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EXCLUSIVE: American League Had Stirrup Rule in 1967

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When I was 12 years old, in 1976, I read Jim Bouton’s seminal best-seller, Ball Four. I was already obsessed with stirrups by that point, so I was particularly intrigued by a passage in the book about Frank Robinson’s stirrups. I’ve quoted that passage many, many times during the 17 years that I’ve been writing about uniforms (most recently three Friday Flashbacks ago) — it’s an “old reliable” that I never tire of. If you’ve somehow missed it, here it is one more time:

It has become the fashion — I don’t know how it started, possibly with Frank Robinson — to have long, long stirrups with a lot of white showing. The higher your stirrups, the cooler you are. Your legs look long and cool instead of dumpy and hot. The way to make your stirrups longest, or what are called high-cuts, is to slice the stirrup and sew in some extra material.

Bouton wrote those words in April of 1969. I’ve always assumed he was the first one to publicly discuss Robinson’s stirrups, mainly because most of Ball Four consisted of topics that nobody had ever publicly discussed before (players being hung over on the field, players having lots of extra-marital sex during road trips, coaches being assholes, etc.).

But it turns out Robinson’s stirrups had been a hot topic of discussion two years earlier. Not only that, but his stirrups had led the American League to impose a rule regarding stirrups — a rule that I had been completely unaware of until now. It all adds up to a major lost chapter in MLB uniform history that’s now been recovered.

The person who deserves credit for this discovery is Uni Watch reader Will Shoken. He saw the Ball Four quote in that recent Friday Flashback column and was intrigued, so he contacted his brother, Fred Shoken, who has access to The Baltimore Sun’s archives. Fred did some digging and came up with several articles regarding Robinson’s stirrups, which were apparently a bit of an ongoing soap opera in the the spring of 1967.

Let’s go through those articles one at a time, beginning with this one from March 10, 1967. Take a few minutes to read it:

Faaaascinating to see that the American League was trying to legislate a maximum stirrup height during spring training of 1967. As I’ve explained many times, that would never fly today because the players’ union would oppose it. Back in ’67, however, the reserve clause was still in effect and the union was a much smaller force than it would later become. (Marvin Miller, who essentially rewrote the book on sports labor relations, had just taken over the MLBPA in 1966.)

Also: In April, during our most recent installment of Question Time, someone asked why I always say that the lower stirrup opening should be in the front, with the larger opening in the back, and my answer was basically, “That’s how I’ve always seen it.” But here we see that the American League was actually codifying that format into baseball law — no more than 6″ in the front, 6.5″ in the back.

Now let’s move on to the next installment in this saga. This article was published on April 11, 1967 — Opening Day (for this one, you can click to enlarge):

So this article was basically just a reminder, restating much of what had been in the previous piece. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of how Robinson wore his stirrups during spring training games, or whether the rule was even in effect for those games.

The next piece of the puzzle appeared the following day — April 12, 1967. It consisted of a note toward the end of the Opening Day game recap:

Interesting! The system outlined here is similar to the way the NFL handles things today.

The fourth and final item was published a few weeks later, on April 29, 1967. Much like the last one, it was buried toward the end of a game recap:

Zing! So according to that excerpt, Robinson followed the rule — and A.L. prexy Joe Cronin couldn’t resist rubbing it in a little bit.

All of which raises a question: Is there visual evidence of Robinson dialing back the stirrup height from 1966 to 1967?

1966 photos of Robinson are fairly easy to find. He was the A.L.’s MVP that year, so online photo archives have been more likely to keep those images in stock, plus the Orioles made it to the World Series that year. The surprising thing is that Robinson’s stirrups don’t appear to have been all that high during the 1966 season. In fact, they look like they might have been in conformity with ’67 rule.

Here’s a chronological look at Robinson during the 1966 season, beginning with spring training:

April 15:

April 26:

May 1:

May 8:

May 22 (click to enlarge):

June 14:

July 1:

Aug. 30:

But the time of the 1966 World Series, when the Orioles faced the Dodgers, Robinson’s stirrups had crept higher. The following shots are all from that Series:

Perhaps those are the stirrups that got Cronin’s attention. Of course, other players were using higher-cut stirrups around that same time, not just Robinson, so it’s not clear that this was necessarily a “Robinson rule.”

Photos of Robinson from 1967 aren’t quite so plentiful, but we still have a decent number to look at, beginning with these two spring training shots:

In that second photo, you can see the telltale seam indicating that Robinson modified his stirrups by having extra fabric added to them.

Next, here’s a shot from Opening Day. It’s less than ideal, because we can’t see Robinson’s shoes, but we can still get an idea of what his stirrups looked like:

The comparison between the two Robinsons is telling. Frank’s stirrups are clearly higher than Brooks’s. It’s hard to imagine that this would have been in conformity with the new rule.

Now, remember how Cronin gave Robinson his MVP award in late April and commended him for lowering his stirrups? Here’s a photo that accompanied that article, with Robinson in the center:

Obviously, it’s not a very clear image. But Robinson’s stirrups do look a bit lower than in the Opening Day photo.

But did he keep them low? Yes, at least for a bit. Here’s Robinson on May 22 (click to enlarge):

It looks like they might have been creeping a bit higher on June 27 (click to enlarge):

I’ll let you decide for yourselves if Robinson was obeying the new rule as the 1967 season unfolded. One thing is certain, though: By 1968 and ’69, he was wearing his stirrups higher than ever. So the rule had apparently been abandoned by that point, or the league had given up on enforcing it, or Robinson simply didn’t care about paying the fines (like so many of today’s NFL players).

How did we not know about any of this until now? Much like Todd Radom’s discovery of an old Sporting News article that explains how the Dodgers got their red front-jersey numbers, this is a tale that’s been part of the historical record all along, hiding in plain sight, but for some reason it never became integrated into the uni-verse’s written or oral history. A good reminder that there are probably lots of additional chapters floating around out there, waiting to be rediscovered.

(I cannot adequately express my thanks to Will and Fred Shoken, who deserve all the credit for this story.)

• • • • •

A real page-turner: When I need to choose raffle winner, I go to and use their random integer generator. But before computers and the internet made it easy to generate random numbers, there was this (for all of these, you can click to enlarge):

That’s right — a book called A Million Random Digits, published by the Rand Corporation. I saw on Friday night at the City Reliquary’s annual Collector’s Night event. It was part of a display by a guy who collects discarded library books. And it lives up to its title:

Apparently someone was particularly fond of one of the number sequences:

After I posted all of this on Facebook, my friend David Brown, who knows about such things, posted the following comment:

This was an important book! And now also valuable. Before there were reliable, cheap random number generators, getting real random digits (for whatever computational reason) was a non-trivial problem. So: a book. Rand still offers a digital version for free, if people want some digits.

Faaaascinating. The world is so interesting!

• • • • •

A few things I did, saw, and thought over the weekend: I’ll just let these Facebook embeds speak for themselves.

• • • • •


And now a word from Phil: In case you missed it over the weekend, Phil is once again doing something very special for Father’s Day. I’ll let him explain:

The idea for our “Dads in Uniform” feature on Father’s Day began in 2013, and really took off in in 2014. last year’s edition was the best yet.

If you’d like to participate, please submit a photo (or photos) of your father (or even grandfather) in uniform, along with a short description of him in that uniform. It doesn’t have to be sports-related — it could be a trade or military uniform. I’ll collect the stories over the coming week and run them this Sunday, which is Father’s Day.

Please send your photo(s) to me at, along with a brief description of your dad in his uniform, by this Thursday, June 16th. Thanks!

• • • • •

Birthday Boy: Mets by the Numbers impresario Jon Springer (above) had a big 50th-birthday blowout yesterday in Brooklyn, and it was a mighty fine time. Naturally, there was a Mets logo cake — I got a piece of the skyline and the Tugboat Captain got a piece of the stitching:

For those of you in the NYC area, the new edition of Jon’s book, Mets by the Numbers, is about to be released, and he’s doing a live event in Brooklyn tomorrow evening. Full details here.

• • • • •

The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball News: It was Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium yesterday. The old-timers wore this patch on their jerseys and caps (from Matt Shevin). … The bases at Target Field had a logo for David Ortiz’s final season this weekend (from Stephen Hayes). … We’ve mentioned this before, but just in case you missed it: Steve Dodell points out that the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has switched his number to 7, making him the newest single-digit pitcher. … Nick Markakis’ belt pulled a Pablo Sandoval yesterday (from Kyle Phillips). … Last Friday Paul Ticker-linked to a story about how the world’s ugliest color is being used to discourage people from smoking. Hmmm, where have we seen that color before? … The Richmond Braves wore some wild pillbox caps in 1984 (from Ghosts of Baseball Past). … Miami went sleeveless yesterday in NCAA Tournament action (from Adam Apatoff). … The ’Canes also reached the College World Series for the 25th time, and have a logo to prove it (from Sean Patton). … Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash had his mask destroyed for the second time in a week. … Hanley Ramirez of the Red Sox carried his batting helmet while running the bases instead of letting it fall off (from Chris Flinn).

NFL News: The NFL says no more numberless practice jerseys for the Patriots (from Phil). … The folks at Pro Football Journal want the Rams to bring back gold pants. … The Broncos received their Super Bowl rings (from Mike Chamernik).

College Football News: Here are some interesting throwback concepts for the Auburn Tigers (also from Matt Shevin). … This blog thinks that the Memphis Tigers, New Mexico State Aggies, and Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles need uniform updates.

Hockey News: The Sharks paid tribute to Gordie Howe with a T-shirt giveaway at last night’s Stanley Cup Finals game (from Cody). … The Sharks and Pens also wore memorial decals for Howe on their helmets (from Dana Heinze). … The AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters are hand-painting a sign counting down the number of wins remaining to a championship (from L.J. Sparvero). … Patrick Thomas sends along pictures of the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles. Check out the vertical stripes on the socks!

Soccer News: Germany’s keeper wore a surprisingly plain kit on Sunday (from Tim Cross). … Louisville City FC wore memorial armbands for Muhammad Ali yesterday. … Will NOH (number on head) be the next trend in the uni-verse? (from Eric.) … Lots of soccer leaks from Patrick Thomas: Third jerseys for Real Madrid and AC Milan, as well as roads for Barcelona, Liverpool and West Ham. … Anyone know the story behind Ukraine’s tartan sublimation? (From Peter Welpton.) … Denis Hurley went through all of the Euro 2016 squads and examined the players’ numbers in terms of their positions. “There are some pretty bad examples compared to the ‘traditional’ way of doing it in soccer,” he says, “comparable to an NFL QB wearing 74 (if the rules didn’t prevent it).”

Grab Bag: According to Andrew Consentino, Virginia Tech basketball program is giving away an orange basketball jersey to fans who renew season tickets. But there’s a catch — it’s not the same uniform the team will be wearing on the court. … Here’s your chance to vote for the NASCAR paint schemes of the week. … A man in Alabama escaped from prison on Saturday while wearing a Burger King uniform. … Jonathan Safron sends along some pictures of some nifty classic Pepsi crates from the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago.

Comments (60)

    I love the quote in the 4/11/67 article from Robinson: “The next thing you know, they’ll be telling us how to wear our pants. They can’t tell a player how to wear his uniform.”

    If only they had. ;-)


    Problem is, Robbie eventually became MLB dean of discipline for a while. Given that his opinion regarding stirrups favors creativity and individual style, he’d probably NOT uphold the idea of uniform pant lengths.

    In the same vein of honoring the memory of Gordie Howe, it’s interesting to note the Penguins just tied the Red Wings for the most Cup wins over the last quarter-century in the NHL. Also, the Pittsburgh Hornets(Red Wings affiliate) were the American Hockey League champs in their final season, and there was talk of having Pittsburgh’s new NHL entry adopt the AHL nickname.

    Working in healthcare, seeing yellow fluid in a lab beaker has connotations that make me not want to drink it!

    I first read that can as “Prion” instead of “Orion”, which would have made me want to drink it even less.

    Did they pronounce it correctly (with a long e sound in the middle syllable: O-ree-on)?

    I had never heard of it until my wife and I were in Okinawa a number of years ago. We stumbled into a community celebration of some sort sponsored by Orion and were immediately made honored guests. The organizers cleared out the front row of seats for us and brought us drinks for their show. Fun times!

    The Lake Erie Monsters actually won the Calder Cup on Saturday night, sweeping the Hershey Bears, so that item should be in the past tense.

    “The ’Canes also reached the College World Series for the 25th straight year, and have a logo to prove it.”

    This is incorrect. This will be Miami’s 25th CWS appearance, but the Hurricanes have not made those trips consecutively. Last year’s appearance was their first since 2008.


    Looking at that picture of Julio Urias wearing number 7 — and thank God he has done this, because this scourge that is players wearing silly spring training numbers during the season must stop — it looks like they just unstitched the 8 from link. The 7 is much further to the left that link, as if there were a second digit that had been stripped off.

    Also, can someone who is good at Spanish explain why he needs an accent mark on the I in his name? I thought that the default position for an accent was the next-to-last syllable, and when the accent was there, you didn’t need an accent mark. As someone who doesn’t speak Spanish well, it still helps to have it there, though.

    If the I does not have an accent, it cannot hold a stress. It would be prounounced Úryas.

    Thanks! I hadn’t considered what happens when there is an I before another vowel. So “Uribe” wouldn’t need an accent, but “Mejia” and “Macias” would? Would a two-syllable name like “Frias” have one?

    The Canes reached the World Series for the 25th time in program history, not 25 straight years. Still very impressive.

    It is completely not shocking that Frank Robinson, a black player, was a vanguard of new fashion in baseball. This episode seems highly reflective of the pajama-style pants which seemingly were popularized by black and latino players. The fines didn’t come, but the backlash of them being non-traditional did.

    But this is similar to tilted ball caps, different sock wearing in football, baggy pants in basketball, meaning non-white players pushing the boundaries of what a traditional uniform is, and the backlash to it.

    The hurricanes have been to the World Series 25 times not 25 straight years

    It’s been interesting to watch in our local curling club. The original controversy was about one particular manufacturer of high-tech brooms, Canada’s Hardline Curling, whose brooms are very fashionable among club players at the moment. As the winter progressed, the top-level game moved on to a revolutionary use of horsehair brushes used with a new method of sweeping that produces really dramatic effects on the stone. So by the end of the season, instead of a debate about new, high-tech equipment, the debate had evolved to one about some of the oldest technology in the sport. It would be like if in April, a baseball player started hitting lots of home runs with a bat made out of a new kind of wood (Pistachio, say) that led to talk of banning wood other than ash and maple, but by August, the entire league was on fire with hitters setting records with regular old ash bats swung from a new type of batting stance.

    I don’t remember.
    It’s funny how every sport is affected by technology and how each one reacts to it.

    In regards to the Richmond Braves pillbox caps… Every team in the International League wore pillbox caps for the League’s 100th Season.

    As a Rams Fan, the comment to bring back gold pants isn’t a bad idea. I’d like to see (because I’m a masochist, evidently) is the alternate gold reebok jersey they had for one season:


    Pair that with the navy pants and white socks and you had a decent way to showcase that look.

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but are not the Eagles already wearing 3 pants colors (white, green, black) as well as the Bengals (white, orange, black) and Seahawks (white, gray, navy blue)? I think it’s more likely that someone in the Rams front office made the decision to drop the gold pants and deflect any blame to the NFL.

    Bengals do not have orange pants, but the other 2 teams you mentioned do have 3 sets of pants.

    Alex – Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember that Rams gold jersey ever making it to the field. Was it not just sold as a replica jersey for merch?

    CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers wore gold jerseys over navy pants as their road uniform from 2012 to 2015 (but with gold helmets). Was not a fan of that uniform, but had to do with the design and what the team should have been wearing instead. Checking that out would give an idea of what it would look like on the field.

    I think that the Rams should save any changes for the impending uniform change to royal blue and yellow. We can feel it is coming.

    I still don’t understand why NFL teams can’t have different colour helmets for throwbacks or alternate uniforms. It ruins the opportunity to wear great throwbacks the way they should be. Was the reason for safety or something like that? Isn’t a helmet a helmet? If it is not the same helmet, is it not newer and less worn down?

    I still don’t understand why NFL teams can’t have different colour helmets for throwbacks or alternate uniforms. It ruins the opportunity to wear great throwbacks the way they should be. Was the reason for safety or something like that? Isn’t a helmet a helmet? If it is not the same helmet, is it not newer and less worn down?


    My favorite detail from the Robinson ‘rups report is the half-inch difference permitted between the front and back opening. While I also learned the bigger-opening-in-back rule as a kid, my youth-ball stirrups were always either within an inch or less in length, front and back, or they were the very high thin-stripe style where the front and back of the stirrup were not visible, so it didn’t matter which opening was larger. On Robinson’s calves, it appears that the back of his stirrups were rising faster than the front. So an intermediate step on the way to the “ribbon” stirrup was a stirrup whose front opening was pretty normal but whose rear opening was getting larger and larger.

    Penguins win. Cue up the new updated golden anniversary patch. But I find it interesting that this year’s alternate logo is on the Cup Winner merchandise and all the writing is in Steelers gold and not Vegas. It totally makes sense for business to me–Vegas gold is well known to be getting pushed out, and this playoff run is the beginning of the end for Vegas gold–but it’s interesting to me that an alternate logo (I’m not talking about the Rangers shield or the Capitals’ oil can firebird) gets placement here.

    I’d always assumed that “Translated from the French” was short for “Translated from the French original.”

    link, it’s basically a holdover from when English-speakers did more commonly identify languages with the definitive article.

    “Translated from the French version“, while translating from the original is best practice, there are cases where a secondary translation is used, particularly if the original is in a currently obscure language.

    The article about the numberless practice jerseys was very insightful. As a life-long Steeler fan, I always wondered if there was a significance to the lack of numbers on Chuck Noll era practice jerseys, or if it was simply a cost-saving move. Turns out that there was quite a bit of thought behind it.

    There’s a Grammarphobia Blog entry about “translated from the.” They say that it used to be common to add the definite article before a language dating back to the 16th century.


    I always thought it was because “Greek” or “French” in those examples are nouns. I likened it to saying, “He comes from the east,” rather than “He comes from east”.

    Now that I think about it, they’re still adjectives, but with an implied noun following.

    Paul – while I assume you wouldn’t keep saying this without good reason, it still strikes me as a little odd that MLB couldn’t pass a fairly minor uniform regulation (that all players must wear the same style socks and/or pants can’t come down all the way to the shoes) without the players’ union agreeing to it in a CBA.

    It seems to me that MLB is constantly making minor rulings regarding uniforms (for example, the MLB logo on the back of the belt loop).

    Perhaps if you need a future topic for a post, it would be interesting to learn exactly what the current CBA says regarding this…did the players association really negotiate a clause that allows “anything goes” with regard to socks, or is it just something that MLB doesn’t care that much about?

    It seems to me that MLB is constantly making minor rulings regarding uniforms (for example, the MLB logo on the back of the belt loop).

    That’s a design change. It’s not a change in the rules of how the garment is worn. Changing those rules would indeed require union approval.

    Gotcha. Although it still seems that at least in baseball, players are free to wear whatever socks they want, whereas they clearly have to wear other uniform elements that match what the rest of the team wears.

    Still might be an interesting topic to learn more about what CBA’s allow as far as teams being able to dictate what players can and can’t wear. Although you’ve probably already covered it. :)

    it still seems that at least in baseball, players are free to wear whatever socks they want, whereas they clearly have to wear other uniform elements that match what the rest of the team wears.

    Sigh. Yes, because as I’ve explained many times, the MLB rulebook has a lot to say about various parts of the uniform, but it has nothing to say about pant length or sock style. Adding that to the rulebook would require union approval.

    Out of curiosity, I found a copy of the current CBA, and you’re right, socks/hosiery are not mentioned at all.

    Then again, neither are ballcaps, strangely enough, even though undershirts and compression sleeves are regulated in great detail.

    Now, there is a passage that reads:

    “…all Players are required to be in uniform and to wear only Club-issued apparel, outerwear,and equipment during games (on the field, in the dugout, and in the bullpen)”

    It seems to me that a reasonable interpretation of this would be that players would have to wear the socks mandated by the club. So if a team really wanted to press the issue, I would think they could issue socks with stirrups and require players to wear them.

    However, the rule does state that players can wear pants that reach down to the heel of their shoes, so they couldn’t be forced to actually show the stirrups.

    Seems a little odd either way that socks wouldn’t be mentioned at all, but perhaps MLB just doesn’t consider it a big deal either way.

    Never have been a big stirrups fan. Hated them when I played little league all the way to High school ball… They were just as described, hot and dumpy (or even stumpy) feeling. I (like Robinson) felt more comfortable in longer versions. I even had some that were literally just the side stripe and a loop at the top to hold them up. What I really wanted though was what many of the A’s players did in the late 80’s and that’s just sew a stripe into the sock itself.

    Awesome piece on the stirrup rule. Like many others, I probably base my ideal stirrup style on what my favorite player wore when I was a kid


    Quite frankly though, I would welcome a return of vertical arching on lettering, such as the Orioles used, every bit as much as the widespread return of stirrups.

    Steve, you’re preaching to the choir on that subject! I can understand why they don’t: It adds an additional layer of craft to a labor-intensive process in a sport where the number of alternate uniforms has exploded. Even in the good old days, call-ups and players received via trade were denied the vertical-arch treatment. But nothing makes my day like seeing a bunch of parallel letters rendered in tackle twill.

    Apologies if this has been addressed before, but can an individual MLB team mandate pant/stirrup length for players?

    I understand that a league-wide mandate requires MLBPA approval, but I also know that individual teams have certain requirements (Marlins no facial hair, Cardinals no sunglasses on brim of cap) that would clearly not pass muster on a MLB-wide level.

    So if Donny Baseball can require all Miami players to shave, could Joe Girardi require all NYY players to properly blouse their pants & sport stirrups?

    can an individual MLB team mandate pant/stirrup length for players?

    Devil Rays tried this when Hal McRae was the skipper. Didn’t work — players ignored it. If anyone had bothered to file a union grievance, the rule would have been officially scrapped; instead everyone just ignored it and it was quietly forgotten.

    Fun to look at those Auburn throwback concepts. I think Auburn is one of the very few schools so far not going in for the alternate or multiple uni fad.

    I was in Indianapolis for work last week, and I stumbled upon a place called the Broken Beaker Distillery that makes their own spirits. A very science-y feel to the place, and they serve the drinks in beakers.

    I took a couple of pictures: link

    I also tried a Habanero White Whiskey (served in a smaller, shot glass sized beaker), which was very nice!

    My brother Fred and I appreciate you mentioning us in your analysis of Frank Robinson’s stirrups. You may not know this but the last photo you showed of Frank Robinson from June 27, 1967 occurred after Frank had collided with the White Sox second baseman Al Weis breaking up a double play. Frank Robinson had a concussion and was out for a month. He had lingering double vision problems long afterwards. Here’s an article about that: link

    I’m not sure where to find reliable information on these sorts of things outside of auction sites, so does anyone have a decent idea of what the “A Million Random Digits” book might be worth? There’s a decent chance we have it packed away somewhere and I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth digging up.

    I don’t know how reliable this is, but a quick Amazon search shows sellers offering paperbacks for sale anywhere from $57 to $167 and a couple of hardbacks are being offered up at $600 to $850.

    Isn’t “throwback concept” and oxymoron? I mean, it’s either a throwback or not, right?

    The ChiSox clam diggers Bill Veeck introduced couldn’t be introduced .at all then today. Correct?

    “Uniform uniformity”…What a concept, having uniforms that are uniform. Ball Four, I loved this book. My mom gave it to me to read when I was a kid. She was really cool, but I don’t think she knew what was in this book. We all wore our stirrups high like this with our sanitary socks. These uniforms look so much better than now with the baggy pajama pants.

    I personally like the stirrup look! My son wears his high school baseball uniform with stirrups. There are only a few players that wear them.

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