Most recent uniform developments have clearly been for the worse (can someone please explain why the Texas Rangers have an alternate shoe color?), but Uni Watch doesn’t want to sound like a grouch. So let’s take a moment to salute the one laudable trend in contemporary baseball haberdashery: the return of the vest.
The Reds, Blue Jays, and White Sox all added new vest jerseys this year. Toss in the Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Marlins, who already had the sleeveless style in their wardrobes, and 1999 becomes the most vest-intensive year in baseball history. Vests may look stuffy with a business suit, but they provide a touch of class on the diamond, especially in an era when most players can’t even be bothered to wear stirrups (don’t get Uni Watch started . . . ). The vest’s innate coolness is reflected in baseball history: When you think of the 1960 World Series, you instinctively think of Bill Mazeroski rounding the bases in a vest. When you think of the 1971 All-Star Game, you think of Reggie Jackson homering off the Tiger Stadium light tower in a vest. And when you think of Ted Kluszewski— well, not only did the Cincy slugger cut the sleeves off his conventional jerseys in the early ’50s, but he also cut them off his red undershirt when the team later switched to vest jerseys, making him perhaps the ultimate sleeveless ballplayer (not to mention the one with the most visibly hairy armpits).
The first baseball vests were worn by the 1940 Cubs, but the style lasted only three seasons. The next team to go sleeveless, Kluszewski’s 1956 Reds, ignited a mini-trend over the next dozen years, as the 1957 Pirates, 1962 A’s, 1963 Indians, and 1968 Orioles all got on board. But by 1972, each had returned to traditional jerseys. The current revival was sparked in 1993, when the Marlins showcased a vest in their inaugural season.
One odd footnote to the vest trend: Since 1996, the Angels have been wearing a conventionally tailored jersey with contrasting-color sleeves, which effectively simulates the vested look. Why the faux vest instead of the real thing? “I have no idea,” says a team spokesperson, demonstrating that cluelessness can be worn on any sleeve.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 1999