The baseball uniforms for the Tinley Park Bulldogs look a little different this year.
Gone are the names of Major League Baseball teams that accompanied "Bulldogs" on the front of the kids' jerseys.
Major League Baseball has told those who make uniforms for little ballplayers: Drop the big-league names or face a lawsuit.
No White Sox.
No Phillies, Yankees or Reds.
Why? MLB hurled a fastball at the heads of those who make the uniforms for the little ballplayers: Drop the big-league names or face a lawsuit.
For the Bulldogs, that means no more teams named after any pro franchise.
Because the Bulldogs' uniforms didn't feature official major league team logos, neither the league nor its uniform supplier, SportStation of Tinley Park, had paid a licensing fee for the uniforms.
Late last year, SportStation received a letter from MLB, noting that not only the logos but the team names were trademarked. The letter ordered the company to stop producing the uniforms.
"Does a league have a right to name a local team? Baseball is saying no. That's flying in the face of 100 years of tradition," said SportStation owner Dave Glenn, in business 35 years. "I go out of my way to make sure we use town names, so we make it clear this isn't a major league jersey.
"Now we're told we can't even do that. What it boils down to is the interpretation of the trademark."
Sports are big business, and with billions of dollars at stake, organizations such as MLB go to great lengths to protect their trademarks.
Glenn said he'd never used baseball logos on team jerseys he sold, and ended three months of legal wrangling with MLB by signing an agreement stating he'd continue not to do so. In exchange, MLB promised not to sue over the previous use of franchise names.
At the same time, the many leagues Glenn serves had to adjust. It meant the Bulldogs couldn't use, for instance, the word "Phillies" on a Bulldogs jersey.
If they wanted to do so, they would have to buy jerseys from Majestic Athletic, the exclusive apparel licensee of MLB, which would have been more expensive. Those wouldn't say Bulldogs on them unless even more money was spent to imprint the word or the Bulldogs logo.
"That impacts us," said Steve Bowles, president of the 700-player Bulldogs organization. "We can't have a (Major League) team name or logo on the uniform unless we buy it from Majestic. And when we did a cost comparison of what we had versus that, we can't do it for the same price."
Bowles and his board members huddled, looking for alternatives to present to the parents of the players.
"We were going to look at college names, because the licensing (cost) is different," Bowles said. "We looked at names like the Fighting Irish and the Trojans, etc. About a third of the parents really didn't mind the college names."
Few were absolutely thrilled with the idea, either.
And the concept of new names with no association with baseball or college sports didn't get off the ground.
"It was a level of frustration we didn't need putting a season together," Bowles said.
The youth league president's frustration was shared by many parents.
"I was kind of fired up when I heard about it," said Carl Skanberg, who has a son in the program and coaches a team.
Skanberg, who creates intellectual property in the form of a White Sox parody comic he sells to the SouthtownStar, could understand the position of baseball's licensing arm. But given the relative size of the Bulldogs to big-league baseball, he added, "it's pretty strange that it even came to this."
Some organizations have decided to abandon big-league names. Chicago Ridge's Little League organization went to college names. Bloomingdale went to generic colors.
"They're Bloomingdale Red and Bloomingdale Blue, and that's that," Glenn said. "That was their act of defiance."
Professional and college sports teams and leagues generally protect their trademarks vigorously because they're worth billions of dollars.
While MLB doesn't reveal the extent of its merchandise sales, a sporting goods manufacturers group estimated gross sales of official MLB-branded merchandise at $3.1 billion in 2005, the most recent available estimate. Some of that comes in the form of group sales to youth baseball leagues.
Illegal use of the trademarks has declined in recent years, said Howard Smith, MLB's senior vice president of licensing.
"It's never the youth league, primarily," Smith said. "It's always the retailer. When we find out, we go to him and say, 'You can't do that, and you know that.'
"We're sensitive to this matter. Some parents say, 'Baseball is screwing us,' but we've never, ever sent a cease and desist letter to a youth organization. We want our kids wearing our stuff."
Smith noted that MLB has a royalty-free jersey it sells through Majestic, calling it, "nothing fancy. It says Yankees, but no pinstripes." A Web search found Majestic-made MLB-logoed T-shirts starting at $13.99 at www.hitrunscore.com.
According to Ron Anderson, president of the Worth Athletic Association, it cost his league about $25 to dress a player this year, including buying official logoed hats and T-shirt uniform tops from Majestic through a distributor, before printing a sponsor's name and a number on the back.
"There was a minimal increase this year, but we changed the style of jersey from pinstripe to a solid color, and there was more for printing charges," Anderson said. "I've been involved in Worth for nine years, and we've had Majestic the whole time. I played here as a kid, and we did not have that kind of jersey then."
The Bulldogs board decided to put the names of Major League cities on its uniforms and buy an official cap to match. So a kid on the Royals wears a Kansas City Royals cap and his jersey says "Kansas City" next to "Bulldogs." That seems to have worked.
There was an ancillary benefit. It turned out that buying 700 officially licensed Major League Baseball caps was less expensive than custom-producing a similar number of Bulldogs-logoed caps.
"I think everybody's happy we stuck with the traditional names," Bowles said. "It's always, 'Can Joey be on the Cubs? Or the White Sox?' You want the kids to have fun."