CHICAGO — When he managed the Red Sox, Terry Francona’s only rule when it came to a dress code on road trips was that a player shouldn’t look any worse than he did.
A few of the players would wear suits — Jonathan Papelbon was a snazzy dresser, believe it or not — but most of the guys wore pants and a decent shirt. There were plenty of jeans, cowboy boots and untucked shirts.
It was generally the same last season under Bobby Valentine. The Sox weren’t sloppy by any means. But it was fairly rare to see a suit on the road.
That has changed this season. John Farrell changed the dress code to require a jacket but not necessarily a tie. Then a few of the older players got together and decided that the Sox should step it up beyond that.
Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Jon Lester now dress like hedge fund managers on road trips. Ryan Dempster has custom-made suits he gets in Montreal. Jonny Gomes cleans up real nice in suits that would work in any boardroom. Mike Napoli has jackets with distinctive patterns. There are Burberry ties, cuff links and starched collars everywhere you look.
Dustin Pedoia rocks a pocket square these days. Seriously.
“Pretty sick, huh?” he said in Tampa when he slipped on a dark jacket.
“It’s kind of a fun thing,” Lackey said. “Farrell mentioned it spring training but I think it was something we wanted to do anyway.”
On Sunday, as the team left Minnesota, the players were talking a lot about their clothes. It’s not really a competition, but it’s evident the players are taking pride in how they look on the road.
“I think it’s part of being a big leaguer,” Gomes said. “I really do. We’re supposed to be at the top of our profession. We should try and look like it.”
Is that why the Sox are 27-17? Certainly not. If it was that easy, every team would dress up. The Rays have been an excellent for several years now and Joe Maddon has theme road trips where all the players dress in football jerseys or like nerds. That hasn’t affected their play.
But it is yet another sign that the Red Sox are going in the same direction again after several years of discord. If they believe dressing up helps team unity and that team unity leads to playing well on the field, that’s all that really matters.
In the end, it comes down to talent. But if that talent is well-tailored, maybe that’s worth a little something, too.