Every March, baseball fans cheer on their favorite leprechauns in the infield and outfield, as a number of Major League Baseball (MLB) teams embrace the traditional "wearing o' the green" for St. Patrick's Day. This game has become a great niche marketing opportunity as the sports franchises sell a wide array of green T-shirts, jerseys and caps at the game, as well as at retail stores and online.
In 1978, the idea to wear specially designed green uniforms appeared to come out of the blue to Cincinnati Reds' general manager Dick Wagner. He surprised everyone, including management and players on the team, when he ordered custom emerald green uniforms, caps and catcher's gear for a spring training game on March 17. No one had any idea he had done this until game day, when green uniforms were hung on each of the player's lockers. From head to toe, any part of the uniform that was traditionally red was green in that game.
It was a publicity stunt that caught on; for the past 35 years, a number of other teams have gone green for St. Patrick's Day. According to a spokesman for the MLB, 10 teams wore green this year. Some kept it simple with green caps or batting gloves. Some, like the Mets, wore green jerseys and hats, and even used shamrock bases on the field. The Cincinnati Reds debuted this year's jersey at a fan event in December.
The Boston Red Sox, home of the Green Monster, have been wearing green hats since 1990 on St. Patrick's Day. They started wearing green jerseys in 2004, when they hosted the Cleveland Indians at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, FL. Majestic Athletic designed the green jerseys, which have become a popular St. Patrick's Day tradition for fans of Boston, well known for its strong Irish heritage.
The Detroit Tigers, hailing from another city steeped in Irish tradition, had the team bat boy dress as a leprechaun in its 2012 game. And the Philadelphia Phillies team mascot, the Philly Phanatic, has dressed up like a leprechaun and danced the Irish jig for the fans in Clearwater, FL. Some teams auction off their players' green uniforms and donate the proceeds to charity. The Boston Red Sox auctioned some of the players' jerseys after this year's game and donated the proceeds to the Red Sox Foundation.
Over the years, these uniforms have brought in plenty of green – the holiday has become a golden merchandising opportunity for fans to snap-up an array of team spirit wear. There was an assortment of green Reds' products to support St. Patrick's Day, when the Reds took on the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Field in Arizona, said Reds' vice president of event services and merchandising, Lauren Werner. "We had headwear, T-shirts and the Reds' St. Patrick's Day authentic batting practice jerseys – just like what the players wore on the field – available for sale," she said.
The Red Sox had green jerseys and hats for sale at their spring training facility in Fort Myers and in stores. "Green St. Paddy's Day items always sell," said a spokesman. Dick Wagner's St. Patrick's Day surprise has spread beyond baseball, spilling over into the NBA and NHL.