A while ago I engaged in some sharing of my personal life, insofar as that personal life involved the Jason Kendall jersey in the back of my closet. I’d like to continue that discussion in a direction that contains fewer Jason Kendall references toward a more broad consideration of how, exactly, the jersey relates to the fan experience. I’ll predicate the conversation with two unassailable tenets:
- 1. Fans who remain fans during the lean years are truer, better, and are ethically superior to bandwagon fans.
- 2. Clothes make the man/woman.
Given that most of us lack the disposable income to purchase more than a couple of jerseys, it’s easy to understand why fans want to play it safe. However, the jersey is an instantly identifiable opportunity to not only express individuality, but to dictate the extent of one’s fandom. Carson touched on this concept in his recent essay on sabermetrics as hipsterism, presenting the hipster as cultural vanguard. In this scenario, however, we are less interested in predicting and promoting what will be valuable in the future, but instead grounding our fandom in historical perspective. The ironic jersey eschews popularity, instead celebrating the aspects of a team that a mere few would understand and appreciate. It encapsulates the entirety of a franchise, the elation and the suffering, in a single terse word.
Today, we’ll begin our foray into fabric and collective sporting identity with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Candidates are presented below; opinions and intolerable snubs are welcome in the comments.
1998: Andy Benes
Benes gets an automatic bonus for starting the inaugural game in franchise history, and had a fine season to boot. He also paved the way toward the franchise philosophy of ignoring age in the rotation and instead stocking it with older, strike-throwing arms. Also, bonus points for wearing this jersey if people describe your eyebrows as “intense”.
1999: Travis Lee
Lee wore four jerseys, and he’s pretty ironic in any of them. But it’s the desert pinstripes that Lee suits best, where he dutifully filled the role of Inevitably Disappointing Young Face of the Expansion Franchise alongside such luminaries as David Neid, Nigel Wilson, and Kevin Stocker (note: by default). Loses points because the Diamondbacks didn’t wallow in misery after their future star avoided stardom, going to the playoffs in ’99 despite Lee’s below-replacement performance.
2002: Erubiel Durazo
The ultimate indictment on popularity: Durazo spent years as one of the hottest trading chips around, accumulating a .918 OPS in four years in Arizona, despite averaging 225 at-bats a season. Billy Beane finally pried him away, calling him “almost my Holy Grail.” The result: the Elmer Dessens era in Arizona officially begins.
2004: Edgar Gonzalez
The 2004 Diamondbacks went 51-111 despite having Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb. This is perhaps due in part to their other three starters: Casey Fossum (4-15, 5.78 FIP), Steve Sparks (3-7, 5.29 FIP), and Edgar Gonzalez (0-9, 7.41 FIP). His ERA (9.32) was even more garish. But 2004 was nothing compared to 2005, when Gonzalez pitched one third of an inning and finished with an ERA of 108.00 and an FIP of 54.03. However, he loses major points by sharing a last name with 2001 Series hero Luis Gonzalez.
2005: Tony Clark
While all the kids talk about Wily Mo Pena these days, you can add to your old-school credibility by recalling Clark, one-time heir to Cecil Fielder in Detroit. At 33, Clark looked washed up and signed on as a “veteran presence” (read: cheap bench filler) for the Diamondbacks in 2005. He responded by posting 3.3 WAR in essentially half a season, including a .952 OPS as a pinch hitter. He also holds the all-time record for most time zones with a home run, including Puerto Rico and Japan.
2008: Adam Dunn
Few jerseys are more fun than busted trade deadline rentals, and few names are more fun right now than the Big Donkey. Dunn came over for a two year rental on Micah Owings, and managed to play exactly replacement-level baseball as the Diamondbacks finished two games back in the NL West. Loses minor points for being too soon: the jersey might lead some fans to think you were a really big Adam Dunn fan three years ago. In two or three years, this one will be gold.