Our national pastime emanates from the great cities of this country, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by looking at the uniforms.
Whatever happened to the traditional visitors’ jersey in major league baseball? It is supposed to be gray and carry the name of the city emblazoned across the front. The gray tells you that these players are forlorn and adrift; the city name is their island of identity in a sea of hostile locals.
Members of the home club wear sparkling white. They boast the team name across their chests; naming the city is redundant when the players are at home.
There is a certain championship logic as well as geographic propriety in this traditional arrangement. But somewhere along the line, the fashion changed. Now, when the Astros land in Yankee Stadium , they are just Astros, when they should be HOUSTON. One looks at them and remembers plastic grass instead of imagining snarling cowboys and righteous oilmen.
When the season gets under way, turn the television on for the game of the week. You will not necessarily know which city is playing until the announcer mentions it. Thankfully, the Mets recently returned to being NEW YORK on the road, and the Indians will invade the American League in 1989 as CLEVELAND from time to time. In an assimilated nation of burger logography, franchised mall kingdoms and homogeneous condominium developments, this will offer some reminder that we still come from and are loyal to places.
To add to the smudging of our geographic integrity, some ball clubs now have the audacity of not even being from cities. What does it mean to be the Minnesota baseball team? Are Minneapolis and St. Paul neighboring municipalities or just two indistinct coordinates on a national graph of interstate highways and yellow arches? Pretty soon, we’ll see San Francisco’s Giants sink to something innocuous like BAY AREA (basketball has taken Golden State). Colorado Rockies are a mountain range, not a team from Denver.
Ball clubs are like cities now: They are actually wireless conglomerates. Besides the anonymous traveling jerseys, more and more teams are having their sovereign rights watered down by the proliferation of cable television contracts. These broadcasts make each game a distilled national diversion rather than a significant local event. The Braves have always seemed more interested in being “America’s Team” on Turner Broadcasting System than in just being Atlanta’s Braves.
Let’s not even discuss the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.”
Meanwhile, the arenas where the teams play only add to the blurriness. Domed stadiums sacrificed character for function. The Kingdome and the Metrodome reduced Seattle baseball and Minneapolis into one bland bowl of air-conditioned sterility. If God has mercy on the United States, he will save Wrigley Field and its sun-drenched vines. And inspire further construction of urban retro-ball-yards that are nothing but about baseball, beer, and memory.
We may have needed the domes and we are certainly entertained by cable television. Baseball is worthy enough to be protected from storms and spread by video. But why erase the cities for which the players battle and the fans cheer?
A great psychological protocol vanishes when the name of the city is woven out of jerseys in favor of some symbol or nickname. When the Dodgers visit the Cubs, what ought to take the breath away is that LOS ANGELES has invaded Chicago’s domain. There’s a delicious sense of territorialism to protecting one’s city from swaggering, would-be conquerors. Of course, some teams are stuck with names and/or cities that will never sound intimidating, and some make it worse: The Blue Jays replaced TORONTO with a little blue bird emblem. Oh, Canada.
This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times.