MLB scotches Pirates' nod to Willie Stargell

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I missed this story earlier in the week, so I'll take you to the beginning (via MLB.com's Tom Singer and Joey Nowak):

As sharp-eyed television viewers quickly noticed on Tuesday night, the Stargell Stars made a comeback on the Pirates' caps during the National League Wild Card Game against the Reds at PNC Park.

It was not a completely faithful revival of Willie "Pops" Stargell's incentive of awarding little gold stars to Pittsburgh teammates for exceptional performances.

For instance, even after hitting two home runs in the 6-2 victory over Cincinnati, Russell Martin still only had the one star with which he started out. And everyone in a Pirates uniform had them, even those on the bench or not on the active roster.

The inspiration behind the new Stargell Stars -- black five-pointed stars with a gold "P" in the middle -- was bench coach Jeff Banister, the longest tenured man in a Bucs uniform.

"I was privileged to know Willie, and he taught me what it meant to be a Pirate," Banister said. "He had so much influence on what this organization was -- and what it is again becoming. I felt it was very appropriate for Willie to be a part of this.

"I'd had the thought all year. I was just waiting for the right time. It was time."

I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not notice the Stargell Stars, Tuesday night. But in my defense -- and in yours, if you also didn't notice -- they're pretty damned hard to notice.

The original Stargell Stars were impossible to not notice, because they were big and they were canary yellow. As you can see in the image above, the new version is quite subtle. So subtle, in fact, that I've got a hard time proving that "everyone in a Pirates uniform had them." Scrolling through all the images in our photo tool, I noticed them on Jason Grilli's and Tony Watson's caps ... but I couldn't spot one on Clint Hurdle's cap, or Andrew McCutchen's or Francisco Liriano's.

I didn't know anything about this story until Saturday morning, when I came across this:

... which sent me looking for some official word:

Due to licensing concerns, Major League Baseball cracked down on the Pirates for wearing Stargell stars in the National League wild-card game.

The small, black stars with a gold “P” are not allowed to be visible on uniforms. Yet that hasn't stopped some players and coaches from wearing them during the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. They've tucked the stars out of sight, such as under the bill of a cap.

Why would Major League Baseball crack down on something like this?

Two reasons. One, the legitimate impulse to control the imagery on the field. Sure, this seems an odd place to draw the line. One player can wear beautiful stirrups, and another can pull his cuffs down over his shoes? A player may wear a gaudy Phiten necklace? Brian Wilson is allowed to be Brian Wilson? But the line must be drawn somewhere.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid this line has been drawn purely for the sake of the bottom line. In the postseason, players are forced to wear caps that include that awful postseason logo patch on the side. It's not the logo that's awful. But the patch is awful, when placed on the side of an otherwise solid-colored cap. You know what I mean. And the players wear those caps because Major League Baseball sells those caps. It's a marketing decision that drives the livery, rather than the other way around. In this case, Major League Baseball is afraid that Pirates fans won't purchase the postseason caps if the players on the field are wearing a different cap. So any difference must be excised, posthaste.

Granted, there's an easy (if inelegant) solution: Sell postseason caps with the Stargell Star. Wouldn't those caps be significantly more desirable for Pirates fans? Of course they would be. But there's no time for that. Not yet, anyway. Maybe for the World Series. Or the next time around. Anyway, that would make the Pirates' postseason caps different from all the other teams'. And differences are discouraged, uniformity encouraged. At least on the marketing side of the operation.

Having said all that, I'm not really impressed with these new Stargell Stars. The original versions were handed out as rewards by Stargell (by the way, who awarded stars to Stargell?). But the new ones are just for being there, which I suppose is more in keeping with the 21st Century, when every kid on every last-place team gets a trophy.

The new Stargell Stars were a neat idea. But they're traditional only to a point. And they would look truly good on the Pirates' caps only if they were a little more noticeable, and in the absence of MLB's horrible mandated affairs.

Update: Okay, it seems that at least some Pirates were wearing their stars on the other side of their caps. Here's a great look at Francisco Liriano (and my thanks to Justin Koskovich for the link).

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