In a recent “Life from a Man’s Point of View” column in The Southern, Les O’Dell wondered why “managers and coaches are all in uniform,” unlike coaches in football and basketball.

On a recent visit to St. Louis, Tony La Russa was asked the same question and he gave a simple answer. Baseball managers and coaches wear uniforms because they go onto the playing field. Just imagine Jose Oquendo wearing a blazer in the third base coaching box or Tony La Russa coming out of the dugout in a suit and tie to change pitchers or argue with an umpire.

The tradition of managers wearing uniforms goes back to the early history of baseball when teams often had player-managers. First baseman Frank Chance was the player-manager for the Chicago Cubs when the Cubs won their last World Series back in 1908. When the Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926, shortstop Rogers Hornsby was the player-manager. Both Chance and Hornsby are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Though uniforms have long been a part of baseball tradition, they’ve had a colorful history over the decades. Today’s teams usually wear white at home and gray on the road, but there have been some oddly colored uniforms in the past. John McGraw of the New York Giants, for example, wanted his team to intimidate their opponents, so he had them wear black uniforms back in 1905. In the same year, Ty Cobb made his debut with the Detroit Tigers in a navy blue uniform.

The designs on uniforms have also had an interesting history. The Cardinals, like the Reds and the Red Sox, have had red trim and lettering on their uniforms over the years, but the famous birds on a bat logo didn’t appear on a Cardinal uniform until 1922. The pinstripes on a baseball uniform are credited to the Yankees, but the Cubs introduced pinstripes in 1907, five years before the Yankees wore them for the first time.

The Yankees do, however, deserve credit for being the first team to put numbers on their uniforms, though there’s no mystery about the way they assigned the numbers. Each Yankee regular wore the number that corresponded to his position in the batting order. Babe Ruth wore the number three simply because he batted third in the Yankees lineup.

As for uniform material, the Little League uniform I wore in 1951, my first year on an organized team, was made out of wool flannel that turned my uniform into an oven in July. Its top, with buttons down the front, was more like a collar-less shirt than a jersey. The baggy bottom had elastic at the end of the pants, so we could tuck our pant legs under to display the stirrups that we wore over our sweat socks.

When my baseball days were over, I played softball in a double-knit uniform. The jersey was a pullover, and the pants were form fitting. The colors varied according to the taste or lack of taste of the owner of the beer joint sponsoring our team.

In 1970, when the Pirates became the first major league team to wear those double-knit, form-fitting uniforms, they were mocked by baseball pundits for wearing softball uniforms. Today every team in the major leagues is wearing those softball uniforms. In 1976, the flamboyant Bill Veeck tried to take uniforms to another level of comfort and had his Chicago White Sox wear Bermuda shorts, though the bizarre experiment mercifully lasted only three games.

My last uniform of the many I wore over the years was the only one that had my name on the back of the jersey. Though I was no Babe Ruth, the jersey had the number three on its back.

It became the only jersey wore by two Petersons, when my wife, Anita, the elementary school teacher, ran out of ideas for a Halloween costume to wear for her kids. I thought she’d look great in my softball uniform, so she agreed to wear it on one condition — no trick-or-treat wisecracks or off-colored Babe Ruth jokes. I agreed, but I have to admit, when I saw her in the uniform, my first thought was, “Now that’s a Babe.”

RICHARD ‘PETE’ PETERSON is the author of “Growing Up With Clemente” and the editor of “The St. Louis Baseball Reader.” His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and his hometown Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.