The 25 Most Influential Baseball Uniforms Of All-Time
Written by Nick Santora
Originally Published on Sneakerreport.com on October 29, 2012
The first baseball game played under modern rules took place on June 18, 1846 in Hoboken, NJ. From the sport’s inception through today, there have been thousands of uniforms worn throughout all levels of the professional game. As I continued to research this piece, it became apparent that there are no clear-cut favorite uniforms and baseball fan’s opinions are generally based on where they grew up and during which era. Traditionalists reminisce on the old days of grey flannel road uniforms, while someone who grew up with the sport in the 1970’s or 1980’s, still gets nostalgic for bold polyester double-knit pullovers and Sansabelt pants.
This list holds the good, the bad and the ugly, but each uniform holds a significant place in baseball history and American pop culture.
In the interest of keeping this list manageable, only major league franchises have been included. As you will see, many clubs in the early days of baseball went only by their city name with the addition of whatever nickname was used by the media to describe the team. Most of these names and logos date back as far as the 1910’s and are still being used over one hundred years later.
With the Giants sweeping their 7th World Series title last night, we examine the evolution of the baseball uniform over the last century and highlight The 25 Most Influential Uniforms in Baseball History.
No. 1 – 1912 New York Highlanders
The New York Yankees are the most decorated sports franchise in the history of civilization. The team has won 27 World Series Championships and currently has forty-four players and eleven managers enshrined in the baseball Hall Of Fame. Over the past hundred years of Yankee tradition, one thing has remained the same: the white pinstripe Yankee uniform.
This uniform actually pre-dates even the name Yankees, as it was first introduced on Opening Day 1912, when the team was still known as the New York Highlanders. The interlocking NY had first been introduced to the sleeve of the team’s jerseys in 1909 and in 1912 it was moved to the chest and for the first time ever, paired with the iconic pinstripes.
After the 1912 season, the Highlanders moved to a new stadium and officially changed their name to the Yankees. The pinstripe home uniform made its way in and out of the rotation for two seasons until 1915 when it became the official Yankees home uniform and hasn’t changed since.
No. 2 – 1906 New York Giants
The 1906 New York Giants were coming off their first World Series victory and made sure everyone knew it whenever they stepped onto the field. In a move that would never happen today, the Giants chose to change their uniform and bypass their customary NY branding in favor of the words World’s Champions across the chest.
Both the Giants home and away jerseys featured the same proclamation, which could have been in response their management’s disdain for the American League. In 1904 they boycotted the World Series and after winning in 1905, they made sure everybody knew who the best team on the planet was. History shows the team also rotated their all-black 1905 World Series uniforms into several games during this season.
No. 3 – 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers
The 1955 Dodgers were the only team to win a World Series in Brooklyn. The Dodgers had won the pennant seven times, but couldn’t get past the Yankees in their last five appearances. In 1955 Ray Campanella won his third MVP Award, Duke Snyder led the league in RBI’s, Don Newcombe won 20 games, and Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges were still producing at the end of their careers.
The Yankees went up 2-0 in the 1955 World Series before Brooklyn won three straight at Ebbet’s Field. New York forced a game seven at Yankee Stadium, where the Dodgers won their first and only World Series in Brooklyn. After the 1957 season, Walter O’Malley broke the heart of the whole borough when he was forced to move the franchise to Los Angeles.
The 1955 Dodgers uniform was introduced in 1952 when it was the first to ever feature the player’s number on the front of the jersey. This classic look remained the same until Los Angeles was finally added to the chest in 1959. The Jackie Robinson #42 was proudly worn by Mookie throughout the movie Do The Right Thing and his number will forever be retired throughout Major League Baseball.
No. 4 – 1903 New York Highlanders
The 1903 baseball season began with the Orioles moving to New York. The team arrived as the Greater New York Baseball Club but was soon given the nickname “Highlanders” since they played their games at one of the highest points in Manhattan, Hilltop Park. The media had nicknames for every team in those days and since the Giants were New York’s National League team, the Highlanders also became known as the Americans. In 1903 the terms American and Yankee were synonymous, so that nickname also began to appear in the newspapers.
The half-button down collared jerseys were standard for this time period, but what I really love about this one is the classic lettering and spacing of the NY across the front. The navy blue away uniform is the stronger of the two versions, but I do appreciate the navy blue collar on the home whites. The striped caps are a great touch too. This jersey looks like something could wear today if it was modified into a jacket or sweater. The uniform pictured here also holds a special place in baseball history, as it is was worn by New York’s first American League club, which officially became known as the Yankees in 1913.
No. 5 – 1977 Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates had some great black and yellow uniform combinations throughout the 1970’s, but I am focusing on 1977-1979 as the best years. This was the period where the Pirates introduced a pinstripe home uniform into their rotation. The classic black striped Pirates cap was also part of the new 1977 uniforms and worn through the 1986 season.
The Pirates had six uniform looks going on during this three year stretch. The team interchanged three different style jerseys with three different colors of pants. All white pinstripes could be worn at Three Rivers Stadium, or sometimes the stripes were matched with black pants and vice-versa. An all-yellow uniform was also worn at both home and away games during those years. Finally, there was an alternate all-black road uniform or the option to wear the black pants with the yellow jerseys, which was another big look both at home and on the road.
The Pirates most successful year in these uniforms was undoubtedly 1979 when Willie Stargell and Dave Parker led the team past the Orioles to their fifth (and most recent) World Series title in franchise history.
No. 6 – 1927 St. Louis Cardinals
The first World Series was played in 1903. The New York Giants won it in 1905 and introduced new uniforms the following year that featured only two words across the chest: “World’s Champions”. In 1921 the Cleveland Indians wore a very similar jersey in honor of their championship, but the 1927 St. Louis Cardinals were the first (and maybe only) team to incorporate that title into their already existing logo and uniform.
The 1926 Cardinals wore uniforms very similar to the ones they wear today. The two birds on a bat logo was still there across the chest, but pinstripes were added to the grey road uniform. St. Louis won the World Series that year and played the following season with modified jerseys. Now, there was only one bird on the chest with the words “World Champions” surrounding their logo. They didn’t wear this for just the home opener or some sort of ring ceremony. Both home and away uniforms contained this title all season long.
No. 7 – 1905 New York Giants
The 1905 New York Giants were defending National League Champions, but didn’t play in the World Series in 1904. In fact, there was no World Series in 1904. The Giants owner John T. Brush hated the president of the American League so much that he refused to participate against the Boston Americans in what would have been the second World Series ever. Manager John McGraw claimed his Giants were already world champions because they had won “the only real major league”.
The 1905 Giants did participate after winning the pennant once again and created a new uniform just for the World Series. All black everything with the NY on the chest was worn to defeat the Philadelphia Athletics four games to one behind three wins by Christy Matthewson. This uniform shows some creativity as it marks the first time an “alternate” jersey was worn in the history of baseball. The Giants continued to wear their black World Series uniform in 1906, along with another all-time classic that you will see later in this list.
No. 8 – 1917 Chicago White Sox
I’m shouting out the 1917 White Sox uniforms for a few reasons. The first thing I like is that they had three different pinstripe versions. Renderings on the Hall of Fame website suggest a black with white pinstripe version of the uniform existed, although I can’t find any photographs to prove it. What I did find were several images and throwback remakes of the home white pinstripe uniform and a special edition they made for their World Series appearance that year.
Chicago’s regular season uniforms featured a large S (small o and x) logo on the chest and the American flag on the sleeve in acknowledgement of World War I. For the World Series they sported a solid white uniform with the addition of a star-spangled patriotic version of the team logo. The Sox won the World Series that fall and two years later were involved in the infamous Black Sox scandal. If anyone knows where any photographic evidence of the black pinstripe uniform exists, please point me in that direction.
No. 9 – 1909 Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs have so many great uniforms in their history, that it’s hard to decide which is best. The mid 1980’s first come to mind when I look back at the road blue pullovers jerseys worn by Hall Of Famers Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg. The pinstripe home uniform that the team wears today was first introduced in the late 1950’s and was worn by one of the best shortstops to ever play the game, Ernie Banks.
Although the familiar Cubs home white pinstripes are an all-time classic, my vote for the best uniforms in team history dates back to 1909 when they were coming off their third consecutive World Series Championship. Chicago is credited with being one of the first Major League teams to introduce a pinstripe uniform during the 1907 season, and in 1909 they upgraded by adding a “cadet style” collar and “Chicago” down the front of this button down pullover jersey. This was also the first year the logo featured a large C with smaller ubs next to it on the chest.
No. 10 – 1916 Brooklyn Robins
In baseball’s early days teams didn’t really even have official names. It seemed like most of the teams went by the nicknames they were called in the media and over the course of a few years, one of them finally stuck. Brooklyn’s baseball team began as the Bridegrooms, then the Superbas, followed by the Trolley Dodgers in 1911. Then the story gets fuzzy because it was said that the team was known as both the Robins and the shortened Dodgers until around 1931. I was able to find an image of the 1916 World Series program and it only states each team by city and league, so I guess you can call them whatever you want.
In any case, the 1916 uniform was very unique because Brooklyn took pinstripes one step further by adding them in both directions. The vertical and horizontal lines created a square plaid style pattern that was also being worn by the New York Giants that same season. I’ve chosen Brooklyn for the list, simply because I was able to find images. This is 1916 we’re talking about here. Brooklyn won the pennant that year, but lost in the World Series to Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox.
No. 11 – 1921 Cleveland Indians
As you will see further up this list, the 1921 Cleveland Indians weren’t the first team to come off a World Series victory with new “Worlds Champions” jerseys, but this concept is so hard that I have to add this uniform to the list as well.
Think about this in today’s terms. If say the Miami Heat for example, showed up this season with absolutely no team logo across their jerseys and just the words “Worlds Champions” and kept it that way for the entire season, people would be bugging out. This idea is the epitome of swagger and something that I would love to see brought back in today’s era of sports. This concept would never fly for a full season again, but would definitely make a sick opening day alternate uniform for any team coming off a championship season.
No. 12 – 1975 Houston Astros
The Houston baseball franchise began in 1962 as the Colt .45’s and after three sweltering summers, moved into the world’s first multi-purpose indoor sports stadium: The Astrodome. The team’s new home prompted a change of name and logo, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the Astros underwent some major re-branding that created one of the most polarizing uniforms in baseball history.
In the early 1970’s baseball uniforms began to reflect the fashion trends of the time as we saw many teams move from the classic grey road flannels to more colorful polyester pullovers. In response, the Astros had flipped their uniforms to make orange the predominant color instead of navy blue, but in 1974 they hired McCann Erickson to re-brand the whole team and what resulted is the most iconic uniform of the 1970’s.
The 1975 Astros had one uniform for both home and away games. The “comet trail” that existed on the chest of the previous version was now re-interpreted into cascading orange, red and yellow stripes that covered the whole jersey. The original incarnation had the player’s number in a white circular patch on the back and was also the first uniform to feature numbers on the pants.
The Astros introduced more toned down uniforms in 1980 where the stripes were moved to the sleeves, but also kept this classic pullover in the rotation through the 1986 season.
No. 13 – 1972 Oakland A’s
When Reggie Jackson showed up at 1972 Spring Training with a mustache, Oakland A’s owner Charley Finley got really pissed off. Baseball was one of the last wholesome things left in America after the 1960’s and no player was going to fuck that up by growing a mustache, goddammit! The A’s owner pleaded with Reggie to shave it and when that didn’t work, he tried a little reverse psychology. Finley thought that if he encouraged every other player to grow mustaches, Reggie wouldn’t think he was so cool anymore and get rid of his. This sounds ridiculous, but you also have to consider this is the same guy that officially changed the team mascot to a donkey and named it after himself.
Finley set up a competition and offered $500 to any player that grew a mustache by Father’s Day. Every member of the team let it grow and the A’s became known as The Mustache Gang. In addition to Oakland’s contribution to 1970’s men’s facial fashion, they also deserve credit for establishing the look of 1970’s baseball by combining bright color pullover road jerseys with white pants.
In 1972 Oakland began wearing solid green and gold double-knit jerseys with white “Sans-A-Belt” elastic pants. The grey flannel road uniforms of yesteryear were replaced with polyester double knit pullovers. In 1973 they also busted out the straight classic green/green and gold/gold uniforms too. Although afros, mustaches and polyester seem more suited for the disco than the dugout, the Oakland A’s went on to win three consecutive World Series while defining the look of 1970’s baseball uniforms.
No. 14 – 1979 Philadelphia Phillies
In 1970 the Philadelphia Phillies underwent a makeover that included new uniforms, a new logo and new colors. For the previous thirty years the Phillies had worn uniforms very similar to what you see today; the Phillies script with the stars across the chest in a red, white and blue color combination. In 1970 they shelved this look in favor of the P logo and white and burgundy home pinstripes. The road uniform featured the same new logo on the chest, as well as player numbers on the front, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the powder blue zip-front road uniform was introduced.
On May 19, 1979 the Phillies introduced a third “alternate” uniform in solid burgundy that was known as the “Saturday Night Special”. Fan and media reaction was so brutal that the uniforms were never worn again. Philadelphia’s most successful year in the powder blue was 1980 when the bunch known as the Cardiac Kids won the World Series behind the play of Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt.
Although this same home uniform was worn through the 1991 season, the road powder blue was dropped in 1989 and replaced with a more traditional grey on grey combination. The powder blue road uniform was a baseball staple throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, but Philly’s choice to combine it with burgundy created a uniform that can only be rivaled by the 1982 St Louis Cardinals.
No. 15 – 1982 St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis first introduced two birds perched on a baseball bat in 1922 shortly after they changed their name from the Browns. Over the years the color of the bat has changed and the logo went from two birds to one and then back to two again. Although these slight changes were made in the first 50 years of the team’s history, the overall aesthetic of the uniform didn’t get a real makeover until 1976.
As we have learned from this list, many teams were trading in their traditional flannel uniforms during the 1970’s in exchange for new bold polyester double-knits. Light blue was beginning to replace grey as the color of many team’s road uniforms and in 1976 the Cardinals joined suit.
The most successful year in the uniforms was 1982, when the Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, to win their first World Series title since 1967. Since that championship, these classic road uniforms have gained the nickname “Victory Blue”. The Cardinals home uniform essentially hasn’t changed since the 1930’s, but the Victory Blue uniforms were dropped after the 1984 season when most major league clubs were losing the “Sans-A-Belt” pants and transitioning back to more classic styled uniforms.
No. 16 – 1940 Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are responsible for many great uniforms throughout the years and 1940 is notable for several “firsts” in the history of Major League Baseball. In 1940 the Cubs first introduced the C logo that is still being used today, but also abandoned their traditional uniforms and replaced them with sleeveless vest jerseys. This was the first time baseball fans had seen these new “vest” uniforms that eventually became hugely popular across the league, a decade later. This uniform also featured a zipper replacing buttons on the front, which was first introduced to baseball by the Cubs in 1937.
Another landmark during the 1940 season was the introduction of a powder blue road jersey. This uniform was worn for two years before being dropped due to fan outrage. The 1940 Chicago Cubs were definitely ahead of their time, as they introduced two key components to their uniforms that went on to become MLB staples over the next fifty years.
No. 17 – 1944 Brooklyn Dodgers
In 1944 Brooklyn Dodgers management was convinced that if their players wore satin uniforms during night games, their fans would be able to see them play better. They figured the lights would reflect off the material and create a glowing effect. In 1944 the Dodgers wore home white along with light blue and navy road versions, all made by Wilson.
The Dodgers weren’t the only team to adopt this concept. The Boston Braves, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals also picked up on the idea of wearing satin at night. I personally think these could be the ugliest uniforms of all-time, but I had to include them in this list due to the ridiculousness of the idea and the fact that it actually spread around the National League. The Dodgers ended the season 63-91 that year and dropped the satin uniforms, while retaining the classic Brooklyn logo across the chest. Evidence shows this material making a comeback in 1948, but only during Spring Training.
No. 18 – 1984 San Diego Padres
What I’ve learned from this list is that several of the uniforms I think are the best of all-time are also considered by many to be the worst of all-time. One team that consistently comes up on both of these lists is the San Diego Padres. The 1970’s saw a shift in baseball style where grey flannel was replaced with yellow polyester. The other teams that come to mind are the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates, but both of those teams had the fortune of not having to combine their gold with brown.
In 1972 the Padres wore mustard jerseys on mustard pants with brown trim. At the end of the decade, they started mixing in some nice lettering and color blocking to create two classic jerseys in 1978 and 1979 that almost made this list, but got squeezed out by another Padres uniform. Not the camouflage, sorry.
My vote for best San Diego uniform comes a few years later in the 1980’s when the team added orange into the mix to create a look that first baseman Steve Garvey compared to a taco. Obviously I’m a sucker for the 1970’s and 1980’s solid color pullover road uniforms and this Padres version is no exception. In 1984 the Padres wore these uniforms while facing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, but fell four games to one at the hands of Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish and Alan Trammell. The following year this style was replaced with pinstripes and new SD and Padres chest logos.
No. 19 – 1942 St. Louis Cardinals
The most iconic uniforms in baseball history haven’t changed much over the years and another great example is the St. Louis Cardinals. The team first introduced the two birds perched on a baseball bat in 1922 and has varied over the years, but still remains pretty much the same today.
For the purpose of this list I am choosing their “wartime” uniforms from 1942-1945. In addition to the classic Cardinals logo across the chest, all MLB jerseys featured the American flag shield patch on the sleeve on honor of our country. The 1942-1944 Cardinals are considered to be one of the best teams in the history of baseball. The team won over 100 games for three consecutive years in addition to World Series titles in 1942 and 1944.
No. 20 – 1966 Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles won their first pennant in 1966 thanks to Frank Robinson’s Triple Crown and a solid young pitching staff. The Dodgers entered the World Series with their legendary pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, but it was the Orioles’ Jim Palmer, Waller Bunker and Dave McNally who held Los Angeles to only two runs all series. The Orioles won their first World Series in a four-game sweep of the defending champions.
1966 was also the year that Stan Walsh’s cartoon bird logo was introduced on the Orioles’ caps, although he may be more famous for creating three other American icons for Rice Krispies: Snap, Crackle and Pop. Over the next two decades Walsh’s bird remained on the cap until 1989, when the team dropped the cartoon aesthetic of the era. An ornithological looking bird replaced the iconic mascot and remained on the cap through 2011.
In honor of the team’s 20th season at Camden Yards (2012), the Orioles brought back the “retro” uniforms and a slight modification of the classic bird logo on their caps. The old mascot brought good luck to Baltimore once again as the Orioles reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
No. 21 – 1982 Chicago White Sox
In 1976 White Sox owner Bill Veeck proclaimed that Comiskey Park would be the next global fashion capital, along with New York and Paris. Shortly afterwards he introduced shorts with knee-high socks and collared shirts as the team’s new uniforms. When new owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn took over the team in 1981, they decided to hold a competition where a fan would design the next White Sox uniform.
There were 1,600 submissions for the new uniform and the White Sox owners narrowed it down to six designs that the fans voted on. Prototypes were created and 25 year-old graphic designer Richard Launius was declared the winner with his “Astros inspired” horizontal stripes and adding the player’s number to the pants. The Astros uniform defined the aesthetic of the 1970’s and the White Sox uniform paired with the red cleats is the quintessential look of the 1980’s. This uniform was worn by Harold Baines, Carlton Fisk and Tom Seaver before the team went back to more of a classic look for the 1987 season.
No. 22 – 1975 Cleveland Indians
Frank Robinson made history in 1975 when he became the first African American manager in Major League Baseball. Not only was he managing the Cleveland Indians that year, he was also a player. Robinson even hit his 575th home run in his first at-bat of the season against the New York Yankees.
Many people view this uniform as one of the worst in history, but I’m a sucker for the 1970’s polyester double knits and elastic stretch pants. They just went better with afros and mustaches in those days. I’m also a big fan of these Greek style letters and the fact the Indians pulled off both red on red and blue on blue uniforms in the three years they wore this style.
No. 23 – 1986 New York Mets
1986 was a great year in New York Sports history. There was a buzz in the air that October and although I was just a nine year old Yankee fan at the time, I can remember it clearly. Not only were my New York Giants poised to win their first Super Bowl, but there was another New York team on their way to winning a championship.
Although Rickey Henderson was my favorite player at the time, like I said, I was only nine years old and just happy to follow a home-town team on their way to the World Series. Although there has been cross-town hatred for generations of New York fans, I didn’t feel that way then or now. I guess it’s easier to forget about the Jets and Mets when your teams are perennially more successful.
The 1986 Mets team is like a fine wine; they getter better with age. The players themselves haven’t necessarily aged gracefully (i.e. Dykstra, Strawberry and Gooden), but on the other hand Keith Hernendez and Ron Darling have become prominent commentators in the game of baseball.
The 1986 uniforms are the most classic thanks to their legendary season, performers, and World Series victory against the Boston Red Sox. The Mets uniform didn’t change much throughout the team’s history until they decided to add black to their customary blue and orange. I point out 1985-1987 on this list because of the striping down the side of the uniform in addition to the script New York across the chest on the road jersey. In 1988 the home pinstripes remained primarily the same although the script on the road jersey was replaced with block lettering.
No. 24 – 1908 Boston Red Sox
I was planning on keeping the Boston Red Sox off this list on principal, but I will admit that they did have a few great uniforms at the turn of the 20th century when the team officially became the Red Sox. Prior to 1908 the Boston Americans had some really amazing jerseys that were collared lace-ups featuring the letters B and A on the chest in navy blue.
In 1908 the American’s changed their colors while adding red stockings, which prompted a new nickname that would quickly become the official name of Boston’s American league franchise. As you can see from the photo, the team’s new logo now also featured the city’s name on top of a red stocking that rests across the front of this jersey.
In 1997 Major League Baseball introduced interleague play and the Red Sox wore their 1908 uniforms once again when they played their former cross-town rivals, the (now Atlanta) Braves.
No. 25 – 1976 Chicago White Sox
The 1976 Chicago White Sox uniforms are widely regarded as some of the worst in the history of any sport, but I had to add it to this lit for historical purposes and to tell this story. While compiling this list I’ve noticed that baseball fan’s opinions of the best and worst uniforms of all-time vary depending on where they live and what era they grew up in, but I think everyone who has ever watched a baseball game can agree that the 1976 White Sox uniforms are the worst ever. Run DMC told us “not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good” and that applies to every other uniform on this list. These are definitely bad meaning bad, but for some reason I am still adding them to the very end of this list out of pure amazement over the concept.
On March 3, 1976 White Sox owner Bill Veeck held a “press conference” at Miller’s pub to announce the team’s new secret uniforms they would be introducing on opening day. Veeck told reporters, “We are adding elegance to baseball styles”, and “we may not be the greatest team in baseball, at least not for a few years, but we’ll immediately be the most stylish in the game”. He went on to proclaim “Comisky Park will replace Paris and New York as the fashion center of the world.” On March 9th, the new uniforms were unveiled and definitely made a statement. The jerseys were a throwback to the old days of baseball, but Veeck also threw in one curve ball: shorts. Instead of the traditional baseball pants, the 1976 White Sox would introduce baseball shorts and knee-high socks as part of their uniforms that summer. This definitely wasn’t the last of Bill Veeck’s amazing promotional campaigns, as anyone who recalls “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979 can verify.
Although the White Sox quickly dropped the shorts out of their rotation, the uniforms remained largely the same until new team owners held a fan competition to re-design the uniforms in 1981.