I’m sitting on my couch watching the first Nats game of Players’ Weekend. Anthony Rendon has his hair, which is similar in texture to mine, combed out, and he’s wearing two different color high socks. I am delighted. The fact that we’re losing 1-0 at the moment of this writing to the (LOL) Mets is less delightful, but that’s baseball, and if it weren’t an emotional sine wave between the peak of delight and the trough of disappointment … well, it’d be a different sport altogether.
Players’ Weekend is fun, the kind of officially endorsed fun rarely seen in a sport that seems to sometimes have a fun deficiency. Bright colors and goofy nicknames, all meant to harken back to Little League games. Players get paid millions to play a kids’ game, as they’re fond of saying, and it’s nice that the sport, for once, seems to agree.
But the weekend is meant to evoke a very specific type of memory for a fairly specific type of kid - and adult. Namely, male ones. I get MLBShop emails to about three different email addresses, so I was pretty excited to open this one to buy a player’s jersey.
The thing is: I have a lot of merch. I have, conservatively, a shirsey problem. I use shirseys the way that geologists use stratigraphic layers, a means of reconstructing Nats’ history done in red and blue layers on top of my dresser. (Excepting the framed signed-by-Drew-Storen Tyler Clippard shirsey that’s hanging, no joke, next to my wedding picture.) With few exceptions, these shirseys are Youth cuts, because my desire to spend my money outpaces the Nats slim-but-growing assortment of shirts in a Women’s cut. It’s fine. Ish.
But I was legitimately waiting to buy a player’s Player’s Weekend jersey. I had visions of Koda Glover’s ‘Bear’ jersey, or Michael A. Taylor’s ‘Mikey T’ jersey, or any of a dozen possible jersey options. I assumed there would be some fraction of the men’s offerings, but at the very least I could get a Rendon jersey because, like Trea, Anthony Is My Favorite Player.
But there weren’t any in Women’s. None. Zero. Which the MLB promised to have by the time the jerseys rolled out.
As problems go, the MLB’s tenuous relationship with offering women’s merch is about the level of realizing you have dental floss stuck between your back teeth during a job interview. Not the end of the world, but pretty freaking annoying and, once you realize it’s there, you can’t un-realize it.
For the Nationals, there are only two women’s shirseys - Harper and Scherzer - but two kids’ jerseys (Harper, who is, fittingly, ‘Big Kid;’ and Trea, who sources tell me can legally drink), as well as a kid’s Scherzer T-shirt.
Women get told that we’re not a market, that merch beyond a limited selection won’t sell … and yet we’re not marketed to. We have to get our jerseys customed because we can’t get jerseys with our favorite players on them that fit. I have a women’s blue patriotic series Rendon jersey that was obtained through mumble mumble mumble, because it is literally not a thing I could get otherwise.
And yeah, the fact that there are zero women’s offerings for either Rendon (who has the third best WAR in baseball among position players, because I do go to Fangraphs, bro), or Gio, who’s in the Cy Young conversation, is basically the Nats saying they don’t want my money. Also, it’s not like they’re unmarketable players, or terrible face-wise. Surely, let us have the pleasure of a women’s jersey that says ‘Ant’ on the back because, as I drunkenly shouted at the Ant-Man movie: The useful ants are female.
Moreover, there are only white players as options for women’s T-shirts and kids’ jerseys. Trea’s been out with his wrist for a while, but he and Michael A. haven’t put up dissimilar numbers this season. Trea’s hitting .279 with a 91 OPS+, and Mikey is at .263 with a 97 OPS+. They both tend to make spectacular, gif-worthy plays; they’re both young, likeable guys who the team should be invested in marketing. But one has a shirt and one doesn’t. This is a team in DC that decided that only adult men can buy a non-white players’ merch. Considering their fanbase, that is, at the very least, a gross marketing oversight.
We had the opportunity to talk with members of the DC Force, which is the DC girls’ baseball team, on the last podcast: These are girls who love the game, who should be the future of the game, who should get to rep their favorite players just as much as their male counterparts. But all the nostalgia that Players’ weekend is meant to evoke is not for them - or for me, it seems.
MLB is clearly trying to grow the game among young women. It has to: The fanbase is old and getting older. The League hyped the Trailblazer series. It worked with Pitch (even if the show itself erred on the side of explaining the Show to Ginny, who would, you know, understand the trade deadline). They want young women’s eyes on the game - and the dollars that accompany those eyes. So give us something to spend it on.