Baseball holds a unique place in the world of sports and there are many aspects that make the game so unique and unlike any other.
One of these is certainly the uniform worn by players while on the baseball field.
There are several things that make the baseball uniform one of a kind when compared to the attire of other sports, but pants are probably the biggest difference.
As we all know, most sports feature shorts as one of the essential uniform items, mostly intended to make players feel more comfortable on the field and give them greater freedom of movement.
In baseball, however, instead of shorts, players wear long pants.
For many fans, this may seem to go against common sense and logic as most of the games are played in the summer, on hot and sunny days.
So, why do baseball players wear long pants?
Let’s find out together!
Why Do Baseball Players Wear Long Pants?
Baseball players have been wearing pants for more than 150 years, ever since the early days of the game.
So, there are surely some advantages to opting for pants instead of shorts, even though baseball is an outdoor sport and shorts seem like the more obvious choice.
Of course, baseball has always been the sport that put great emphasis on tradition and this certainly plays a role here similar to many other aspects of the game that are still present mainly thanks to the historical value.
However, when you take a closer look and understand the nature of the game and the way baseball is played, you’ll easily discover several significant and practical ways baseball players benefit from wearing long pants.
Below, I’ll list and explain some of the main reasons that make long pants such an essential and valuable part of baseball gear.
Protection While Sliding
When watching a baseball game, you’ll probably notice that many times players have to slide or dive hard to make a play.
This wouldn’t be much of an issue if sliding in baseball wasn’t done on rather abrasive surfaces such as dirt, grass, or artificial turf.
Sliding on each of these surfaces, particularly on dirt as ball players slide hard to the base, is a significant injury risk, particularly to the legs.
After a slide, a player may end up with cuts, scratches, abrasions, or even a more severe leg injury.
These injuries are notoriously slow to heal.
Plus, there’s a potential of the wound reopening and the injury getting worse with every subsequent game.
So, to protect their legs, baseball players wear long legs. Unlike shorts, long pants provide protection across the entire length of the leg.
Some players even wear elastic shorts under their pants for extra protection.
Protection from Other Players’ Cleats
Baseball players, particularly those playing in the professional leagues, often wear cleats with metal spikes.
They provide great traction and allow players to dig into the surface to accelerate better and easily make sudden stops and turns.
However, metal spikes on cleats also pose a great risk to other players on the field.
With fielders and baserunners running at great speed and with their focus on the base instead of other players, collisions happen fairly often.
In these cases, a fielder may get “cleated” or have the runner put their cleats into their legs.
This can be not only very painful but also cause severe injuries and tear up the leg. Wearing long pants will not provide full protection from these injuries.
However, they can help soften the blow and make them less serious, allowing the players to feel more confident and slide toward the bases more aggressively.
The neat and clean look of ball players is a big part of baseball tradition.
Having your uniform in order shows you’re serious about the game and have respect for your teammates, opponents, and the game itself.
In the earlier days of baseball, even the fans would show up to the game in suits and similar formal attire.
A big part of players’ professional looks is wearing long pants.
They make the players look more formal and organized and make the game seem like an event of great importance.
Wearing long pants also provides a connection to the old days and serves as one of the ways to honor tradition and pay respects to the former greats.
Like so many things in baseball, wearing long pants has become deeply ingrained into the tradition and history of the game and will likely remain the staple of the sport in the future.
When did Baseball Players Start Wearing Long Pants?
It’s fairly difficult to pinpoint the exact time baseball players started to wear long pants.
What we do know is that, back in the 1840s, players of the New York Knickerbockers, the first team to play under modern rules, wore long pants.
From those begins to the modern era of baseball, long pants have gone a long way changing styles, length, and material they were made of.
The original baseball pants, worn by the Knickerbockers, were quite long and baggy, not much different from the pants players wear nowadays.
However, they were also quite uncomfortable. Made of wool, these pants were heavy and could get rather itchy, especially if a game was played on a hot summer day.
Plus, players would often trip over their own pant legs. Because of this, many players started hiking their pants higher.
Late 19th and Early 20th Century
This led to two new developments. Firstly, players started to use belts to keep their pants higher.
Also, to the end of the 1860s, most teams replaced full-length pants with, at the time, more practical knickers.
While providing a similar level of protection to full-length pants, knickers were more comfortable, provided more freedom of movement, and players didn’t trip over their pant legs anymore.
Another effect of introducing the knickers as standard baseball pants was the increased prominence of high baseball socks.
Many teams used this as an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their opponents and started wearing colorful socks with unique designs.
Obviously, some of the team nicknames that exist to this day were made after the socks the teams wore.
Knickers remained the main style of baseball uniform for a fairly long time, over 60 years.
The change came only in the early 1920s, mainly thanks to the New York Giants pitcher and Hall of Famer, Car Hubbel.
Hubbel was the first to wear the sides of his pant lower, covering his calves.
This style quickly became popular among the other stars in the league and grew even more in prominence as time passed.
Even after Hubbel’s retirement in 1943, the long pants remained the look of choice for the majority of ball players, including icons such as Mickey Mantle and Bob Gibson.
While there were some attempts to get back to wearing shorts (most notably Chicago White Sox in 1976), they were short-lived and mostly rejected by the players.
The style of pants stayed mostly the same through the next couple of decades, with the length settled at the point between the knee and the cleat.
The first major change came in the 1980s. Some players began to wear pants that were even longer, all the way to their shoes.
Most of them opted for more tightly fit and snug pants, instead of the loose style, allowing them to tuck their pants into the shoes.
This look remained popular all through the 1990s, with players such as Chipper Jones and Mark McGwire sporting this style.
The next major style shift came in the early 2000s.
While the long pants were still a part of every player’s uniform, most of them opted for a more baggy and loose fit, with even more length, often covering the player’s shoe.
In most cases, this eliminated the sock look altogether.
This style became particularly favored among star sluggers, including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and has remained popular to this day with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, among others, wearing this type of long pants.
However, lately, some of the prominent players like Tommy Pham or Carlos Correa are turning back to the roots and bringing back the traditional knicker-style pants.
Wearing long pants in a sport that is played outdoors and mostly during the summer may seem a bit odd and counterintuitive.
However, they are a staple of the modern and mandatory baseball uniform.
Long pants have been a part of baseball style for ages and are likely going nowhere anytime soon.
As explained above, there are many reasons why do baseball players wear long pants and most of them make perfect sense.
They provide much-needed protection and keep players safe while making hard slides to the bases.
They have also become a matter of style and some players choose the type of long pants that fit their personal fashion sense the best.
Still, while the style has changed over the years and will likely change again, the protection they offer is a guarantee that long pants will be a part of baseball for years to come.