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The 1920’s: Baseball Uniform

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The 1920’s: Baseball Uniform
The decade of the 1920’s is often characterized as a period of American prosperity and optimism. This was the Jazz Age, the decade of the flappers. The 1920’s opened with an explosion of color and the wailing sounds and fast rhythms of jazz and energetic dancing. It was a time of tremendous change in America. America was one of the victors in the First World War and it enjoyed a period of great prosperity in the twenties. The Americans were opposed to anything that might drag them into another European war. Many Americans simply wanted to enjoy the prosperity that had developed in the previous decade and felt that foreign entanglements would threaten it. For the next decade America kept to herself for the most part.
Most Americans enjoyed a high standard of living. Food was plentiful and cheap thanks to the vast quantity produced on American farms. More and more people bought their own houses through mortgages. Thanks to Henry Ford and mass production, one could buy a ford for $290. It was the “Roaring Twenties,” the decade of bath tub gin, the model T, the $5 work day, the first transatlantic flight, and the movie. It was the great age of popular entertainment. Among the world of entertainment, there were sports.
Baseball’s growing popularity in the 1920’s can be measured by structural and cultural changes that helped transform the game. Ballparks were being constructed left and right. In 1920 the Cubs Field was opened and in 1926 re-named to Wrigley Field, there was also Sportsman’s Park for the St. Louis Cardinals. The emergence of sports pages in daily urban newspapers and the enormous popularity of radio broadcasts of baseball games were linked to the hype of baseball during this decade. The urban ballpark was thought as a meeting ground for Americans of all classes and backgrounds to come and enjoy a day of entertainment.
Americans have long loved sports. The first American professional sports team, baseball’s Cincinnati Red Stockings, debuted in 1869. Traditionally, baseball had been America’s favorite sport, and baseball players its favorite athletes. Baseball was called the national pastime, but it was not until the Roaring Twenties that sports became big business and a new generation of athletes arose to capture the American imagination.
The twenties began with a shocking sports scandal. In September 1920 rumors spread that the 1919 World Series had been fixed. There were increasingly credible reports that gamblers had bribed several Chicago players to play to lose. Then many White Sox stars began to confess to participating in the fix. The news rocked public confidence in idolized baseball players and brought attention to the sport. “The Black Sox” as the crooked White Sox were known, went to trial. The team owners recognized the need to restore public confidence in their tarnished game so they created the office of baseball commissioner.
The first baseball commissioner did not restore baseball’s popularity single-handedly. Kenesaw Mountain Landis had help from the most popular and beloved athlete in the history of sports, George Herman “Babe” Ruth. His powerful hitting made fans forget about the Black Sox. In 1920 he hit a record 54 homers and led the league with 137 RBIs. It seemed that no one would ever have a more spectacular season, but in 1921 Ruth topped it, with 59 homers, 171 RBIs, 177 runs scored and 144 walks. The Yankee dynasty had begun. Everything the Babe did, on and off the field, fascinated the public:
“The hader you grip the bat,” Ruth once explained, “the more you can swing through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I got. I hit big, or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.”
When Americans think of baseball, they think of the players and when they think of the players, the uniform is recreated in the memories of millions of Americans. The baseball uniform has not always looked the way it does today. It was about this time that the sun collar began to lose favor and the baseball shirt first took on an appearance somewhat like those of today. In the middle 1920’s, the shirts were made more colorful with the addition of trim around the collar, down the front of the shirt and around the sleeve ends.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ defeat of the New York Yankees in the 1926 World Series brought St. Louis its first World Championship since 1886. The following season, the Cardinals donned uniforms boasting of their laurels. This self-promoting uniform style was first introduced by the 1906 New York Giants and repeated by the 1921 Cleveland Indians. The Cardinals of 1927 were the last club to advertise their champion status on their shirt front. Both the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees were to open the 1929 season with uniform numbers on the back of their jerseys. But the April 16 opener at Yankee Stadium was rained out, and so the Indians became the first to play with this style of numbered uniform. After many brief experiments with uniform numbers during the first decades of the century, the 1929 trial finally took hold. The players still wore their knickers with belts.

Works Cited
Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s. New York, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.
Hanson, Erica. Through the Decades: The 1920’s. San Diego, California, Lucent Books, Inc., 1999
Herald, Jacqueline. Fashions of a Decade: The 1920s. New York, Facts On File, Inc.,1991.
“The Evolution of Baseball Uniforms.” Baseball/ Softball Coach’s Corner. Rawlings. 2002-2005 <http://store.rawlings.com/info/indew.jsp?categoryId=974141&infoRath=222974>
“The Roaring Twenties.” Schools History. Schools History. 24 July 2004. <http://www.schoolshistory.org.uk/america/roaringtwenties.htm>
Pietrusza, David. The Roaring Twenties. California, Lucent Books, Inc., 1998.
Vidal, Gore. Hollywood. New York, Random House Inc., 1993.

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