Rules Of Baseball: The Uniforms

Baseball Rules:
The Ball | The Bat | Fences | Uniforms | Mitts & Gloves | Benches | Pitcher’s Plate | Plate & Bases | The Field

A team’s uniforms are supposed to be . . . uniform. Besides having the same “color, trim, and style,” each should have its owner’s number in six-inch numerals on its back. The consistency extends to sleeves as well–same length for the entire club and no ragged or slit sleeves, please.

There are other specifications, including the following:

  • Each team is to have home and away uniforms.
  • No tape or other material of a different color from the uniform may be added.
  • No portion of the uniform is allowed to resemble a baseball.
  • No glass buttons or polished metal may be used.
  • Spikes are limited to the “ordinary shoe plate and toe plate.”
  • No commercial patches or designs may be added.

It is up to each league to determine whether players may adorn team uniforms or not, and any name other than a player’s last name must be approved by the league.

It was Bill Veeck who put names on uniforms in the first place, back in 1960, but it was Ted Turner who tried to out-Veeck Veeck by using nicknames. In the mid-seventies, Turner’s Atlanta Braves had such names on their uniforms as “Nort” (Darrel Chaney, named after Art Carney’s “Honeymooners” character Norton), “Gallo” (Rogelio Moret), and “Jay Bird” (Jerry Royster, for reasons unknown even to him).

The rules regarding today’s uniforms followed a predictably varied evolution. The first baseball uniform, which was worn by the 1849 New York Knickerbockers, included straw hats. Curiously, so-called knickerbocker pants had to wait seventeen years for their introduction–by the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

In 1876, the year the National League was organized, the name A. G. Spalding crops up again. Spalding was managing the Chicago White Sox, and everybody on his team was dressed in a cap of a different color. (In those days it was the socks rather than the uniform or hat that distinguished members of one team from another. Most of the socks were wool, though the White Sox wore silk.)

In 1882, stocking colors were standardized geographically: Boston clubs wore red; Chicago, white; Buffalo, gray; Worcester (Massachusetts), blue; Detroit, old gold; Troy (New York), green; and so on. Color must have been on everybody’s mind that year, as cap and shirt colors were assigned, too. (In this case, however, colors were assigned according to a player’s fielding position. All first basemen wore scarlet and white, second basemen orange and black, and onward around the color wheel. That experiment lasted a year.)

If there is one thing the diehard Yankees fan likes to do, it’s wax poetic about those beloved pinstripes. Well, we’ve got bad news: the Bronx Bombers weren’t the first to wear them. The Giants wore pinstripes for at least four years before the Yanks adopted them in 1915.

Numbers didn’t appear on uniforms until 1916 (in Cleveland) and were not mandatory until 1931 and 1933 for, respectively, the American and National leagues.

For decades, baseball tradition required that teams wear white at home and gray on the road. It was Charlie Finley who broke the color barrier when he had his Kansas City Athletics don new uniforms in 1962 (the colors have been recorded as “wedding white, kelly green, and Fort Knox gold”). Their opposition that first game (the Yankees, dressed in the aforementioned pinstripes) got such a kick out of the new uniforms that they were heard to call from their dugout“Yoooo hoooo, boys!” to the Athletics–and were also seen blowing kisses at any Athletics player foolish enough to look their way.

In 1976, the Chicago White Sox tried out knee-length shorts. They weren’t the first, though; a number of minor league teams experimented with them around 1950. In the late fifties, the Cincinnati Reds introduced their vest-style uniforms, reportedly because of muscular Ted Kluszewski’s habit of chopping off his sleeves to reveal his biceps.