The Yankees had a big announcement to make about an addition to their classic uniform jerseys, and they knew it would lead to some pushback from the public.
These were the iconic, multiple-World Series champion, pinstriped lords of the Bronx, after all, complete with the most celebrated slugger of the day.
Change the uniform? Blasphemy!
They did it anyway.
Wednesday? Well, then, too.
But also on Jan. 22, 1929, when they announced to shocked and amused reporters that starting that spring, the Yankees would wear numbers on their backs corresponding to their positions in the batting order.
Cleveland had tried numbers on uniform sleeves in 1916 and the Cardinals did so in 1923, but both soon retreated because, as St. Louis manager Branch Rickey put it years later, “Ridicule followed throughout the country, press-wise and otherwise.”
Even Yankees executive Ed Barrow joked about the implications upon making the announcement, saying numbers might be used to confuse the opposition.
“I suppose we can give the Babe’s number to [Gene] Robertson or [Leo] Durocher and give one of their numbers to the Babe,” he said, according to the next day’s New York Times. “Then the other side won’t know when the Babe comes to bat.”
All of which is a long way of saying this about Wednesday’s news that starting July 21 against the Royals, the Yankees will wear a sponsor patch on their left sleeves:
The Yankees added their interlocking NY logo in 1909, pinstripes in 1915, numbers in 1929, New Era cap logos in 2017 and Nike swooshes in 2020.
Now they will join several other teams, including the Mets, with a patch when Starr Insurance takes its place later this month, reportedly for north of $20 million a season.
Sure, this is not precisely the same as adding uniform numbers, because that was designed to be fan-friendly rather than business-friendly.
But in the grand scheme of sports moneymaking, this is harmless stuff.
Compared to the walking billboards that European soccer players and race car drivers are, the Yankees — and other baseball teams — are beacons of modesty.
And the Yankees continue to show respect for tradition, from not having players’ names on their shirts to avoiding alternate jerseys.
And do not forget that they are leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table by not selling naming rights to Yankee Stadium. Now that would be blasphemy.
None of the above should be taken as an apology for the Yankees. But they are in business to do business, and this is a relatively modest way to drop a few extra dimes into the piggybank.
Save your venom for more relevant consumer-unfriendly matters such as prices for tickets, concessions and parking, and the jigsaw puzzle of live streaming services that carry Yankees games.
The Yankees’ classic look is cool, but it is not sacred.
And as for fans and pundits who have weighed in about this being another sign of baseball just being a big, cynical business dissociated from its roots . . . Seriously? Are we still having this discussion?
New York Times editorial, Oct. 12, 1904: “Professional baseball is no longer a game. It is only a gladiatorial show.”
New York Times editorial, Sept. 11, 1870: “Base-ball as a recreation was well enough, but base-ball established as a business calls upon us to revive our notions of its usefulness.”
We could do this all day.
Yes, baseball is a business, and within reason it is OK for the businesspeople who run it to make money, especially when doing so in a way that offends sensibilities rather than pocketbooks.
People adapt. In its account of that first game in which the Yankees wore jersey numbers, the Times writer offered this droll acknowledgment of the milestone:
“In the event anyone needs this information, Babe Ruth is No. 3.”