By Phil Hecken, with Rick Pearson & Robert Marshall
In The Beginning…
On July 4, 1905, the Boston Globe dropped a hint of its origins, reporting that Napoleon Lajoie, of the Cleveland Napoleons, was down with “blood poisoning” after being spiked by a shortstop named O’Leary. The Globe said, “some of the dye in his stocking got into the wound and affected it.” The next December, the Washington Post reported that Cleveland players “will hereafter wear pure white stockings to avoid the possibility of blood poisoning.”
Before long, players were wearing two socks on each foot, one to show team colors, and a “sanitary” sock to guard against poison dye. Two socks in one shoe made for a tight fit, so somebody cut out the toes and heels of the team socks, and the stirrup was invented.
— Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2009
I’ve heard other stories on the “invention” of the stirrup, but if the Wall Street Journal reported it, then it must be true, right? It also turns out that, despite the popularity of this account, it was not in fact the “stocking dye” that caused Nap Lajoie’s blood poisoning, but rather, plain old germs. Nonetheless, the mere fact that the “experts” of the day believed the dye was at fault would eventually give rise to the stirrup.
But what came before the stirrup, and why is this “anachronism” still so important to baseball? Marc Okkonen, with whom most of us are familiar, and who in 1991 penned the absolute EPIC bible for Uni Watch faithful, “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century,” (and whose work lives on in the Baseball Hall of Fame online database Dressed To The Nines) wrote, “In the 1890’s stocking colors were the principal device in distinguishing one team from another (hence the team names White Stockings, Red Stockings, Browns, etc.) and graphic displays identifying the home city were merely extra window dressing. In fact, some clubs after 1900 elected to wear plain unmarked jerseys and left their unique identification to their stocking colors and caps (i.e. the Chicago Nationals and St. Louis Americans).”
Thus, stocking, or sock color, would form the basis not only for the nicknames of several early teams, but they would become the de facto identifiers of all teams in the early years. Okkonen continues, “Stockings in 1900 were made of heavy wool and were of one-piece full-length (above the knee) construction. The foot covering part below the ankle bone was white or natural wool and often created the illusion of stirrups.” So, if we are to believe the account of Nap Lajoie’s blood poisoning, the actual stirrup was quickly invented as a means of both preserving a team’s physical identity AND safe hygiene.
Early stirrups were white, just inches high (resembling the one worn by Scott Turner). The first stirrups were actually sewn to the ends of dyed tubes, which were meant to blend with the undersocks (which were known as “sanitaries,” owing to the belief that they were more hygienic than dyed wool), purposely making them hard to see. As technology evolved, stirrups became one piece. Once the stirrup became a one-piece garment with “stretchable” qualities, the “half moon” of the classic stirrup, and from which all future stirrups were derived, was born.
A couple of weeks ago, the day after the Green Bay Packers released their new alternate uniform, I had gotten together with Rick Pearson to pen a piece on the evolution of the stirrup. Judging from the comments that day, that portion of the post got lost in the “Packer” shuffle. If you scroll down to the second section of this article (“Back To The Future, Part II), you’ll be entertained with an amazing swath of Rick’s knowledge of the stirrup. And we’re not done with Ricko yet. He’s got another section just below.
The Stirrup Today
Getting back to Mr. Okkonen for a moment, we trace the stirrup from its humble beginnings to 1991, when he wrote his treatise. “The popularity of striped or multi-tone stirrup stockings ebbed and flowed in cycles, becoming widely used around 1910 and less common by the late teens,” he wrote. “Except for a few ‘candy-cane’ varieties (particulary by the Giants, Cardinals & Washington), striping was quite minimal during the twenties and, in contrast, enjoyed a revival of sorts in the early thirties.” They enjoyed continuing and immense popularity, but never straying too far from their original purposes — protection against perceived evils of infectious dyes and as a visual identifier of teams — for decades. Once stirrups began to stray from their roots, “As pant legs became lower and stirrups were stretched higher and higher over the following decades,” Okkonen noted, “The stockings became a neglected component in the overall appearance of the uniform. In fact, since the sanitary undersock has gained more and more visibility, its traditional white color, in some cases, has been abandoned for a distinct color to complement the new colored variety of shoes.” Truer words were never spoken, even if they were penned almost 20 years ago.
Fashion trends are, like most other trends, cyclical. Whereas the pajama style in baseball is still dominant, more and more players are opting to wear either a full sock, and, in a most wonderful development, more and more players are sporting actual stirrups. Many of the Uni Watch faithful are of course hoping this trend becomes the norm, as it had been for 100 years of baseball history. Indeed, last summer, several readers tried (and I believe were successful) in putting together an “MLB all stirrup team,” featuring at least one player at every position who donned the wonderful hosiery.
As someone who grew up and played youth baseball during the early and mid-70’s, there was never any question as to how to properly wear a stirrup, although how high you pulled them depended on the cut of the stirrup and your ability to keep them at the proper height.
Today, however, many of the youth grew up during a time when the stirrup was either non-existent, or if worn, was basically covered by ankle length pants. We’ve seen several photos posted this spring showing players who aren’t even certain how they should be worn. I don’t fault the younger kids, who’ve probably never even seen (live, anyway) a properly worn stirrup. But when the guys in the low minors or college start wearing them backwards … well, it’s a concern. When guys like Aaron Heilman do it in the pros, it’s time to nip this looming disaster in the bud.
“But at least they’re wearing stirrups,” you might say. “Baby steps Phil” chimed in James Huening earlier this week. True, a backwards stirrup is better than none at all, but it occurred to me that there may not be a whole bunch of guys under the age of 25 or so who really know how to wear a stirrup correctly.
So what are we to do? Call upon the expert of course. I asked Ricko if he could come up with a schematic to show how to properly wear a stirrup, and how to blouse a pair of baseball pants, so as to achieve the “perfect” look.
How to Put on your Stirrups and Blouse your Pants 101
By Rick Pearson
Ricko didn’t just draw me a diagram. He created a chart that really should be placed on the wall of every major league, minor league, and college dressing room. I even learned a new trick myself.
Here then, is the official Rick Pearson guide to “How To Put on Your Stirrups”.
Click on that, and you’ll never wear your stirrups incorrectly again.
For The Love Of The Stirrup
My love for the stirrup began simply, as did most, I would assume, when I got my first uniform, and with it, my first pair of stirrups, at about the age of six. Those were, incidentally, featured in my first ever weekend column on Uni Watch. I still have that uniform and the stirrups, although I’ve graduated to a larger size now.
In all the columns I have done, whenever I do a “Q&A” with a guest collaborator, I always ask him (or her) how s/he “found” Uni Watch. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I discovered Uni Watch, but I do remember reading some articles in The Village Voice in the late 1990’s (I especially remember this one by a chap by the name of Paul Lukas). I always enjoyed his articles, as I had so many years earlier developed my love for the uniform of sport, and in particular baseball. Perhaps the seminal article I ever read was where I realized there were others out there like me. Never before then had I heard people speak such genius as “the low-pants look has got to go. This style not only makes players appear as if they’re wearing footie pajamas, it also dishonors baseball’s hosiery heritage–legwear is an integral part of a team’s color scheme, which is why we have franchises called the White Sox and Red Sox.” At least not ‘out loud’ anyway.
A second, sort of follow-up article, lauding Tampa Bay Devil Rays (as they were then known) skipper Hal McRae for demanding his players stop wearing their pants like pajamas, cemented my admiration for this Brooklyn scribe. Another fantastic column by Lukas, this time on ESPN.com, in 2005, again brought the mutual love of the stirrup to the fore. Although Paul began this blog officially in May of 2006, I didn’t become a regular reader until 2007, although I would periodically find articles of interest (usually on baseball uniform news) through Google searches. But I always made sure to read his Page 2 stuff. And here we are, so many years later, revisiting the thing that probably led me to Uni Watch to begin with — the stirrup.
And finally, you may have noticed several readers (myself among them), have been wearing stirrups for decidedly non-“stirrupy” occaisions, like, Stirrup Fridays. So, even if you’re like me, and you no longer play organized baseball or softball, that doesn’t mean you can’t still rock the rup to the office or under jeans or wherever. And who is the man responsible for outfitting most of the Uni Watch world in these gorgeous hose? None other than our own Comrade Robert Marshall.
I will now turn the remainder of this article over to Robert, who, along with Paul, has been the driving force behind the resurgence of the rup amongst UWers.
Robert’s Rups of Order
by Robert Marshall
I still remember my first pair of stirrups (this is actually my second year on the team). I had just moved back to the United States from East Berlin, and was playing baseball for the first time ever for Eastman party store in Midland Michigan. I didn’t really understand baseball yet, barely spoke proper English, and I was awful. The first time I tried to catch a fly ball in right field, I did it with my throwing hand — they Kelly Leaked me the rest of the season after that whenever they could. I caught ONE ball all year, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The bright sun, never seeing the ball, the total eruption of the shocked parents followed by “Throw it! Throw it!” It was a good day. On my first contact as a hitter, which took a while, I ran straight to second base, and I was totally safe. But the stirrup on my leg was sharp, black with three orange stripes, just like the one I would later get, and model my cornhole boards after.
Long before Uni Watch, in the long stirrup era, in high school, I would wrap my strirrup around my foot to bring down the loop to what I thought was a proper length despite the discomfort it caused. It is that mild discomfort in the name of aesthetic that leads me into the subject of Stirrup Fridays.
I had gone quite some time without a proper job before I was hired by a stained glass sweat shop four years ago. The studio had horribly toxic conditions, I was the only English speaking glazier, the hours were long, and the pay was low, but we did get to work on the biggest and best stained glass the country had to offer, for instance the restoration of the Tiffany dome in the Chicago Cultural Centre. Anyway, despite the long hours on my feet, and the mild discomfort it would cause, I decided I needed to break up the monotony of the gulags by wearing stirrups to work on Friday’s, and Stirrup Friday’s were born. I didn’t hike my pants, or go out of my way to show people I was wearing them, but i knew I was, and I got a kick out of it. Now I wear them for most every special occasion in addition to Friday’s.
Let’s face it, guys can’t do much as far as accessories, so why not wear fancy hosiery. Some of you might be saying to yourself, “sure you can wear stirrups in a dirty glass studio, but I work in an office, I can’t wear white sanis.” Well, I am working on a solution to that by working on coloured sanis that you may or may not wear on the field, but would work in the office, or for special occasions. I already have a full range of coloured sanis myself, use them often, and I can’t say enough how sharp that Oaks stirrup looked with a red sani at Christmas, or if you have earned your bonus stirrup (Uni Watch), how sweet that is paired with a yellow sani. I wore the latter to the Deep Freeze, but never showed it as far as I can remember.
Let’s skip to last year. as with every spring, it was time to get the all time worst co~ed artist softball team organized, and with that comes uniforms. I never did get around to screen printing jerseys last year, but I thought we needed a new identity, so we scrapped the old uniform/sock combo, and I sent this (I know, no o in colour) out to the team. We changed our name to Unemployed Youppis, had these manufactured by TCK, and wound up the season 1~17. Who cares, we looked good.
I had gone through a third party online vendor to get the Youppi stirrups, and when I got the idea for the stirrup “club”, I would use this same vendor again to get our first stirrup. It was a pain, especially before I got my system down, but I loved doing it, and to my surprise enough of you did too. Then I figured out that they were sending us inferior stirrups, and not MLB-quality ones, and was steamed beyond belief, because that’s what we were paying for. So I used my art biz ID, and sweet-talked TCK into allowing me to become a vendor by convincing them that my art studio/gallery sold sporting goods too. I was also armed with a massive Cards~Red Sox order, so after much debate, they relented. From that point I could get the proper MLB quality hosiery we were supposed to get from the outset without raising the price, and more importantly, I would have direct access to TCK so that we could get all kinds of crazy patterns that they do not offer the general public, you gotta love it.
As we moved forward, I decided to start using the language and imagery of zealots, and changed the club to a party of revolution dedicated to spreading the word of the proper aesthetic. I can’t wait to show April’s images, they go in a different direction, but are over the top. Some of you have asked for posters of the various images, and I do plan on making up a calendar, or postcards eventually, but not until I can do it right, and have an acceptable stable of images. Others of you have made stirrup suggestions, or asked if there was a way of rallying people behind your design. Now I don’t use Facebook ever, but I have created a group, so I can send out order updates, and you can try to get people on board with your idea, who knows, let’s see how it will work for us as a tool.
In future months you can look for not only MLB teams, but football, and yes hockey (wait until you see the unreal designs thanks to Alec Papas), as well as some conceptual designs like next months Pączki day stirrup. Have ideas for holidays that need stirrups? The opening of crab season? Boxing Day? May Day? Let me hear your ideas, let’s work on some concepts.
I would like to say that even though at times this has been a major pain, and in some months I have lost some money, that it is totally worth it to get stirrups out there. I really appreciate every one’s patience on receiving “new” shipments too, and understanding that in exchange for more or less getting those to you at cost, that it means you have to wait until they get manufactured. While there are probably more then a dozen people worthy of thanks, I at the very least need to thank David Stephens and James Huening by name for their contributions. Now if we could just get the USPS on board so we didn’t have the double shipping, TCK to me to you, we would be all set.
From each according his stirrvp, to each according his strype. — Comrade Marshall
My goodness. Thank you Comrade Marshall. Well, there you have it. Pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about the single greatest accessory known to mankind. And here’s something I did not know until yesterday. TCK (Twin City Knitting) was founded in 1960 by a Coke-truck driver named Dewey Houston. He made nothing but argyles until he switched to nothing but stirrups in 1963. Twin City is located 250 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach, in Conover, N.C., pop. 7,461.
So, Uni Watchers, now that you know everything there is (I hope) to know about stirrups, join what Paul and Robert and Ricko and countless others have known for years — the Stirrup revolution. I, for one, have seen Robert’s next batch of images (which he will incorporate into the calendar and maybe postcards), and they are nothing short of incredible. You don’t need to be an athlete to love and wear the stirrup, you simply need to be a stirrup supporter.
Thanks again to Ricko and Roberto for their assistance with this article.
From The Extra Value Menu comes more treats from DIY-er extraordinaire, David Frost (aka “Frosty”). If you don’t recall Frosty’s mad DIY skills, take a gander at those old posts. Great stuff there. David also scored a Ticker mention of Friday with a nifty ’75 Indians jersey.
Frosty’s back with some new DIY’s. If you recall (and how could you not), a scant two weeks ago the Green Bay Packers released a throwback jersey (and full uniform) to celebrate the 1929 NFL Championship team, which they’ll wear this coming season (NFL rules permit them to wear it up to three times, although no date[s] have been released yet).
So, if you’re like Frosty, why shell out close to $200 for an authentic jersey (especially when it appears it’s not even available for sale yet) when you can make your own? That’s just what he did. Check out the E-mail I got from Frosty this week:
Hey bro –
Hope all is well.
Some recent work from the DIY files attached…some kids gotta always be the first on the block to have the new…
Personally…I love the navy … could easily make it permanent.
Phenomenal job as always Phil … did you think the tweaks would be the phenom that they are?
Wow. Thanks, Frosty. And no, I didn’t think the tweaks would be the phenomenon that they are, but obviously, they are a hit with many readers. Great DIY, buddy. And I guess it’s safe to assume that anyone who orders a Frosty Pack throwback won’t have to worry about getting a vector on the sleeve.
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: Let’s see if you were paying attention yesterday. Today’s guest scoreboard comes from Lance Smith, and it was posted in the comments. That should help narrow it down. Ready? Guess The Game From The Scoreboard. Date, location and final score, please, and be sure to link to your answer. And, as always, if you enjoy the game, please send me some new scoreboards! Drop me a line. Thanks!
Back again with more Uniform Tweaks, Concepts and Revisions today. Lots to get to, and if you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
First up today is Joe DeAngelis who has some ideas for the Blueshirts:
Enclosed is my set of New York Rangers tweaks; thanks for looking.
In the second hole today is Ben Traxel, who’s got a boatload of stuff for his beloved Cards:
With the upcoming baseball season just about upon us I got to thinking about my team, the Cardinals. I think it is widely agreed they have just about a perfect uniform, not withstanding pajama pants and such. The only real tweak possibly wanted by some is to put the city name on the away jerseys. Well, when I did just that, I got to wondering what they would look like with some other conventional items such as pinstripes, vests, powder alts, creamsicles, horsecollars, etc. Not that I want them to change to any of these I just wanted to see what they would look like. Then I just kept going. Though they are all McGwire #25 models I ended up naming each of them for some Cardinal greats of the past. Some of them have different hats and stirrups that could easily be mixed and matched as desired. I also created a sleeve patch that was city specific which I used on each one. The single Cardinal bird on the bat is an old one that I like better than the one they use today. My favorite is the Kurt Kepshire. Other favorites anyone? Ugliest?
Here are all 31 concepts (neatly arranged on Phil’s flickr page)
And closing out the show today is Jesse Alkire, who has tweaks for the Cubs and the Cardinals:
My tweaks are intended to right what I believe on uniform wrongs — mismatching home and road scripts/lettering, and city names on the road jerseys. The following represent that:
The Cubs road jersey is an obvious tweak on the home jersey, swapping ‘CUBS’ to say ‘CHICAGO’. Dropped the white outline on the player names and numbers, added a simple bear cub sleeve patch, and returned to the red-brimmed cap on the road.
The Cardinals uniforms are again an obvious tweak, showcasing what the Cardinals could look like if they used the ‘St. Louis’ script which has been around for a while now. The only other changes on the grey road set — red belts and red hats. Not much work here, but a great home/road symmetry is the outcome.
That will conclude today’s tweak show. Check back next time for the next batch.
Thank you for reading today folks. Apologies on the length, but it took a while to say what needed to be said. Everyone have a fantastic Sunday, and be sure to thank Ricko and especially Roberto for their outstanding contributions.
Betwixt the stirrup and the ground … Mercy I asked, mercy I found. — William Camden