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Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?

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© Chris Williams/Icon SMI/Corbis

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, it goes back to the earliest days of the game.

Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager, the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decided when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a players’ uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’ Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that base coaches and coaches are “team members in uniform.”  While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that no one is allowed on the field during the game except “players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team” and a few select others. Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform” (emphasis mine) and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform, at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit? I can’t imagine Charlie Manuel shoving his hands down his pants in the fan seats and not getting thrown out for it. I’d like to think, then, that we can call the baseball manager’s uniform one part tradition and one part careful reading and “just in case” interpretation of the rules.

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