Thanks to the rise of the term sabermetric, many people think SABR — the Society for American Baseball Research — is just a bunch of stat geeks devoted to crunching numbers all day long. And while that is indeed part of what SABR’s about, it’s far from a complete picture. As a SABR member myself, I routinely use the group’s listserv to query the membership about uni-related research projects. And sometimes other people discuss uniforms on the listserv too.
One such instance recently came up regarding the 1967 Washington Senators. It started with a post from Father John Hissrich, who’d noticed something on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” uniform database:
The Washington Senators are shown with an extra uniform in 1967. There are no stripes on the socks, as in the regular home uniforms, and the caps are white with the same red piping and red script “W.” This uniform is not found in Okkonen’s book. I have never seen a picture of this uniform. Did the Senators wear it on particular occasions? Was it what we would today consider an “alternate” uniform?
(An aside: “Okkonen’s book” is a reference to Marc Okkonen’s essential tome, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, which is the basis for the Hall of Fame’s database [and is an absolute must for any Uni Watch reader]. The book was published in 1993, but Okkonen and Hall of Fame curator Tom Shieber have conducted additional research since then, so there are a few spots in which the online database has been updated and no longer matches up with the book. The “extra” uniform for the 1967 Senators, which isn’t in the book but is shown in the online database, is one of those junctures.)
Hissrich’s query drew a quick response from Dave Baldwin — an ideal source, because he’s not only a SABR member but also actually played for the 1967 Senators. Here’s what he wrote:
This discussion inspired me to dig out my old white Senators cap. … As I recall, [the white cap and white socks] were worn for one series only, and that was against the Oakland A’s. This was a protest of sorts against Charlie Finley’s “innovative” uniforms that the A’s began wearing when they were still in Kansas City. In particular, George Selkirk, the Washington GM, was irked that the A’s were wearing white shoes. It seems that batters, being a sensitive lot, were confused and befuddled by too much white in unnatural places on the mound. So George countered with the white caps and white socks. The white socks were simply the white sanitary socks that all players wore under the stirrup socks — we just didn’t wear the stirrups (which was somewhat cooler, actually).
The powers that be in the American League decided that white caps were not to be tolerated because overhand pitchers were releasing the ball too near that distraction. (Since I was a submariner, I was hoping to blend my pitches into my socks.) The AL ruled that we couldn’t use these caps or socks, but I believe the A’s were allowed to continue wearing their white shoes. This struck George as a double standard, and maybe he was right.
I had never heard this story before — the White War! But Baldwin’s memory was a bit off, because the A’s were still in Kansas City in 1967. That mistaken factoid, along with a few others, was soon corrected by researcher Lloyd Davis:
A search of ProQuest [an online database] shows that the Senators did wear the white caps and socks in 1967, and on more than one occasion against the Kansas City A’s.
On page C1 of the May 4, 1967, edition of the Washington Post (“Ortega Hurls Nats Past A’s”), George Minot Jr. wrote, “The Senators again wore white caps and socks in answer to the A’s white shoes.”
On page C2, a photo caption [to this photo] said, “The new attire is the club’s gag rebuttal to the A’s white shoes, as worn by Campy Campaneris as he flies through the air. The Senators introduced their white accessories in Kansas City Wednesday night [a doubleheader on May 2], when they swapped 1-0 shutouts with the A’s.”
The A’s and Senators next met for a doubleheader at DC Stadium on May 30. A blind item appeared on page C2 of the Post, under the headline, “Nats, A’s Will Renew Sartorial Feud Today in D.C. Stadium Doubleheader.” It read: “The Senators and Kansas City Athletics will resume their fashion-show feud this afternoon when they meet for a doubleheader at D.C. stadium. … This will be the Washington fans[‘] first chance to see for themselves how delightful their athletes look in white accessories. If you remember, the Senators stunned the Midwest when they played in Kansas City earlier this month by wearing “snow white” caps and matching socks (along with their regular jerseys, of course). The Senators haven’t worn their whites since but they’re taking them out of storage as a further reaction to the Athletics’ white shoes, which some opposing batters find distracting. … Aware that the white socks didn’t make as favorable [an] impression as the red-accented white caps, the Senators’ fashion coordinator ordered new, heavier knit stockings for today.”
The next day, in Minot’s account of the game, he wrote that “The A’s retaliated with off-white hats of their own.”
The teams’ next meeting was a July 4 doubleheader in KC. A story in that day’s Post (“‘Uniform’ Problems Plague Nats, A’s in Fight for 9th,” page D1) mentioned, “The Senators are trusting their white hats to break them out of their slump,” and quoted manager Gil Hodges as saying, “Maybe a change in uniform will help.”
Actually, nothing could help the Sens that year (they finished tied for sixth, 15.5 games back), but their White War with the A’s surely ranks as one of history’s coolest and most underrated uniform incidents. Seriously, this story should be legendary, right? But I’d never heard about it until it came up on the SABR listserv, and I bet nobody reading this had heard about it either.
Here’s a good way to publicize this long-neglected chapter in baseball history: Next year is the White War’s 40th anniversary, so let’s see the A’s and Nationals pair off for interleague play next season, and the Nats can wear white caps and socks for the occasion. Now that would be would be a cool throwback concept.