Michael Rubin Will Never Get The Benefit Of The Doubt With Crummy Sports Apparel

As Opening Day draws near, the new MLB uniforms have remained as dreadful as they looked when they were first introduced. Alarming images of bisected letters or uncannily kerned nameplates come out each day as Nike and Fanatics continue to be roundly roasted for their sloppy, cheap creations. The blame keeps shifting, and strong cases can be made for all three parties here, but one of the chief architects of this failure, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin, would like to defend himself.

Rubin spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last Friday, and while talking about the jerseys, he blamed Nike. “We’ve purely been doing exactly as we’re told—we’ve been told we’ve done everything exactly right—and we’re getting the shit kicked out of ourselves every day right now,” Rubin said. “That’s not fun. Normally when I get beat up, it’s because I actually did something wrong.”

To clarify, Fanatics is in charge of manufacturing the Nike Vapor Premier jerseys, with the specs delivered to them by Nike, designed with input from MLB. Rubin stressed that his company did what they were asked to do. He chalked up the bad press—in his eyes, the uniforms are fine and will eventually be thought of as such—to Nike’s failure to get sufficient approval and feedback from players.

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Sure, Fanatics is doing what it’s told, and it’s not at fault for many of the design issues with the new uniforms. For example, ESPN’s Eduardo Pérez revealed last week that it was MLB that made the call to lower the league logo below the collar to make it more visible, a bad idea upstream from many of the more obvious jersey bugs like smaller nameplates. But Rubin’s argument doesn’t account for all the problems, since they extend beyond design. Also, he runs one of the most widely loathed businesses in sports, a company synonymous with corner-cutting and manufacturing screwups long before this particular uniform fiasco. Of course everyone will assume that Fanatics had a hand in this. If it hadn’t been saddling customers with outré spelling errors and misprints for years, maybe Rubin would have the benefit of the doubt.

Teams are mitigating this sartorial disaster in a few ways during spring training. The San Diego Padres are using their old pants. The Kansas City Royals requested an exemption to change the sizing of their lettering. When the St. Louis Cardinals wore mismatched grey tops and pants, it seemed like maybe they had reverted to year-old pants, but no: The different shades of grey are somehow part of the new getup.

MLB insists that the transparent pants are actually the same, though players are openly skeptical. And why shouldn’t they be? When has the league ever prioritized their best interests? “I feel like we can tell them the sky is blue and they’d figure out a way to tell us it’s not,” Phillies reliever Matt Strahm told Sports Illustrated. He also said that his jersey started to fray after three washes. More from the article:

“The problem is that lawyers and businessmen think us young athletes are stupid,” says Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos. “So they just tell us whatever and they expect us to believe it, and that’s kind of unfortunate, because it’s not that we’re stupid. We just didn’t go to law school and don’t know how to negotiate business deals. That doesn’t mean that we’re not intelligent. We know when we’re being lied to. Just say straight up, ‘Listen, we wanted to save some money here. This is how much we’re saving with this quality of uniform. An old uniform and the old stitching cost us this much, and we’re saving this amount of money.’ And then our next conversation would be, ‘O.K., if you’re saving that much money, where are you putting it into the game?’”

Sports Illustrated

The players union is still paying attention. “I think the information and the experience that guys have on the ground is speaking for itself,” MLBPA head Tony Clark said, in a remarkably meaningless, opaque statement. “And we’re hopeful, at least based on solid public comments at this point, that work is being done to mitigate it being a topic of discussion any longer than necessary.” Clark didn’t specify the nature of that work.

Will anything change before Opening Day? Nike acknowledged that something, in the vaguest possible sense, is being done. “We will continue to work with MLB, the players, and our manufacturing partner to address player uniforms,” the company said in a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer. MLB, Nike, and Fanatics have a little over three weeks to figure out the daunting task of matching a jersey to pants that aren’t diaphanous. Judging by how these masterminds have collaborated so far, they’ll need every day they can get.

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