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Bucs' Morgan still in the stirrup game

| Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nyjer Morgan pulled off his stirrups sitting at his locker and tossed the jet black hoses to a nearby PNC Park clubhouse attendant.

Morgan is one of a handful of major-league players who still wear stirrups, the knee-high socks with no heels or no toes that were once prevalent in the big leagues.

"I've done it ever since I was in college," Morgan said. "Plus, it's the right look, in my eyes."

You can practically count on one hand — or one stirrup-covered foot — the number of major leaguers who wear them, the most notable being 46-year-old Jamie Moyer, Barry Zito and Juan Pierre.

Since the early 1990s, stirrups have virtually disappeared. Nearly all major leaguers wear athletic socks with their pants pulled down to the top of their cleats.

Morgan, batting .323 as the Pirates' every-day leadoff hitter and left fielder, fashions his stirrups over white socks pulled to just below his knee. He started wearing them eight years ago at Walla Walla (Wa.) Junior College, which mandated that players wear stirrups sporting the Warriors' team colors.

"We couldn't wear our pants down," Morgan said. "It was a team rule. Ever since then, I kind of kept going with it."

Morgan certainly brings back memories of old-school baseball players, as he sprints around the bases with his classic look.

Paul Lukas, who writes the Uni Watch column for , said Morgan has "the best lower-leg look in baseball," save for perhaps pitcher Josh Outman of the Oakland A's.

"Outman has a similar look but it's more distinctive because he has the yellow sanitary socks," Lukas said. "It's almost not a fair fight. ....Nyjer has a great look. He has a following from a lot of my readers, who aren't just Pirates fans, who appreciate the look he brings to the game."

Lukas wishes more major leagues wore stirrups. They are commonplace in the minor leagues, but demand is low enough that only one mass production baseball stirrup mill remains, in Conover N.C., with an annual production of about 100,000 pairs.

"To me, that look still says baseball and that's what a baseball player should look like," Lukas said.

Stirrups date back to the early 1900s, when players spiked in the leg purportedly risked blood poisoning if dye from the colored sock seeped into the wound. A sanitary white sock provided protection, while the overlaying stirrup sported the team colors.

Major league baseball has no rules regarding how to wear uniform pants, socks or stirrups. Some players wear their socks high cuffed without stirrups, i.e., Alex Rodriguez, Brad Penny and Jim Thome.

Many minor league teams force their players to wear high cuffed socks or stirrups, which, ironically, is a big reason they have faded in the majors.

"Wearing your pants up becomes thought of as a minor-league thing," Lukas said. "When they reach the big leagues, they say 'No one is telling me to do that anymore.' Your teammates say 'You're in the majors. Where your pants like a big leaguer.' It becomes a peer pressure and resisting authority thing."

Too steep to sit

Much has been made about the empty seats in the high-priced sections of new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field in New York.

The Yankees are charging up to $2,625 for the best seats and the Mets are charging an average of $175 to $495 for top seats.

But when commissioner Bud Selig spoke to a group of Associated Press sports editors on Thursday, he wasn't feeling sorry for the big-market teams. He noted the Yankees are averaging 44,000 per game and the Mets are averaging about 37,000.

"It would be hard if I went to Pittsburgh or somewhere today and tell them, gee, you know, those two New York clubs are really struggling," Selig said.

More than a typo

Selig said Bangor-based Majestic Athletic, the manufacturer of the misspelled Washington "Natinals" jerseys worn by Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman during a game last week, had apologized.

"People make mistakes," Selig said. "That's embarrassing."

Launching pad

The 26 home runs hit at Yankee Stadium are the most ever in the first six games at a new major-league ballpark. The old record was 25 at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium in 1955.

By comparison, there were only nine home runs hit in the first six games at Coors Field, including one by current Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

Great day

For the Phillies, Tuesday was a day general managers dream about. Three of the club's top pitching prospects each pitched and each struck out at least 10 batters. They were Carlos Carrasco (3 ER, 10K, 1 BB) in Triple-A and Kyle Drabek (ER, 10 K, 2 BB) and Jason Knapp (0 ER, 14Ks, 1 BB) in Class A, high and low, respectively. Drabek is the son of 1990 Pirates Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek.

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