Historically, baseball cleats had only ever come in a low cut iteration. You know, with the tongue flap covering the laces.
It wasn’t until Bill Buckner (of the Red Sox at the time, and of Game 6 fame) had such bad ankles that he asked for a high top cleat to be constructed for him. It was about as basic and general of a silhouette as it could be.
Soon, the high top cleat became chic in Major League Baseball. Stars like Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry and Barry Bonds began adopt the look as they lengthened the inseam of their uniform pants.
The biggest difference between the construction of a baseball cleat and a standard sneaker (outside of the cleat) is the upper. Because of the rigors of baseball, and of course the natural environment, the uppers need to use leathers of a higher, more durable quality or even a synthetic material. Sliding on dirt in a buttery soft leather upper would destroy it instantly, not to mention the flying spikes of a base runner coming directly at a second or third basemen during a steal or trying to stretch an extra base.
Some players were finding out that the construction, support and cushioning of traditional basketball shoes were better suited for game day. The Nike 2K4 cleat, Nike’s first crossover baseball cleat was not a thing yet and neither were the vast array of Air Jordan silhouettes we see now.
What was a player to do?
In the early 2000s, there were a few customizing companies who would affix a cleat plate to any shoe provided. You had to provide two shoes, your base shoe and the cleat with the type of cleat plate you wanted, metal or molded. Check out the current gallery at www.customcleats.com.
Now, basically any shoe you wanted could be a baseball cleat as long as you were fine with destroying the midsole technology (the air bubble would be punctured to affix the cleat plate).
There was no player in Major League Baseball who followed this trend more closely than Eric Chavez. Early in his career with the Oakland A’s, Chavez stunted heavy using many popular Nike and Jordan silhouettes. He could be considered the father of basketball-to-cleat customization.
It wasn’t until Nike offered the 2K4 cleat, an extremely popular and successful shoe on the basketball front, with a modified midsole to accommodate a full length cleated outsole that Chavez discontinued his conversion silhouettes. It was a shame, because part of the fun was seeing what Chavez would come out with that day.
Let’s take a look at the history of Chavez’ cleat conversion.
Air Force Carbide
Air Showcase Max White/Green
Air Showcase Max White/Natural
Zoom Huarache 64 White/Green
Zoom Huarache 64 White/Green/Yellow
Jumpman Team Flow
Chavez’ influence in Oakland extended to at least one teammate as Frank Thomas caught on during their one year overlap. Thomas wore the Shox Team Ups during his stints in Oakland and the following season in Toronto.
The custom conversion game wasn’t exclusive to the Bay Area, but maybe perhaps to the West Coast. Prior to getting some of his own cleated PEs, Gary Sheffield also jumped on the conversion trend in perhaps one of the oddest, but hottest looking silhouettes ever converted, the Zoom Hyperflight.
In his World Series season of 2004, Orlando Cabrera of the Red Sox took to customizing a pair of Air Zoom Generations, which really looked sharp on the field.
More recently noted sneakerhead and MLBer Jeremy Guthrie hopped on the custom conversion game when he converted a pair of Air Jordan Is during his time in Baltimore and a pair of Foamposites in Kansas City.
The conversion game also extended to the college ranks when Carolina’s Dustin Ackley did the unthinkable (at the time) in converting a pair of Space Jam Air Jordan XIs. This was a time well before CC Sabathia or anyone else was getting PEs.
Cleated baseball has certainly come along way over the last 20 years not only in technology, but in what brands are giving to players. Since Jordan Brand has expanded its stable, we’ve seen Air Jordan III, IV, V, VI, VII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV on the diamond, but it wasn’t until a guy like Chavez started to up his own Diamond Collection that they finally took notice.