Wait, MLB Threatened to Fine Contreras Over Venezuelan Arm Sleeve?

Major League Bummer. No, I’m not talking about the beleaguered White Sox reliever. Baseball’s front office has peed in the punch bowl yet again, sending threatening letters to players found to be in violation of the league’s uniform code. Listen, I get that some of the various accouterments have become pretty flagrant and have deviated from the players’ respective team color schemes in a big way, but what in the name of Roger Goodell are we doing here?

The big kerfuffle this past weekend had to do with Ben Zobrist’s all-black New Balance and PF Flyers cleats, but he wasn’t the only one who’d been warned about his non-compliant gear. Though it was little more than a footnote in the columns about Zobrist, we learned that Willson Contreras had stopped wearing his Venezuelan-flag arm sleeves after being warned by the league about them.

You’ll be forgiven if you failed to notice the absence of the patriotic paraphernalia, what with WillCo’s offensive explosion over the past few games. And he didn’t put MLB on public blast a la Zobrist, though he’d be forgiven if he chose to do so.

Whether they violate the letter of the uniform code or not, the horses are already out of the barn in these cases. What you permit is what you promote, and MLB had been permitting Contreras to wear those sleeves since at least last July. I can’t recall exactly when he began the practice, but I seem to remember him starting with just one and then donning them on both arms.

That was the case on Sunday, July 23, when Contreras kissed his sleeves as he crossed home plate after hitting a home run against the Cardinals. I remember that distinctly because there was a little misunderstanding about the significance of the gesture, which went far beyond your garden variety dinger pimpage.

Like Zobrist and his black cleats — which are an homage to the game’s past — Contreras wore the sleeves not to be flashy, but as a show of support for his home country and those who are still back there. The timing of MLB’s disciplinary notices is dubious, as is the intent. More than just tone-deaf, these letters are a shot across the players union’s bow.

At a time when the league should be promoting its stars, it is instead focused on nitpicking uniform violations in an effort to gain leverage or exact revenge in the ongoing labor struggle. Fun times, huh?

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