Monday is Memorial Day — the day when we remember and mourn fallen military members. As most of you know, I’ve been critical of the way Major League Baseball has handled this holiday in recent years, for reasons that I won’t belabor here. (I’ve also given MLB credit for having a better approach to the holiday this year.)
I’m not the only one who has had issues with MLB’s treatment of this holiday. One of MLB’s most prominent Memorial Day critics is a man named Nick Francona, who has repeatedly questioned MLB’s handling of camouflage uniforms and merchandise. His thoughts on the intersection of MLB and Memorial Day are particularly notable because of two prominent entries on his résumé: He has served in the Marines and he has worked in the front offices of several MLB teams, all of which gives him more insight, perspective, and moral authority on this topic than the average observer.
Francona, who is the son of Cleveland manager Terry Francona, no longer works in baseball. His most recent MLB gig — assistant director of player development for the Mets — ended last summer. He says he was let go because of his criticisms of MLB’s handling of Memorial Day. MLB has said there’s no truth to that; the Mets have simply said they wish him well.
I’ve been aware of Francona and his thoughts about Memorial Day but had never communicated with him until last week, when he commented on something I had tweeted. With MLB teams having just worn camouflage for Armed Forces Day, and with Memorial Day right around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to pick his brain. We spoke on the phone earlier this week. What follows is an edited and slightly condensed transcript of our conversation.
Uni Watch: First, please tell me a bit about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you currently do for a living?
Nick Francona [shown at right; click to enlarge]: I’m 33. I live in New York now, moving to Boston soon. And I’m waiting to hear from some grad schools.
UW: I know you were in the Marines. When did you serve, and in what capacity?
NF: From early 2009 to 2012, I was an officer. My MOS — that’s military occupational specialty — was ground intelligence officer, and my role was scout sniper platoon commander.
UW: Where did you serve?
NF: I was stationed in California, and then I did a deployment to Afghanistan.
UW: I’m sorry to ask such a sensitive question, but did you personally serve alongside anyone who died in combat?
NF: The battalion I was in — 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines — lost five Marines during the deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. No need to apologize for asking. It’s the reality of it.
UW: I know you’ve also worked for several MLB teams. Which teams were they, and what did you do for them?
NF: I was coordinator of major league player information for the Angels, and then I was the assistant director of player development for the Dodgers and the Mets.
UW: I know you’ve had concerns with how MLB distibutes the proceeds from sales of Memorial Day apparel. Could you please summarize those concerns for me?
NF: Before getting to the proceeds and the financial aspect, I want to step back a bit. Memorial Day should be a dignified way to honor those who’ve fallen during service to our country. And I think any reasonable observer would say that that’s not even remotely close to what’s been happening with Major League Baseball.
UW: How do you mean?
NF: If you go back and look at it through the recent years, the one consistent theme is that it’s a commercial campaign to sell apparel. I don’t see how anyone could look at this and say, “MLB is honoring the fallen by pushing camouflage hats on people.” It’s just not the case.
UW: But they would probably say — and this brings us back to the financial aspect — that they’re donatiing their profits to military charities and so forth. But I gather that that’s what you’ve been taking issue with, either in terms of their transparency or their follow-through.
NF: Right. But making a charitable donation and coming up with a dignified campaign don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I think a lot of people started looking at all this with a little more skepticism after Brandon McCarthy [MLB pitcher who was then with the Dodgers, now with the Rangers] sent out that tweet a couple of years ago.
generations of soldiers died protecting our country and its freedoms- don't forget to buy an official baseball hat to say thank you
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) May 29, 2017
I had actually put together a document that proposed how MLB could do this the right way. I highlighted a lot of the issues where we were totally missing the boat with it. Like, just for one example, the Dodgers sent out photos of players in their Memorial Day hats, and it said, “Fresh,” with a fire emoji.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) May 27, 2017
It’s like, really? That is so tone-deaf. I mean, that is just patently offensive, to suggest that that’s even approaching anything like a dignified way to memorialize people. And now it’s not just camouflage caps and jerseys — you have the camouflage eye black, the cleats, the socks, the arm sleeves. It’s turning into dress-up at Halloween. And what you don’t see, through any of this, is any acknowledgment of “This is so-and-so who died. This is their name and their story.” These are real people who died, they have families left behind. And when you actually talk to the families, they care about their lost loved ones’ stories and keeping their names alive. They don’t care about camouflage.
And it’s not just the camo itself — it’s how it’s presented. When you have to really dig and find the fine print that says they’re donating the proceeds — and even then, the fine print is basically “Take our word for it, we’re donating to charity” — that’s problematic. Nobody would look at that and say it looks like a benevolent charitable campaign.
UW: Do you have similar concerns about the proceeds of sales from MLB’s Independence Day merchandise, which have also been targeted for military charities, or just Memorial Day?
NF: There are a lot of overlapping concerns there, but I’ve focused more on Memorial Day.
UW: Let’s talk more about how the proceeds from the camouflage merchandise are handled. MLB says it donates its profits from this apparel, but of course they’re not the only ones profiting. Let’s say, for example, that Lids is selling a camouflage Yankees cap from Armed Forces Day for $40. Now, their web page for that item says — and this is the fine print you were referring to — “Major League Baseball will donate its licensed royalties from the sales of such items to MLB Charities to support programs for service members, veterans and military families.” Do you happen to know roughly how much of that $40 retail price goes to Lids, how much goes to New Era, how much goes to the Yankees, and how much goes to Major League Baseball as a royalty? Because only that last part, the royalty, would be targeted for charity, while the rest would still be taken as profit by the other participants in the supply chain, right?
NF: You have hit the nail on the head, and that is the issue I’ve asked about very specifically. I mean, that’s a very simple question: How much of this is going to charity? MLB has refused to answer that question, and so I couldn’t give an answer to Gold Star families who wanted to know. It’s embarrassing that they refuse to provide that information.
UW: So there’s no transparency there about how they slice up the pie.
NF: Exactly. And if you look, even the language of the fine print has changed.
UW: Right, it used to say “net proceeds,” and before that it said, “a portion of the proceeds.”
NF: This is the first year they’ve mentioned “royalties.” They’re very lawyerly about it, but they won’t even say how much the royalty is. And I am positive that they are making money off of this directly, because MLB also serves as a retailer in various shapes and forms. Plus there’s an enormous economic advantage to having your partners profit, whether through volume discounts or whatever. There’s economic value there. But there’s no transparency.
UW: Let’s assume that the designated royalties do indeed go to MLB Charities. What do you know about MLB Charities, and how do they, in the words of the fine print, “support programs for service members, veterans and military families”?
NF: That’s a really good question. I do know that they’ve made some donations in the past. How much, and when, and where, is an open question. Which is pretty remarkable, because that’s not usually how charities function. I spent a lot of time trying to research MLB Charities’ paper trail. From the best I can tell, for a while it was being done through the McCormick Foundation, which had a program called Welcome Back Veterans. But when I started digging into it, what I found is that Welcome Back Veterans is basically a phrase and a program, but there’s no entity, no organization, no board — nothing by that name. And I asked MLB, “Who’s in charge of this? Who runs Wecome Back Veterans?” And they had no earthly idea, because there isn’t anyone in charge. It’s not a registered entity — it’s just a tag line.
MLB would ostensibly give this money to McCormick to distribute, but one of the problems is that the McCormick Foundation is so large — they do charitable programs on orders of magnitude larger than MLB — and there’s nothing earmarked as “this is the MLB money.” And I reached out to McCormick on many occasions and never got a response.
And again, these should be easy questions. This is not “gotcha” stuff. If you’re selling a product and saying the profits go to charity, that’s elementary. There’s so much smoke and mirrors behind it.
When I drew up that document to show how they could take a better approach, I thought they’d eagerly embrace it because they were catching hell over the whole thing on social media. And the response was basically, “Stay out of our business.” It was very defensive. And when people would ask questions, it would result in almost this comedy of lawyers and and PR gurus, off-the-record briefings for reporters, all this stuff. Like, guys, this shouldn’t be so hard.
UW: If you could run the program involving MLB’s military-themed apparel and how the funds are channeled to charities and so on, what would you change from the way it’s currently run?
NF: Again, a lot of it is in that document. From an aesthetic standpoint, I’d probably do away with the camo. But most importantly, regardless of the aesthetics of the uniforms or caps or whatever, there would be complete financial transparency.
UW: One issue with charities and nonprofits of any kind, military or otherwise, is that not all charities follow through on their mission statements and not all of them spend their donated funds efficiently. For example, the Wounded Warrior Project sounds like a good organization, but it had a scandal a few years ago regarding lavish spending on parties, which resulted in several of its executives being fired and even led to a Congressional investigation. If a Uni Watch reader doesn’t want to buy a hat but does want to contribute to a military charity, are there any good ones that you can personally vouch for or recommend?
NF: I would encourage people to go a bit deeper than “military charities” in general. There’s a lot of different types of things out there — veterans transitioning to the civilian world, guys that are wounded, stuff for families, stuff for children of people who’ve died in combat. And within each of those categories, there are hundreds of organizations, if not more. So there are lots of areas.
One that I particularly like is the Travis Manion Foundation. The guy it’s named after, Travis Manion, was a Marine lieutenant who was killed in Iraq. And one of the things they do is help veterans participate and play meaningful roles in their communities, and really bridge the gap between the military and civilians. And one thing I love about them is that it’s not limited to veterans — civilians can go join that as well. That gets to the bigger picture of what I think is missing in a lot of this discussion, creating that bridge between the military and society. Like, instead of supporting our troops by buying a hat, how about if we support them by being educated voters on the issues that affect them.
UW: Leaving aside the question of money and charities, I’m curious to know how you, as a former Marine, feel about the use of camouflage sports uniforms as a sort of all-purpose military signifier. One of my readers, a guy named Scott Rogers, recently posted a comment about this on my website. It’s fairly long, but I’d like to read it to you:
I object to the spectacle of teams signaling their patriotic commitment by forcing their athletes to play dress-up in soldier costumes.
American pro athletes can be divided into two categories:
1) Citizens of foreign countries, whose loyalty in the event of a conflict would properly align with their home countries, and so no decent American would seek to force them to pantomime wartime loyalty to the United States; and
2) American citizens who are young; who are spectacularly physically fit; who are highly trained and capable in teamwork and small-unit physical and mental coordination; and who are, mostly, college graduates. That is, they are exactly the people who should be serving in [the armed foces].
But because we do not have compulsory service, these young athletes have chosen not to serve their country. Which is fine; we allow young people to make that choice. But having made that choice, it’s obscene for any of these young Americans to play dress-up in soldier costumes. Want to wear camo uniforms? Want to wear the flag on your sleeve? Great! Go find your local Armed Forces Career Center. If you can play at even a minor-league professional level, you will almost certainly qualify to become an officer in the armed forces of the United States, and you can serve for a short enough term that you’ll still have plenty of years left to pursue professional sports after your discharge.
Any thoughts on that, or on the sports world’s use of camouflage in general?
NF: I would start by saying it’s probably overstating things to say that any professional athlete is automatically qualified to serve in the military, and it probably undersells the officer corps a little bit there too.
But aside from that, there are some really good points there. I’ll start by addressing the foreign players, because that is something that stood out to me from the get-go. I mean, I’m a proud, patriotic American, and that’s why I served, but when I worked in baseball I was always a little uncomfortable with the idea of forcing people from other countries to wear American military camouflage. It’s something I brought up with Major League Baseball. I mean, if someone made me wear another country’s military pattern, that wouldn’t sit well with me, since I’ve worn a real American military uniform.
Anytime this point is brought up, the responses usually devolve into, “They’re making milliions of dollars, they should be grateful” type of thing. Which I don’t think is a particularly useful conversation. I just think there are better ways to go about this, in a way that can meaningful to families. So last year, when I was still with the Mets, there are lots of Dominican players in MLB, and specifically on the Mets. And there’s also a large Dominican-American community in the New York area, and quite a few of them have been killed in combat.
So I matched up players with local families, based on shared commonalities in their backgrounds — where they were from, where they went to school. For example, there was a Dominican individual who was killed, and his family was matched with Amed Rosario. There was a Venezuelan with Wilmer Flores. It’s a lot more organic and personal. And the players, it was very emotional for them, but they loved it. And the families, it meant the world to them — that people who would never have heard their loved ones’ names were now hearing them.
And the players all had these metal Memorial Day bracelets for the people they were honoring. In case you’re not familiar with those, it’s a stamped-metal bracelet that shows the person’s date of death, unit, location, and so on. It’s something very recognizable in the military community. And it was a big success — the families loved it, the players loved it. Everyone wins, eveyone looks good.
UW: In the past, I’ve been critical of MLB for using camouflage uniforms on Memorial Day, because Memorial Day is a day of mourning, not a day to celebrate. This year they’re using remembrance poppy jersey patches instead of camouflage, and they’re not selling any of the Memorial Day uniform merchandise this year, both of which I think are big improvements over their previous practices. What do you think?
NF: It’s definitely a step in the right direction. But to me it’s nakedly transparent that they wouldn’t have made this change if they hadn’t come up with this other holiday, Armed Forces Day, that lets them sell camo stuff. So I don’t think the folks at MLB sat down and said, “How do we appropriately celebrate Memorial Day?” I think it was more like, “How do we sell camouflage hats and get away with it, now that we’ve been criticized for how we handle Memorial Day?”
Obviously, Francona feels very, very strongly about all of this. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to read that set of proposals that he repeatedly referenced. Lots of good ideas in there.
Click to enlarge
Uni Watch media blitz continues: First there was Hal the Hot Dog Guy wearing a Uni Watch cap on TV. Then there was Mets TV broadcaster Gary Cohen mentioning Uni Watch and me on the air. Uni Watch’s unexpected but enjoyable 2019 media tour continued last night, courtesy of Mets radio broadcasters Wayne Randazzo and Howie Rose.
The seeds for last night’s radio shout-out were sown earlier this spring, when I heard Randazzo, who’s a new addition to the radio booth this year, mention some sort of admirably esoteric uni detail on the air (sorry, I don’t recall what it was). I looked him up on Twitter and saw that he was one of my followers, so I sent him a quick DM to introduce myself and compliment him on his uni-centric broadcasting style. He said he was a longtime fan and added, “Let me know if you make it to a game. Would love to say hi.”
As it happens, Phil and I attended last night’s Mets/Nats game, so I arranged for us to meet up with Randazzo before the game. Peach of a guy. After chatting with us for a bit and obligingly joining us for a few photos (that’s Randazzo in the center), he went back to the booth to prepare for the game.
Later on, during the game, I started receiving emails from Uni Watch readers who said Wayne and Howie had mentioned Uni Watch on the air during the bottom of the third inning. When I got home, I listened to the archived audio. Here’s a transcript:
Wayne Randazzo: Got to meet the guys from Uni Watch today — Paul Lukas and Phil Hecken are at the ballpark today, big Mets fans. Big fans of yours, Howie…
Howie Rose [sounding a bit sad to have been left out]: Yeah, I would like to have said hi. Where were they?
Randazzo: Well, they sent me a message earlier tonight that they were over on the other side of the press box.
Rose: Huh. So you’re a uniform kind of fanatic too..?
Randazzo: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why I like to usually tell the uniforms before the game, if we have time.
Rose: I haven’t been to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in many years. But when I was there, one of my favorite exhibits was on uniforms. And certainly the way the lettering and embroidery jumped out, the colors were so much more bold and vivid, I think, on the old flannel uniforms than on the double-knits of today.
Randazzo: You know, baseball history, when you look back and see all the different types of uniforms, some teams have kept their classic look. Obviously the Yankees have generally looked the same. The Mets have too, for the most part, outside of those black jerseys that you like so much.
Rose: [Indistinct shuddering noises.]
Randazzo: But it’s such an important part of the histories of the franchises — the way that they were dressed! It seems very unique to baseball in that way. And Uni Watch, they do just an incredible job covering all the little idiosyncrasies of baseball uniforms, and really all sports as well.
Rose: Just think about it — there’s really nothing like that classic look, and the fans usually respond that way, look at how they’ve implored the Brewers to go back to their traditional look, and the Padres to their brown and gold colors.
Randazzo: It’s a big part of the fabric of the franchise. In Pittsburgh, all the teams have the same colors throughout all the sports there.
At this point, game action took precedence and that was the end of the uni discussion.
It was funny to hear Rose sounding disappointed to have missed out on meeting us. I’ve emailed with him on and off for about a dozen years now (sometimes during games), but my policy when dealing with “famous” people is that I never ask to meet them or tell them that I’m going to be “in the neighborhood.” I figure if they want to meet in person, they’ll say so (like Randazzo did). But I’ve been listening to Rose in various capacities for most of my adult life, and of course I’d love to meet him. Maybe next time I’m at the ballpark.
Meanwhile: Phil and I had a little fun at the ballpark’s New Era shop, and I brought my customary stash of capers (click to enlarge):
Also: Phil had a big surprise waiting for me once we settled into our seats. It has to do with Uni Watch’s 20th anniversary (now just three days away!). More on that soon.
By Alex Hider
Baseball News: Luis Castillo pitched for the Reds in Milwaukee yesterday. Cincinnati wore their road grays, but injured 2B Scooter Gennett donned Castillo’s red No. 58 from the dugout (thanks to all who shared). … The Cardinals accidentally used a Braves logo instead of a Royals logo when publishing their starting lineups yesterday (from Preston Salisbury). … The Yankees have been handing out a WWE-style championship belt to the player of the game (from Keith Seminerio). … Cool promotion by the Astros, who will host a “Touch of History” tour and allow fans to handle historic equipment, like the oldest jersey in franchise history and the jersey Craig Biggio wore during his final game (from Ignacio). … During the regular season, Stephen F. Austin’s road jersey and pants were slightly different shades of grey. But for the first round of the Southland Conference tournament, they wore an old uniform set with matching greys (from Chris Mycoskie). … The Mahoning Valley Scrappers will wear Peppers in Oil uniforms on July 13. … The Florence Freedom of the independent Frontier League have a promotion where one player wears a different jersey than the rest of the team. That jersey is then auctioned off after the game, and the money is donated to a local charity (from Tim Stoops). … The Potomac Nationals will give away a bobblehead of Washington RF Adam Eaton as Mighty Mouse. … The Corpus Christi Hooks will wear Blue Ghosts uniforms on June 21-23. … ESPN announcers had a brief chat about Georgia Tech’s faux buttons during the Yellow Jackets’ game against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament (from Don Schafer). … Mitchell Boe of Iowa has been wearing a double C-flap after suffering an injury earlier this season (from Jesse Gavin). … The ballplayers in the children’s book Goodnight Baseball unfortunately, don’t Get It™️ (from Jeff Wilk). … This piece about Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea talks about how he helped modernize softball by eliminating shorts and introducing baseball-like uniforms (from Alex Parisi). … Per yesterday’s post, Paul noted that he wasn’t familiar with Brooks cleats. For anyone else unaffiliated, here are a few shots (thanks to everyone who sent photos along). … Cubs P Steve Cishek has the name “Manuel Domingos” on his glove. Why? It’s his grandfather’s name. … Here’s a weird one: Wheeling Central Catholic in West Virginia wears white jerseys with grey pants (from Jason Martin). … The Mets now have two Davises on the roster: IF/OF J.D. Davis, who’s been with the team all season, and OF Rajai Davis, who was called up yesterday. Both are just wearing “Davis,” with no first initials (from Sam Brochin). … The Auckland Tuatara of the Australian Baseball League have started work on their new stadium, which will be a dual-purpose rugby/baseball facility. To fit the diamond into the space, they’re removing 6,000 seats and creating a Fenway-inspired “Teal Monster” outfield wall (from Camryn Brown). … Former Phillies P Cole Hamels, who’s now with the Cubs, asked the Phils for one of their David Montgomery memorial patches. It’ll be interesting to see if he tries to wear it on his Cubs jersey. As you may recall, there was a similar situation in 2013, when several Mariners players wore the Angels’ memorial patch for Dr. Lewis Yocum (from Patrick Bourque).
NFL News: Nice observation by Derek Reese, who notes that the logo being used on the Dolphins’ white throwback uniforms isn’t using a true throwback, but rather a hybrid of logos from different eras. … Steelers CB Cameron Sutton wore a helmet visor with a badass graphic yesterday (from Jerry Wolper). … Matthew Jean spotted the Patriots team plane and noted a sixth Lombardi Trophy has been added to the tail. … Hatch Show Print at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville makes hand-pulled letterpress posters for concerts, and they made a series of posters for last month’s NFL Draft (from Dave Landesberg).
Canadian Football News: We were supposed to get a glimpse of New Era’s new CFL uniforms last week, but labor disputes pushed the unveiling back. But the start of training camp has brought about some hints, including the Montreal Alouettes’ and he BC Lions’ new helmets. It also appears the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are re-adding a yellow stripe to their helmet (from Wade Heidt).
Hockey News: New logo for the Bay City (Michigan) Americans of the Interstate Hockey League (from Ryan Keberly). … This designer came up with a royal blue concept for the Sabres’ 50th season (from @walbergLines)
NBA News: Apparently the Raptors were nearly the Toronto Grizzlies — and would have used the same logos as the team that eventually ended up in Vancouver (from Aron Burks). … Shahin Ourian made a set of Lakers concepts.
College Hoops News: Boise State’s basketball arena has a new corporate name. … A vote by Uniswag followers has determined that Pitt’s gold throwbacks are the “Uniform of the Year” in college basketball (from Phil).
Soccer News: It’s kit leak season, meaning we have lots of stuff from Josh Hinton: Atletico Madrid has unveiled their new home uniforms; staying in Spain, here are all the new La Liga kits for 2019-2020; both Arsenal’s new home and away kits have leaked (also from Riles); Newcastle’s home jersey for next season has leaked; Preston North End of the English Championship unveiled their 2019-2020 home uniforms; French club Nantes has released its new home jersey for next season; Peru and Ecuador have released their jerseys for the upcoming Copa America (also from Ed Zelaski). … Real Betis of La Liga unveiled their new home uniforms (from Ed Zelaski). … Sporting KC will wear new warmup tops for Pride Night on May 29 (from @jason3thousand). … New Copa America kits for Bolivia. … “D.C. United played Spanish team Real Betis in a friendly,” says our own Jamie Rathjen. “DCU wore a mix of NOB and NNOB, with players who normally play for DCU wearing NOBs and players who normally play for their USL Championship team, Loudoun United, going NNOB. The Betis players were all NNOB.”
Grab Bag: This blog post has a great collection of vintage mid-century airline logos (from Eric Bangeman). … A car lot in Des Moines is using a logo and font inspired by Iowa State (from Brian Madsen). … A winner has been selected in the competition to redesign the logo of New York City’s privately owned public spaces (from James Gilbert). … Couple of cricket items from Phil: This story about the evolution of the Cricket World Cup makes some notes about changes to uniforms; and the Indian team will wear a high-resolution unit under their jerseys. … The West Wing Weekly podcast had a discussion about campaign logos and fonts, featuring the designer of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign logo (from Jason and @tonsoffun57). … Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka is getting her own logo and clothing line from Nike (from Brinke). … Longtime reader Marty Hick’s wife, Holly, is a St. Louis-area teacher. Her principal’s last day on the job was yesterday, and he wore these Uni Watch stirrups that Marty got for him. He even went high-cuffed in the school hallway! … Check out the amazing striped socks (and one missing shoe)! That’s Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Hasley Crawford, who won the gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (from Pro Football Journal and Miles Filbert). … Former racing driver and current Mercedes F1 team head Toto Wolff wore a black armband in remembrance of former driver Niki Lauda, who passed away earlier this week (from Jack Wade). … Several Nike-sponsored female athletes are speaking out about how the company has treated them poorly once they got pregnant (WaPo). … The men’s lifetstyle website InsideHook wrote a profile of Paul to mark Uni Watch’s upcoming 20th anniversary.
Our latest raffle winner is Calvin Lasister, who’s won himself the Uni Watch Trifecta — a cap, a T-shirt, and a membership card. Congrats to him, and major thanks to longtime reader/contributor Eric Bangeman for sponsoring this raffle.