BY BEN STOCKTON
The long reigning king of athletic footwear has dominated in baseball since the 90s. With the rise of Ken Griffey Jr’s mythic superpowers along with a smattering of other superstars like Hideo Nomo, Kenny Lofton, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter, Nike captured the lion’s share of the baseball market. Today little has changed. A supremely athletic centerfielder in Mike Trout leads their roster filled with another thrilling starter in Marcus Stroman, a ridiculously versatile outfielder in Mookie Betts, and two young superstar infielders in Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. The depth and reach of Nike’s star-studded roster of athletes cements their place at the top, but what if a couple more of those stars got their own cleat?
Team models necessarily lay a sturdy foundation for Nike. The wide diversity of models sets Nike apart. With so many options, every type of player can find something they like, from George Springer to Bartolo Colon. Although not unique to Nike, last season’s models can still be purchased in many cases, further diversifying their offerings.
The Vapor Ultrafly Pro (above) and Trout 3 Pro fill out a robust budget tier. The Huarache line hangs around too, offering a reliable cleat with just enough flash. All of this goes without mentioning the Jordans and Swingmans offered as team models too.
Sold exclusively by Dick’s Sporting Goods, the Swingman Line of apparel, gear, and cleats carries on the lineage of Griffey. The Swingman line maintains an exclusive membership in The Bigs, only worn by guys like Nelson Cruz, Jason Heyward, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, and Josh Donaldson (sometimes). 2016’s footwear offering, the Swingman Legend, captures the spirit of the Air Griffey 3. A massive midfoot strap shrouds much of the silhouette in eye-catching fashion. The Legend’s only rival in boldness is the Zoom Trout 3.
Signature footwear paved the path to success in 1984 with Michael Jordan, and Nike has had no trouble finding generational talent in baseball either. The current torch-bearer, Mike Trout, may lack flare off-field (the new “doo” begs to differ), but easily makes up for it with the most consistent and transcendent play we may ever see. Trout brought Nike’s signature aspirations in baseball back from the dead, and, based on the popularity of the first three models, did so very successfully. Responsive cushioning, contained fit, and penetrating traction allow the Trout line to define itself as a series of explosive kicks. Mirroring the consistency of their namesake, the Trouts have never failed to impress.
Throughout the 2000s, Jordan Brand athletes such as Derek Jeter, Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia, and more recently Gio Gonzalez, Manny Machado, and David Price had the exclusive ability to wear Jordan’s on the diamond. Jeter even got his own long-lived signature line. Aside from the Jeter line of cleats, no average player could wear Jordan’s to hit dingers without shelling out for some PEs. In 2015, Jordan Brand and Nike Baseball decided to change things up, releasing a slew of team colorway Air Jordan IVs outfitted in Huarache Pro Cleat plates. In 2016, Mookie Betts and Madison Bumgarner (in a Wildcard complete game shutout) took the field in those IVs (still available by the way).
The Air Jordan XII, still available, became the second J’s to get the cleat treatment, being outfitted with the same Huarache Pro plate and a new woven upper material. After seeing Machado, Price, and others in the 6 and 7 over the past couple seasons, we can hope to see those make their way to retail someday too.
Nike Baseball has embraced trainers and turfs unlike every other brand. They’ve applied their collective knowledge of how to craft great looking basketball, running, and training shoes to their lineup of turfs. The two most recent entries in the Trout line have seen gorgeous adaptations to turf shoes. The adaptations go both ways however.
The Zoom Trout 3 silhouette looks more at home as a turf than as a cleat. Get the Trout 3 turf here.
Team models also receive a turf transformation, albeit a more traditional one. The Air Clipper ‘17 becomes the Lunar Clipper ‘17 as it receives a traditional Nike Lunar Turf sole. Get these here.
The Huarache 2K Filth receives a generic Nike Free TR sole, transitioning into what may be the most underrated shoe out there. Get them here or here. (Editor’s Note: How on God’s green Earth haven’t I seen these before? These are FLAMES.)
While a diverse stable of models, ridiculous star power, and a massive roster give Nike a leg-up on the competition, turfs truly set them apart. No other brand makes turfs that you’d be excited to wear everyday. No other brand puts much effort into crafting training shoes for baseball. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is extremely reassuring that a company has a cohesive product line allowing us to rock our favorite on-field kicks off-field.
Even with Nike’s robust footwear lineup, it could be improved by paying more attention to their other transcendent stars. Imagine Mookie Betts or Manny Machado as the new face of Jordan Baseball, and like Jeter, receiving his own annual signature models. Imagine both. Imagine a mirror of Nike Basketball’s three core signature lines (Lebron/KD/Kyrie) in the trio of Trout, Corey Seager, and Betts/Machado. The baseball marketplace would embrace such a trio of superstars. There’s still a large crossover between baseball and basketball players and those players would certainly be ecstatic to see a trio from their other sport. Plus it would be a tremendous marketing opportunity for Nike and MLB. Nike is such a powerful cultural icon that is has the ability to recreate the star power of baseball’s ’90s by expanding their signature lines.