This text was first published on pastimepinstripes.tumblr.com on March 26, 2016 as part of an English project at McDaniel College. It has been edited for its purposes on this blog and can be read in its entirety and original form by clicking here. To learn more about Pastime Pinstripes, please read our post “The Grain of the Game Announces New Blog Features.”
Ever since the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club debuted the first uniformed look of the game on April 24, 1849, uniforms have evolved almost as much as the players themselves. The team took to the diamond outfitted in blue wool pants, white flannel shirts, and straw hats. The look was accompanied by leather belts and full collars on the shirts. By the end of the 1850′s, the style had spread to most other teams, each adopting their own style of shirt with a logo, emblem, or nameplate on the front, and sometimes all three, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” online exhibit, an overall comprehensive source for all baseball uniform history.
Although the style was in full swing, many players disliked the way their pants fell to their ankles. According to a New York Times article written by Fred Bierman, they found that the pants often got caught in their feet when running, obstructing them from the highest caliber of play possible. To combat this, players used tape or belts to hold them down. In 1868, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (today’s Cincinnati Reds) debuted knickers (despite New York’s namesake) that were less restrictive and left the players’ socks visible. Cincinnati’s red socks (not to be confused with today’s Red Sox of Boston) became their trademark.
As each team adopted their own color of sock (look for the next post about uniforms colors in the late 19th century), players found that when they were spiked by an opponent’s cleat they could get blood poisoning if the sock dye ran into their wound. Players then began to wear white “sanitary socks” underneath their team-colored stockings for safety measures.
Players fitting their double-socked foot into a normal-sized pair of cleats became a problem and the stirrup was born. The new piece of technology allowed players to represent their team color while wearing the sanitary sock underneath, fitting both smoothly into their shoe.
Just like uniforms, stirrups themselves evolved throughout the ages. The first set showed barely any of the white under sock. By the time Mickey Mantle debuted with the New York Yankees in the 1950′s, players were showing a good amount of the white, and when Tom Seaver took to the field with the New York Mets in the 1960′s, stirrups were near secondary to the shiny white underneath. When Mike Schmidt hit the hot corner for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1980′s, he wore his stirrups as thin stripes, appearing as an extension of the piping on his pant.
In about a century, baseball leg apparel had gone almost full circle. When players like Barry Bonds came out wearing pants down to their ankles, the circle was completed, for better or for worse. Bonds wore his pants tight and to the ankle. Many players today, like Prince Fielder, wear their pants to the ankles (or sometimes past the top of the shoe even), yet wear them baggy. This evolution (or anti-evolution) has led to players choosing the possibility of encountering the exact problem that, decades ago, players worked to eliminate.