Baseball fashion took a turn, when, in 1963, Kansas City Athletics owner Charles O. Finley introduced gold and green road uniforms, bucking the traditional use of a base gray for away games. No other clubs embraced the road golds, but some began to use a pale blue for their away games. The standard button-down shirt was replaced in 1971 by both the Cardinals and the Pirates with double-knit, pull-over jerseys. By 1978, nearly every team had espoused the pull-over, sometimes garishly colored.

At the onset of the eighties, only the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, and Dodgers donned uniforms stylistically consistent with the first half of the century -- home whites and road grays with button-down shirts. Soon, however, the remainder of the league began to follow suit. In 1991, only the Cardinals and Reds, ironically two of the oldest and most storied clubs in baseball, held on to the seventies-style pull-overs. Ten years later, the pull-over has disappeared; Baseball style has turned fully to its past for stylistic models.

The Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers franchise has proven stylistically stable throughout the years. Historian Marc Okkonen noted, "throughout the hectic years of bizarre color combinations and the double knit style features, the Dodgers' image has personified the idea of consistent tradition."1 In spite of this stability, even the Dodgers have exercised slight alterations accentuating their past in Los Angeles. With the move of the franchise from Brooklyn in 1958, the road grays included "Los Angeles" in script rather than the usual "Dodgers" (to discriminate from their previous home in Brooklyn). In recent years, the franchise has returned the city name to its grays.

Even the Chicago White Sox, who once sported bermuda shorts when under the steerage of legendary promoter Bill Veeck, have re-employed baseball's more traditional tastes. By 1991 they had returned to pinstriped white and black home uniforms suggesting those used 40 years prior. The Reds abandoned their pull-overs, and now sport vests reminiscent of Pete Rose's early years, as have the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As the league stylistically distanced itself from the colorful seventies, more subtle changes were also appearing on some uniforms. In 1987, the Atlanta Braves revived the tomahawk across the chest, a relic of that team's days in Boston, and later Milwaukee. The Oakland Athletics resurrected their unofficial mascot, the white elephant, on arm patches in 1988. The legendary Connie Mack, then managing the Philadelphia Athletics, adopted the symbol after New York Giants manager John McGraw derisively branded the A's "white elephants" in 1905. The elephant's last appearance had been in the years 1955-60, when the A's were in Kansas City.

A 1989 Sports Illustrated article on contemporary uniform styles argued, "At present, baseball is caught up in a wave of nostalgic fervor, a postmodernist period, designers might say. Teams are reaching into their pasts for a button here, a belt there, adding pinstripes, abandoning color, rehabilitating long-neglected symbols."2 League-wide "rehabilitations," however, should not necessarily be branded as an example of a "nostalgic fervor." Considering the relatively stable style of uniforms over the course of the century, the seventies seem aberrative; the traditional might not be so much a nostalgic gesture as a return to a more functional, less brazenly colored aesthetic. More curious is the reappropriation of abandoned symbols by franchises like the Athletics and Braves. The existence of each team is marked by fiscal turbulence and geographical discontinuity. By reclaiming these images from their pasts, franchises like the Athletics and Braves reflected the anxiety over this discontinuity by graphically asserting their connections to the past. They pretended to possess an authority through longevity that did not exist, beyond a shared mascot.

A similarly facile effort at suggesting historical authenticity is evidenced in the use of "throwback" games, in which teams wear replications of old uniforms. Sportswriter Mark Purdy wrote of a recent throwback game: "Saturday, the A's and Twins wore retro 1901 uniforms -- inside the artificial turf, roofed monstrosity that is called the Metrodome. What were the Twins thinking? Plus, every time I see a black player wearing a pre-1947 major league uniform, it strikes me as profoundly ironic."3 In 1901, the Minnesota Twins did not exist; the Washington Senators relocated to Minneapolis in 1961. The Athletics, as previously noted, were in Philadelphia, and then Kansas City before reaching Oakland in 1955. Perhaps most significantly, as Purdy notes, black players wouldn't play professionally with whites until 45 years after the Twins-A's historical pantomime. Dehistoricized and decontextualized, two relatively nascent teams tried to establish historical authenticity at the expense of historical reality. The use of pre-1947 throwback uniforms throughout the league invites the depoliticized assumption that baseball was always as it is -- integrated. It deflects attention from the real history of the team in its community (in the case of the A's and the Twins, recent championships do not suffice), to a concocted authority established on mere age. The past is good, not for its merit, but merely for its "pastness." And, in this case, the use of throwback uniforms undermines its own goal -- the discontinuity and instability of the league, as evidencd in the franchise movement of the Senators and Athletics, is accentuated.

The use of Negro League uniforms in throwback games exemplifies this same ahistorical atmosphere though perhaps in a slightly less amnesiac fashion. A July 14, 2001 game in Pittsburgh, in which the Pirates wore the uniforms of the Crawford Grays, and the Royals those of the Kansas City Monarchs, seemed an attempt at remembering a troubled past, when the league barred black players from participation. Yet, the accidentals of the event problematize any social message and historical meaning affixed. The very spector of segregation is undermined by the presence not only of white players, but a largely white audience. What appears to be an example of democratized history, in which a traditionally oppressed class is granted voice, seems a sort of millenial minstrel performance in an almost surreal, voeuristic setting. The entire spectacle is complicated by what must surely be a wide range of responses, often relying upon racial makeup -- for whites it may be a celebration of a surface racial equity, for blacks a sort of demonstration of guilt and reparation. Furthermore, the motives driving such displays are certainly not simply the desire to remember the past, but to cater to a black market segment.

Uniforms are advertisements -- not only in the hands of eccentrics like Charles O. Finley and Bill Veeck, but also more subtly, as a team's self-identification with "tradition." In recent years, Major League Baseball has used its uniforms to project a sense of the past -- to claim a coveted authenticity often founded simply on age. Older is better. Of what he called "the monumental past," Nietzsche wrote, "it will always bring together things that are incompatible and generalize them into compatibility, will always weaken the differences of motive and occasion. Its object is to depict effects at the expense of the causes."4 The use of symbols and recycled replicas in the eighties and nineties illustrates this tendency. Financial instability has often been the "motive" that drove many franchises to new cities, requiring them to scramble for symbols of authenticity and continuity as a means of validation. Racist attitudes were the "causes" that produced the segregated leagues of Baseball's past. Yet, through the use of uniforms, Baseball might advertise stability and equity, in spite of its own past.


Notes (click footnote number to return to text)

1 Marc Okkonen, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century (New York: Sterling Publishing Co, Inc., 1991) 49.
2 Sarah Ballard, "Fabric of the Game," Sports Illustrated April 5, 1989: 108.
3 Mark Purdy, "Over-Expansion Only One of Baseball's Real Problems," The Mercury News, May 26, 2001 (http://www0.mercurycenter.com/sports/center/mp0527.htm)
4 Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Use and Abuse of History," trans. Adrian Collins (New York: Macmillan, 1957) 15.


Images

#1 Geoffrey C. Ward, Baseball: An Illustrated History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994) 328.
#2 Marc Okkonen, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century (New York: Sterling Publishing Co, Inc., 1991) 214.
#3 Okkonen, 271.
#4 The Baseball Anthology, ed. Joseph Wallace (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994) 266
#5 Okkonen, 49.
#6 "MLB.com" (http://dodgers.mlb.com)
#7 Okkonen, 30.
#8 "MLB Photos" (http://sports.excite.com)
#9 Okkonen, 29.
#10 Ward, 438.
#11 "MLB Photos."
#12 Ward, 381.
#13 "MLB Photos."
#14 David Quentin Voigt, Baseball: An Illustrated History (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1987) 238.
#15 "MLB Photos."
#16 Okkonen, 59.
#17 Stan Grossfeld and Dan Shaughnessy, Fenway (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1999) 137.
#18 MLB.com.
#19 MLB.com.
#20 MLB.com.
#21 MLB.com.