MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on uniform issues and Braves’ contract extensions

Tony Clark, Executive Director of MLB Players Association, looks on prior to Game One of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on Oct. 27, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Tony Clark, Executive Director of MLB Players Association, looks on prior to Game One of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on Oct. 27, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/TNS)

NORTH PORT, Fla. – On Sunday morning, Braves players gathered in the clubhouse at CoolToday Park for a meeting with Tony Clark and the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Clark, the MLBPA’s executive director, and Bruce Meyer, the union’s deputy executive director, were part of the crew who made the trip to North Port on their tour throughout every camp in the sport this spring.

These meetings in the clubhouse are designed to help the MLBPA keep an open line of communication with the players it represents. There’s dialogue throughout the entire season, but for one morning in the spring, the union can gather with a team and hear different topics, concerns and viewpoints.

The larger topics discussed are often ones fans are tuned into.

“I don’t know that there’s much that the casual fan hasn’t thought of in regards to the things that resonate the most with players,” Clark told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Sunday’s meeting with the Braves. “A lot of those things have moved to the forefront throughout spring training, and some of them hopefully won’t remain in the forefront because they’ll be remedied in the not-too-distant future, i.e. uniforms. But there’s an opportunity to engage guys on experiences in real time.”

We’ll start with the uniforms, which, for Braves fans, have been a hot topic. Gone is the piping on the beltloops of the team’s pants. The sleeve piping also was shifted down. The Braves’ spring training hats are bright red.

The MLBPA is trying to tackle issues with the uniforms throughout baseball.

“It’s been an ongoing topic of conversation,” Clark said. “It’s one that is disappointing to continue to be having dialogue on, particularly as games start and guys are looking to make teams, and each team and each fanbase is, we’d like to hope, excited about the upcoming season. The uniforms themselves, we’re engaged with the folks that are involved with the hope of making it less of an issue moving forward than it has been to this point. But it’s disappointing that it has garnered the headlines that it has, and we’ve had the issues that we’ve had to this point.”

When Clark said, “the folks that are involved,” does that mean Nike or Fanatics?

“This is far more a Nike thing,” Clark said. “Fanatics has been making jerseys for years. Nike is the one that’s changed the dynamic this year. So there are conversations with all involved, but it’s the Nike piece of the equation where the focus should largely be and why we’re experiencing some of the challenges that are.”

MLB and Nike introduced new jerseys at the beginning of spring training. The uniforms were designed with an emphasis on “improve(d) mobility, moisture management and fit,” according to Nike’s press release. Nike also cited the importance of the uniforms being “breathable” and “lightweight.”

Players and fans have complained – about the color shades, the names and the numbers.

“I used to play, but I’m a fan,” said Clark, who played in the majors for 15 seasons. “And our baseball fans have a long history, in a lot of different ways, particularly as it relates to uniforms, uniform colors, what they look like, even how the uniforms and the names and the numbers are presented. So it’s not a surprise that our fans are seeing what they are seeing.

“The next conversation, we would like to think, would remove a lot of the things that have been in the forefront, whether it is the lettering or the numbering, or even the fit of the uniform. We’re hopeful that if we just turn the page on all those things to where, even if the fabric is different, in this context, that it’s not a fit issue, it’s not a color-scheme issue, it’s not a presentation issue.”

MLBPA view on the Braves’ extensions

In recent years, the Braves’ detractors have made the point that the Braves have taken advantage of players by signing them to below-market contracts. Or that the players signing those extensions don’t have smart and well-intentioned representation.

How does the MLBPA view the long-term extensions the Braves have given out in recent seasons?

“Any time players and their individual representatives are able to take the rights that they have, the rights that they’ve earned and the rights that they’ve fought for and use them in a way that they believe is advantageous to them, that’s why (those rights are) there. That’s why they’re there,” Clark said, reiterating that last point. “And in this instance, each of the players made those determinations – and their individual representation made those decisions – because they felt they were best for them at that time, and they had the right to do that.”

In all of these situations, the Braves have assumed plenty of risk. They are signing players to long-term contracts without knowing what the future holds. As they built a core, they didn’t leave themselves a ton of flexibility of things went awry.

Michael Harris II had only been in the majors for a couple months, Spencer Strider for a year. What if Austin Riley didn’t continue playing like one of the best hitters in the sport? Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL two seasons before winning National League MVP.

The players, on the other hand, have wanted to stay. It’s their choice, as Clark said.

Harris grew up a lifelong Braves fan and wanted to be here. Strider didn’t want to go anywhere else because he wanted to win. Riley could’ve waited and continued building his value, but he was sold on the Braves. Acuña and Ozzie Albies love playing for the organization.

These players are still making life-changing money while also prioritizing their happiness. They want to be in Atlanta. They care about winning.

If they aren’t complaining, should anyone?

The full MLBPA list

This is a list of everyone from the MLBPA who attended Braves camp on Sunday (and some are former players):

Tony Clark (executive director)

Bruce Meyer (deputy executive director)

Kevin Slowey (managing director of player services)

Bobby Bonilla (special assistant of player operations)

Dave Winfield (special advisor to the executive director)

Rick Helling (special assistant)

Steve Rogers (special assistant of player benefits & career development program)

Mike Myers (special assistant of player operations)

Javier Vazquez (international special assistant)

Chris Singleton (special assistant of player resource programs)

Allyne Price (senior manager of events and player services)

Virginia Carballo (senior manager of player operations)

Carlos Barron (director of security)

Silvia Alvarez (acting communications director)