Several Toronto Blue Jays got their wish on Thursday and it will likely result in some fashionable footwear at Rogers Centre next season.
MLB and the MLB Players Association announced an agreement to amend rules governing the appearance of in-game cleats that will allow for increased flexibility of colours and design.
Simply put, this is a change that advocates for individuality in the sport, a subject that has grown in importance over recent years.
The tug-of-war between players and the league became high profile last season, when Chicago Cubs infielder Ben Zobrist was warned by MLB for donning all-black cleats that did not comply with rules in the collective-bargaining agreement.
Zobrist protested on Instagram and the situation resonated throughout the league. Several Blue Jays have received warnings for their footwear violations and players weren’t shy voicing their frustration.
“There’s a lot of people in this game that would like to show their personality, since Major League Baseball is still fairly old school with the uniform policy,” Blue Jays centre-fielder Kevin Pillar told Sportsnet in July. “Loosening up the cleat policy would be a way to allow some individuals to show their personality on the field.”
Under the previous policy, listed in Attachment 19 of the CBA, “At least 51% of the exterior of each Player’s shoes must be the Club’s designated primary shoe color and the portion of the Club’s designated primary shoe color must be evenly distributed throughout the exterior of each shoe.”
For the Blue Jays, whose primary home colour is blue, that meant all-white, all-grey or all-red shoes, for instance, were prohibited. Additionally, any messages, quotes or pictures of family members appearing on cleats were frowned upon.
Now, according to a press release from the league, players are no longer bound by the 51 per cent rule and can don “shoes displaying any of the following colors, in any proportion: (i) black, white, and gray; (ii) any colors displayed on the Player’s uniform (and certain variations thereof); and (iii) any additional colors designated by the Player’s Club.”
The league and players’ association will also work with shoe manufacturers to make sure proposed shoe designs are submitted for advance approval.
“[MLB] and its Clubs recognize the desire of Players to have more flexibility in this area and are pleased to announce the loosening of regulations that will permit more personalized and stylized footwear,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in the release. “We believe that this agreement strikes the appropriate balance between the shared goal of permitting Players to express their individuality while maintaining reasonable restrictions on shoe colors and designs.”
For several Blue Jays players interviewed, the act of expression is important. Randal Grichuk said there are bigger issues for the league to worry about than shoes, while Devon Travis believed fans would appreciate the originality and creativity that players display with their fashion choices.
Pillar agreed, stressing that MLB is constantly competing with other sports leagues for the attention of young viewers and can use any advantage it can muster.
“[Changing the footwear policy] could be a way of pleasing younger audiences or attracting a younger crowd that has to choose between baseball, football, basketball,” Pillar said. “Baseball is going to be further down the list just because it’s a little bit more old school. The NBA has a little bit more character, a little bit more personality.”
Starting in 2019, MLB will have some more of that personality, too.