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Early uniforms and their significance (1st round completed August 2014)

by Larry McCray, September 2014

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Version 1.0, posted 9/19/2014 -- Local-Origins Issue #1 – Uniforms in Early Base Ball

(1) The Uniforms "Issue Statement," 8/13/2014, from Larry McCray

Folks – We recently received a query [see below] from Craig Brown about the matter of early club uniforms. Craig, a recent émigré from Rochester NY to Atlanta, is developing a website [url also below] recording early base ball uniforms, a topic that I have never thought deeply about. We did a quick search of the Protoball data bases, and turned up about 50 hits that reflect local coverage of early uniforms. (Favorite find: the Dirty Stockings BBC of East St. Louis IL . . . I wonder if they ever played the Dirty Feet BBC of Rushville IN?) Craig’s group will be sorting through these bits, and producing images for many early clubs.

Some point-of-departure notes

I thought it would be helpful to ask our Local Origins troops for general comments reflected in their regional data so far. Some key questions might be –

  • Do you notice much attention to playing uniforms in your study region? As you may recall, the Knickerbockers donned some distinctive duds as early as April 1849 (see chron entry #1849.1). Did many clubs in your area follow suit? Did rural teams think it was important to show team unity, or just urban players, or what?
  • Do you notice any particular trends in uniform usage during the Origins Era (to 1870 or so)?
  • Have you come across sporting uniforms in other games?

I suggest you post your findings and impressions on this list-serve so that we -- and Craig -- can form sound ideas about the realities of uniformed play.

Some search tips

  1. Either search-based reviews or general impressions may be helpful . . . but perhaps you could mention which approach you’re reporting on.
  2. In our quickie exercise, the most productive search terms proved to be “uniform” and “uniforms” [the search string “uniform%” gathers both forms]; “stocking%”; “cap_”; and “shirt%”. If you discover other ones, tell us. We also tried “bib,” “pantaloon,” “old English,” “wearing,” and “belt,” but didn’t score many hits with such, for our search universe of 5000-plus data points.
  3. Our project group is highly still diverse in its riches: Our yield from both New Jersey and Illinois exceed 500 data points, while for others (including the new Boston-area group) have only handfuls of club data. That’s OK, but we need to keep the data disparity in mind as we proceed.

Incoming Inquiry From Craig Brown to Protoball, 8/7/2014

"Hi Larry, my name is Craig Brown. I have recently launched a website studying 19th-century baseball uniforms. This study is meant to compliment the 20th-century study completed by Marc Okkonen and is available to baseball historians everywhere to access, comment and contribute research. The period of my study is 1856-1900, including pioneer, major and minor league teams. Each uniform is documented for style and color as available resources allow. The site is called Threads Of Our Game. And folks like Tom Shieber, John Thorn and fellow SABR members have been contributing tidbits of information since the site launched two weeks ago. The site was also recently featured on Uni Watch by uniform blogger Paul Lukas."

(2) Massachusetts Report, 8/13/2014, from Larry McCray

Folks – When the matter early uniforms arose on this list-serve, I had the subjective impression that uniforms were not a significant factor in the evolution of ballplaying in this area. I conducted Protoball searches of the roughly 135 local club and game accounts in the PrePro data base, using those search terms that had appeared most promising. I got only one lonely hit, but it was an interesting one. It was found in a 1859 account of the October 11-12 match of Massachusetts-rule base ball in Worcester, played for a purse of, ahem, $500. Porter’s Spirit printed parts of a letter that revealed that “in presence of five or six thousand spectators . . . both clubs met on the common, in their respective uniforms, and marched to the music of Fishe’s Cornet Band to the grounds, accompanied by their friends in procession—some five or six hundred strong.” The local Excelsiors won the prize money, besting the visiting Medway club, 100-56, in a two-day contest. I had never asked myself whether Mass Game clubs wore uniforms. Maybe the practice had originated in the pre-Knickerbocker era, in New England? Conceivable (I’ll ask our local go-to people, Joanne Hulbert and Dixie Tourangeau, on your behalf)? But wait – we’re talking 1859 here, and the Knicks sported uniforms in 1848 if not earlier, so it’s not yet provable that the recently-coded Mass playing customs had actually borrowed the idea from that upstart New York place. So at this point: it may be true that uniforms were rare and/or unimportant, and it may be true that uniforms were common and proud fixtures, but the press and other observers neglected to tell readers about the practice. Maybe stronger hints will emerge in other regions, or maybe WNKD (We’ll Never Know, Darnit). The Worcester report is found in the great Craig Waff’s “Games Tabulation,” amid his review of 3 other news accounts of this match, at: http://protoball.org/Excelsior_(Upton)_100_tallies_v_Union_(Medway)_56_tallies_on_11_October_1859

Note: I asked Joanne Hulbert if she know whether uniforms were used in the Massachusetts game. Her answer: "Yes, they did wear uniforms. And they were very specific in their requirements. The 1859 game did show that, but even better, the notes from the Upton Excelsior files indicate that: 'Mr. B. Adams, Jr. bought of Edwin Morey, 21 Tremont Row. 1/12 doz. white cotton tights 18". $1.50 express - $.23, (Total) $1.75. . it does go on - and later THE SHIRTS: I have none, but suppose I can get them in N.Y. In plain colors (not in stripes). I can get brown and suppose I can get pink. I have more, but I am about to leave for work. I'll look at it tomorrow or Sunday - I have to recite Casey at the Bat tomorrow before I go back to work. . . . Note that they did not want stripes - seems we 've had an aversion for a long time to stripes from N.Y. . . ."

(3)Missouri Report, 8/16/2014, from Jeff Kittel

Checking my notes, I only find one reference to uniforms in St. Louis and Missouri that predates 1875. There is a some information about the uniforms worn by early clubs in StL in Edmund Tobias' series on StL baseball history that appeared in The Sporting News in 1895/96. Also, there was an article that appeared in the St. Louis Republic on April 21, 1895, chronicling the history of the Cyclone Club and based on the testimony of former cub members that mentions the uniform they wore. So we know a bit about the uniforms the early clubs wore in StL but it's almost all based on secondary sources. The one source I have that predates 1875 is actually rather interesting. It comes from the June 1867 issue of The Atlantic Monthly and an article written by a James Parton, who had recently visited StL. Parton, writing about his visit, mentions African-Americans playing baseball in the city. He writes that "the i! mitative negroes turn out on Sundays and play matches of base-ball in costume." This is the earliest reference to blacks playing baseball in StL that I've found and I've always assumed that this was a black club, playing in uniform. I've always read "costume" as meaning uniform and can't imagine playing in uniform without being in a club. There is also an image that accompanied Tobias' first TSN article, that I'm attaching, that shows the 1867 Empire Club of StL in uniform. I have to think that the image is based on a photograph that has been lost to us. If we accept the fact that this image was based on a contemporary photo, it's the earliest image of a StL club that we have and there's not another one until 1875. Around 1875, you begin seeing advertisements f or stores that sell baseball equipment and uniforms. I'm not sure what the relationship is between the increased number of references to uniforms in the contemporary press in 1875 and the beginning of advertisements for the sale of uniforms is but it's interesting. There's enough evidence in the secondary sources to believe that the StL clubs were, from the beginning, wearing uniforms but where did they get them? Baseballs were hard to come by so I'd imagine that uniforms were just as hard to purchase. Were they custom made? Were they appropriating commonly available clothing? Stores were selling uniforms in StL by 1875, at the latest, but I'm sure they weren't selling them in 1859 and 1860. Now there were cricket clubs in StL that predated our earliest baseball clubs and I have no idea what they were wear! ing. But it's always been an operating assumption of mine that these earlier games, including the local baseball variant, laid the foundation for the NY game to take root in StL. You already had the existence of clubs, grounds, equiptment, etc. prior to the introduction of the NY game in StL. It wasn't some crazy leap from cricket or the local game to the new game. All you needed was an understanding of the new rules. Everything else was in place. This may have included uniforms to some extent. If the local cricket clubs were wearing white flannels in the early to mid 1850s in StL, the early baseball clubs could have easily appropriated that for their use.

(4) Tennessee Report, 8/17/2014, From Christopher Ryland

The first clubs in Tennessee were organized in 1866, but it's not until 1868 that we have some references to uniforms. In Sept. 1868, there's a good description in the Nashville Republican Banner of the Knoxville Holstons and Nashville BBC: "The Holston boys had their field flag with them, which they planted by the tent. It is a red flag, with the letter "H" in a blue field. Their uniform was blue cap with white star, blue pants with white cord, white shirt and red belt... The Nashville uniform consisted of red white and blue cap, red belt, blue pants, red stockings and white shirt."

Another reference in 1868 is to a women's club, the "Female Base Ball Club" of Nashville. It's in the context of an odd newspaper story, but these (apocryphal?) women wore "a jaunty little cap of red cambric, and wide leathern belt with the cabalistic initials "F.B.B.C" in gleaning colors." (Republican Banner, Nov. 22, 1868).

Also in 1868 are at least two instances of ballplayers being mistaken for members of the Ku Klux Klan(!), and at least one of these times it was because of a young man's "red pants," which were apparently the uniform of the local ball club (Athens Post, August 7, 1868).

In 1870, we have another good description of some uniforms, this time the Bluff City club of Memphis and the Nashville club. "The Bluff City uniform consisted of a white shirt, trimmed with blue with the letters "B.C." in front, white cap with blue star, light colored pantaloons and dark striped stockings. The Nashville club were dressed in red pantaloons, white shirt, and red and white caps." (Republican Banner, August 30, 1870).

But the best description of early uniforms (and their provenance) comes from the Nashville Daily American, August 27, 1876, in a story about a match between the Nashville Lincks and the North Nashvilles: "Both clubs appeared in their new and beautiful uniforms. The Lincks received their new uniforms last night from the manufactory of Mr. Jas. F. Marster, 55 Court street, Brooklyn, and we must say they are the finest ever seen in this part of the country. The suits consist of white Canadian canvas shoes, stockings of a beautiful dark blue with a three-inch white stripe around the calf. The pants are of English corduroy and the shirts of light gray flannel trimmed in blue, with a large shield bearing the letters L-I-N-C-K in white half circling across the shield. The caps are also of gray flannel and match the shirts, being made to fit very close to the head, and topped off with a four-pointed white star. The belts are made of the finest Union webbing and are the strongest in use. Altogether, the full uniform is one that reflects great credit upon the maker."

PS -- One of the things I forgot to mention in this post is that the Tennessee game appeared to spring fully-formed in 1866. There were occasional references to baseball in the local papers from at least 1858, and there is a reference to someone playing base ball in Nashville in 1860, but it's not until 1866 that the game took hold in the public consciousness. But then the clubs formed all at once, many of them by Union veterans and other northerners. These teams weren't very good, but they seem to have known what they were doing in an organizational sense. My guess is that these founding fathers of Tennessee baseball, many of them Midwesterners, brought knowledge of the trappings of the game with them, and that this must have included the uniforms. In the summer of 1866, the Cumberland Club of Nashville played the Louisville Base Ball Club a series of matches in front of huge crowds, so it's my sense they did their best to represent themselves as an authentic base ball club on the national model.

(5) Pacific Northwest Report, 9/17/2014, From Mark Brunke

Still haven't made it back to my regular laptop. Here is an NPS article from Fort Vancouver, WA. Part of it concerns trying to get accurate uniforms for 19th century games that are played there in the summers. It mentions research done with materials at the Oregon State Historical Society, including: "Working within a framework of comprehensive bylaws, regulations, and a constitution, the base ball club functioned in a fashion similar to other clubs and social organizations of the era. Members were expected to pay dues, as well as cover other costs, such as uniforms. As an example, the Highlanders’ treasurer’s book shows that club members paid a 50- cent initiation or “admission fee” as well as monthly dues of 25- cents. They were also assessed for uniform costs- -based, of course, on the approved recommendations of a three- member uniform procurement committee."

Here's the article itself: http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/fova2/baseball_hrs.pdf

Baseball only emerges in Oregon/Washington from 1865 on in contemporaneous accounts. 1866 is where we see the emergence of the game in a few locations (Portland, Vancouver, Boise, Walla Walla: all located by Army posts). There was baseball in Victoria in 1863, but it wasn't til 1866 that a formal club emerged. The guiding pieces here were probably to adopt the conventions of the Pacific Base-Ball Guide which was approved in December 1866. From and 1874 article in the Alta California, there is a very specific mention of new uniforms, which would seem to go with the other timelines shown: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18741029.2.26&srpos=2&dliv=none&e=--1846---1880--en--20--1--txt-txIN-+%22base+ball%22+and++%22uniform%22------ Here is a June, 1867 article from the Alta California telling another team to get their uniform ready: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18670604.2.7&srpos=2&dliv=none&e=--1846---1867--en--20--1--txt-txIN-+%22base+ball%22+AND+%22uniform%22------ and here is April 1867 from Sacramento mentioning the teams appeared in uniform dress: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18670422.2.12&srpos=7&dliv=none&e=--1846---1867--en--20--1--txt-txIN-+%22base+ball%22+AND+%22uniform%22------ and I believe that is the same E Robinson who appeared in an 1860 game for Sacramento, and was from the Brooklyn Putnam club originally, see "two baseball tourneys in cali": http://protoball.org/Chronology:_1856_-_1860 In this 1870 article, we actually get a description of their new uniforms: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18700613.2.19&srpos=6&dliv=none&e=--1846---1880--en--20--1--txt-txIN-+%22base+ball%22+and++%22uniform%22------

Now, in this one from 1853, it mentions "The Howards" and that they are in their uniform, and play cricket, ball, etc. Its at least the intersection of uniform and sporting: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18530616.2.12&srpos=1&dliv=none&e=--1846---1864--en--20--1--txt-txIN-cricket+%22+uniform%22------

(6) New Jersey Report – 9/2/2014, from John Zinn

I've been in touch with Craig Brown and gave him one team uniform, I only recall three mentions of uniforms 1855-1870, but as I input and update the protoball data, I may find more and will provide it to Craig - to date it doesn't seem to have been of importance.

(7) Report from Illinois – 9/2/2014, from Bruce Allardice

My impression is that in the 1860s the uniforms were more a matter of whimsy or convenience than fashion.

(8) Report from the Bronx – 9/2/2014, from Gregory Christiano

From my meager research I have done over the years, I have never found that many accounts about descriptions of uniforms. There is more reported and covered in detail about playing fields than the uniforms the teams wore. When I do find a mention it is basically cursory and not very detailed. But I'll be looking. Generally the uniform represented the 'spirit' of the club. Morrisania's colors were considered patriotic since they were a mixture of red/white/blue. Others had their own special distinctive colors. And it seems each yer they changed their uniforms altogether. This is very puzzling , since each member of the amateur team was responsible for the cost of his uniform. It were the members that shelled out the money and usually never got reimbursed until the professional era. In the beginning, basically the 1850s, the team belts were the most defining characteristic of the teams' identity. Remember, the uniforms were based mostly on the style and colors of firefighters of the day. The clubs adopted many of their local fire-fighters' uniforms as their own.

(10) Report from Rochester – 9/2/2014, from Priscilla Astifan

Basically, I have seen no mention in Rochester regarding uniforms until the newspaper description of the Flour City uniforms in the spring of 1858. If earlier wicket or cricket players had them, there is no published evidence. It then appears they were fashioned after NYC uniforms but made here in Rochester. Other clubs would follow suit that first season. It would be nice to know more about the choosing of them and their significance and I'm hoping the finds of others can contribute to some speculation at least.

(11) Report from Northeast Massachusetts, 9/16/2014, from Brian Sheehy

I found this- 1858 September 29th New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette- Union Base Ball Club Fisherville NH (Concord NH)- open challenge to any team for $50 mention new uniforms but no one to play. The only other reference to the Union Base Ball Club of Fisherville was a few months earlier when they played an Alton BBC in July. The score was 100- 16. Not sure but was this a Mass Game rules? So can we conclude to answer Larry’s question, yes it does seem Mass Game teams did have uniforms?