Baseball jerseys have an appeal all their own

April 17, 1991|By Marcia Vanderlip | Marcia Vanderlip,Dallas Morning News

Spring is here, and just like the weather, the boys of summer have been warming up. Whether spring training was in Florida, California or Arizona, you can be sure they were sweating it out under that familiar icon of the game, the team jersey.

Every season, baseball shirts sell like hot dogs. And for some, a team jersey conjures up images of the legends behind the all-American pastime.

Like the game's heroes Ty Cobb comes to mind jerseys have been tough and durable.

Back in 1896, when major league baseball was young, the players wore heavy pullover wool shirts because teams believed in the medicinal value of sweating. Before games, players worked out to start the juices flowing. Early shirts also were made baggy to allow freedom of movement.

By the turn of the century, woven wool flannel was still used and high collars were added. Shirts retained their sack-like appearance because the material didn't stretch.

In 1923, Spalding jerseys came in two styles one with a V-neck and the other with a military style collar. In those days, a top of the line uniform consisting of cap, shirt, pants, belt and stockings cost team owners $25 per player. By 1950, manufacturers had begun to to make the shirt out of a wool-acrylic blend for the sake of comfort.

The sports industry was not spared during the '70s invasion of synthetic fibers. A doubleknit fabric was woven into more form-fitting shirts, producing a streamlined look.

At the same time, bright colors were a hit with many clubs. But the more conventional Tigers, Yankees and Dodgers stuck to the traditional whites.

These days, ball players are wearing 100-percent polyester jerseys over T-shirts. Replicas are made by Rawlings in St. Louis.

For nostalgic fans, there is The Cooperstown Collection, a line of authentic replicas made by Mitchell & Ness Inc. The wool flannel jerseys, complete with researched patches, are identical to those worn by major league teams from 1890 to 1969. Shirt prices range from $175-$375.

A 1938 (Joe DiMaggio) No. 5 home shirt costs $175. The 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers all-wool, button-down shirt runs $225. For a Mitchell and Ness catalog call (215) 592-6512.)

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