They say the clothes make the man, or with regard to Mike Napoli’s jersey, the uniform makes the player. In baseball, there is not much to make of the clothes since everyone wears the same garb: a uniform. Players themselves must make small, seemingly unnoticeable adjustments to their costume, like catholic school students. This year’s signature minor change has nothing to do with the socks or the pants, but the top two buttons of Mike Napoli’s jersey. I believe he wears the jersey unbuttoned because of his solid build, and impressive trunk. Napoli most likely made the decision based on function, not form. I suspect that the two buttons must be undone to give some additional slack, across his broad shoulders and trunk, so he can freely swing and throw.
It could also be an act of superstition. Baseball players are notorious for their rituals to give them an edge. If Napoli does not unbutton those buttons, he might not perform well.
The fad has taken on a life of its own with some of the other players on the Red Sox roster following Napoli’s fashion statement. The others must think it looks cool, or are doing it as a form of bonding. The slimmer players do not need the extra slack of the fabric to make plays and swing for the bleachers, so the function argument goes out the window.
Let’s say I was correct about the role of Napoli’s uniform, or look, aiding his baseball performance, he would not be the first. A few years ago, pitchers across the league began wearing rope-like necklaces to improve their performance. Phiten, the company that makes them, states in the Business Insider blog, that they “help to promote stable energy flow throughout the body.” Baseball players are quite superstitious, but since their use is so widespread these necklaces must have some positive effect. Others have said that it is just the placebo effect. Nomar Garciaparra was known to dress the same way before each game and pull at his batting gloves in the batter’s box. Superstition or function, it is anyone’s guess.
Who cares whether Napoli’s two buttons give him, or the team, a physical or mental edge. Whatever it is, however the Red Sox players are dressing, it seems to be working…for now.