Apr 28

The Good Guys Wore White

During the first 66 years of the 20th Century, most major league baseball teams wore sparkling white flannel uniforms for their home games, and gray uniforms on the road. There were exceptions. For instance, the 1906-09 Washington Nationals wore dark blue uniform pants and jersey tops on the road, but aside from other rare occasions, teams followed the “traditional” white-gray color scheme.

On December 2, 1966, Kansas City Athletics’ owner Charles O. Finley shook the very foundations of major league baseball by introducing new uniform colors. Finley had the “audacity” to buck tradition by introducing new uniforms that were a combination of “Kelly Green and Fort Knox Gold,” and went a step further by adding dazzling white shoes that were made from “the hides of albino kangaroos.” Finley felt that the traditional black baseball shoes were “too formal.” The Athletics’ owner went on to say that (in his far-from-humble opinion) the shiny black shoes worn by major league umpires made the arbiters look like “undertakers.”

Washington Senators General Manager George Selkirk, a staunch baseball traditionalist, vehemently protested Finley’s innovations and labeled the Athletics owner “a trouble-maker.” Selkirk and others insisted that the Athletics’ new white shoes would cause a distraction to the opposing teams’ hitters. Since American League President Joe Cronin seemed reluctant to step in and settle the controversy, Selkirk devised a plan of his own.

In the first game of a May 2, 1967 twi-night doubleheader at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, the Senators took the field wearing white caps with red trim and snow-white stockings with no stirrups. After a pre-game conference, the umpires decided to allow the Senators to wear their new uniform accessories.

The new attire didn’t exactly inspire the hitters on either team to greatness.  The Senators and A’s split the twi-nighter by identical 1-0 scores.  The Senators scored their run in the sixth inning of the opener when Jim King tripled and scored on a single by Ken McMullen. Pete Richert allowed only one hit – an infield single by Rick Monday – over seven innings, and picked up his first win of the season. Kansas City’s Jim “Catfish” Hunter returned the favor in the second game with a 1-0, seven-hit shutout over the Senators.

After the doubleheader, Senators manager Gil Hodges addressed the uniform controversy. “I certainly don’t approve of the white shoes,” Hodges said. “And I don’t approve of our white hats or socks either. You would say this is our way of counterattacking. We won’t wear them any place else except in Kansas City.”

The Senators actually donned their white caps and socks for home and away games against Athletics during the 1967 season. It is unlikely that the new look had any effect on their play, but our Washington baseball heroes managed to post an 11-6 advantage in the season’s series against the up-and-coming Kansas City club.

In 1968, the Senators changed the color of their uniform caps, belts and stirrups to red, and the white caps and stockings became footnotes to Washington uniform history.

*Jim Hartley has written three books about baseball in D.C.