The Evolution of the Major League Baseball Uniform…
Imagine if you will that you are a baseball player in the year of 1849. Are you there yet? Okay, now think about a nice warm August day on a baseball field somewhere in New York. Sounds nice, right? Are you thinking about what your baseball uniform might look like? Let me help you with that. A baseball uniform in those days consisted mostly of wool ‘pantaloons’, a shirt made of flannel, and maybe a straw hat. Sounds like a comfortable get-up to be wearing in August in New York, doesn’t it? To me, it sounds more like what you might wear in winter under your regular clothes when you have to shovel snow in February. Can you imagine trying to play baseball in a woolen and flannel uniform in the hottest part of the summer? Those guys must have been very tough! If you want a glove, I am sorry but you will need to wait until 1877 for that. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that baseball uniforms as we know them really started to come in to existence. By then, the uniforms had begun to have more of a ‘customized for a team’ look, and almost always included the baseball socks, or ‘stockings’, and colors for individual teams.
By the turn of the century, many teams had two uniforms (gasp!). In those days, before the tight rules of what would become Major League Baseball in the form that we now know, teams were allowed to experiment with anything that they could think of. In 1889, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms actually sported a checkered uniform! Imagine that in today’s game? In those early days, it was about self-promotion as much as anything else. Teams could mix and match color schemes as they pleased, and they often did. Also, most team’s uniforms included a colored sweater under the outer jersey to add a pop of color to the home-white or road-gray uniforms.
In 1906, the New York Giants set a trend that was to become the norm in baseball attire. Those Giants wore the first collarless baseball jersey. By then, most baseball jerseys also had an open pocket on them, but this was to disappear by the 1915. The trend had always been for the shirts to have a laced or buttoned front, but as things became more modern, zipper-front shirts came into being. These remained popular in to the 1950’s and 1960’s. Another interesting trend that is still around today is the ‘vest-and undershirt’ combo first trotted out by the Chicago Cubs in the 1940’s. There are many teams that did, and still do wear this look on occasion. The Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds, the Arizona D-Backs, and the Colorado Rockies all come to mind, and I also liked it when the Kansas City Royals had a version of it. When I played baseball, I was a catcher, and I personally found this combination to be comfortable, as it did not restrict my throwing arm as much as a traditional jersey might.
As far as baseball pants go, they started off life as a quilted affair. Can you imagine playing a double-header in August wearing quilted pants? This was well before the invention of ‘Gatorade’ (1965, University of Florida), and you have to wonder if between flannel shirts and quilted pants, how many guys succumbed to heat stroke? In 1868, the Cincinnati Red Stockings introduced the baseball ‘knicker’, which would become the baseball pant that everyone knows in one form or another today. Who was the first team to wear shorts? The 1976 Chicago White Sox trotted these out… to much derision. The experiment in baseball fashion did not last long.
Thanks for the taking the ‘H.G. Wells Time Machine Baseball Fashion Tour’ with me, as we now fast-forward to the modern era. As time and technology have advanced, so have baseball uniforms. By the 1940’s, baseball uniforms had become about 50% lighter than their predecessors, and by the 1960’s a wool-Orlon (an acrylic fiber invented by DuPont) blend became the standard for uniforms. By the 1970’s, more advances in fabric technology were made, and baseball players were the beneficiaries. Also in the 1970’s, several teams replaced their road-gray uniforms with what came to be known as the ‘powder-blues’ or ‘baby-blues’. This was done by many teams, and can now be seen on Throwback Days in Major League Ballparks. Another product of the 1970’s was baseball uniforms that were skin-tight. The original skinny pants! There were some players that insisted that these skin-strangling affairs made them run faster and jump higher, but I am not sure that I am on board with that. Perhaps John Brenkus of ‘ESPN Sports Science’ could do a segment on that? Jim Bouton makes reference to this in his classic baseball book ‘Ball Four’, when he cites one particular player who would not come out of the clubhouse unless his uniform was skin-tight. Today, there are compression layers and fabrics that are so light that you almost forget that you have them on. They are comfortable and they do a great job at wicking away sweat. Brands like Under Armor and Nike have really revolutionized the way that we look at uniforms today
With all this said, I wanted to take a fast look at the color-schemes that teams use. The first stop is Pittsburgh, where the familiar Black and Gold, and are seen on all of the Pittsburgh pro sports franchises. The Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins all make use of these colors. I believe that they may be the only city in all of pro sports that can make this claim. The last thing that I wanted to look at was what could be called ‘team colors in transition’, or ‘Let’s try something different!’ The first team that pops into my head is the Houston Astros. Think about how many uniform changes they have had since their inception as the Houston Colt 45’s back in 1962. There have been a few. The same goes for the Anaheim Angels (Los Angeles Angels, California Angels, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim…). The Tampa Bay Rays have undergone several transformations, as have the San Diego Padres, and of course the Chicago White Sox. Now it also seems that every team in MLB sports some dort of ‘throe-back’ uniform. It is a fun brain-teaser to see how many uniform changes a team has gone through in their history. Will there be more? I am sure as the trends come and go, there will be some more changes. It is interesting to note that while many things change, some remain the same. The New York Yankees would never change their classic pinstriped look. Even their road grays are simple and elegant. Several teams have tried it, but they have come up wanting. The same goes for the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. Their uniforms are timeless and classic, never really caring about what is considered fresh and modern, and that is one thing that I hope never changes to fit modern style and convention. Thanks for reading.
If you want to read about this in much more detail than I provided, check out the article on Epic Sports at http://baseball.epicsports.com/baseball-uniforms.html, as well as http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/uniforms.shtml