Major League Baseball managers are the only coaches in professional sports who suit up in uniform like players do. This never bothered me until I saw an Instagram of Braves manager Brian Snitker with some of his all-stars.
It was this Instagram (second photo) that gave me pause:
There’s nothing out of the ordinary with Snit here. For whatever reason, this wave of realization just happened to come over me. “Why on Earth is the coach dressed up like the players?”
It’s not like Snit is going to replace Brian McCann behind the plate to defend the integrity of the game, or play outfield for an evening so Ronald Acuña Jr. can catch a breather while the Braves roll over the Marlins yet again. He certainly isn’t throwing gas on the mound.
Managers dressing like they’re ready to call their own number at any given moment is the weirdest thing in sports that we as a society have decided is totally normal.
The historical answer as to why was answered by CNN’s Bob Greene in 2011, thanks to the official historian of Major League Baseball John Thorn:
He said that in the earliest years of the game in the 19th Century, “The person who was called the manager of a team was the business manager — he was the person who made sure that the receipts were paid and that the train schedules were met. He didn’t make any decisions about what went on during a game.
”The person who did that was called the captain. He did what a manager does today, but he also played. So at first, the person we would today call a manager wore a uniform because he was a participant in the game.”
This trend continued through the 20th Century, despite others like Connie Mack, who didn’t dress like players. However, they wore entire suits, which was almost as weird (though seems much more appropriate for it being many, many years ago).
Let’s take the same idea of wearing a full game uniform and apply it to the NFL. How weird would it be to see guys like Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick, Bruce Arians, or other NFL head coaches in full pads and a helmet on the sideline? The NBA is just as funny to think about, if not worse. Do you want to see Gregg Popovich, John Beilein, Rick Carlisle or any other NBA head coach in game shorts and a jersey?
Baseball traditionalists who are still reading and aren’t already in my Twitter mentions probably want to know: “OK, guy, how should managers dress then?”
There’s a simple balance between Supporting The Team, and dressing like you’re ready to come in the game. Wearing a suit like an NBA coach isn’t the answer — I cannot emphasize enough how weird that would be in a baseball dugout, and how easily a suit would be ruined. Plus, managers would just look out of place. Save that drip for elsewhere.
Of the most recent Major League Baseball managers, Mike Scioscia was the closest to having it right. Wear some kind of team-issued gear up top so wearing actual uniform pants seems a bit more normal:
Did he have a jersey under there? Maybe, but we also couldn’t see it.
Otherwise, find a way to wear some team-issued gear from head to toe that isn’t a game uniform. NFL coaches pretty much have this right, even though they also used to wear suits (remember when Mike Nolan tried to bring it back?). They look like they are a part of the team, but Bill Belichick doesn’t look like the backup long snapper.
Despite baseball managers suiting up in full uniform, this probably won’t change. Baseball is a game where, for most, “tradition” matters more than trying to change or improve the game. That’s why batters are still being beaned over bat flips and fragile feelings from the mound.
Managers dressing up like players isn’t the end of the world.
But it’s still really weird.