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The American flag is everywhere you look right now, including the baseball diamond. In a show of solidarity following the World Trade Center catastrophe, all big league players and umpires are now wearing American flag patches on their rear jersey collars. In addition, batting helmets are sporting flag decals, and most teams have also had small flag emblems woven into their caps. But while this flurry of activity marks baseball’s most comprehensive show of wartime patriotism (look closely and you’ll see that even the bases are now flag-imprinted), it’s not the game’s first such display.
Baseball’s first star-spangled season was 1917, when America entered World War I. The White Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Senators all wore flag or flag-derived jersey patches that year, and the Chisox went further by unveiling a special red, white, and blue uniform for the World Series. (Ironically, this is the same design that the Sox have been wearing as a throwback uni for their Sunday home games this season.) The Indians added a flag patch in 1918, and the Cubs briefly wore red, white, and blue stockings, but all of these symbols were retired by 1919.
Baseball’s response to World War II was more unified, as all teams wore flag-inspired sleeve patches from 1942 through 1945. But there were no uniform-related patriotic displays for the Korean or Vietnam wars, and American flag imagery since then has been limited to two instances: National League teams wore a vaguely flag-ish sleeve patch in 1976 to celebrate the NL’s 100th anniversary (and, implicitly, the nation’s bicentennial), and the Phillies, apparently anticipating the return of Manifest Destiny, wore a bizarre 77-star flag on those god-awful futuristic uniforms in 1999.
As for the current flag bonanza, is Uni Watch the only one who finds it odd that the Expos and Blue Jays are wearing American flags? Calls to both teams yielded the predictable responses (“Of course we want to show our support,” said an Expos spokesperson), but it’s not hard to imagine Canadian fans feeling just a teeny bit resentful about having American nationalism imposed on their teams. A small point, but one worth considering, given that resentment over American nationalism is part of what inspired the WTC attack in the first place.