1987-the Year that MLB's Uniforms Stepped Backwards


Sometimes it seems as if we can definitively define the beginning of a trend or movement. The aesthetics of baseball are clearly rooted in the 19th century. The look of the uniform progressed slowly from the turn of the 20th century, through the years following World War II, then everything was upended, starting in the early 1960s. The Kansas City Athletics went to a green and gold color scheme in 1963, the Pittsburgh Pirates went to pullovers and beltless pants in 1970, and the world of Major League Baseball was permanently changed. Or so it seemed.

As the Baseball Hall of Fame's excellent Dressed to the Nines site states: "When the 1970 Pittsburgh Pirates moved into their new ballpark, Three Rivers Stadium, in mid-season of 1970, they unveiled the first-ever beltless pants with an elastic waistband to keep the pants snugly in place. The beltless look was eventually adopted by nearly every major league team, with only five clubs of the era (the Dodgers, Expos, Mets, Yankees, and Phillies) choosing to shun the style. The beltless era “officially” ended in 1993, when the Reds became the last club to return to the more conservative style uniform."

In 1987 eight (out of a total of 26) clubs changed uniforms. The Atlanta Braves opted to more or less throw back to their Milwaukee look of the 1950s on a permanent basis. The White Sox ditched their softball-style pullovers in favor of a more traditional approach. Houston waved goodbye to the "rainbow guts" uniforms that defined the era for many.

It's been more than a quarter century since the systemic devolvement of the Major League uniform occurred. There is (it seems) no clear current trend that would represent a threat to the current, traditional look. The construction of caps and jerseys have changed in recent years, pants have gotten longer and baggier—thus obscuring stirrups and socks—but the look of baseball is still pretty well connected to the root look of the sport. When will the next 1987 occur? Is there something afoot right now to suggest the start of a broad new trend? As noted Reds fan Vladimir Lenin once said, "without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement."