History of Baseball Uniforms


Source: John Thorn
“Clown Outfits”


Have you ever wondered, why your favorite baseball team occasionally wears a uniform that looks like they are part of the circus? Or that they look like they came right out of a Baseball History Almanac? This is because Major League Baseball likes to have teams participate in Throwback Baseball Games, this is where each team wear their uniforms from a previous era. This has become very popular, not only to fans at the games but to TV audiences. Throwback games started to show up in the early 1990’s and since then the popularity has taken off. So every year at some point you will find your favorite team going back in time and reliving those sweet looking or outrageous throwback jerseys! I bet most of us do not know how uniforms came about, or the rules that go with them. I have played baseball all my life and know a lot of the rules, keep reading we will explore some interesting facts about the uniforms (from their hats to their shoes) your favorite players have worn throughout history.

Baseball Hats

It did take some trial and error to get to where we are for today’s traditional baseball bat. The baseball hat has been around since the 19th century. In today’s era there are many different styles of baseball hats to make the perfect fit. Today the most popular options for a great fit are fitted(no adjustment/fixed size), snap-adjustable(snapback), strapback(belt-like strap), hook-and-loop(Velcro), and elastic(FlexFit)  I enjoy FlexFit hats the most. As far as material, baseball hats are typically made out of cotton, polyester, and/or wool.

In the 1800’s the first baseball hats on the scene were made of straw and not very durable. Once baseball hats were able to be made from wool, straw hats were no more. The first wool hats formed the foundation of what you see today. They were made with a crown and visor or bill to help block the sunlight. There were different grades of wool that were used to make baseball hats, so the price range would vary, you could purchase a hat in the 1850’s and later for $1.25 to $2. From my research with The Federal Reserve Bank and Consumer Price Index, those hats in 1850 would cost $36 to $56 respectively, in today’s dollars!

At the beginning of the 1888 season Spalding advertised in the Baseball Guide 10 different baseball hat styles that could be worn by players. Each hat had its own style, some examples were:  jockey hats, boating hats, flat top hats, cycling hats, skull hats, parti colored hats. Some catching on in the Major Leagues and some did not even make it into game play.

The History of Design in Baseball | Scout Branding Co. scoutbrand.com

Source: The History of Design in Baseball | Scout Branding Co.

One innovative hat was the creation of the “Burketts Bill.” In 1895 this hat was made with a green tinted transparent bill, kind of like poker hats you might see. The thought behind the “Burketts Bill” was to be able to view a wider range of your surroundings, while reflecting the sun away. It is hard to imagine that they even tried this type of hat due to the strength of the sun with the limited shading technologies of the time, ultimately this idea did not catch on and was dismissed.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century in 1901, when the Detroit Tigers were the first team to add their logo (a orange running tiger) to their baseball hats. The last team to not have a logo or letters on their hat was the 1945 St. Louis Browns team. Some other unique baseball hat elements involved the Los Angelo’s Angels, who had an embroidered halo around the top of their hat from 1961 to 1970. The halo was removed from the top of their hat an then incorporated into the “A” logo. The Seattle Pilots incorporated two golden braids on the bill of their hats in 1969, similar to commercial airline captains. The club moved later that year to Milwaukee, getting rid of the teams unique branding all together. The only Major League team that expressed “Stars of Honor” were the Pittsburgh Pirates, 1976-86. Manger Willie Stargell handed out “Stargell Stars” when players showcased high excellence. Players would sew those stars on the bill of their hat, or on the crown between the horizontal lines of the famous and old school “pill box” hat shape.


Various baseball hats from 1800’s to present.

Today the traditional hat will have the teams logo on the front and will cost anywhere from $20-$30 on average.  You may also see the players number, a flag of the United States, logos or numbers for remembrance of a loved one of the franchise or respecting a national issue.

Baseball Jerseys

The ball clubs originally voted against uniforms because they didn’t want to look like a “flock of birds” on the field.  (The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 10)

The first team to ever wear a team uniform would be the New York Knickerbockers, on April 4th 1849. The Knickerbockers took the field wearing blue wool pants, flannel tops and straw hats. Baseball uniforms came to life so that teams and fans could tell which player was on what team. By 1900 all Major League Baseball team’s started to wear uniforms proudly. All uniforms were made of wool until the 1940’s when they introduced a synthetic blend of materials to make a uniform that would breath better and be more comfortable. Between the 1850’s and 1900’s, there were many different styles of baseball uniforms that were tried. Right when teams began to wear uniforms in the 1850’s, jerseys with a shield on the front displaying the teams initials was very popular, this trend soon died out. Next on the scene was a laced up jersey, they looked cool with the lace in front, but I would think they would be a hassle to get in and out of. Lace jersey’s also died out in the early 1900’s. Once button up jerseys finally caught on during the turn of the century, every team went with the button up like you see them today. During 1937 and 1940 the Chicago Cubs introduced two fads that had their 15 minutes of fame. First being the zip up jersey, which was around for about 10 years. The second was the sleeveless vest pull over jersey of 1940, designed by President Philip Wrigley, to improve mobility. They were abandoned three years later. However that pull-over jersey, brought new design ideas for pullovers of the future.  In 1970, the Pirates started the v-neck pull over jersey trend, with belt-less pants. This caught on and stayed in MLB until 1993, when button up jerseys came back for good. Managers were typically seen wearing business suits up until the 1940’s, until they switched to a uniform to match the players.  Player-manager’s which were a lot more common in the 20th century, also wore a uniform. Connie Mack was the last manager to wear a suit as manager. He did until the day he retired in 1950.

In 1882, the circus came to town, not literally, but that year a rule came into play where each position on the field had to where a different style jersey to signify their position. The jerseys were all different colors and with various patterns. Even though the jerseys had to be different, all players had to wear white pants, belts and ties. The only way the fans could really tell which team was what, was by the color of the socks the team wore. Each team had their own style of socks, and that’s how you would pick out one team from the other. This fad did not last long due to it’s confusion and crazy colors, or it was a big pain to order all those. It ended mid-season, and the circus left town. It is still a very interesting fact, and time to time you will get a glimpse of these uniforms in the Throwback games. Image at top of page, “Clown Outfits.”

A sequence of popular throughout history.

A sequence of popular style jerseys throughout history.
Shield Jerseys, Lace up, First button up, 60’s button up, 70’s-90’s pull over v-neck, and back to today’s button up.

It was not until the beginning of the 20th century where teams would wear a home uniform and an away uniform. Home uniforms were typically white and road uniforms were a darker color. Numbers were first introduced on the side sleeve of jerseys in 1916, by the Cleveland Indians. It wasn’t until 1929 that you saw numbers on the back of players jerseys, this was introduced by the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. Numbers at first, meant where that particular player batted in the lineup, however it did not work well for substitutions. The fans liked the idea of players having numbers, so as of 1932 every team and player had a number on the back of their uniform. By 1952 numbers were introduced to the front of jerseys by the Brooklyn Dodgers, this also gained popularity among other teams. Names started to appear on jerseys in the 1960’s as baseball TV viewership began to rise and fans at home wanted to be able to read the names of the players on the ball field. As of 2013 the New York Yankees are the only MLB team that does not have players names on the back of their jerseys for home or road games.

Baseball Pants, Socks and Shoes

While baseball went through it’s experimental stages and technology was advancing, baseball pants went through many stages. Once noticeable change throughout the years has been the baggy pants in the beginning of baseball to the skin tight pant era, in the 1970’s-late 90’s. Then back to baggy baseball pants in the game today. As mentioned above about the Knickerbockers wearing the first team uniform, they  introduced wool trousers, which were worn down to the players ankle. For some reason they were not tapered down to the ankle at all. This caused many problems, players would catch the bottom of their pants on there cleats and that would trip them up. To prevent this they came up with buttons near the ends of the pants, so that players could adjust them as to there liking for a better fit on their ankles. Some teams decided to wrap belts around there ankles to prevent the extra material from getting caught in  their cleats. Did you ever wonder why the belt loops on baseball pants are so long? Well, back in the 1880’s and early 1900’s, there were some reported incidences of players grabbing the belt of the base runner. Making the runner loose there speed and changing the outcome of the play. By the 1920’s every major league team had baseball pants with a “belt loop tunnel” designed on the pants. This made it harder for the players in the field to cheat by grabbing the belts of the base runner.

Pants, socks and stirrups in sequence. Tapered buttoned pants, pants with belts for tightness, knee high pants with colored socks, mid length pants with high stirrups, low stirrups, low pant legs over cleats.

Pants, socks and stirrups in sequence.
Tapered buttoned pants, pants with belts for tightness, knee high pants with colored socks, mid length pants with high stirrups, low stirrups, low pant legs over cleats.
Vintage Images credited to: http://exhibits.baseballhalloffame.org/dressed_to_the_nines/pants.htm

Throughout the history baseball, the position of the pant legs have been a heated issue. Baseball pants started by resting on top of the players shoe. However in the late 1900’s players decided to roll there pants up, exposing their knickers/socks. This was seen as indecent, not man  like and immoral. Yes, people thought it was to much exposure to have a man show is socks. However, this trend did catch on by every club and through decades teams wore their pants up to their knees. By having a raised pant leg teams were able to show off their team colors represented on their socks. That is where a couple of the current MLB teams got their names from, Chicago White Stockings (Sox), and the Boston Red Stockings (Sox). Baseball socks became another important part of the baseball uniform. They ranged in many different styles some examples are, striped, checkered, and solid. In the early days of baseball, the color dye that was used was harmful to the player if it got into an open wound. So a  innovative stirrup was then invented to prevent the dye from reaching the players skin, they would wear a white socks, and place the stirrup over the white sock. It was a popular look for a very long time. Eventually safe dyes were used and colored socks were safe to wear. By the 1950’s pant legs started to make their way back down to the ankle by some popular players. This brought up an  issue with the umpires, they complained that they could not see the bottom of the strike zone, which started at the players knee cap, that this was now covered up with the low pant leg. Bill Stewart a long time umpire, asked for a ban of long pants, but the new trend was Major League wide and never went through. In today’s era, players can wear their pants however they like. The newest trend for some players, is to sew elastic straps on the bottom of the pants and put them over their shoes. The helps hold the bottom of the players pants over the top of their shoe to hide their ankles.

Cleats in sequence, vintage black cleats with spike plates, turf shoes, modern day metal cleats.

Cleats in sequence, vintage black cleats with spike plates, turf shoes, modern day metal cleats.

In 1882, Spalding came out with the first all-leather baseball shoe that had a price tag of $6 a pair, $145 in today’s dollars. For many years after baseball shoes had stayed pretty consistent with black or brown calf skin and kangaroo leather. Some shoes had spikes that were made of metal, that were removable from the bottom of the shoe. Some were formed to the shoe itself. When artificial turf was introduced to baseball in the 1960’s, metal cleats would tend to get stuck in the turf ( I have had experience with this, you can find you face in the turf if you are not careful). A shoe/cleat had to be developed that preformed with excellence on the turf.  Soon turf shoes were sold by every baseball shoe company, they offered traction on the turf and preformed well on the dirt.  It wasn’t until 1967 when color was introduced to the baseball cleat. The Kansas City A’s brought their white shoes to life, and are still used today in Oakland. This opened up many different colors of shoes to come: red, blue, yellow, navy and many others. Today you can find cleats for a wide variety in price ranging from $50 to $120 depending on the brand and quality.

I found a website where you can plug in any time frame in history and it will show you the uniform that Major League team wore for that year. Take a look, it has some great information. http://exhibits.baseballhalloffame.org/dressed_to_the_nines/database.htm

That’s all for now, thank you for reading and following the Annex Baseball Blog.

– Matt Ingle

Below is the MLB Uniform Rules for official reference on today’s standards:

MLB Uniform Rules



(a)(1) All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs.

(2) Any part of an undershirt exposed to view shall be of a uniform solid color for all players on a team. Any player other than the pitcher may have numbers, letters, insignia attached to the sleeve of the undershirt.

(3) No player whose uniform does not conform to that of his teammates shall be permitted to participate in a game.

(b) A league may provide that (1) each team shall wear a distinctive uniform at all times, or

(2) that each team shall have two sets of uniforms, white for home games and a different color for road games.

(c) (1) Sleeve lengths may vary for individual players, but the sleeves of each individual player shall be approximately the same length.

(2) No player shall wear ragged, frayed or slit sleeves.

(d) No player shall attach to his uniform tape or other material of a different color from his uniform.

(e) No part of the uniform shall include a pattern that imitates or suggests the shape of a baseball.

(f) Glass buttons and polished metal shall not be used on a uniform.

(g) No player shall attach anything to the heel or toe of his shoe other than the ordinary shoe plate or toe plate. Shoes with pointed spikes similar to golf or track shoes shall not be worn.

(h) No part of the uniform shall include patches or designs relating to commercial advertisements.

(i) 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.

Credits: I suggest taking a look at these websites for even more information.

http://exhibits.baseballhalloffame.org/dressed_to_the_nines/introduction.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_uniform#cite_note-baseball-almanac-3, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/uniforms.shtml


  1. I think the uniforms from the 50’s and 60’s were my favorite. The grey jerseys with the old style lettering. I also think the high socks look best. – no stirrups.

    • Ya, I like the new Twins retro jerseys, that were used during playing days of Harmon Killebrew.

      I think the laced up front with the collared shirts looked pretty sweet, if done right.

  2. Robert Wayne says:

    The best looking uniforms were those of the late ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. The worst are those uniforms of today with the players thinking they have to play in pants that are 10 inches too long and look like hand me downs from a basketball team to a bunch of midgets.

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