Because self-expression is good for the soul and good for the game -- and because personality can shine not just through actions but also through fashion -- Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have come to agreement on a relaxation of the game's shoe statutes.MLB and the MLBPA
Because self-expression is good for the soul and good for the game -- and because personality can shine not just through actions but also through fashion -- Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have come to agreement on a relaxation of the game's shoe statutes.
MLB and the MLBPA announced Thursday that amendments have been made to the Collective Bargaining Agreement's rules governing the appearance of cleats worn by players. The goal was increased wiggle room with regard to the colors and designs deemed appropriate for the field of play.
In other words, if the shoe fits, blare it.
"Major League Baseball 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 a statement. "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."
With footwear fascination and artistry in full bloom, MLB is the latest league to relax its requirements. The NFL did it last year by giving its athletes the freedom to wear custom cleats during their pregame routines and by becoming more flexible about the colors of cleats that can be worn during games. And this 2018-19 NBA season marks the first time players have the autonomy to wear whatever sneaker colors they want.
In MLB, Players' Weekend, which has been held in August each of the past two seasons, has given players the opportunity to express their individuality in many ways, including with creative cleats. Many players summoned their sneakerhead impulses with vibrant and artistic designs, some of which were used to highlight charitable causes.
The rest of the regular season, however, featured the so-called "51 percent rule" that dictates that 51 percent of a player's cleat feature his team's primary color, as well a rule calling for no alterations or illustrations to be added to any part of the uniform.
This created a bit of a stir in May. The Cubs' Benjamin Zobrist was warned not to wear black cleats that he intended as a tribute to Ernie Banks and other past greats for whom black cleats were once the standard shoe. And the Indians' Mike Clevinger, who goes by the nickname "Sunshine," was warned not to wear his custom tie-dyed cleats featuring a sunflower and lotus flower. Both players took to social media to vent their frustrations, leading to increased public discussion about the modern-day worth of possibly antiquated customs.
Under the new agreement, the "51 percent rule" has been eliminated. Players may wear shoes displaying, in any proportion: the colors black, white or gray; any colors displayed on the player's uniform (and certain variations of those colors); and any additional colors designated by the player's club. In other words, the cleat color palette has been expanded considerably.
And in an arrangement similar to the sport's bat program, footwear supplier regulations will be established, setting the terms and processes by which shoe manufacturers may provide shoes to players to be worn during games, along with a requirement that proposed shoe designs be submitted to the players' club for advance approval.
"Players welcome the expanded opportunity to express themselves and engage with fans through innovative design," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said. "We look forward to seeing their creativity and individuality on the field in 2019."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.