A Brief History of the Stirrup December 13 2016
Last Sunday the A’s and Rangers played in throwback uniforms and baseball purists (at least those that obsess over fashion) rejoiced. It was not the sight of Oakland players wearing vests or even butter cream yellow batting helmetsthat caused the celebration. Rather, it was the sight of seeing two teams of major leaguers wearing classic stirrup socks.
Aside from a few players like Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, Juan Pierre andJamie Moyer, the sight of stirrups in the major leagues is rare. (Greg Maddux wears socks with stirrups sewn on, which only half counts.) The most popular look today seems to be having your pants pulled down around the tops of the shoes, which is actually how the early baseball players of the 1840’s and 50’s wore their pants. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame,
it was not until the1868 Cincinnati Red Stockings decided to don knickers and expose their colored socks that this style changed. Strange to think of Manny Ramirez’s long baggy pants being a throwback, but that actually seems to be the case.
The stirrup actually came about to provide players a measure of safety as well as comfort in the days before colorfast dyes. In those days a player who got spiked by an opponent could get blood poisoning if the dye were to run into the cut. As a result players wore white socks under their colored stockings, which are still today called “sanitary socks”.
Then the problem of fitting this double wrapped foot into a pair of spikes came up and thus the stirrup was born. With its double arched opening, it allowed the foot to fit into the spike while also allowing the player to wear two pairs of socks. Originally players did not expose much of their white under socks, but as the century progressed stirrups were stretched tighter and tighter until in the 1980’s players were actually cutting their stirrups and adding fabric to make for a longer and thinner look.
Then very suddenly players like George Hendrick of the Cardinals and Barry Bonds – then with the Pirates — began to wear their pants lower and a new trend was born. But the real trend that came about was one of individuality.
“What’s happening now, especially since the 1980s is that the uniforms are not worn uniformly,” said Tom Shieber, the senior curator at the Baseball Hall of Fame. “It used to be that the differences were fairly subtle with minor exceptions, but now everybody is interested in differentiating themselves from everyone else.”
Today we have players wearing everything from low pants almost to the bottom of the shoe to high socks that go up to the knee and everything in between. So while many bemoan the loss of stirrup socks and the trend of long pants, they should instead revel in the wide array of hosiery styles currently on display across Major League Baseball and appreciate the fact that in today’s era there is a little bit of everything.
(A quick thanks to the Baseball Hall of Fame and their incredible “Dressed to the Nines” website and exhibit as well as to Paul Lukas, who is one of the great proponents of classic baseball hosiery as well as the proprietor of the Uni Watch Blog. I think it’s safe to say that those are the two foremost stirrup experts around.)