Is The Phillies’ Good Luck Charm A Dedication To Himbo Culture And Showing Clavicle? [Update]
9:05 AM EDT on October 3, 2023
Nick Castellanos is known for a lot of things. He has zero errors this year. He almost always swings at the first pitch. He hits home runs with perfect comic timing. He believes that Scooby-Doo is a superhero, and when asked last week what he learned during the 2023 season he deadpanned, "Not a damn thing." But perhaps most importantly, he is known for wearing his jersey unbuttoned as low as possible.
In late April, I begged people to pay attention to Nick Castellanos. After finishing last season with truly abysmal fielding statistics, he was playing relatively well: making great catches, diving into the grass with abandon, pointing at his son in the stands after fielding a hard double. He was even doing little gags where he pretended to be bad at catching balls, and then revealed that he had it in hand all along. This, I wisely assumed, was a new superpower granted by showing chest.
Castellanos is so well-known for creating a V-neck out of the regulation MLB jersey, that his wife Jess, tweeted on Sept. 22, "I appreciate the enthusiasm and the love—but no more buttons ladies." The next day she followed up, apologizing to all not-ladies who might also be lusting after her husband and added, "Who knows, anything goes for a red October."
While I truly appreciate this generosity from Jess, Nick Castellanos can't unbutton any more buttons. I know this because for months now, I have been questing for forbidden knowledge. I have been researching and reporting and asking questions. Something was amiss with Nick Castellanos's jersey.
I have watched almost every Philadelphia Phillies game this season, and when you watch a team every day, you begin to notice little things. First, Alec Bohm began unbuttoning his top buttons. Then Trea Turner. Then Bryson Stott. Nick Castellanos began tucking in the open flap of his shirt so that his bare chest was much more prominent. They were all becoming sluttier! They were having so much fun.
A few weeks ago, when newly promoted outfielder Johan Rojas began playing center field, someone posted a video of Nick Castellanos unbuttoning the top buttons on Rojas's jersey.
Rojas told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the advice he received from Castellanos was to “loosen up and chill out.” That advice, it seems, was good advice. Rojas got the game-winning hit against the Padres in extra innings last week to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Here is a picture of Rojas after that hit. Please pay careful attention to the buttons:
Cute! I love this!
By comparison, let's look at a picture of Nick Castellanos wearing the same jersey:
While I know it is easy to become distracted, please focus. We are doing investigative journalism right now. From a certain angle, these jerseys look the same. But they are not.
Here's another photo of the same jersey, which we need for evidence:
Now, if you are a normal person, you might think that Castellanos and Rojas are wearing the same jersey. That would be a reasonable but incorrect assumption. The subtle distinction is difficult to see on the pinstripe, but easier on the solid gray jerseys.
So let's look at those, for science. Here is Rojas in the grays:
And here is Castellanos in the grays:
Do you see it? I didn't see it at first either. Please feel free to look closer.
A couple of months ago, a mutual Phillies fan named Julie slid into my DMs and ruined my life by pointing this out to me, and now I must point it out to you.
"As resident Phillies investigative journalist for all the girlies and gays, I have to share a conspiracy theory that I need you to prove," Julie wrote. "While totally innocently and respectfully looking at a photo of Nick Castellanos in the powder blues, I have reason to believe he has sewn down the edge of his shirt buttons to prevent showing off too much skin."
I am honored to be named the resident Phillies Investigative Journalist for all the Girlies and Gays, and I take my role very seriously. So of course, I took Julie's assignment.
You can see what Julie's talking about in the photo above. See how beneath the fourth button, you can see a vague horizontal stich? It's clearer on the powder blue jerseys, which is perhaps why Julie noticed it in the first place.
Please look respectfully and innocently, like Julie:
Look at that crisp sewn line beneath the second button. Very flat.
For comparison here, let's look at Bryce Harper's powder blue jersey:
After further investigation, I found that every Castellanos jersey had a stitch: the red one, the pinstripe one, the gray one, and the white one. But it wasn't just him. Some of the other Phillies had the stitch line too.
Trea Turner does, even when his jersey is buttoned up:
And so does Alec Bohm. Here's a photo where you can see the stitch line really well because his jersey got all dirty:
Of the Phillies starters, almost half of them had that stitching mid-chest. But why? Who was putting this stitch here? And for what purpose? The stitches couldn't be just for the players who enjoy unbuttoning their shirts, because Rojas didn't have one, and Turner, who rarely unbuttons his jersey, did. Someone had to have the answers, and I vowed they would become mine.
My first instinct was that the stitch line was being added to jerseys by some mythical regressive and prudish Phillies equipment manager in order to keep the boys from opening even more buttons. Now, as a fan, you may be wondering why Major League Baseball would want to rob us of bare-chested boys of summer. Sadly, I do not have an answer to such deeply important philosophical questions. But would you be shocked to know MLB does have rules about how much a jersey can flop open?
The collective bargaining agreement sets forth a few very specific rules for how jerseys are to be worn. It says that your sleeves can't be cut or extend below the elbow. They can't be so baggy that the umpire can't see past them. Your jersey cannot "intentionally be untucked" and you cannot crop your jersey so that it cannot be tucked in. Most relevant to my question, though, is the rule: "Jerseys may not be unbuttoned below the bottom of the Club logo."
There is no reason given for this, so the only logical answer to assume is slut-shaming. Why couldn't a baseball player wear his jersey open to the world, proudly displaying a cute little cherry tattoo on his pec as his work uniform is unbuttoned to his surprisingly well groomed navel? What are they worried would happen? That ratings would increase?
The stitch, then, might be meant to keep the jerseys compliant with the CBA. That would make sense. However, it is not consistent across player or teams in the league.
I have also never heard of an instance in which a player was reprimanded or otherwise punished for breaking this rule. Just as proof that the flouting of this rule is not limited to the Phillies, here's Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves, with his jersey unbuttoned beneath the logo:
Great. So now we have settled that players are unbuttoning their jerseys, and that not all of the players unbuttoning their jerseys have a stitch beneath the final button. We also know that this is not some kind of team-instituted requirement to prevent anarchy from jerseys flopping open willy-nilly.
Why do some but not all of the jerseys have this stitch? Could it be as simple as another Fanatics printing flaw? Then every player would have a stitched jersey, or the stitching would be inconsistent. But that hasn't been true. Players wearing a jersey with a stitch, in my research, seemed to wear a jersey with a stitch exclusively. And everyone else, regardless of how deeply they unbutton their jerseys, wore the stitch-less standard model.
Desperate for answers, I reached out to the Philadelphia Phillies. The team discussed my inquiries with the equipment managers and returned with some information that changes everything.
The jerseys with the stitch, they told me, are in fact different jerseys. The Phillies refer to them as "faux-front" jerseys. Faux-front jerseys only have a few functioning buttons at the top, and the rest of the buttons are fake. A faux-front jersey pulls over the head like a soccer jersey.
The Phillies also told me these jerseys are requested by players and custom-made at the factory, and that "five or six" of their players wear them. Intensive visual inspection revealed a total of six Phillies on the active roster wearing faux-front jerseys: Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner, Alec Bohm, Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto, and reliever Jeff Hoffman.
At this point, I reached out to MLB to ask a few background questions about the faux-fronts. The person I connected with was confused. "Can you tell me what you mean by faux-front jerseys? I haven’t heard that term before," he wrote.
I thought he'd never ask! So I proceeded to explain the faux-fronts. I attached this reference image, just in case he needed a visual aid:
Unfortunately, this did not help very much. MLB does not keep data on these jerseys since they are all made on a one-off basis. The only thing he could tell me is that they are only worn by a "handful of players around the league."
When I pushed on this, asking what a handful meant, I was told "fewer than 20."
OK, so now we know that of the almost 800 players on MLB active rosters, less than three percent of them are wearing these jerseys. And something like a full third of them play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
I went back to the Phillies with this information. Why, I wanted to know, was this so popular on this team? If, as I believed, wearing your jersey unbuttoned is a boon to player performance and wearing the faux-front jersey makes it easier to wear the jersey unbuttoned, who figured this out?
The most the Phillies would tell me is that some of the players noticed the faux-fronts when playing in exhibitions abroad, and that the earliest instance of Phillies players wearing them was 2019.
I requested media credentials to go to the clubhouse and ask the players directly about the jerseys, but was denied access by both the Phillies and the Mets (who I contacted when the Phillies went to New York) on several occasions. Denied by the powers that be, I was forced to return to images once again.
I scoured Getty Images for other players who might be wearing a faux-front jersey. I looked at thousands of images, watched dozens of games, and found only one player not on the Phillies: Nathaniel Lowe of the Texas Rangers.
I reached out to the Rangers, and to Lowe's agent. Neither responded. I called Nick Castellanos's and Trea Turner's and Alec Bohm's agents. I slid into their Instagram DMs. I slid into Castellanos's wife's Instagram DMs. I was a haunted woman, but no one wanted to explain to me the whole deal with these jerseys. That, or they just didn't think this line of inquiry worthy of their time.
I began to look at old photos again (for work). No amount of credential denials or refusals for comment would stop me. Because I knew something else about the Phillies. Let us consider the case of Trea Turner. Here is Turner's jersey last year in Los Angeles:
And here he is this year, in the faux-front:
Something or someone is converting new Phillies to the faux-front.
It's entirely possible the Phillies have accidentally collected a third of the players in MLB who enjoy the chest-bearing freedom and lazy-boy comforts of the faux-front jerseys. But it doesn't seem likely. What seems more likely is that players are slowly being indoctrinated while on this team. Bohm didn't wear a faux-front last year. That changed this season.
But when did this all start? I could not find any MLB players wearing the faux-front jerseys before the 2019 season. In 2018, when Castellanos played for Detroit, he wore a regular jersey. Please direct your eyes to the image below in the name of rigorous investigative journalism:
Castellanos did not begin wearing the faux-front until he was traded to the Cubs in 2019. The earliest evidence I could find of him wearing it is late August 2019.
But another player on that team was already wearing them. Kyle Schwarber began wearing the "false front" (according to my Getty Images research) on April 13, 2019. Here is evidence:
He was the only player on the Cubs that I could find wearing a faux-front that early. Briefly, I had to consider the possibility that Schwarber had been the instigator of the faux-front jersey in the clubhouse. While it's possible he revealed this option to Castellanos, there's one player in all of MLB who I could find wearing the faux-front jersey on opening day of 2019.
And that player is the Phillies' currently injured first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Here is a photo from the second game of 2019, where you can clearly see the telltale stitching:
The Phillies had told me that "some of our players noticed the faux-front jerseys when playing in some exhibitions abroad." While that certainly could be the case for someone like Turner, who played in the World Baseball Classic, that doesn't apply to Hoskins, who appears to be the first player on the Phillies to sport one and possibly one of the first players in the league.
Without being able to ask any members of the Philadelphia clubhouse, it's impossible to know whether the faux-front jersey is the remnant of hot boy summer or a simple matter of comfort. It is just as likely the himbo ascendancy is upon us and we have no choice but to drink in all of its glory. With the first wild card game tonight, I'm choosing to believe it's a good-luck charm. I'll certainly be watching.
Update (1:54 p.m. ET): Jess Castellanos said that Jason Heyward (who played for the Cubs in 2019) told Nick about the jerseys. The earliest photos of Jason Heyward wearing a faux front jersey is from June 3, 2019.
If you see more players wearing faux-front jerseys, or have any information about why these jerseys began being offered in Major League Baseball, first, take a photo, and then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.