Baseball is a billion dollar industry that depends on the health and safety of its people. How do we increase health, safety, and performance while decreasing the likelihood of injuries? I'm glad you asked. Let's take a look at how footwear systems are engineered. Every footwear system starts with a bare foot, but this foot is attached to a person that has other attributes we need to be studying. I like to start at ground level and work my way up, however you can also start at the top and go down. Initially we need a general impression, or at least I do, YMMV. Custom footwear will begin by taking a mold of someone's feet. A foot is balanced when its weight is distributed over three inferior surfaces; the heel and the dorsal portion of the distal tip of the first and fifth metatarsals (long bones of your feet). A balanced foot is healthier than an unbalanced one, a builder would not knowingly erect a structure on top of an unstable foundation, likewise we want to do everything we can to keep feet balanced as this will impact how they interact with the earth.
Footwear systems should always take individual preferences into account when possible. As you study your baseball player you want to observe how your athlete moves, stands, and speaks to you. If you start at the ground up you want to see their ankles, knees, hips, spine, and neck. Your job is use everything you know about this person to give them an optimal footwear system. Study their hair if they have any. Is it thick, or thin? Coarse, or more fine? Is it curly, or straight? Notice their hairline, is it straight, or do they have an unruly cowlick? Is their forehead tall, or shorter? What shape are their eyebrows? What kind of a nose do they have? Is their face more symmetrical, or does it appear to be uneven? Are they smiling with their teeth, or is their mouth closed when they smile? Are they smiling at all? How do they wear their cap? Do they have facial hair? What about piercings? This may seem like overkill, but I assure you that it's not. An optimal system will use these cues and clues to determine how well their final product performs once it's on their feet.
Great footwear systems are the culmination of interactions between the person designing the system and the person who is wearing it. I like to tell people that my job is fit, and theirs is feel. Building trust is imperative, this person is trusting life and limb to someone who is making educated guesses about what is happening inside of a footwear system. You can write this next part off as footwear woo, but I use energy profiling on a daily basis to explain why something works for someone, why another thing doesn't work for someone else, and how to help myself and others arrive at systems that are safe, comfortable, functional, attractive, and efficient. I can tell you why Cole Hamels and Jose Altuve both wear New Balance (or did at the time of this writing), yet their footwear should not be given to the other person, size considerations apart if there are any. Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Buster Posey; these are just a few players who lead with feminine energy. They will perform better if you take this into account and feel less comfortable if you ignore it.
Whatever makes someone unique and special needs to be dealt with as a factor. The term 'feminine energy' is not a slur, it does not imply that these men are wimpy, weak, or less valuable as players, it's simply a category used to guide a professional and a player toward a system that will likely work better for them than another. If you've ever heard Cole Hamels speak you know that his voice doesn't seem to match the rest of him. Great footwear systems preserve how someone is and works with it rather than trying to change someone. We are not changing his voice, there's no reason to, there's nothing wrong with it, however we can use this idiosyncracy of his to add to our knowledge base. Some players, Johnny Cueto comes to mind, are very flamboyant. They have more tolerance and flair than people like someone like Mike Moustakas. Again, this is not to imply that either of these men are better or worse than another, it's a matter of understanding who they are as people since footwear should be a function and reflection of that.
Type one energy is bright, upward, and light. Think Freddy Galvis, or Eric Hosmer. Type two energy is soft and flowing; Buster Posey is probably the best example although I have also mentioned others in that group. Type three energy is dynamic, durable, and more earthy. These people get it done; the Justin Verlander types. Type four energy is still and contemplative; Kyle Hendricks falls into this category. None of these categories are hard and fast rules; this is just how I determine what color, texture, and how much splash and dash goes into a footwear system. Giving someone like Freddy Galvis the same footwear that Kyle wears is going to weigh him down. He can handle more color and fun in his footwear. Fabulous footwear systems flow up from the earth, and down from the rest of the uniform, the eyes should take it in as a complete, holistic unit, there's a person standing there who looks good, feels good, and is armed with a system that he trusts to keep him safe while he's performing at his peak.
Once we get some ideas about what will work well for someone we can return to the actual foot itself and guide our player through hosiery selection. The importance of socks must never be overlooked or minimized. Socks protect feet from shoes and shoes from feet. Footwear fitting is the act of moving a three dimensional object that has mass and takes up space into negative spaces like shoes, and socks. We're going to be examining feet very carefully for anything that could be considered abnormal, or indicate that poorly fitting footwear has been donned in the past. Red marks, blisters, dry spots, excess moisture, corns, callousing, warts, fungal infections, cracked or bleeding skin, surgical scars, other scarring, bony prominences, knowing what a foot has needed help with in the past can help shape the future. Some of these things are preventable, it may take time, but feet should be as comfortable as they can possibly be given an optimal footwear system.
Another thing we want to check is circulation, baseball players are generally in good shape, but we still want to check capillary refill, because you're there and there's no reason not to since it may reveal something unknown about someone. Players like Sam Fuld who are diabetic should have a diabetic foot exam; most players will not need this level of an exam since things like LOPS (Loss of Protective Sensation) are not an issue for them, but this can be another gray area, particularly if someone has had surgery, a very traumatic injury that healed without surgical intervention, or other conditions where nerves are no longer able to do the job they do for others. Nails are another indicator of foot health that should be observed. We're looking for any discolorations, jagged edges, thickenings, ridges, spots; anything that could be a telltale sign that this person is in pain, suffering, or may have a nutritional deficiency, since nails grow slowly these can be observed after the incident occurred.
I like to send people in for pedicures as this gives them time to relax, and me a better look at the foot/feet that I happen to be seeing. Very few people trim their nails accurately, or understand how length impacts you as an owner of your feet. Too short and you risk exposing delicate areas that were meant to be covered by the harder nail surface; too long and you increase the potential for snags, tears, and damage from footwear if nails are so long they start connecting with the inside lining of their footwear. Foot odor is a problem that needs to be addressed. Feet should not stink. People with healthy feet sweat, there are millions of pores on the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands. We need these to help us remove toxins from our body and blocking them through the use of foot powders is generally a bad idea. A baseball player can lose pounds of water weight throughout the day. This can impact foot health and we need to stay on top of it; perhaps rotating footwear, replacing hosiery, etc..., there are strategies available.
How thick, or thin, a pair of socks will be depends on the foot that will be wearing them. Find the socks first, and proceed from there. Ideally everyone would wear custom footwear, and if it was up to me off the shelf options would immediately cease to exist, but that isn't the world we live in which is part of the reason you're reading this. We now have a baseball player who has had a foot exam, pedicure, he has selected hosiery that you both agree upon (this is the best case scenario), and you're ready to proceed. I'm operating on the assumption that he has already been properly measured, I've written on this in the past so I won't reinvent the wheel here, but at a minimum we are getting three measurements per foot and using those numbers to arrive at a size. We used foot size to help us find socks, now we're going to set that number aside and let it rest for a while because SHAPE IS THE NUMBER ONE FACTOR THAT MOST PEOPLE OVERLOOK WHEN SELECTING FOOTWEAR. SHAPE BEFORE SIZE PLEASE (THANK YOU).
The shape of a foot rather than the size is the number one factor to consider earlier in the process. Shape drives comfort. Without a comprehensive understanding of a person's foot shape; you, are, fucked. I've taken considerable heat on social media for stating my opinions on how footwear fits. I have friends who send me pictures, and I've reached out to people for various reasons when I thought I had an insight that could help them. Telling a grown man that he may be tying his footwear too tightly requires a delicate approach. Formal education does not exist for footwear. Nobody in baseball goes through any sort of process that evaluates what I do when I work with someone. I'm special, but this is Footwear 101 and this lack of knowledge and understanding is ruining athletes from the ground up. We would never send a racehorse out on the track with horseshoes that were made for another beast, but we routinely trot players out onto fields with a devil may care attitude since there are legions of amateurs fighting for one of the coveted MLB roster spots.
Would you offer a star player a multi-million dollar contract without knowing for a fact that his equipment was the best that it could possibly be? This happens all the time. Load the dice in your favor before you roll them on someone like that. There are myriad reasons why someone's performance may falter. It could be psychological, it could be stress related, family problems, physical ailments, weather, we have so little control over most of life that I think it makes sense to control what we can in a given system. The only thing I'm really doing is saying - hey, maybe some sort of system that guides players through this process may not be such a terrible idea because there are career ending injuries that could have been prevented had better footwear checks and balances been in place. Carlton Fisk is a Hall of Fame player. His son was wearing a different set of cleats than the ones he normally wore when he was approaching second base. His foot stopped, but the rest of him kept going. Now he has no lateral motion. Game over for him.
A basketball player I spoke with broke his ankle four times when he was in high school and college, we went back to review his footwear, there was a flared piece on the shoes he liked best. Could that have been the reason his ankle snapped so many times? I would challenge any expert who can definitively state that there was no correlation between that design and those injuries. Broken bones are typically more obvious injuries, but what about rolled ankles, torn ligaments, strained muscles, bad posture, cramping, and even fatigue? When I fit people we use a shoe horn to properly position feet inside of shoes. How many players do you think own a shoe horn much less use it routinely? Without one, it's more difficult to determine if footwear is a great fit. The foot slides forward, the player then taps his heel into the space provided for it, almost nobody I know does this because they've never been taught the basic act of properly donning footwear.
Secure heel position anchors the foot inside of the shoe. This is particularly important for anyone who has a narrower or shallower foot, but a lot of people let their feet wander around in their shoes. This sets them up for later stability issues and messes with balance. If you'll remember, we started with balance as a footwear concept. Undermining balance is a crime, but every single day there are people you know who fail to lock their heel into place before they walk out the door. Without a secure heel positioning, the whole rest of the shoe becomes more liability than asset. Your arches probably won't match the support inside of the shoe, they will be less comfortable, your feet will get tired faster, there's no possible way you'll be as speedy or as efficient as you could be if your feet are properly positioned, but hey, if this is what you want to do with your life, I can't stop you and neither can anyone else.
Let's be optimistic and recognize that there are a lot of people who are grateful for the chance to learn things they didn't know before. We've taken a player's bare foot into consideration, we gave him the right socks, his footwear is the right shape, now we're looking at smaller refinements that can be made along the way. Lace tension is another area where people are routinely making elementary mistake. Some people crank on them, others may not bother tying their shoes at all. Between these unhealthy extremes we have lace tension heaven where it is tight enough to keep a shoe comfortably on a foot without being so tight it starts interfering with circulation which is another problem I encountered routinely when I worked in a retail location. Footwear needs to fit. It needs to be the right shape, the correct size, we want depth to be taken into consideration, and we need it to reflect their personality and energy.
There are some beautiful footwear systems out there. Studying them will teach you more about what the pros do well, the same can be said of studying footwear systems that do not fit the wearer and are possibly causing pain or contributing to damage at a cellular level. I can remember watching the A's play the Rangers and cringing every time a certain player pitched. In my opinion his footwear was too tall for his foot, his foot was carrying his shoe rather than wearing it. Fans of his tore me apart on social media and implied that I had no idea what I was talking about. They harassed me for a while, but I asked them to prove that this wasn't the case, and they didn't know how to respond to that so eventually they went away and left me alone. Whenever I state an observation, I'm saying whatever it is in the hope that someone will take me seriously. I make a lot of mistakes, I readily and happily admit that, however I also have a level of expertise that many lack and if I do say something, ignore it at your own risk, your footwear has little affect on my health and welfare.
Footwear is never neutral. It is either harming you, or it's helping you. Color, shape, size, depth, fabric, multiple factors need to come together before the end result is a safe, efficient, functional, fluid, aesthetically pleasing system. Ideally it's so well done you hardly notice it at all. I've glossed over the process here, my goal is to show people a glimpse of what can and should be taking place rather than giving someone a step by step do this at home by yourself primer because the process needs to be driven by experts. I tell people whether I think their footwear fits, they tell me how they think it feels. A lot of overthinking goes into footwear. When I buy footwear for myself I sit down and become a customer myself. When my children go to the shoe store, we work with the fitter. They can see things you can't. Some of them are nefarious, or stupid, many of them are resources that others are discounting. Hopefully you've been educated and entertained during these past few minutes, if so, my work here has just begun.
P.S. This has been a ReQuest 2018 submission and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the mysterious entity who requested a piece on baseball footwear. May your team bring home the pennant, may your farm system be deep, and may everyone in the entire organization have footwear that fits them as it should.