Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
The New York Yankees pitching coach does not wear the team jersey during games. Why not? — asked by Peter Williams, of Sayville
The short answer: He prefers a more comfortable top, with pockets, according to a team spokesman. And, he does wear the team pants.
The long answer: Watching the Yankees last season, longtime fan Peter Williams spotted something that seemed, well, off base. Game after game, pitching coach Larry Rothschild did not wear the team jersey and it got under Williams’ skin. After all, he thought all coaches and players wear the team uniform.
“How come this guy’s not wearing a jersey?” said Williams, 48, of Sayville. He’s been watching the team since he was about 10, when the Yanks beat the Dodgers in six games in the 1977-78 World Series. “The Yankees are sticklers for guys not having beards. I would think that attention to detail would apply.”
Eventually he sent his question to Newsday.
Michael Margolis, the Yankees director of baseball information and public communications, opted to answer for Rothschild.
“Aside from a pullover or sweatshirt being more comfortable than a jersey, Larry prefers to have the utility of a top that has pockets (to hold his pen, pitch counter, clicker, glasses, notes, etc.),” Margolis wrote in an email. “That’s it.”
Full disclosure: Rothschild does wear the official team pants during games, and the pullovers and windbreakers he dons have the official Yankees logo. Furthermore, it’s not an anomaly. Other coaches have shunned the team jersey, too, Margolis notes.
“It’s actually not an uncommon practice in Major League Baseball for coaches and some managers to not wear jerseys, so it’s not really a break with tradition at this point,” he said.
Others disagree, but more on that in a moment.
The custom has been challenged before.
The late comedian George Carlin explored this.
“Only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do,” Carlin said. “If you’d ever seen [former football coach] John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform, you’d know the reason for this custom.”
Mike Royko, the late Chicago Tribune columnist, also addressed this in a 1989 column. Actually, his wife did.
“It’s stupid,” his wife said. “How would basketball coaches look in little shorts. . . . In every other sport, the manager dresses like a grown-up. So why do baseball managers have to wear the same uniform that Little League kids wear?”
Sean Holtz, head of Baseball Almanac Inc., an online baseball encyclopedia, pointed to a 1957 rule that requires the coaches to be in uniform. He said it is still rare to see someone out of uniform, “however, it has since been interpreted to mean the first and third base coaches specifically, the coaches who need to be on the field.”
He offered a history lesson.
The tradition of managers and coaches wearing uniforms began in the 19th century, at the birth of baseball, he noted.
At that time, the decisions on the field were made by the player deemed the “team captain.” Because he also played in the game, he wore a uniform.
Through the years, the tradition remained in that the people calling the shots on the field — now the coaches and manager — continue to wear a uniform, Holtz said.
Cassidy Lent, a reference librarian at the Baseball Hall of Fame, largely agreed. She said the 2017 Major League Baseball rule book still specifies that players and coaches on the field must be in uniform.
The issue reached a fever pitch during a 2007 brouhaha at Yankee Stadium involving Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s choice of attire, an incident the manager himself referred to as “shirtgate.”
Francona was wearing a pullover when a police lieutenant from NYPD, authorized by MLB, approached him during a game to make certain Francona was wearing his uniform jersey beneath the fleece pullover.
Francona cried foul, and a MLB official later acknowledged it was a mistake to approach the manager during the game.
Given all that explanation, Williams still could not wrap his head around Rothschild’s choice.
To the Sayville fan, it’s an old tradition, and “What team has more tradition than the Yankees?” he said.