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Early Baseball Uniforms
“It’s not only general managers and managers who determine which players will stay with the big club after spring training. The clubhouse man has a voice, too, because he’s in charge of the uniforms and the higher the number he gives you, the less chance he figures you’ve got a chance of sticking with the major league roster. I had the highest number of the group. Herbie Olsen, a catcher, came in with 55 a year later, but I was high man in 1955 with number 53; a number, by the way, I wound up keeping throughout my career.
Don Drysdale, Once a Bum, Always a Dodger(1990)
Wearing the Colors Proudly
Since the earliest times of recorded history, for every battle waged and war fought, there has always been that sense of pride centered around the uniform. This too can be said of the baseball uniform.
Try to remember the first time you entered a baseball stadium, regardless of the level of play. You saw two distinct teams on the field and quite likely you identified with one of them as “your team” and the other one as, well, the “other guys”. The players especially feel the pride of wearing the uniform
Alexander Cartwright was a man of fashion. The man who actually invented the game of baseball(not Abner Doubleday), proved just that in the spring of 1849 by dressing his Knickerbocker nine in uniforms to be worn during the games. His players were outfitted with straw hats, white flannel shirts and blue woolen pantaloons. The straw hats didn’t last long, but the blue and white “team colors” lasted for decades.
The fact was, baseball owners and players wanted to be associated with manly organizations such as fireman or the military. They dressed to separate themselves from the working class who wore less expensive material such as cotton. They felt the need to establish a certain status. Flannel and wool were the fabrics of choice.
The Cincinatti Red Stockings hit the field in April 1868 with a prodigious Olde English letter C on their white shirted chests with knickers and their soon to be famous red stockings. This style uniform was much more conducive to an athletic contest without the stiff collars and full length pants. Soon other teams embraced the new look and baseball uniforms changed forever.
This was a formidable group of men. The Red Stockings had become the nations first team of fully salaried, acknowledged professionals. Along with their new look they adopted a different attitude towards the game. Management stressed regimen, discipline, regular practice and strong physical conditioning.
Colors, Patterns and Pinstripes
By 1882, teams adopted the policy of wearing specific colored stockings to differentiate one club from another, hence the names White Sox, Red Sox, Browns. One of the more bizarre rule adaptation was that of position players wearing the same colored or patterned shirt. In other words, every shortstop in the league was defined by the color of his shirt. That rule lasted for exactly one half of the 1882 campaign.
Although the Yankees are known for their pinstripes, the style was introduced 18 years earlier to major league baseball in 1888 by Washington, Detroit and Brooklyn. The checkered uniform, though short lived, was introduced by the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (also known as the Trolly-Dodgers) in 1889. Teams still had collars on their shirts until 1906 when the Giants displayed their new “World Champion” jerseys. By 1914 full collared shirts had completely disappeared from the majors(except for those pesky White Sox in the 1970′s, who incidently donned shorts for a brief stint around the same period of time).
John McGraw, then player/manager for the Baltimore Orioles, was inspired by the team mascot’s colors. When they hit the road, his team wore black pants, shirts, and caps with yellow/orange trim. With a large O on the breast of the shirt, yellow/orange socks with black stripes and a yellow belt, his team was made to be the laughing stock by every journalist in every town they frequented.
McGraw evidently felt that the all black uniform was a good idea as he once again dressed his team in this fashion, but this time with white trimming. His New York Giants were playing the rag tag Philadelphia Athletics for the 1905 World series. The one up-manship seems to have worked as Giants won the series 4-1, each game being a shutout.
Pick a Number
In an effort to more readily identify the players, and for the fans, with his players, manager Alfred Lawson decided that he would number the uniforms. This was the 1907 version of the Reading Red Roses and the team boasted 14 players. Because he felt that any player wearing the number 13 would feel jinxed, he skipped that number and went from 12 to 14 and then 15. There is some speculation as to whether this team actually took the field with numbers on their backs.
The 1916 Cleaveland Indians, inspired by the use of uniform numbers used in football and hockey, were the first major league team to experiment with uniform numbers in baseball. They wore theirs on the sleeve of the home uniform only. For some reason the idea of uniform numbers faded until 1929 when the Yankees bore their numbers on the backs of the uniform shirt.
Because the Yankees had a set lineup with their “murderers row”, the players numbers reflected their spot in the batting order; Ruth #3. Gehrig #4 and so on. The backup catcher for the Yankees would be given #9, the four starting pitchers were numbered 10 through 14(no #13 thank you)and then the rest of the team were numbered 15 through 26 as the rosters were limited to 25 men.
When the 1932 baseball season rolled around, all 16 major league teams were issuing numbers to their players, and that fashion became a rule by 1937. Also in 1937, the Philadelphia Phillies was the first team to wear their numbers on both road and home uniforms.
Baseball players by nature are a supersticious lot. Watch closely the next time you see players running on to or off the field and count how many of them step on the first or third baseline. You won’t count very many. Most of them will intentionally step over the line. By the same token, some players wouldn’t dream of not stepping on the line for the very same reason. This is true with players and their uniform numbers. Most want to keep the same number their entire career; sometimes at any cost. When Rickey Henderson was traded to Toronto in 1993, he agreed to pay Turner Ward $25,000 for the number 24.