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Sources: MLB and players negotiating to loosen restrictions on shoes, encourage creative designs

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are discussing changes to the league’s footwear policy that would relax the restrictions on colors and designs players can use on their cleats, sources familiar with the negotiations told Yahoo Sports.

Multiple officials said they are optimistic that the sides will come to an agreement and modernize the types of shoes available in-game to players. After rules were loosened for last year’s successful Players Weekend – which, sources said, is expected to return this season – both sides saw the benefit to a more open policy.

The public censuring of the rules by the Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist and Cleveland Indians’ Mike Clevinger expedited the urgency of the sides to move in a mutually beneficial direction, sources said.

The deal is far from done, as the involvement of two branches of each office – labor relations and business – complicates the talks. One source familiar with the negotiations expects at a minimum the relaxation of rules on shoe color and style, though just how relaxed is unclear.

While the league fears that brands could abuse a blank-slate policy and turn cleats into guerrilla marketing vehicles, it also understands that in its attempts to reach younger fans, shoe culture is a powerful force and a market in which baseball has no stake. Only the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout has a signature shoe with Nike, and his was the first with the company since Ken Griffey Jr.

Ben Zobrist was fined earlier this season by Major League Baseball for his black cleats. (AP)

One potential avenue the sides are considering is to run footwear similar to the bat program, in which certified companies may run designs by the league in the offseason and receive permission. Though the restrictions on bat designs chaff at a number of bat manufacturers, one official said the proposals to loosen the footwear policy would be substantial enough that the change would be noticeable.

As of now, the dozen pages of uniform rules in the league’s collective-bargaining agreement are fairly straightforward. The primary rule of baseball shoes: “At least 51% of the exterior of each Player’s shoes must be the Club’s designated primary shoe color and the portion of the Club’s designated primary shoe color must be evenly distributed throughout the exterior of each shoe.”

Zobrist’s desire to wear PF Flyers throwbacks during day games ran afoul of the 51% rule, and Clevinger’s closetful of bright, artistic shoes with homages to his daughter may have violated an unwritten rule: They were too cool for baseball.

Soon enough, there may be no such thing. MLB understands that modernization is imperative, and allowing players to showcase what makes them unique while making them more relatable would be an easy win for both sides.

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