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    Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century

    Since the subject matter of this research deals with the twentieth century, we will defer any discussion of nineteenth century precedents. Certainly, the history of baseball jersey is evolutionary and the uniforms of 1900 are a continuation of 1899 but the story of earlier uniforms is even more difficult to develop and we will reserve that information for future additional research. An important finding of such research will be establishing the starting point of use of separate uniforms at home and on the road, which was standard for all major league teams by 1900.


    Uniform fabrics in 1900 were either 100% wool flannel or a blend of wool and cotton. Summer temperatures and humidity were no different than now and the idea of playing baseball weighted down with these heavy uniforms seems unthinkable today. But play they did, and with as much vigor and dash as the modern, more comfortably clothed players of the 1980's. The weight of these wool and cotton flannels was gradually reduced in half by the 1940's but the problems of durability and shrinkage had not improved much. The advent of synthetic fibers in the post-WWII era (NYLON, DACRON, ORLON) paved the way for improved blends. The most successful of these was the WOOL / ORLON blend in the sixties — seemingly the "ultimate" material for baseball shirt. But the double-knit fabrics introduced in the early seventies provided so many more attractive and practical features over flannel: lighter, cooler, more comfortable, more durable, etc. etc. Traditionalists insist that the tight-fitting stretchy double knit suits cannot compare with the well-tailored flannel look of the sixties, but the use of the flannel materials for sublimation hockey jersey is "history" — unless some new miracle fabric comes along that more clearly simulates flannel.


    Home uniforms for all clubs at the turn of the century were white, while road uniforms were either gray or a darker hue. The material itself was heavy wool flannel which must have been insufferably warm in mid-summer. Pin striping in the fabric first appeared around 1907 — a fine, narrowly spaced line on the road grays that was barely visible from a distance. The Chicago Cubs were probably the first to use this pattern, but the Boston Nationals went a step further with a discernable green pin stripe on their 1907 road suits. The Brooklyn club was yet more daring with a fine blue cross-hatch pattern on their 07 road grays. This checked effect would be used later by the New York Giants and again by Brooklyn (with wider spacing) on several occasions. The wider spaced, more visible pin striping first appeared on several major league team uniforms in 1912. The finer striping on road uniforms was becoming common and by the mid-teens, half the teams were sporting the more distinct pin-stripes on their home uniforms. The Giants in 1916 provided the ultimate an almost plaid effect with a crossing of multiple fine lines of purple.

    A popular alternative to the gray-colored travelling suits in the 1900-1915 era was a solid dark blue or black material with white relief — often a negative image of their home whites. Although black and white photography may conceal earlier examples, the color TAN was introduced on the Dodger's 1937 road uniforms (to complement the Kelly Green trim). Charles 0. Finley's Kansas City A's in 1963 challenged the entire tradition of home / road colors with a stunning gold and green combination. By the 1970's, light blue was in common use in place of the gray color on road suits.


    Several styles of cap design were worn in the first decade by major league clubs. The "pillbox" or Chicago style usually incorporated horizontal striping much like a layer cake and was a survivor of the 1890's. The so-called "Brooklyn" style had a higher, fuller rounded crown than the more common "Boston" style. The Boston style was the forerunner of future cap styles with a rounded close-fitting crown, more abbreviated than current styles and with the top button tilted more toward the front. Variations of the "cake box" crown resurfaced in later years — the A's of 1909-1915, the Giants in 1916 and the Pirates in modern times. The standard modern cap has changed very little in recent decades — slightly fuller crown and larger sun visor than its antecedents.


    Baseball pants, up to the TV age, were like Henry Ford's Model T: you could have any color you wanted as long as it was BLACK. The shoe height dropped from just below the ankle bone to a basic low-quarter style by 1910. The KC A's revolutionary white shoes in the sixties opened the door for color matching and hardly an all-black shoe can be found on today's major leaguers.


    Jerseys at the turn of the century were pretty much flannel pullover shirts with a standard fold-down collar and a buttoned or laced front. Even the sleeves were often full length with buttoned cuft and a left-breast pocket was common. It became fashionable with players later in the decade to wear the collar folded up and pinned at the throat. Undersweaters were becoming a part of the color scheme (some even had stripes) and elbow-length sleeves were worn to accent the sleeve colors. An unusual feature that provided a choice in sleeve length was the detachable sleeve — attached at the elbow with buttons.

    The first radical change in shirt design in the decade was provided by John McGraw's 1906 Giants when they introduced the collarless jersey with a lapel contour curiously indentical to that of later decades. The fold-down collar was definitely on its way out but its popular replacement was to be the short, stand-up cadet style — first worn by the Cubs in 1909. By 1912, most clubs adopted the cadet collar and some even sported the almost collarless V neck style, the next popular trend. Some of the 19th century features persisted into the decade of the teens: the Boston teams had a laced shirt front as late as 1911 and the Detroit Tigers briefly resurrected the fold-down collar during World War I. The shirt pocket had disappeared forever by 1915.

    The V neck collar style, with a brief tapered extension around the neck, was pretty much the unanimous standard during the twenties. Sleeve lengths varied during the decade. By the mid-thirties, the collar extension disappeared and sleeve lengths were nearly all half (or elbow) length. The first zipper front made its appearance on the all new Cubs uniforms of 1937 and became popular with many clubs for a decade or so. The most innovative jersey of its time " the sleeveless vest " was also in troduced by the Chicago Cubs in 1940. The blue undersweater most often used with the vest was also novel — 3 red stripes (to match the sox stripes) just below the elbow and sometimes a white crown across the shoulders. The vest survived for 3 seasons and resurfaced in the fifties and sixties with several clubs. The zipper was pretty much history by the sixties, except for an occasional curtain call — most recently by the Phillies.

    By the 1970's, the flannel fabrics were lighter and more comfortable with shorter sleeves, but the development of the revolutionary double-knit fabrics doomed the flannels forever. Many of the new-look jerseys were buttonless pullover styles, but the button front has remained popular — indeed current trends indicate a return to the traditional buttons by many clubs.


    Built-in protective padding was a standard part of ninteenth century American football jersey and this "quilting" survived on a few of the post-1900 uniforms. Separate sliding pads on the inside soon became the preferred choice. Belts were considerably wider and were furnished in a variety of colors and materials. Belt tunnels on the sides came into being after 1900 and are a standard feature even on many of today's double-knits. Piping down the sides of the trousers existed in the early 1900's, even before piping became a popular jersey trim feature. Considering the tailoring differences between the old, baggy flannels and the closer fitting double-knits of today, the basic "knickers" concept has really changed very little since 1900.


    Stockings in 1900 were made of heavy wool and were of one-piece full-length (above the knee) construction. The foot covering part below the ankle bone was white or natural wool and often created the illusion of stirrups. The true stirrup stocking, separate from the "sanitary" foot stocking, first came into being about 1905. The popularity of striped or multi-tone stirrup stockings ebbed and flowed in cycles, becoming widely used around 1910 and less common by the late teens. Except for a few "candy-cane" varieties (particulary by the Giants, Cardinals & Washington), striping was quite minimal during the twenties and, in contrast, enjoyed a revival of sorts in the early thirties. As pant legs became lower and stirrups were stretched higher and higher over the following decades, the stockings became a neglected component in the overall appearance of the uniform. In fact, since the sanitary undersock has gained more and more visibility, its traditional white color, in some cases, has been abandoned for a distinct color to complement the new colored variety of shoes.


    In the 1890's stocking colors were the principal device in distinguishing one team from another (hence the team names White Stockings, Red Stockings, Browns, etc.) and graphic displays identifying the home city were merely extra window dressing. In fact, some clubs after 1900 elected to wear plain unmarked jerseys and left their unique identification to their stocking colors and caps (i.e. the Chicago Nationals and St. Louis Americans).

    Although trim colors were abundant in uniform schemes, the selection was limited to BLACKS, DARK BLUES, MAROONS or REDS, & BROWNS and seldom in combinations (some exceptions: Pittsburgh's maroon & navy stockings, Detroit's black stockings with a red stripe). Lettering styles for the home city name were usually in plain block capital letters (from the manufacturer's standard stock) and the single letters or monograms were either a similar block style or a heavily ornamental Victorian or Old English type. John McGraw was quite unpredictable and often innovative in dictating the color schemes of his Giants. Once the team's N-Y monogram style was established (c. 1909), he stayed with it but he boldly flaunted color traditions by introducing VIOLET in 1913 as a trim color. The Cubs in 1916 added a second color red to dress up the navy blue trim and a wave of patriotism in the WWI years encouraged a more generous display of red, white and blue on some major league uniforms.

    In the case of many clubs, team nicknames were an unofficial invention of the press and changed constantly. On the other hand, clubs such as the Cardinals, Tigers and Athletics were universally identified by fans and team management alike. However, display of the nickname (or representative symbols of same) on the uniform were rare in the early decades of the century. The first instance of displaying a graphic symbol of the team nickname was the small red tiger on the black cap of the 1901 Detroits. When the Boston Americans decided to adopt the new nickname of RED SOX in 1908, they did so with an unusual graphic display, showing a red sock silhouette (with the word BOSTON inside) on their shirt fronts. The small cub figure inside the Chicago National "C" in 1908 would be the only other such embellishment of this type among NL teams in the 1900-1910 period.

    The first spelling out of the team's nickname on the jersey was on the Washington home shirts of 1905. Determined that they were no longer to be called the "Senators", their now official name "NATIONALS" was displayed in capital letters across the chest. Simpler and more established nicknames [Cubs, (White) Sox, Reds] soon appeared. By 1910, the new cadet-style collar shirts placed a new emphasis on the front button lapel and it became fashionable to stack up the letters of the team name or city name in a vertical position. By the 1920's, display of the team name had become common (even the conservative Yankees did it for a time on their road uniforms). Oddly, the Philadelphia Athletics had never in their long history displayed so much as a letter P to identify the home city, yet they were the last of the original 16 major league franchises to spell out the full nickname ATHLETICS — in their final year (1954) in the City of Brotherly Love.

    The Detroit Tigers in 1930 established an important precedent by using a script lettering of DETROIT in place of the traditional capital letters. By the end of the decade, the idea of slanted script letters with an underline flourish was widely used. Also, a second trim color became the norm for many other major league teams in the thirties. As for graphic symbols, almost every club by this time had displayed some pictorial version of club identification at one time or another. Even the Athletics exploited their elephant symbol (whose origin is a story in itself) as early as 1905 on their team sweaters and later on the uniform jersey. Many of the team nicknames defy visual identification (Reds? Phillies? Nationals? Dodgers?) and thus escaped usage. Perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals have the most notable and familiar graphic presentation with their 2-birds-on-a-bat design which began in 1922 and, with few interruptions has persisted to this day. In the last years before numbers became standard on the backs of the shirts, the Detroit and Boston NL clubs boldly displayed a colorful tiger's head and Indian head profile respectively, on their backs.

    On rare occasions the entire team name (city and nickname) has been spelled out on th uniform. The Cubs in 1909 were the first with CHICAGO in vertical lettering down the buttor lapel and the CUBS emblem on the left breast. The last major league uniform to show the full team name was by the San Diego Padres in 1978. In recent decades, more imaginative lettering styles appeared — notably, the Indian with an unusual interpretation of American Indian-type calligraphy in the early seventies. Probably the most tasteful and attractive use of a modern type face is exemplified by the current BLUE JAYS uniform set.

    The proliferation of color TV coverage of major league baseball probably did more to invite the use of brighter and non-traditional uniform color schemes in the 1960's. The Athletics' gold and green ensembles started a color revolution that culminated in the bizarre "rainbow" jerseys introduced by the ASTROS in 1975. However, in midst of the color orgy, a handful of teams (i.e. the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers) maintained a fairly consistent conservative image, hoIding steadfastly to the dictates of a long tradition Even the trends of the double-knit revolution (pullover jersey, beltless trousers) seem to be reverting to earlier styles (buttoned jersey and belted trousers). The popular practice of stretching the stirrups far up under the trouse legs also seems to be reversing itself and once again revealing the heretofore unseen striping on the outer socks. Among the expansion teams, the two Canadian entries have maintaned stable, consistent uniform designs. The other side of this coin is the San Diego franchise, which has at times changed its uniform designs almost annually in their nearly 2 decades of existence in the majors.

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