is not allowed to slide below the hips because that would interfere with running, fielding, even batting. We've all seen kids disabled by their too-big pants, effectively rendered one-handed by the unrelenting need to hold them up.

This is why baseball players still belt their pants pretty close to their actual waists: You need both hands to play ball. Philadelphia fans--I mean, these are the folks who booed Santa Claus--would eviscerate a player who missed a crucial catch while responding to a downward-sliding-pants emergency. You don't want to think about what they'd do to somebody who tripped over his falling-down pants halfway to first.

Speaking of which, how can those heavy chain necklaces, like the one Andres Torres wears, not slow you down? In horse racing, they require some of the horses to carry lead weights to even the odds. It seems weird that ballplayers do it voluntarily, when they know perfectly well that milliseconds can make the difference between safe and out. Maybe they're still young enough to believe that anything that looks cool can only make you faster.

There are many things I don't understand about baseball, but one of them is why managers wear uniforms. The other night on TV somebody was saying something about Charlie Manuel's unflagging loyalty to baseball shoes with metal spikes, apparently the only footwear that feels right to him when he's in uniform. It would really scare people if Andy Reid showed up for a game in an Eagles uniform--pads, helmet, the whole behemothian rig. They'd think he'd lost it.

Somebody once explained to me that the difference is that a baseball cap and a baseball uniform count as clothes, but a football helmet and a football uniform qualify as equipment, and you only use equipment for its designated purpose--e.g., you can wear a ball cap to a picnic, but you only wear a beekeeper's hat to deal with bees. This is why several million ball caps--but a much smaller number of beekeeper hats--are sold in this country each year.

According to this theory, baseball gloves are equipment, so it doesn't matter what color they are, but batting gloves are clothes and have to match the uniform.

But I still think it's weird seeing these really old guys like Bobby Cox--and Charlie Manuel, for that matter, who looks about as old as it's possible to look--suited up like the Boys of Summer. Talk about mutton dressed as lamb.

I think Cornelius McGillicuddy, aka, Connie Mack, who famously wore a three-piece suit and a starched shirt with a high collar and a necktie in the dugout when he managed the Philadelphia Athletics, looked better. Once, on a very hot summer day, he reportedly removed his hat and loosened his tie.

Back then, of course, men wore neckties to play golf.

 

Patricia McLaughlin writes about fashion and from her home in Fairmount.

 

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