Major League Baseball uniforms
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The uniforms worn by Major League Baseball teams have changed significantly since professional baseball was first played in the 19th century. Over time they have adapted from improvised, wool uniforms to mass-produced team brands made from polyester. The official supplier for Major League Baseball uniforms is Majestic Athletic, who has held the contract since 2005.
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The official rules of Major League Baseball require that all players on a team wear matching uniforms, although this rule was not enforced in the early days. Originally, teams were primarily distinguished by the colors of their stockings and the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings popularized the adoption of sock color as the explicit identity of the club. The 1876 Chicago White Stockings actually wore caps of different colors. In 1882, the National League assigned stocking colors to the member clubs: red for Boston, white for Chicago, grey for Buffalo, blue for Worcester, gold for Detroit, green for Troy, and so on. That year, the league also assigned jersey and cap colors, but by player position rather than by club.
Traditionally, when playing at home, teams wore uniforms that were mostly white with trim in team colors and when playing away, they wore uniforms that were mostly gray with trim in team colors. Aside from the obvious need to distinguish one team from the other, conventional wisdom held that it was more difficult to properly launder uniforms while on a road trip, thus the "road grays" helped to hide accumulated soil. This convention continued well after its original premise was nullified by the issuance of multiple uniforms and the growth of the laundromat industry. Starting in the 1970s, with the advent of synthetic fabrics, teams began using more color in their uniforms, notably the Kansas City Athletics in 1963, the San Diego Padres' brown-and-yellow scheme beginning in 1969, and the Houston Astros' rainbow stripes in the mid-1970s. In the late 1970s, the Pittsburgh Pirates began a trend of multiple combinations of differently colored jerseys and trousers and caps (with the options of black, yellow, and white with pin stripes). At one point in the 1970s, the Cleveland Indians had an all-red uniform. From 1976 to 1981, the Chicago White Sox at times had an all-blue uniform, part of a radical style which included a jersey with a large collar, worn untucked – and, for two games in 1976, shorts.
In his comedy routine "Baseball & Football", George Carlin observes that in baseball, as compared to football, the manager is required to wear the same uniform the players do. However, this was actually not true in the early years of the game. Player-managers were common, but non-playing managers whose realm was strictly the dugout often wore business suits, a common occurrence at the time. Retired players who became managers were more likely to continue to wear a baseball uniform (John McGraw, for example), especially if they were also active on the coaching lines; managers often doubled as third-base coach. By the late 1940s, nearly all managers were wearing baseball uniforms. Connie Mack was the last major league manager to wear a suit in the dugout until his retirement in the early 1950s; however, in contrast to the uniform-wearing managers, Mack rarely if ever stepped onto the field during a game; instead he sent uniformed coaches onto the field when a managerial presence outside the dugout was required.
Starting in the 1990s, MLB clubs began heavily marketing licensed goods, such as caps and uniform jerseys to the public and this has resulted in a wide array of uniforms for each team. Now, some teams have not only a basic home uniform and away uniform, but also special "Sunday game" uniforms and uniforms that are worn only during batting practice and uniforms worn on singular events. From time to time, individual MLB teams have held "Turn Back the Clock Day", regularly scheduled games in which teams donned uniforms in styles their predecessors wore generations earlier (sometimes called "throwback" uniforms), or other antique-style uniforms such as those of Negro League clubs. The Los Angeles Dodgers occasionally use the livery of their original identity as the Brooklyn Dodgers, on special anniversaries or occasions, for example such as in honor of the retirement of Jackie Robinson's uniform number 42 throughout professional baseball (on April 15 – the anniversary of Robinson's MLB debut – entire teams often wear 42). In addition, in 1999, MLB staged "Turn Ahead the Clock Day", in which teams wore futuristic, somewhat strange-looking uniforms, including futuristic or science fiction references, such as the New York Mets being referred to as the "Mercury Mets."
The result is that it is now often difficult to say which uniform is a team's "official" one. For example, from 1999 to 2006 the Cincinnati Reds wore a variety of caps: all red, red crown and black bill, black crown and red bill, and all black, but since 2007, only the all-red (home) and red crown/black bill (away) are used. In contrast from the pre-1970s era, in which there usually was just one home uniform and one road uniform (with certain exceptions, such as Oakland and Pittsburgh's complex combinations), today choices of what combination of uniform elements are worn are now sometimes left up to players. In some cases, aspects of the uniform that are considered official are rarely worn, such as the New York Mets' blue home cap, with the orange button, which was rarely seen on the field in the years 1998–2012 in favor of an "alternate" black-and-blue cap. The Mets added the orange button on their blue caps in 1995. Through 2014, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers wear uniforms which have changed little since the 1930s – while the Detroit Tigers have worn essentially the same home uniform during that span (only the Tigers, Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Washington Nationals retain the once-common practice of placing the cap insignia on their home whites, though many teams, including the Nationals and White Sox, do so on alternate jerseys), their road grays have changed more often. The Dodgers (a blue jersey once in 1999) and Tigers (a navy jersey twice in 1995) had worn alternate uniforms in the past, but as of 2010 did not have one (the St. Louis Cardinals didn't wear an alternate jersey until 2013, but since 1998 used an alternate cap, with the distinctive "birds-on-bat" logo rather than the traditional interlocking StL, for some home games, and also in 2013, with the adoption of their home red cap as their full-time standard, the navy blue road cap was designated as an alternate, worn exclusively against red-capped home teams).
Typically, home uniforms feature the team's nickname, while away uniforms feature the name of the team's geographic designation. Currently, the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Milwaukee Brewers are the only exceptions to this rule, although the Brewers reintroduced "Milwaukee" on their alternate away uniforms in 2010, and the Cardinals' aforementioned 2013 alternate placed "St. Louis" on their jerseys for the first time since 1932. These teams feature the club nickname on both the home and away uniforms (since 1900, in 169 seasons – including the Athletics' presence in the city from 1901 to 1954 – the full word "Philadelphia" has never appeared on a Major League jersey). From 1973 to 2008, the Baltimore Orioles were part of this group – the omission of the city's name being part of a largely successful effort to attract fans from the Washington, D.C. area – before returning "Baltimore" to the road jerseys in 2009, by which time their neighbor 38 miles (61 km) to the south once again had a team of its own. In 2014, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs partially joined this group, carrying one road jersey with the city name and another with the team name, and wearing both interchangeably; in only the third game of the season, one player accidentally played the first inning in the "Chicago" jersey while the team wore "Cubs"; the Cubs dropped the alternate road jersey in 2016, leaving the "Chicago" version as the lone style. As of 2017, only two teams wear their city/state name on their home uniforms, the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins.
MLB jerseys worn on the field have been made out of double-knit polyester since the early 1970s. The Pittsburgh Pirates were the first to switch when the franchise opened Three Rivers Stadium following the 1970 All-Star Game. The Cardinals followed suit to open 1971, and the Orioles made a gradual change until adopting them full-time for that season's ALCS. In the World Series, Baltimore faced the original double-knit converts, the Pirates.
Sixteen teams debuted double-knits to open 1972; the Red Sox adopted them after the All-Star Game, and the Giants debuted them at home only at mid-season as well. The final flannel holdouts, the Expos, Royals and Yankees, converted to open 1973.
Jerseys have featured an MLB logo on the back collar since 2000, whereas MLB on-field caps have featured an MLB logo on the back since 1992. Until 2007, MLB caps were made out of wool, with a gray underbrim having become common by the late 1980s. (The New York Yankees were among the last MLB teams to wear caps with the previously common kelly green underbrim, only switching their caps to the gray underbrim in 1994.) In 2007, all standard MLB caps were made of polyester, with a black underbrim to reduce glare.
The official rules state that:
- All players on a team must wear identical uniforms during a single game.
- Numbers: All players must wear their uniform numbers on the back of the uniform.
- Undershirt: If the undershirt is exposed then all the players on the team must wear matching ones. Numbers or other devices may be worn on the sleeve of the undershirt (for example, if it is worn with a sleeveless jersey), except that pitchers may not have such devices on their undershirt sleeves.
- The league office might require that each team have a single uniform for all games or requires that each team have a single, white home uniform and a single, non-white away uniform. With the elimination of the separate American League and National League administrations, this rule is most often seen in use in the minor leagues.
- Sleeve length: The rules allow for minor variation in sleeve length, but they must be "approximately the same length" and the sleeves may not be "ragged, frayed or slit."
- No attachments: Tape or other attachments of non-matching color may not be used on uniforms. Pants may not be attached to the bottom of the shoe in any manner.
- No images of baseballs: No "pattern that imitates or suggests the shape of a baseball" may be used on uniforms. Notably, in apparent violation of this rule, several teams have used cap or jersey logos that have incorporated a baseball in their design, such as the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, and the New York Yankees. However, in each of these cases, the baseball element of each logo is either obscured by another logo element, or rendered so small as not to be confused with an actual baseball. The purpose of this rule is to prevent one team from deceiving the other. (The National Football League has a similar rule, which states that no pattern that imitates or suggests the shape of a football.)
- No glass buttons or polished metal.
- No commercial advertisements on uniforms. This rule is at variance with many other professional sports. In North America, corporate sponsors' logos are ubiquitous on vehicles and uniforms in motorsports (such as NASCAR, IndyCar, and the NHRA). Outside of motorsports, sponsor logos are increasingly common in leagues such as the Arena Football League, WNBA, and soccer leagues such as MLS and WPS. Corporate logos on uniforms are even more widespread outside North America, most notably in soccer. The commemorative patches worn by the New York Mets during their inaugural season at the Citigroup sponsored Citi Field did not feature the name of the ballpark in adherence to this rule. However, when the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened the season in Japan in 2004, an ad for Ricoh was clearly visible on the batters' helmets. When the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox opened the 2008 season in Tokyo, not only did both teams wear batting helmets featuring the Ricoh ad; but also, the Red Sox featured a commercial advertisement for a New England-based business on their jerseys and the A's jerseys featured an advertisement for Pepsi. Exceptions are made for the manufacturers of the pieces of uniform or equipment upon which they are placed (i.e. the hat manufacturer's emblem may be on the hat).
- Names: "A league may provide that the uniforms of its member teams include the names of its players on their backs. Any name other than the last name of the player must be approved by the League President. If adopted, all uniforms for a team must have the names of its players." Again, with the elimination of separate administrations for the American and National leagues, this rule is more often invoked by the minor leagues. (Ichiro Suzuki, formerly of the Seattle Mariners, is the last player to have his given name rather than his family name displayed on the back of his uniform, having applied for this permission in order to continue being identified as he had been in the Japanese leagues. Vida Blue also used his first name on the back of his uniform when he played for the San Francisco Giants in the mid-1980s). As of 2010, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants do not display their players' names on their home uniforms (the Giants did adopt the names in the 1970s, but removed them from the home uniform in 2000); the Yankees also do not display them on their road uniforms. The New York Mets used alternate home uniforms without last names for the 1999 season. The names were returned the next season. The Chicago Cubs did not have names on their home or alternate jerseys for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. The names are now back on both jerseys. The Los Angeles Dodgers did not have names on the back of their home and road jerseys for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Names returned on both jerseys in 2007. The Minnesota Twins did not feature names on the back of three different "throwback" alternate uniforms, used in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2018.
Another apparent violation of the concept of a "uniform" is that some players on a team will wear the traditional knee-breeches or "knickers" while other teammates are wearing the more-recent ankle-length, closely cut trousers. Many clubs do this at both major and minor league level, with no apparent objections.
On game days that do not require a special uniform (either by team or MLB request) it is generally (but not always) the starting pitcher for a team that chooses the uniform to be worn for that day's game.
- "Major League Baseball Announces Renewals with Four Major Apparel Licensees" (Press release). Major League Baseball Advanced Media, LP. April 3, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
- Carlin, George (July 22, 2015). "Baseball and Football". Baseball Almanac, Inc. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
- Lukas, Paul (July 23, 2014). "Uni Watch: History of league logos". ESPN. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
- "Official Rules – 1.00 Objectives of the Game". Major League Baseball Advanced Media, LP. July 22, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
- History of the Baseball uniform at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
- All-time Major League Baseball team uniform database at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
- Baseball History Shorts