Last summer, during a routine Pittsburgh Pirates-Atlanta Braves midsummer matchup, Pirates commentator Steve Blass spent a portion of the broadcast bemoaning Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.’s chains. After Acuña was hit by a pitch, Blass suggested that “back in the day” he would have been thrown at on purpose for being so iced out. “With a young player just doing all that stuff, and all the jewelry," Blass said. "Back in the day, I'm not saying it's right or wrong..." It was another moment that highlighted the rift between baseball’s old-fogey traditionalists and a younger generation of players trying to bring some much-needed swag to the sometimes-dreary sport. At the time of Blass’s complaints, Acuña was wearing a couple of chains—gold ropes, including one with a cross pendant. A year later, he doesn’t appear to have paid much attention to Blass. During his recent run in the MLB playoffs, the outfielder doubled down on his jewelry, turning his neck into a veritable display case. Acuña is just one of the players embracing the trend of jewelry on the field, and ensuring that baseball’s pandemic-shortened season is also its iciest.
Acuña has his yards of rope and dazzling number 13 pendant, but he’s not alone: the Padres’ Manny Machado wore enough carats on his necklace to feed a family of rabbits, his teammate Fernando Tatis Jr.—never afraid to buck baseball’s tired norms—embraced his rising star, and Mookie Betts pairs his gold chain with a plastic bat-and-ball necklace he received from a fan.
Over the past several years, these chains have become more and more common in the sport. Getting here has been a slow march: current players say they’re following the example of Yankees hall-of-famer Derek Jeter, who wore a black diamond chain tucked into his jersey, or former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, one of the first to purposefully wear his chains outside of his. “When we play sports, this is a show,” Mallex Smith, most recently with the Seattle Mariners, told Bleacher Report. "Wearing a chain is just like a show within the show. You get to give the people something to talk about. If you're doing good and you're shining, it's like, 'Wow, that guy has swag. He's fly.'"
Fashion and style have become more deeply ingrained in the world of sports, particularly in the NBA, but baseball—tradition-minded, slow, grumpy—has lagged behind. But the sport has one unique advantage when it comes to personal style: players have the ability to wear jewelry during the game. Forget Kirk Gibson’s fist pump celebration; how cool does it look to round the bases after a dinger with a tray of jewelry bouncing on a player’s chest? Or when a pitcher like Dodger Brusdar Graterol throws such a heater that his chain breaks in half? That’s power! (It's not all good: a Nationals-Mets game in 2018 turned into a treasure hunt after Yoenis Céspedes’s chain burst while he was sliding into second.)
The MLB couldn’t have asked for a better advertisement for baseball than this current postseason. Both league championship series went to thrilling game 7s, and the chains worn by players on all teams have been out of this world. In the eyes of players like Smith, the jewelry isn’t just a vehicle for what he calls “spizazz,” but an advertisement for the game itself. “Normally, [baseball’s] slow and boring,” Smith said. “I like to think that [the jewelry] could maybe grab the interest of other black young men that may like it and see they're allowed to have a personality in this sport, too.”
Baseball is a constant tug of war between younger players like Tatis and Smith and people who want it to stay the same like Blass; the people rewriting the rules and the ones adhering to its unwritten ones. Chains certainly aren’t going to speed up the game, but jewelry can help define and brand a player the same way outrageous fashion does for those in the NBA. At the very least, it gives viewers something shiny to distract themselves in between pitches, mound visits, and replay reviews.
Originally Appeared on GQ