Sunday, March 6, 2011

Satin Baseball Uniforms

There's been a lot of chatter on sports sites recently about the Los Angeles Dodgers wearing 1940's "satin" throwbacks for six mid-week day games this season. The uniforms will have a similar look, but won't be made of satin; they will in fact be made of a poly/cotton blend.

With all this talk, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the actual satin jerseys worn by major league clubs. The purpose of wearing the highly reflective satin uniforms was to make for better viewing during night games. 

Along with the Brooklyn Dodgers, satins were worn by the Boston Braves, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals: all National League teams. The book Smithsonian Baseball also refers to the Chicago Cubs having worn satin jerseys. While digging around for information on this subject, I found that the Cubs originally wanted to erect lights at Wrigley Field in 1942. This plan was scrapped because of the United States involvement in World War II and the lights were donated to the government. Another site, cpc baseball trivia, mentions that the Cubs did wear satins in the early 1940's.

I found one other minor league team that wore satins. That was the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA farm team the Montreal Royals. Because all the pictures I have found show Jackie Robinson, I can only assume these were worn in 1946.

The most well known satin jersey-wearing team is the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers debuted their satin uniforms on May 12th, 1944. Many reference spots indicate that the satin look was shelved after the season and came back in 1948. I found one photo from the 1950s on Baseball Fever showing the Dodgers wearing satin (shown below). Long time Dodger announcer, Vin Scully has said that the Dodgers managers and coaches made a habit of wearing them in spring training. In all I have found four different style satins worn by the Dodgers: home white, baby blue, dark blue and the 1950's home white minus satin-sleeve striping. All of the labels from these jerseys show them as being made by Wilson.
































The Boston Braves first wore their satins on May 11th, 1946. Below is a Sporting News photo showing the team in the dugout on that historic night. I believe the Braves wore satins for at least one more season, possibly two. This is because three of the jerseys I found listed in auction catalogs belong to players Earl Torgeson, Clyde Shoun and Jim Prendergast. They didn't join the club until 1947 or 1948. The photo of Sibby Sisti wearing satin is dated 1948. The Braves uniforms were manufactured by Horace Partidge, a local sporting goods company.






















According to two sources, the Cincinnati Reds were the first team to wear satins in 1935. One of those sources was an issue of Baseball Digest from June 1963 (shown below). It says the Reds worn shinny red bloomers in the first Major League game ever under the lights against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 24th, 1935. I've looked at newspaper photos from that game and don't see any evidence of shinny red bloomers anywhere. I did find the photo below of Joe Cascarella on Getty Images from 1937. I also found a Hunt Auction for Ray Mueller's satin hat from 1947-48.  Even though I haven't seen any labels, the Reds uniforms were apparently manufactured by Goldsmith.




According to baseball historian Marc Okkonen, the St. Louis Cardinals jersey below is from the 1941 season. The only other item I found regarding the St. Louis Cardinals' satin uniforms was also on cpc baseball trivia. Here it says in the spring of 1946, Cardinals management bought red satin uniforms for night games. Cards manager Eddie Dyer thought they were gaudy and he rejected them. They were later sold off to a local sportsman who donated them to a local team.


Below are photos that I found showing the Montreal Royals wearing satins. I also find it interesting in some of the photos how the players are wearing mix and match hats. I haven't been able to find any info about the Royals wearing satins.





Below is Leroy Parmelee's 1940s American Association All-Star satin uniform.


Here are a few pages from a 1943 Post Sporting Goods catalog showing satin hats and jerseys. 





In the end, satin uniforms had a short life in baseball history. Players felt they were too hot and not durable enough for everyday usage. It would be nice to see the Los Angeles Dodgers actually wear throwbacks made of satin.

6 comments:

  1. I voted for the 1911 style Brooklyn uniforms. I didn't like these at all. It is nice to see the Dodgers do something different though.

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  2. Fantastic article.!

    I'm skeptical, however, about the existence of solid-white Dodgers satin uniforms without the blue trim. That photograph has been floated before, but I'm not sure that the material can conclusively be labeled satin, especially considering the low resolution.

    Also consider that that one low-res photograph appears to be the only thing to suggest that the Dodgers wore satins without the blue piping; newspaper accounts of the time describe the homes as "shiny white satin trimmed in royal blue."

    Finally, and unlike the three confirmed Brooklyn designs, no solid-white jersey has ever surfaced, either in a public collection or at auction.

    It seems far more likely that the lighting is just odd in that one picture.

    In any case, minor quibble. Outstanding job!

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  3. Thanks for the comment.

    I also wondered about the solid white satins when I was gathering photos for the piece. The picture was titled, "knights in white satin."

    I've been involved with sports collectibles at all levels (collector, dealer and price guide analyst) and have never seen one.

    maybe i should have left it out, but at least it might spark some good conversation.

    Thanks again.

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  4. Good conversation? Can't dispute that. ;)

    I believe that picture gained its (misleading?) name when it was posted on the baseball fever Brooklyn Dodgers board. According to the uploader, that's manager Chuck Dressen on the right (#7), which would date the picture to between 1951-53. Which reinforces my skepticism.

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  5. This is a great read! I know that baseball fanatics will be glad of this post. I believe that the history of the uniforms can be of great help in building the interest in the sport. Though I agree that satin can help the players feel warmer and though it may not durable for everyday games, I still think that having this as their uniform will be cute. Anyway, I hope I can still see a satin Dodger’s uniform by this time. :D

    -Jennine Stalder-

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  6. “The purpose of wearing the highly reflective satin uniforms was to make for better viewing during night games.” – That makes sense. Although, they kind of look like pyjamas, specially that light blue one. Oh well, most of the athletes’ uniform back in the day do look like pyjamas, particularly basketball jerseys. Linnie @ UniformsExpress.com

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