The Evolving Baseball Uniform

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - April 19, 2006
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Ryane Doi, manager of Rainbow Sports, which sells thousands of baseball and softball uniforms each year
Ryane Doi, manager of Rainbow Sports, which
sells thousands of baseball and softball
uniforms each year

There’s a large statue of Babe Ruth that stands at the entrance to Camden Yards in Baltimore. As I walked past the statue recently on my way to see the home team Orioles battle the Boston Red Sox, I was struck by how much baseball uniforms have changed over the years.

The statue showcases the Babe as he might have appeared as a teenage baseball phenom in his hometown of Baltimore - all dressed up in a collared, short sleeve baseball jersey with no number and no team name stitched on the front. His baseball pants were loose-fitting knickers tucked neatly just above the knee, and his lower legs were covered with thick, ribbed stockings that seemed to grow out the tops of his baseball cleats.

Nearly a full century later, professional baseball players still dress up in their traditional jerseys, pants and cleats. But the styles have changed drastically. One thing I found out when I took my box seat near the Orioles dugout that night: There doesn’t seem to be any uniformity in baseball uniforms these days.

The Red Sox, for instance, had some players who wore their baseball pants in a manner that fans might call “the traditional way” - that is, tucked just below the knee with red-colored stirrups covering their calves. But other players wore semi-long pants that hugged tight to the calf and came down to the ankle. And several others wore pants that looked more like slacks, covering all the way to their shoe tops.

What’s the point of calling them the Red Sox, I wondered, if you can’t seem any socks at all?

“They make the pants now extra long,” says Ryane Doi, the store manager at Rainbow Sports, a Honolulu-based sporting goods shop that sells thousands of baseball and softball uniforms each year. “Some guys in the ‘90s started wearing the calf-tight look and it caught on. Lately, they’ve been wearing them extra long (with an elastic band that pulls tight around the shoe to keep the pants snug against the shoe tops). The Major Leaguers set the trend and it grows from there. I was watching the World Baseball Classic on TV and everybody was doing it.”

It appears to be all about individual taste.

For example, Manny Ramirez, Boston’s power-hitting outfielder, wears a uniform so loosely fitting that years ago I know my baseball buddies and I would have called it a clown suit. It’s that baggy.

The baggy look is a far cry from the tight-fitting polyester uniforms of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Remember when fluorescent stripes were in?

“I grew up playing Little League ball in the ‘80s, and I recall how all the uniforms had the striped trims. Now, it’s all changed,” says Doi, who played his high school ball at Mid-Pacific and pitched collegiately at Dana College in Nebraska. He still puts on his uniform regularly as a member of the Manoa team in the AJA League.

Behind Doi’s front desk at Rainbow Sports there are a couple of autographed posters that reveal the uniform changes over the years. One poster features Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller in a loose-fitting pinstripe wool uniform of the 1940s. Feller wore his knickers just over his knee with his baseball stockings revealing a couple of dark-colored stripes around the calf. The stockings had tight stirrups.

The adjacent poster showed the pitching form of Roger Clemens in the late 1980s. Clemens’ uniform was tight-fitting and probably made of a polyester blend. His baseball pants fit snug to his leg and revealed long elastic stirrups pulled up over white sanitary hose, with the tops of those stirrups hidden under the fold at the top of the calf. A baseball fan back then could argue that the only red socks on this Red Sox pitcher was the thin stretch material that ran up the sides of his calves.

I wonder what the Babe would have thought? I imagined asking him as I left Camden Yards, but he was too busy getting his picture taken by baseball fans dressed up in all the latest uniform memorabilia.

And that’s when I realized why the uniforms change so much these days. It’s part tradition, part comfort and probably part functionality. But mostly, it’s about individuality and great marketing.

The more they keep changing the styles, the more you’ll have to buy to keep up with the latest trends.

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