Boys' Uniforms: Sports and Atletics--Baseball

Figure 1.--This drawing shows a sandlot baseball game in 1911. At the time there were no organized leagues and uniforms for boys. Most boys at the time wore kneepants or knickers with long dark stockings.

Baseball is primarily an American game, but it is played in a few other countries as well, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands. The standard baseball uniform is a cap, jersey, knicker panrs, and long socks. The knickers were at one time knee-length, but now often come to just above the ankles. There are some country differences. New Zeland boys, for example, sommonly wear shorts. Most other countries have followed the American knicker uniforms. Baseball as an organized youth game is, however, most common in America.

Development of the Sport

Americans by the end of the 18th century were playing several primitive versions of baseball--each with a different name. The most estanlished game was cricket which had been introduced in America by British Army officers. They were variations of the English games, cricket and rounders. One version popular in New York was called the "Old Cat Game". By the 1830s other versions such as "Town Ball" and New York Ball" were being played by established teams in the larger American northeastern cities. Town ball andvthese other variants had developed out of cricket. Unlike cricket, townball could be played in small city squares and compact urban spaces, rather than spacious cricket parks. Some city cricket clubs, viewing it as an auxiliary entertainment, had even sponsored the first "baseball" teams, as they came to be called. Baseball became increasingly popular with the public and never had the "elite" asociation that cricket had. After 1900, baseball took over the American scene, created its independent mythology, and obviated the sport that gave it birth. In a few decades, cricket in America had become only a memory.Most of these early versions were played on a square field, with stakes at the corners serving as "stations". A "striker's box" was situated midway betwwen the forst and fourth station. In the early 1840s, the stakes which had resulted in many injuries were replaced by flat stones. Eventually sand filled bags replaced the stones and became known as bases. It was at this time that the term "baseball" soon appeared, but the exact time and place are unknown. The New York Knickerbockers were the first important club. They pakyed their first game in 1846 with rules that are quite similar to modern baseball. The Knicks helped to abolisg the practice of plugging--the practice of retoring a base runner by hitting him with a thrown ball. The creation of the diamond field and basic rules of play are often attributed to Abner Doubleday. Others attribute the design of the field to Alexander Cartwright. The first professional club was the Cincinnati Red Stockings. From this point, baseball developed into the American national passtime. Baseball players like Babe Ruth became national ikons.

Related games

The most popular game for boys as well as the professional sport is baseball also referred to as hardball. There are, however, several related games mostly played in America and Britain and the British Dominions.


The origins of all the modern bat and ball games can be traced to cricket. While baseball captured the piblic mind in America, cricket never entirely disappeared.

Baseball (hardball)

The modren sport of baseball is hardball. It uses a smaller, hearder ball than softball. It is also the ball adopted for Little Leagures. Younger boys might start off playing "T"-ball. There is no pitcher, the ball is hit from a stanionary "T" and score is not kept. At about 8 or 9 years, the boys begin playing regular hardball.


A HBC reader wonders if the boy in figure 1 might not be wearing a softball uniform. In fact softball is very common in New Zealand and the boy may well be involved in softball rather than baseball.


Rounders is another sport which developed in England. It is more similar to baseball than cricket and may well have been the inspiratiion for baseball. It is today only played by younger children in Enhland as a school game.


At the turn of the 20th century many American boys lived in large, crowed cities with any park where they could play baseball. As a result, they developed their own version of baseball that could be played on a small vacant lot, or even the street itself.

Country Trends

Baseball was created in America from British cricket, probably through rounders. No one really knows when and where baseball forst developed. Some sports historians that rounders was being played in America during the early19th century. There was non uniform set of rules. A variety of sources reporrt Americans plasying what was variously called "townball", "base", or "baseball". Towns began to form teams. Baseball clubs were formed in the larger cities. Abner Doubleday is often credited as the father of baseball. He did not invent the sport, but rather began to formalize rules for the sport as early play was informal without standardized field dimensions and playing rules. Alexander Cartwright appears to have prepared the ealiestt set oif rules (1845). The first recorded baseball contest took place between Cartwright and his Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City lost to the New York Baseball Club in a game at the Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey (1846). Baseball was not at the time a national sport. It was most popular in cities and towns, partoiculasrly in the northeast. The Civil War played a major role in spreading around the country. Many Americans had not yet heard of baseball. At army camps, soldiers had a great deal of time on their hands. One diversion became baseball. Thus after the War when the soldiers went home, baseball was carried to even the most rempte part of the country. Baseball was a largely American sport until the 20th century. Canadians began plasying baseball as American cultural trends readily flow across the long, porous border. The same occurred along the southern border with Mexico. American interventions in the Caribbean and Centrl America firmly implanted baseball there, although not in the British and French colonies. We are not sure how baseball spread to Colonbia and Venezuela, but it seems to have been the connections of those countries to Caribbean culture. Baseball was introduced to the Phillipies after the Spanish-American War and the American colonial era. Baseball began appearing in Japan after World War I. We are not sure yet just how it started in Japan. And during the Pacific War, baseball reached countries like Australia and News Zealand, although there it is played mostly as a school game rather than a professional sport.

Figure 2.--This image may be from New Zealand as American boys generally wear knicker rather than short pants uniforms.

Little League

American boys in the early 20th century played baseball more than any other sport. There cames, however, were mostly informal pick up games. There was little organization and few formal teams and uniforms. Some boys, however, had baseball uniform items which could be bought at stores like Kresge's, now K-Mart. The Little League in America changed this. Little League Baseball began modestly in Williamsport, Pennsylvania during 1939. A clerk at an oil company named Carl Stotz with the help of friends organized a three-team league. The first uniforms were bouhjy at Kreseg's. At first Little League grew slowly in America. This was in part due to World War II which America entered in 1941. After the War entered in 1945, American fathers returned and Little League proved a popular activity for boys and often dads who helped weith the teams. It thus became increasingly common for boys to have actual team uniforms. The move to the suburbs was a factor in the growth of Little League as space existed to buy ball fields.


Uniforms appeared with the founding of professional sports teams. We are not sure, but believe this began in the 1860s. We do not notice boys wearing uniforms until much latter. Baseball became a high school school sport and you begin to see uniforned school teams in the late 19th century. Most images of boys playing baseball through the 1930s show them playing in their regular clothes and not uniforms. Thus we see boys in a wide range of outfits playing baseball or in portraits with baseball equipment. Some of the images we have found are unidentified and thus can not be dated with precession. This began to change after World War II (1941-45) and the move to the suburbs. There were more areas to play baseball and Little League became a major activity for boys. We see many images of boys in baseball uniforms.


The most popular aspect of the baseball uniform has to be the cap. It is now worn all over the world in countries that have never had baeeball. It's interesting that baseball uniforms are one of the few place where knickers have survived. The other being golf to some extent.


Early baseball caps looked rather like British school caps, a clue to their origin--presumably caps worn by British schoolboys playing cricket. Thus the modern baseball cap in a continuing reminder of baseball's origins in cricket. Baseball caps were worn almost exclusively for playing baseball and in the United States. As recently as the 1950s it was not common to see American boys wearing baseball caps except for actual play. Since the 1960s baseball caps have become virtually the only headgear worn by American boys and in the 1990s worn backwards. Beginning in the mid-1980s baseball caps have spread virtually all over the world and are worn by boys who have never played baseball and who would object to waring a school cap. American Scouts and Cubs adopted baseball caps in 1980 and Scouts in several countries who have never played baseball have followed suit. A HBC reader wonfers, "I grew up playing baseball and its city variations. I believe I may live long enough to see the only thing left of the game among kids to be the cap."



It's interesting that baseball uniforms are one of the few place where knickers have survived. The other being golf to some extent. Of course American football players wear knicker-length pants, but they are hard to call them knickers. In recent years, the pants have gotten longer and longer and are often worn just above the anklels--looking more like long pants. Aside from tradition, one practical reason for not wearing shorts when playing baseball, is that leg covering is needed for the slide into the bases. While shorts have not normally been worn for baseball, they are sometimes worn for softball. They also appear to have been worn in New Zealand and Australia.


Urban Forms

Baseball unlike some other sports like basketball and even soccer requires a substantial field to play. A few fields were available in parks, but basically there was no place to play baseball. This makes baseball a very difficult sport to play in an urban environment. There justisn't enough open space as well as the dangers of broken windows as well as negotiating traffic on the streets. There were foms of baseball that did develop for urban play. The best known urban form is stickball. This was played with a broom stick or other available stick and a softball like a tennis ball. An even more minimalist approach to baseball was stoop ball.


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Created: April 9, 1999
Last updated: 9:59 PM 1/14/2010