Uniforms are perhaps the most visually appealing connection to baseball’s history and I consider it an honor to have a few vintage examples in my collection. From the most mundane and ordinary to the ornately appointed and trimmed-out jerseys, viewing and touching the material of a piece of baseball history is a very gratifying experience.
Throughout the past several decades, uniforms have experienced a significant amount of change en route to the breathable (and sterile) double-knit polyester togs that are seen on today’s diamonds. Some of the most interesting aspects of jerseys and trousers, as seen on major and minor league fields, have also been found to have been employed within the ranks for armed forces service teams.
I am always vigilant with regards to baseball uniforms that I would love to add to my collection and in the last eight months, a uniform set surfaced at auction that really piqued my interest. The group consisted of a two-color (white with burgundy sleeves and lettering) jersey and ball cap; a white, six-panel crown (with burgundy piping between each panel) that is capped by a color-matching button and bill. What set this uniform apart from every other offering that I have ever seen? This jersey and cap set was made of satin material.
While many of the game’s current fans are familiar with baseball’s past wool uniform materials (there several combinations; wool flannel, wool-cotton, wool-poly blends, etc.), collectively referred to as “flannels,” few have knowledge that a handful of teams experimented with satin as a base material. When teams began to install lights for night games (the first artificially illuminated major league game took place on May 24, 1935 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field), they sought to shake tradition up by employing a different uniform for these select games. According to Marc Okkonen in his 1991 work, Baseball Uniforms of The 20th Century: The Official Major League Baseball Guide, the Reds were the first also to experiment with satin in conjuction with games played under the lights:
“The Cincinnati Reds introduced night baseball in 1935 and in the following year they commissioned the Goldsmith Company to produce a special uniform for occasional game use in 1936 and 1937. It is not clear what inspired this so-called “Palm Beach” version (possibly, it was the advent of baseball under the arc lights) but it presented some interesting departures from long standing Reds’ uniform tradition. In place of the standard C-REDS logo, the name REDS appeared in the now-fashionable red script lettering on the left breast. And the real shocker was the combination of white jersey and BRIGHT RED pants, which was only one version of the new Palm Beach ensemble.”
Other teams followed suit with their own renditions of satin uniforms starting with Cardinals in 1941 (and again in ’46), the Dodgers (with at least three different examples) in 1944 and ’45 and the Braves in 1946. Jackie Robinson would wear the handed-down Dodgers satins during his stint with the organizations farm club, the Montreal Royals. There are no references that I could find to the employment of satin uniforms later than the 1940s.
What makes the military baseball uniform unique beyond it being the only one that I have found is that it is directly associated to a specific Army installation. Camp Hunter Liggett and that it is made of the rarely seen satin material. The uniform jersey’s manufacturer tag that shows it was made by A. G. Spalding & Brothers. The design of the tag indicates that the uniform dates to the early years of the fort; between 1941 and ’42 (the tag was used by Spalding from ’34-’42). Though it is difficult to discern from the photos, the block lettering on the chest (“ARMY”) and back (“Camp Hunter Liggett”) appears to be made from a burgundy-colored wool.
The accompanying ball cap has a shorter, more-rounded bill and a leather sweatband that is indicative of being manufactured during the early 1940s. Unfortunately, there was no label or tag visible in the photos that accompanied the auction listing yet it is likely that it was also manufactured by Spalding.
Like most other vintage satin uniforms that can be seen in private collections or at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Liggett uniform group has significantly yellowed with age and shows signs of use – typical sweat stains surrounding the collar and (possibly) infield dirt stains on the chest (from sliding into second base, perhaps?). The overall condition of this group is remarkably good and would have been a fantastic addition to my collection.
The buy-it-now auction closed in June of 2016 with the buyer getting it for a steal at $249 (plus a few dollars for shipping). Sadly, this one slipped away due to the auction price exceeding my (then) budget. It pays to have a few dollars set aside for emergencies such as these.
- Uni-Watch: Nights in White Satin
- The 1946 Cardinals Were Almost Clad in Shiny Red Uniforms
- The Design Morgue: Satin Baseball Uniforms
- The Jerseys of Jackie Robinson, Part 2