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The delicate calculus of when to buy a player’s jersey

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Your team has acquired a new player. When do you wear their jersey?

2010 Civil Rights Game St. Louis Cardinals v. Cincinnati Reds

For the last week or so, my Twitter has blown up with pics of fans receiving their Nolan Arenado Cardinal jerseys. These are hopeful images, full of joy and anticipation. Good for them.

I would never buy a player’s jersey before they’ve played a game.

That said, I am not here to critique or shame how anyone else chooses to be a fan. Being a fan of a sports team is an inherently irrational act. Jerry Seinfeld famously likened it to “rooting for laundry,” and that’s literally what I’m talking about here. You Cardinal Fan the way you want to Cardinal Fan... but let me walk you through my own perverse calculus for when and how I will wear a piece of laundry with a specific player’s name on it.

The player has to have made a mark as a Cardinal

This is an arbitrary, gut-feel determination, but the player needs to have made their mark in such a way that they will always be remembered as a Cardinal. In general, we’re probably talking about spending 3-5 years in St. Louis, performing at a high level. But there are exceptions.

If a player accomplishes something extremely memorable, I would consider lowering my 3-5 year threshold. The day after Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, David Freese jerseys became permanently viable. Similarly, any player who is part of a World Series team - even just a role player - becomes a solid choice. If I was walking through the stadium and saw a guy wearing a Gerald Laird jersey, I would make eye-contact and give that man a “right-on” nod.

The jersey needs to resonate for all eternity

What I really want to avoid is a jersey that is a good idea today but regrettable soon after. This is an irrational expectation to put on an article of clothing, but it’s deeply ingrained in me.

It probably dates back to the fact that I grew up not especially well-off. A replica jersey - like a Starter NBA jacket - was something I would visit at the mall almost like it was a religious shrine. If I ever wanted to acquire such a holy item for myself, it was going to require months of planning, saving up paper route money, and abstaining from other spending temptations.

The last thing I wanted to do was to devote months of my life to acquiring that jersey only to have the guy traded a week later. I was going to be stuck wearing that thing until it disintegrated into dust.

What I really want to avoid is a Kosuke Fukudome situation. Remember him? Full disclosure: I had to Google “Cubs Japanese outfielder” because I couldn’t remember his name. That’s surprising, because when the Cubs acquired him in 2008, approximately 99 out of every 100 Cubs fans bought a Fukudome jersey. They were ubiquitous around here.

But of course, Fukudome’s 3.5 years in Chicago peaked on the low end of league average, and Cubs fans throughout the midwest were stuck with jerseys which read “hooray, we got a Japanese guy” on the back.

The jinx

A related part of this calculus is the fear of causing a jinx. If you buy a player’s jersey and that player begins to stink, it is your fault. The universe has spited you for your hubris.

This is the irrational but deeply held belief that keeps me from coming in hot on a new acquisition like Arenado. Even if a player was great before, there’s no guarantee they will be great here.

Think about all of the Tino Martinez or Troy Glaus jerseys. I love Dex as a person, but I’m glad I don’t have a Fowler jersey hanging in the closet. Those were all very good players acquired in hopes that they would become the kind of Cardinals you would proudly sport a jersey for, but things don’t always work out.

Sometimes a marriage ends and both parties eventually move on without too many hard feelings. But they’re probably glad they don’t have to go to ballgames wearing a t-shirt with their Ex’s name on it.

The faux-back

I enjoy when the team wears throwback jerseys a few times a year. However, buying a historic jersey with a modern players name can be tough to pull off. Likewise, a Musial jersey with the Nike swoosh on it is a bit of a non sequitur.

I was once at a game and saw a guy wearing a 1942 replica jersey with Grichuk on the back. How often do you think he busts that one out these days?

The LOL jersey

What if you buy a jersey as a joke, to be ironic or obnoxious? I’ve certainly seen this pulled off, but it’s a real tightrope walk.

One angle is the jersey for the extremely fringe player - especially one with an outsized character. You could maybe pull off something like a Steve Kline jersey along these lines. But these inside jokes can easily be misinterpreted as well. Maybe that’s just Jeremy Hazelbaker’s cousin, or - more often - maybe that guy picked that jersey up in the discount bin.

The same holds true for any kind of non-player customized jersey. Is your joke actually funny, and will it be funny for long enough to justify dropping the high cost of a custom jersey? Think about all the D-bags who walked around with Pujols jerseys where they made the 5 into a $. Do you really want to risk being that guy?

The shirsey exception

You can get away with a lot more on a t-shirt jersey than you can on a replica. Want to commemorate some random player or make a joke that will only be funny this weekend? Go for it - it’s just a t-shirt.

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Again, these are simply my own personal rules for replica jerseys. What are your rules?