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The Baseball Uniform Story

The Baseball Uniform Story

My husband and I attended the Washington Nationals opening day baseball game.  It was magnificent, the weather was a little chilly, rained off and on (yes, rain delays) but somehow it felt like the most perfect day.  The stadium, the smell of hot dogs, and the excitement of the first day of baseball in a new season.  

Opening Day 2016, Nationals Baseball!

This day in particular had me intrigued by the baseball players, how it all began, the merchandise sales , and the history of baseball uniforms.  The thought of style paired with a dash of baseball history, brings you the story of the baseball uniform.

The New York Knickerbockers (Baseball Club) were the first baseball team to wear uniforms while taking the field on April 4, 1849.  

The Knickerbocker Baseball Club

Their pants were made of blue wool, tops of white flannel, and hats of straw.  We have evolved so much today, in terms of fabrics and sports movement.  Wool, flannel, and straw are not easy to move in.  Straw is worn seasonally and for relaxation more so than playing in a professional sporting event.  Wool and flannel are used during chilly months to add layers of warmth.  

  Early baseball days wearing straw hats

Early baseball days wearing straw hats

Can you imagine life in the summer wearing these heavy fabrics?  It seems so harsh and unbearable.  However, not to worry this was only the beginning and the uniform has changed over time.

Notice the colored socks

In 1882 uniforms were accessorized with colored socks or stirrups that were used to differentiate one club or team from one another.  The uniforms at the time showcased different colors and patterns to reflect the players position on the field.   

In the late 1880s, the Detroit Wolverines, the Washington Nationals of the National League, and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association were the first to wear striped uniforms.

Joe Visner of the American Association Brooklyn Bridegrooms, in 1889

The practice of wearing a uniform soon spread, and by 1900, all Major League Baseball teams had adopted a unified outfit. 

Stripes that transitioned into longer stripes were seen at the length of the baseball uniform, which we know as pinstriping.  In 1907 striped patterns were first seen on some baseball team's uniforms.  The pinstripes were then widened in 1912, so that the crowds could see them more clearly.

By the end of the 19th century, teams started wearing two different uniforms, one when they played on their home field and a different one when they played away.  It became common practice to wear white at home and a color jersey while on the road.  However, not all teams follow this guideline today, it depends on the baseball team.

Two different uniforms, home and away

In 1916, the Cleveland Indians became the first team to add numbers on their uniforms that were positioned on the left sleeve of the home uniforms.

This was before numbers were on the backs of uniforms

 

In 1929, numbers were added on the back of uniforms by the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. By 1932, all major league baseball teams adopted the same standard and added numbers to the back of all uniforms.

Numbers transitioned to the back of uniforms

From the beginning, graphic designs were used to identify teams, and often an Old English letter was worn on the chest.  This style is spotted on the Detroit Tigers and a gothic style "D" on their home uniform.  The Oakland Athletics currently have an Old English "A" on their caps and on their alternative or away jersey.

  Old English letters on the front of   uniforms

Old English letters on the front of uniforms

By the 1930s, every team had a distinctive logo, letter, or team nickname on their home uniform as part of the team's marketing. 

Replica uniforms and branded merchandise in modern day generate large amounts of income for major league teams through sales.  Baseball teams rely on profits from these products to help build healthy team franchises.  Fans support their team of choice by wearing a jersey and accessorizing with some healthy "smack talking" to it's biggest rivals.

  The tribute to the fallen officers

The tribute to the fallen officers

As I learned the story behind the baseball uniform I realized the wealth and popularity of the industry.  It is not far from the fashion world and has a lot of similarities.  This story might represent function more so than the fashion, but I don't think one could survive without the other.  Driven by function but fashion keeps the demand alive for adorable team merchandise.  No matter what team you cheer for, you cannot embrace the full effect if you aren't sporting your favorite team's uniform!    

 

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