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The big board that determines minor leaguers’ numbers

A conversation with Buffalo Bisons clubhouse manager Scott Lesher about major league pants, minor league nameplates and numbers

The big board of uniform numbers, its jersey size, and its current owner in Scott Lesher’s storage room.
Minor Leaguer

Last week I went down to Buffalo to speak to Bisons clubhouse manager Scott Lesher about his role in getting the right type of baseballs to Toronto Blue Jays pitchers rehabbing in the minors. A big part of his job is to make sure that the players’ uniforms look good when they take the field and so I spoke with him to learn more about how minor league teams handle the uniforms.

The Pants

The Bisons typically wear plain white or grey pants, so it is usually easy to spot rehabbing big leaguers because they would be the ones on the field wearing pants with the blue-white-blue piping down the side.

“The major league guys’ pants are fitted better than people’s wedding suits, you know?” Lesher asked rhetorically. “They are just comfortable for the guys to be in. Ever since I’ve done this [job] major leaguers will wear our jerseys, our hats, but pants and helmets they’ll wear their own.”

The pants are so important to the players that they will carry them all over their rehab stints and will even have a sewing kit with them so they can make their own repairs in the clubhouse.

The Nameplate

While many minor league uniforms don’t feature the player’s name on the back, Bisons players enjoy the privilege of personalized jerseys. But they are not done exactly the way the big league team does it: instead of directly stitching the letters on the back, the letters are ironed onto a nameplate which is then affixed onto the jersey top.

The nameplate method is more cost-efficient and allows the Bisons to re-use jerseys by simply swapping nameplates. (Occasionally, when a minor league player retires, he can ask to keep a set of his final uniforms.)

To further save money, common nameplates like HERNANDEZ and JOHNSON are placed in storage for future reuse. That’s why the Bisons generally don’t use first initials when they have multiple players with the same surname as demonstrated in the Four Smiths photo taken by former Bisons (and now Blue Jays) trainer Voon Chong. (Also, notice that the rehabbing Joe Smith, the one wearing #40, is wearing major league pants, with the MLB logo on the waist and the Blue Jays striping on the leg.)

At the beginning of the season, Lesher orders nameplates for all the players on the Bisons roster, as well as the ones in the majors and in double-A that has a chance of being in triple-A at some point. However, an unexpected transaction may mean that he would have to work quickly.

“The other day we had Alberto Mineo come up from Dunedin right before a day game and I emailed [local uniform supplier Adpro] at 6:15 in the morning and by 9:00 they had made the name plate from scratch. I leave our jerseys over there except for the handful of blanks we have for emergencies.”

And those emergencies do happen when players are added to the roster while the team is on the road, so sometimes you can see Bisons players in uniform with just the number on the back. Still, Lesher tries his best to send the player a personalized jersey by overnight UPS if needed as he did for Shawn Morimando and Gunnar Heidt a couple of weeks ago.

The Number

Below the nameplate is the player’s number, something that some players really pay attention to, even in triple-A.

Down in minor league camp in spring training, the numbers are assigned based on the players’ preference and by seniority. The rest of the numbers (save the three that are retired by the Bisons) are then attached to a particular jersey size, so in most cases for the remainder of the year, Lesher just looks on his big board and assigns numbers to new players based on their height and weight.

When asked how he handles complaints, Lesher said “I always tell the guys: ‘you’re not going to want to be around here very long, so don’t worry about your number.’”

Of course, sometimes special players require special treatment. This year, #27 was initially attached to a large jersey, and that’s what Danny Barnes wore during his rehab stint in July. However, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was called up, it was a no-brainer to make brand-new XL jerseys with #27 on the back. When Barnes recently returned to Buffalo on an optional assignment, he was given #57 instead.

I have a feeling that Vladdy Jr.’s jerseys won’t be re-used by another player but would instead be preserved for future generations to see in a museum somewhere.