In 1970 baseball uniforms were revolutionized, as baggy woolens were replaced by form-fitting polyester doubleknits. The advantages claimed by the uniform manufacturers were twofold: ease of laundering; and comfort (we here at Ebbets have been disputing the comfort myth for years, but that's for another column). However twenty years earlier there was a brief (pun intended) experiment in radical uniform design change in the minor leagues, when at least three teams doffed pullover cotton rayon shirts and short pants in an effort to give players relief from hot weather.
The most famous of these experiments occurred 60 years ago in the Pacific Coast League - where colorful and unusual uniforms were already a proud tradition. Hollywood Stars manager Fred Haney had been thinking about the problem for some time. He had also been influenced by a column in the Los Angeles Times by Braven Dyer musing why baseball was so slow to change its fashions. Haney then saw a touring British soccer team, and the idea of the shorts was born. The manager still had to think of how to present his brainstorm to his players, however - ballplayers being a somewhat conservative bunch sartorially. I'll let Hollywood player Chuck Stevens take it from here:
"The players walked into the clubhouse and there were clothes boxes from the concrete floor to the ceiling. We knew nothing about this. There were four or five people with measuring tapes around their necks. When the whole club had arrived, Fred Haney suggested to our clubhouse man that he lock the door. Then he opened the boxes. There were shorts! Wasn't anybody escaping. Kewpie Barrett and some of those guys were thinking about it. Those people in civilian clothes were tailors, and we all had to put on the shorts and have them measured. We had the worst looking legs you could imagine, but we were a captive audience".
Sliding was potentially a problem, but Haney had thought about this too: Folding the sanitary sock over the top of the stirrup gave you and extra layer of padding, but there was still a gap between the bottom of the short and the top of the sock, and raspberries were often the result.
The shorts were a hit with PCL fans. "We filled every park in the Pacific Coast League with those things", said Stevens. "Every time we wore them the park was sold out. We only wore them on weekends, and after two years they disappeared."
Hollywood manager Fred Haney shows off some leg in this publicity photo. Above, Portland manager Bill Sweeney could not resist poking some fun at his Hollywood rivals.
The shorts were the same flannel material as the normal baseball pants, however a white cotton-rayon henley shirt went with the shorts (a blue pullover was worn on the road). This was the "durene" fabric used at the time for hockey and football jerseys. Wilson supplied the uniforms.
The fact that at least three other teams experimented with the shorts-rayon pullover combo at the same time (the Miami Beach Flamingos, Ft. Lauderdale Lions and Houston Buffs are known to have also worn this style of uniform, with the Flamingos rumored to be in pink shorts!), and the fact that Wilson seems to have developed the durene shirt already, is evidence that perhaps Haney was not the first to think of this idea. Regardless of whose idea the shorts and rayon shirt was, the experiment would soon be abandoned and it would be another two decades before professional baseball would adopt radically new fabrics and uniform styles, though alas, the shorts would not make a comeback.
The Miami Beach Flamingos of the Florida International League allegedly wore pink shorts. We have not seen a color photograph.
Chuck Stevens' quotes were excerpted from "The Grand Minor League" by Dick Dobbins. Thanks to Bob Woodling for Ft. Lauderdale info.
Ebbets Field Flannels is offering the 1950 Hollywood home durene pullover in the original fabric as our "flannel" of the month for $99. Shorts not included, but we'll make them for you if you like!
In late May we will bring you Flannel of the Month from Havana, Cuba.