A Halloween History of Baseball Uniforms

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball costumes, uh, uniforms have been part of American culture since 1849. There have been a few wardrobe changes since then.

[Author's note: The truth of what follows is courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The rest is a product of Halloween-theme desperation and a dysfunctional childhood.]

History claims that baseball's first official club, the New York Knickerbockers, was organized in 1845. Interestingly, the club did not adopt its uniform-straw hats, blue pantaloons, and white jerseys-until 1849 when community outrage forced the team to wear something more than just straw hats. Too many bockers covered by too few knickers.

The blue-and-white color scheme was meant to imply a more professional class, similar in dignity to police or military uniforms. The understated colors were also intended to distinguish the cosmopolitan Knickerbockers from the rube teams in the small towns that wore garish outfits of reds, greens, and golds. (Has anything changed?)

In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Legs, the first professional baseball team, wore uniforms that emulated golf attire, knee-length knickers and high stockings. That look became the standard throughout baseball until the 1980's when Don Baylor discovered, by wearing his pants legs down to his shoes, he could avoiding wearing socks altogether.

In 1882, baseball uniforms became color-coded according to each player's position. First basemen dressed in scarlet stripes while shortstops wore solid maroon. The stockings were all the same color so you could tell one team from another. The uniforms were generally derided as clown costumes. Clowns immediately hired Alex Rodriguez' lawyers and sued baseball for fashion defamation.

Believe it or not, there was once a team called the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. (It later became the Brooklyn Dodgers, and whatever happened to them?) In 1889, the Bridegrooms wore checkered uniforms. Later, they experimented with satin uniforms before switching to robin's egg-blue tuxedos and ruffled shirts rented from The Men's Wearhouse.

Mel Brooks once admitted the Boston Beaneaters' clubhouse meals provided the inspiration for the campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles."


There was also a team called the Boston Beaneaters. (It later became the Boston Braves, and whatever happened to them?) In 1897, the Beaneaters revived an 1850's fashion trend by putting shields on the front of their uniforms. The shields were supposed to invoke associations with fire department uniforms of the era. Unfortunately, the shields looked more like spaghetti bibs. In an interesting cultural connection, Mel Brooks once admitted the Beaneaters' clubhouse meals provided the inspiration for the campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles."

The collarless jersey was introduced in 1906 by the New York Giants. This was actually a pretty good fashion idea that has lasted to this very day. Unfortunately, the Giants' designer got a little ahead of himself a decade later when the team played the 1916 opening day in plaid uniforms. That was Christy Mathewson's final season with the Giants. "If the Giants make me wear a plaid uniform," he said, "then it won't be long before they make me grow a Rasputin beard and pitch in relief. No man should be so humiliated, and fuck the Giants!"

The New York Yankees first wore their famously overrated pinstripes in 1912, the year the Titanic went down. I'm pretty sure the two occurrences were coincidental. Several jokesters from rival teams claimed the pinstripes were instituted to make Babe Ruth look slimmer. They were morons, of course. (Babe Ruth did not join the Yankees until 1920.) The pinstripes were for C.C. Sabathia.

In 1922, the St. Louis Cardinals revealed the legendary birds-on-bat motif for their uniforms. The design has been a part of every Cardinals uniform since except for 1962 when one of the birds toppled off the bat after too many Budweisers and was fatally crushed by a passing Clydesdale.

In 1929, the Cleveland Indians and the Yankees became the first teams to feature numbers on the backs of their uniforms. The stock market promptly crashed. The Philadelphia Athletics, fearing a margin call, refused to wear numbers on their home uniforms until 1937, the year Spam was introduced to the world by the Hormel Foods Corporation and Mae West was banned from NBC radio after performing an "Adam & Eve" skit that scandalized the nation.

In 1940, the Chicago Cubs introduced sleeveless jerseys to honor almost four decades as the most unjustifiably beloved team in America. Next season, the Cubs uniforms will feature a patch honoring the 1908 World Series Champion Cubs. On the patch will be a depiction of a Ford Model T crashing headlong into a biplane piloted by the Wright Brothers. The tagline will be "In Theo We Trust."

In 1943, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League introduced dresses to baseball. The league disbanded in the early 1950's but rookie hazing was invented to keep dresses a vital part of professional baseball.

The 1950's were apparently so boring there was only one uniform innovation: The Cincinnati Reds removed the word "Reds" from their uniforms. Unfazed, Reds rookie Frank Robinson hit 38 homeruns and won Rookie of the Year.

In 1960, the Chicago White Sox were the first team to display players' names on the backs of the jerseys. The development spread until Justin Duchsherer Duchscherer made the major leagues. The Oakland A's could not find a jersey big enough to fit his name so they just stenciled an eye chart on his back.

In 1961, the original Los Angeles Angels (back when they really played in L.A.) put halos on their caps. The halos were abandoned after the Angels moved from L.A to Anaheim. They still looked like overpaid dorks.

In 1963, the Kansas City Athletics switched from their boring red-white-and-blue uniforms to discombobulating Kelly green and Ft. Knox gold. The traditional black shoes changed to white. Owner Charlie Finley justified the switch as a way to make the game interesting to fans. Unfortunately, the first 10,000 fans suffered retinal damage viewing the outfits. Even worse, Finley charged team members $100 each to wear the uniforms.

The Cleveland Indians experimented with leisure suits for the players and played the 1971 season aboard a cruise ship.


In 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled double-knit uniforms with button-less pullover jerseys and buttocks-clinging pants. Mr. Blackwell announced himself a Pirates fan. In order to remain competitive, the Cleveland Indians experimented with leisure suits for the players. The Indians also played the 1971 season aboard a cruise ship, and the team fit right in.

Starting in 1972, the San Diego Padres presided over a 12-year span known as "The Potty Period." During that era, the Padres distinguished themselves with a run of stunningly awful uniforms, all based on a yellow-and-brown color scheme. Instead of media guides, the Padres supplied members of the press with copies of "Jokes for the John."

In 1975, the Houston Astros showed up for games wearing rainbow jerseys. The original design was hotly debated and, fortunately, the unicorns and lollipops were eliminated at Nolan Ryan's insistence.

In 1976, the White Sox actually forced their players to wear shorts for the first game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals. The White Sox won the game because the Royals laughed so hard they blew milk out their noses. (The White Sox finished 64-97 that year so the shorts may not have been their problem.)

In 1987, the Atlanta Braves resurrected a design element they had abandoned 25 years earlier; they added a tomahawk to underline the title, "Braves," on the front of their uniforms. The concept was universally applauded. So encouraged, the Braves attempted to strengthen their bullpen by signing veteran left-hander, Chief Wahoo.

Don't forget the outstanding uniform innovations achieved by individual players, either. In 2004, C.C. Sabathia began wearing his cap brim skewed to the side and won the "Dopey" award from the Seven Dwarfs Institute. In 2008, reliever George Sherrill popularized flat cap brim look and failed to retire any more batters the rest of his career. And finally, in 2009, Prince Fielder eschewed his uniform altogether and played the entire season in his baggy flannel pajamas.

Sadly, no one noticed the switch until, as a free agent, Fielder demanded a pajama clause in his contract.

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