Twenty-two of the 30 Major League Baseball teams currently feature at least one alternate uniform design, a situation that has led to much gnashing of teeth from assorted traditionalist parties, Uni Watch among them. But are alternate unis really such a new phenomenon, blasphemously running roughshod over a previously pristine heritage of white at home, gray on the road? Surprisingly, an examination of baseball history suggests otherwise.
While it’s true that the current saturation of alternate designs is unprecedented, alternate unis actually go back at least as far as the 1900 Boston Nationals (now the Atlanta Braves), who had two different home uniforms. This began a period of dabbling, with at least one team sporting an alternate uniform in 25 of the 43 seasons from 1901 through 1943. Several of these designs—particularly the 1916 Giants’ tartan plaids, the 1916 Dodgers’ tattersalls, and the 1917 White Sox’s dark blue with white pinstripes—were sufficiently outré to make today’s solid-color alternate jerseys look sedate by comparison.
Next came two decades of stability, with no alternate outfits at all from 1944 through 1963 (notwithstanding the ill-fated satin unis that a few clubs tried for night games in the late ’40s). This period was ended by, of course, A’s owner Charles Finley, who revived the alternate uni in 1964. As in so many other instances, Finley proved to be a visionary, for the spread of color television and the temporary fashion insanity of the ’70s soon led to a new wave of alternate designs, many of rather dubious propriety. (Remember the Giants’ and Orioles’ orange jerseys? The Pirates’ double-pinstriped jerseys with black pants?) While the most garish excesses eventually faded, the alternate uniform itself never did—at least two teams have had multiple uni options every year since 1974.
Meanwhile, with some teams now having as many as five outfits to choose from, who decides what to wear each day? The most common system, employed by the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Cubs, Rockies, A’s, and Brewers, is to let the starting pitcher choose. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to take, say, Rockies hurler Brian Bohanon seriously after learning he’s the one dressing his team in purple jerseys every five days. OK, so you probably never took Brian Bohanon seriously in the first place, but that’s sort of Uni Watch’s point—some aesthetic decisions are too important to entrust to cultural know-nothings like professional athletes.