- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

The Nationals unveiled their new jerseys Thursday at ESPN Zone in the District before a gaggle of fans presumably with nothing better to do. Now all the club needs to do is find some new players to put in them.

Lots of new players.

Manager Manny Acta and center fielder Lastings Milledge served as models, along with several winsome young women who probably couldn’t hit good pitching. (Come to think of it, neither did most of the real Nats in 2008.)

Right fielder Elijah Dukes, who had been advertised as a participant, was a no-show. Probably he has no sense of high fashion.

The occasion was hardly fraught with drama. It started with this exchange between Acta and radio broadcaster Charlie Slowes.

Slowes: “How’s it going, Manny?”

Acta: “Super.”

Slowes: “Not superfantastic?”

Acta merely laughed, possibly recalling his team’s abject futility (59-102) last season.

After the women pranced around in the marginally altered home and alternate jerseys - plus a gaudy “patriotic” shirt with more stars and stripes than an American flag - Milledge emerged in the club’s standard road jersey for 2009.

It features several minor changes, but all you really need to know is that “Washington” will appear on the front in underlined script rather than block letters - thereby conjuring unpleasant images of the expansion Senators’ shirts from their last few years of existence. But for those who prefer the blocks, it’s clearly a case of cursives, foiled again!

As hard news, the new suits will not exactly chase President-elect Barack Obama off the front page. Even Milledge seemed underwhelmed.

“How do you like them?” Acta prompted him.

“Oh, I like them,” Milledge replied obediently. Then he added, “I can’t say I don’t like them, can I?”

A while later, after scads of panting autograph seekers had gone back to work or whatever, Milledge expanded his answer for a reporter in search of an earth-shattering scoop.

“New uniforms are big for the fans who like to buy stuff, and that’s good,” he said, “but it’s no big deal for the players.”

Aha - the economic factor. A certain number of rooters with rubles to roast will rush to the team store or online to spend $199 or thereabouts for an “official” 2009 Nats road jersey. And for 2010, you can be sure, the club will introduce redesigned home shirts. By that time, if sharp on-field improvement is not forthcoming, perhaps the jerseys should say “Syracuse” in reference to Washington’s new Class AAA affiliate.

Funny thing: The Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox have managed to survive a half-century or so wearing basically the same old designs. Locally, in the 1950s, the original Senators sported incredibly dull duds with nothing on the front except a block “W” on the left breast. Of course, if the original Nats had won a bunch of championships, that would have been regarded as a “classic” uni.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I developed an abiding hatred for pinstripes because (a) the Yankees wore them and always won and (b) the Senators wore them and always lost. To this day, I won’t buy a pinstripe suit.

For reasons I can’t begin to explain, I’ve always been fascinated by baseball uniforms. At a memorabilia show some years ago, a guy was selling replica uniform shirts for $50, and a midcentury Nats version seemed to be speaking to me. “Buy me,” it whispered seductively, “and I will make you feel young again.”

So I did, and guess what? It didn’t work.

But let me restate Heller’s Rules regarding uniforms. Home jerseys should have the team nickname on the front; road jerseys should have the name of the city. There should be no player names on the back because these millionaires shouldn’t get free advertising. And who needs all those silly logos and patches elsewhere? Let’s keep the shirts uncluttered and clean, at least until somebody slides headfirst into a base.

In baseball, however, clothes don’t make the man. No uniform ever helped a pitcher break off a devastating slider on the outside corner or a batter get around on a 97 mph fastball - a fact of horsehide existence Acta knows very well.

Somebody at ESPN Zone asked Manny how important uniforms were to a club’s success.

“It’s very important to some of the young guys to look good,” he said. “Me, I’d just rather win than lose.”

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