The Ins and Outs of Baseball Uniform Design

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
April 24 2014 11:35 AM

The Ins and Outs of Baseball Uniform Design

140425_EYE_2
George Sherrill is nicknamed “The Brim Reaper” for his flat-brimmed style.

Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at The Eye, we cross-post new episodes and host excerpts from the 99% Invisible blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode.

This week's edition—in which Paul Lukas of Uni Watch talked with Jesse Thorn, host of the NPR show Bullseye, owner of Maximumfun.org, and lifelong San Francisco Giants fans, about baseball uniforms—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

Uniforms matter. When it comes to sports, they might be the only thing to which we’re actually loyal. Jerry Seinfeld may have said it best:

Advertisement

Sports uniforms are packaging. But unlike any other packaging, if the product inside changes or degrades, we remain loyal. Players come and go, but change the uniform, and you’ll hear about it.

Perhaps as a result, people take notice when players put their own personal style into their uniforms. In baseball, in the face of huge opposition from curved-brim loyalists, some players take the bold stance of wearing a straight brim. Among them is George Sherrill, who is nicknamed “The Brim Reaper” for his flat-brimmed style (above).

But for people who really geek out about baseball uniforms (like Paul Lukas from Uni Watch) the space below the knee may be the most interesting. It is here that players have the most choices, can make the biggest statement, and be, in the words of Lukas, masters of their own “uni-verse.”

Most players today choose to wear their pants long (like George Sherrill is doing in the top photo), but if you truly want to honor baseball’s hosiery heritage, you should wear your pants up over your calves and a sharp pair of stirrups.

140425_EYE_3
Retro baseball style: sharp stirrups.

Courtesy of Devorama via Flickr

A stirrup is like a sock, but one that loops underneath the arch of the foot. A century ago, baseball pants were knickers, and what you wear with knickers are stockings. But in the early days, baseball was a pretty rough and tumble game. Players were liable to get cut up by opponents’ spiked shoes—and if you got spiked in the shins and started bleeding, the dye from your stockings could get in the wound, and, it was feared, you could get blood poisoning. (These were the days before colorfast dyes.)

So someone had the idea that if you wore a white undersock (a “sanitary,” or “sani” for short), you could stirrup on top—thus allowing you to protect your blood while also repping your team colors. The feet are cut out of the stirrup so as to keep from having to cram two pairs of socks into your cleats.

Originally, the foot opening in the stirrup was tiny, just enough for your foot to fit through. But almost immediately players began pulling it up and stretching it higher, thus exposing more and more of the sanitary undersock. By the 1960s, players like Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles were actually cutting the bottom loop of the stirrup and adding more fabric to it, so that the stirrups could be pulled even higher than manufacturer had intended.

Pitcher Josh Outman carries on the tradition of sporting stripe-y stirrups:

140425_EYE_4
Pitcher Josh Outman and his bold stirrups.

Courtedsy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Jim Thome didn’t go for long stirrups, but he remains one of baseball’s all-time best “blousers” (he tucks his pants into his socks).

140425_EYE_1
Jim Thome's "bloused" pants.

Courtesy of dcJohn via Flickr

To learn more, check out the 99% Invisible post or listen to the show.

99% Invisible is distributed by PRX.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 21 2014 11:27 AM There Is Now a Real-life Hoverboard You Can Preorder for $10,000
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 21 2014 12:40 PM Asamkirche: The Rococo Church Where Death Hides in Plain Sight
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.