There are many ways for fans to show their allegiance to their favorite pro sports team. Every team sells clothing, bumper stickers, and key chains. Teams even sell underwear, bar stools, and, my favorite, lawn gnomes, though a word of warning, if you put those three together people will judge you.
The three staples of sports-team-themed apparel, by far, are T-shirts, hats and uniforms. Here's the thing, though: t-shirts and hats are cheap and easy. The biggest commitment a fan can make is buying a uniform. Hats and t-shirts make the offhand statement, that, "Yeah, I guess I support the Banana Slugs or whatever." But a uniform? A uniform yells, "IT'S SLUG TIME!! GO SLUUUUUGS!! SLUG POWER!! BLLEEEARRGH!!!"
Wearing a team's uniform is more than nonverbal screaming at passersby. It's a commitment and a public vow of loyalty. It's like a peacock getting to choose its feathers and picking feathers with a Cubs logo. It's a leap not made by the faint of heart. Nor, for that matter, the faint of wallet. The Houston Astros have the worst record in baseball; an authentic Jason Castro jersey is currently going for $284.99. (Because $285 would be ridiculous.)
So how do you make an important choice like this? What factors are there to consider? Well, madam or sir, you're in luck: This is the official Sports on Earth Guide to Jersey Buying.
First, congratulations. You're about to take a momentous leap into the outer reaches of fandom. Complete strangers are now 36 percent more likely to dislike you intensely prior to introduction. The time has come to pick a team! Likely you've already picked a team, but on the off chance you haven't, allow me to present some ground rules.
Team Picking Ground Rules
Ground Rule 1: Don't choose the Yankees or Red Sox. Unless you're a fan of one of those teams. But even then, don't.
Ground Rule 2: You'll want to pick a team with a long and rich history, like the Yankees or Red Sox.
Ground Rule 3: But seriously. Not the Yankees or Red Sox.
A favorite team is enough information to go with if you're just buying a hat or a t-shirt, but with a uniform you've got to be more specific. You've got to pick a player's name and number (blank uniforms are for the weak and will not be discussed here). Keep in mind, this player's name and number will be on your uniform forever, and you will be associated with their greatness or lack thereof. Pick wisely and once day you'll be able to smugly tell someone at a sports bar, "Yeah, this was Jerkson's number his rookie year." Pick poorly and you'll be mocked mercilessly… or you'll have to buy another jersey.
Players fall into a few categories that you should be aware of. You don't want to be caught off-guard making a statement that you didn't want to make.
1. The Current Star
This is the centerpiece of the team, the undisputed guy, the future Hall of Famer (or at least the future Hall of Nearly Greater) who sets the standard for your team of choice. This would be Derek Jeter or David Ortiz if Yankee or Red Sox jerseys were allowed, but since they aren't, this is Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Joe Mauer.
The Current Star is a safe way to navigate the treacherous waters of jersey purchasing; it clearly states your interest in your team in a non-controversial, serious, and slightly bland way. What's more, the shelf life of this jersey is very long. In 20 years you're not going to be made fun of for wearing a Miguel Cabrera jersey, and nobody is going to say, "Joe Mauer? That dude ate human babies!" because Joe Mauer does not eat human babies. He's too good at baseball and doesn't have the time.
Statement Made: I like this team and/or player!
2. The Hall of Famer
This is a great player from the team's past. This would be Babe Ruth or Ted Williams if Yankee or Red Sox jerseys were allowed, which again, they are not. This is a completely safe choice. The player's career is already over, so there's no chance taken on his production going off a cliff, his getting traded, or worst of all, choosing to sign with another team as a free agent. You can wear this jersey from the time you buy it until you die. You can wear it in your casket.
The downside here is that it doesn't speak to your love of the current team as much as the franchise in general. This can be desirable if your team is, to put it gently, awful -- for example, Cubs fans, you might be better off with an Ernie Banks jersey than trying to force it with a Starlin Castro. But should the Cubs actually win some games in the near future, you're probably going to end up buying a Kris Bryant jersey. So maybe just suck it up and buy one now -- then you can pull the rookie-number-thing at the sports bar in later years.
Statement Made: I like this team and/or player and I have an appreciation for history, but I still listen to music on my 8-track player while sitting on the plastic cover of my reclining chair because I am old.
3. The Indie Hero
This is the part-time player whom all the hardcore fans love. Buying his jersey is a huge statement in support of the current team. It says, "I know this team well. I don't need Joe Star's jersey, that's too obvious -- because I not only know Honker Buttsky is a backup second baseman, I know he's a fan favorite and HONKER! WHOOO!" Every time you wear it to a game people are going to compliment you on it and smile and give you thumbs up and high-five you in beer lines. "Buttsky? Heck yeah!" And if old Honker ever does get a hit with men on base, everyone around you is gonna flip the heck out.
It'll be great for about four months. Then Honker is going to get cut or traded for a stuffed crust pizza or sent back to Triple-A, and you'll be left with a $300 jersey with "Buttsky" on it, the name of a player who kinda sucks and isn't on your team anymore. It will be awesome while it lasts, though.
Statement Made: I'm awesome and/or tremendously sad!
4. The Ironic Goat
This is basically picking the worst moment of your bitterest rival and then putting it on a jersey. This is a Yankees fan in an Aaron Boone jersey, or a Bill Buckner jersey. This is a Cardinals fan in a Bartman jersey. This is mean and nasty and awful, but it wears forever because nobody ever forgets the worst moment in their team's history. You'll be hated for wearing it by fans of your rival, but whatever, they're stupid and smelly and you hate them anyway. On the plus side, this one lasts for as long as you have the guts to wear it.
Statement Made: Hey, screw you, buddy!
5. The Secondary Star/Bit Player
This is less 'inside' than the Indie Hero, but not as obvious as the Current Star. This is Brandon Phillips instead of Joey Votto, Dexter Fowler instead of Troy Tulowitzki. This makes a nice statement about knowing the team, and doesn't carry the dangerous connotations of being a bandwagon fan like the Current Star does. On the downside, this guy isn't as good as the current star.
Statement Made: Go team!
6. The One-Timer
This is kind of the opposite of the Ironic Goat. This is a guy associated with one great moment, maybe the greatest moment, in team history. He's not necessarily a great player on his own, but everyone remembers that one moment he came through. The downside is, he probably wasn't particularly good and/or this guy isn't on the team anymore, so you're not supporting your current team by wearing his jersey. Examples of this kind of player include Luis Gonzalez or Bill Mazeroski.
Statement Made: Remember that thing that happened? Loved it!
7. The Nobody
This is really nothing more than showing off how well you know the current team. The downside is you're associating yourself with a lesser player, one who probably doesn't contribute much. If you're lucky, the team will win something and that will make the jersey worthwhile. But even if that doesn't happen and you now own a 2010 Orioles Ty Wigginton jersey, there is a silver lining. As in popular fashion, jerseys go out of style but then, years later come back into vogue. So The Nobody will play fine in 20 years because, "Hey! Remember that guy?"
Subset: the player has a spectacular name such as Butch Huskey or a very funny name, such as Dick Pole.
Statement Made: I've heard of some guy and you haven't! Unless it's Dick Pole, in which case you probably have.
8. The Your Name
Don't do it. There is no need to resort to this. Okay, maybe you're a Mets fan with the last name of Wright, or you're the rare Rockies fan with the last name Tulowitzki, but probably not. Probably the only thing that putting your name on an official jersey will accomplish is to divest you of your money. Oh, and scorn. You'll get all the free scorn you want.
Statement Made: I'm a nitwit.
Remember, team jerseys are an important part of fandom, or as my wife would say, "Take that thing off, you look stupid." With that all in mind, here is a breakdown of the jersey to buy for each team. There are a few simple rules to follow.
1. When possible, lean towards current players. You're a fan of the current team and your jersey should reflect that.
2. Franchises move, but you can't count players who played for an earlier incarnation of your team. So, Rangers fans, no Walter Johnson jerseys for you.
3. Watch out for pitchers. You never know when their arms will go boom, and then you'll be left with the jersey of a guy on the disabled list who might not be the same when he returns.
4. Always check the contract situation. If the guy is on a long-term deal, you know your jersey is going to stay current longer.
The Pick: Paul Goldschmidt
Why: Goldschmidt is the team's best player, he's young, and he recently signed a long-term deal.
Why Not: Considering who is in charge in Arizona, you have to ask yourself, is Goldschmidt gritty and gutty enough to avoid being traded to Atlanta? Alternately, you could get a Randy Johnson, but that means you're buying a purple vest with "Johnson" on the back.
The Pick: Justin Upton
Why: He's young, he's signed long-term, and he's probably the team's best hitter. Also, every homer he hits can be rubbed in Arizona's face. Fun!
Why Not: He's new to the team, so maybe he doesn't feel like a Brave yet to some people? He will, though. But if you aren't into Upton then Freddie Freeman is acceptable. Not preferred, but acceptable.
The Pick: Manny Machado
Why: He's really, really good at baseball, that's why. Also the triumvirate: young, will be with the organization for a while (five years counts as a while), and as previously mentioned, really really good at baseball.
Why Not: Cal Ripken. Ripken was amazing, and his streak helped restore baseball's reputation following the strike of 1994. Even so, for the first time in a long time it may be time for Orioles fans to embrace the future. Get a Machado.
Boston Red Sox
The Pick: Dustin Pedroia
Why: He's the centerpiece of the organization. He's in his prime now (though you wouldn't know it by looking at his hitting stats over the last few months), and he's going to be in Boston until his career ends and possibly well after that.
Why Not: David Ortiz is amazing… but at his age he may not be around for much longer. Pedroia offers long-term relevancy for your jersey dollar.
Chicago White Sox
The Pick: Chris Sale
Why: He is head, shoulders, torso, waist, and knees above the rest of his teammates. Also, he's young and under team control for years to come.
Why Not: He's a pitcher. Pitchers equal danger! Still, the talent difference between Sale and anyone else is too great to ignore.
The Pick: Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, or Ron Santo
Why: There isn't anyone on the current roster you'd want to attach your name to. Maybe Anthony Rizzo if you believe in his talent, but even so it's far from sure he's the star you'd want on your jersey.
Why Not: Because none of those guys has taken the field in two decades. Maybe just wait a few years until there's someone worth buying on the current team.
The Pick: Joey Votto
Why: Votto is the best player on the Reds, he's signed long term, he likes long walks on the beach, bobbing for apples, and horseback rides through the forest. He's dreamy.
Why Not: You're Jay Bruce's grandmother? Congratulations on your grandson's success!
I'm eschewing the format here because there isn't a definitive choice. I can see arguments for Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, or, should you want to maximize the number of letters you get for your money, Justin Masterson. Of course, his arm could always go off like a firecracker. Bob Feller is the greatest player in franchise history, so you could go that way, or, if you're an organizational guy, how about Terry Francona? He'll likely be around for a while. I don't think there is a wrong answer.
The Picks: Carlos Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki
Why: Two young career-Rockies who are both perennial MVP candidates (when Tulowitzki is healthy). You could nitpick and go Gonzalez because Tulowitzki is a year older, but I hereby declare that to be silly.
Why Not: Todd Helton is an intriguing choice as the Greatest Rockie of All Time and someone who is still on the roster and, technically, contributing to the team. However, he's old and not very good anymore, and likely will retire soon.
The Pick: Miguel Cabrera
Why: M-V-P, M-V-P!
Why Not: Two words: Justin Verlander. But again, beware of pitchers. So Cabrera has to be your guy, unless you like living dangerously.
The Pick: Nolan Ryan
Why: The next great Astros player is not on the Astros yet, or at least has not yet made himself known, so better to go with the last great Astros player.
Why Not: Maybe you hate the old tequila sunrise uniforms, because looking at them is akin to staring directly into the sun and seared eyeballs aren't really your thing. I can relate.
Kansas City Royals
The Pick: Look, maybe just get something distinctive. George Brett was great, but too obvious. Billy Butler is a fine choice, but he's not a superstar. Know what? Get yourself a powder blue Dan Quisenberry. Quisenberry never walked anyone. Ever. He didn't even walk out to the mound. The bullpen car took him to the mound on principle.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The pick: Mike Trout
Why: I don't care what the MVP voters say, Mike Trout is the best player in baseball -- and best of all, he's 22 years old. Your jersey will be current for a long time. This is just sound financial decision-making.
Why Not: Trout isn't signed long-term, so there is a very real danger that he'll sign elsewhere and then you'll be stuck with a jersey that isn't just a reminder of what once was, but of a player who beats your team's face in for the next decade.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Pick: Clayton Kershaw, but he's a pitcher and you know what they say: Here today, still here but not nearly as good tomorrow. Jackie Robinson is a fantastic choice, but Robinson deserves better than to have his name on my back. You could also go with Yasiel Puig, but I'm not sure I'm ready to endorse such a commitment yet. So, Kershaw it is.
Me: Has to be Giancarlo Stanton.
My Brain: But he's going to be traded.
Me: Have you seen their roster?
My Brain: But he's going to be traded.
Me: You're jumping hard on the Jose Fernandez bandwagon then?
My Brain: Stanton is better.
My Brain: But he's going to be traded!
Ryan Braun Jean Segura? Jonathan Lucroy? Pick Khris Davis and claim you got confused? Robin Yount was amazing 30 years ago.
He's still young, he's an MVP, he's Milwaukee's best player. Who else are you going to pick? Literally anyone else. In this case there is no right choice, just a wrong one.
The Pick: Joe Mauer
Why: Mauer is young enough that he'll probably still be there if the front office ever gets things figured out. Also, there's a good shot that he'll play first base more and more, especially given his concussion issues. The last thing the Twins want is another Justin Morneau (although the irony of protecting Mauer by moving him to the position Morneau was injured playing isn't lost on me).
Why Not: You're waiting for Byron Buxton and aren't in a rush.
New York Yankees
There is no name on the Yankees jersey, so depending on the number, you may have more margin for error than you would with most teams. You may want to wait to see if they re-sign Robinson Cano. Or, grab a Mariano Rivera jersey right now while he's still on the active roster. You'll be last on the bandwagon, but he's one of the all-time greats so there's no shame in that -- and it's slightly more interesting than going with Derek Jeter. I will not bring up Alex Rodriguez for obvious reasons.
Suggestion: Rivera. He's also the last player who will ever wear number 42.
New York Mets
[Editor's note: this section of the article was updated on August 27]
Two days ago in this space I flagrantly disregarded my own No Pitchers rule because, and I quote, "MATT HARVEY!" Turns out that logic was less than ironclad, as it was revealed Monday that Harvey has a serious elbow injury and could need Tommy John surgery. Harvey's injury and his possible impending missed season means Mets fans are left with three choices:
1. Damn the torpedoes! Get a Harvey jersey anyway!
2. David Wright. He's good. Very good some seasons. He'll be around for a long time. He likes puppies. He smiles a lot for a career Met. You could do much worse.
3. Take up crocheting.
The choice is clear: MATT HARVEY FOREVER!
Yoenis Cespedes is undoubtedly awesome, but players who can't get their on-base percentages over .300 don't often get to stick around the big leagues for too long, even if they can roast a pig on a spit while doing back flips in their underwear. Josh Donaldson is having quite the season, but is he this good? Maybe! Maybe not! You know what? Never mind. Just get a Rollie Fingers jersey, a case of mustache wax, and be done with it.
Cole Hamels is signed long term like everyone on the team, but unlike most of the other players, he's still pretty good. The guess here is he outlasts the front office and becomes a part of the next relevant Phillies team. Beyond that? The Phillies had jerseys with zippers in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Pick: Andrew McCutchen, though I can see an argument for Sidney Crosby
Why: If you're a Pirates fan and tie yourself to any player but McCutchen, you're trying too hard.
Why Not: Sidney Crosby is amazing, but after having researched this, I feel confident in the following information: A) Crosby doesn't play baseball, B) Crosby does, in fact, play hockey, and C) baseball is not hockey. McCutchen it is!
San Diego Padres
The Pick: Mark Kotsay
Why: Carlos Quentin is probably the Padres best hitter, but he's more of a supporting player than a superstar. Also pieces of his body occasionally fall off. Yasmani Grandal is highly thought of and young but hasn't translated that to success yet. You could be among the first on the bandwagon! Or you could go Kotsay because he's gritty and gutty and made of gritty guts and loves San Diego and you gotta pick someone. The old brown Tony Gwynn pullover from the mid-'80s is probably okay too, but then you might have to wear it.
The Pick: Felix Hernandez
Why: The same reasoning as the Mets pick. There's one guy who is so much better and more relevant than everyone else on his team and he's going to be in that city for a long time, but he's a pitcher and you could very easily get stuck with the jersey of someone with only one working elbow or shoulder, and that's a tough thing to recommend when someone is spending hundreds of dollars. And yet, I'm recommending it.
San Francisco Giants
The Pick: Buster Posey
Why: Posey checks all the boxes in that 'perfect computer checkmark' kind of way. He's amazing, young, amazing, signed long term, amazing, has always been a Giant, and he's amazing!
Why Not: You hate amazing things.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Pick: Matt Carpenter
Why: Just because, okay? Why'd you have to go and ask all these questions?
Why Not: There are better players. Yadier Molina is perhaps the best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez in his prime. Matt Holliday is on the downside of his career but he's been a superstar and chose to go to St. Louis. Adam Wainwright is a perennial Cy Young candidate.
So, Wait, Why again: Carpenter is everything that makes the Cardinals one of the top organizations in baseball. He's a guy nobody thought much of until he got into the Cardinals system. There he transformed into a guy who contributes in every way possible on the field. He literally does everything well. He's not the best player on the team and may never be, but he is the epitome of why the Cardinals are great and why they'll remain great for the foreseeable future.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Pick: Evan Longoria
Why: There are few decisions here that are more obvious. Longoria is the face of the franchise. He's also the throat, nape, shoulder blades, and nipples. In short, you shouldn't start sentences with "in short."
Why Not: It's bad form. But you weren't asking about that. The only reason not to pick Longoria is if Matt Moore's lustrous eyebrows have compelled you to make a different decision. But Longoria offers more certainty.
The Pick: Yu Darvish
Why: Darvish isn't just the best player on the Rangers who is likely to stick around for a long time; he's also an international symbol. That should be a point of pride for Rangers fans and what is a baseball jersey but a chance to show off what you like most about your favorite team?
Toronto Blue Jays
The Pick: Jose Bautista
The temptation might be to go with a good Canadian kid like Brett Lawrie, but let's not kid ourselves. Lawrie is fine, good even, but he's not Jose Bautista. We know this because his name is Brett Lawrie and not Jose Bautista. Bautista has been and will be the guy in Toronto. Jose Reyes is another option, but he's played for other teams and isn't associated with Toronto like Bautista.
The Pick: Bryce Harper
Harper is not signed to a long-term deal and his agent is Scott Boras so he probably won't sign until five seasons from now. But who cares? There is no better player on the Nationals, and in a few years there may not be any better player in baseball. That's the kind of thing you want between your shoulder blades.