The New York Yankees adopted pinstriped uniforms in an effort to disguise Babe Ruth's girth.
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Collected via Okrent and Wulf, 1989
There is no more memorable figure in baseball history than Babe Ruth, and no more famously distinctive a uniform than the
We might expect that someone would try to link these symbols in folkloric fashion, to establish a connection between the two that was not merely coincidental but causal. The Bambino didn’t merely wear Yankee pinstripes; he was the reason why all Yankees wear pinstripes, then and now:
Babe Ruth’s girth, incidentally, is the reason the Yankees wear pinstripes. Yankees owner Jake Ruppert thought he would look slimmer that way.
This legend collides headlong with a few facts when we try to run it down history’s highway, however, and the first obstacle in the road has something to do with memory and image.
We tend to create specific, fixed images of people (particularly famous ones) and remember them always as conforming to those images. Mark Twain is nearly always depicted as an elderly, white-haired man in a white suit, even though Twain was famous long before he was elderly, and he adopted the habit of wearing white suits all year around only in the last few years of his life. Walt Disney will forever be the avuncular, slightly paunchy middle-aged man with the gray moustache, because that’s how he looked when most of us first saw him regularly (as the host of his own
Likewise, the popular image of Babe Ruth is that of a paunchy,
Moreover, as the following article from the 27 February 1912
When manager Harry Wolverton’s Yankees trot out from their clubhouse on
April 11to open the season with Boston, Hilltop fans will see their favorites togged out in uniforms closely resembling those worn by the Giants last season. The fad for the pin stripe in baseball toggery, introduced by the Cubs a few years ago, has reached the Hilltop, and the home uniforms of the Yankees this year will be of that design. The home uniform will consists of white shirt and pants, with black pin stripe and “N.Y.” on the left breast; a white cap with a blue monogram, and blue stockings with maroon stripes.
The Yankees abandoned pinstripes after the 1912 season, brought them back in 1915 (in navy blue rather than black), and have worn them ever since. In 1912, however, Babe Ruth was a
As Ruth biographer Marshall Smelser noted, “No other person outside of public life so stirred our imaginations or so captured our affections.” If we want to attribute to the Babe even that which he wasn’t responsible for, well, perhaps it’s only a fitting part of his larger-than-life legend.