Baseball stirrups have always seemed natural to me. I started playing baseball when I was six years old and played all of the way through high school, so I have always been mindful of the evolving styles of baseball uniforms. Just as jerseys, pants, and even the belts of baseball players have changed, so have the socks and stirrups. So imagine my surprise when my 3-year-old son began playing t-ball and my wife was not aware that baseball socks were not always just solid colors that you see on today's baseball players. The crazy thing was that when she asked me to describe what baseball stirrups were, I had no idea of how to explain it. I had to show her a picture.
Baseball stirrups are basically a stripe worn on top of the baseball sock--called a sanitary sock. I have not worn every type of stirrup that has ever been made, but I am familiar with three different types. Each style had its own reasoning over time. Originally, stirrups were a way for knicker-wearing players to show off their team colors, and this is still a main objective today, despite the ever-changing look.
Stitched-On Baseball Stirrups
The stitched-on baseball stirrups was very popular when I played in little league. My guess is that this was because it required only one piece of clothing per leg. A true stirrup requires the sanitary sock with a separate stirrup worn on top. But with the stitched-on stirrup, kids only had to manage one article of clothing on the leg, and moms everywhere rejoiced as there was less dirty baseball laundry to clean--and lose.
Pros of the Stitched-On Stirrup: Easier to manage, especially for kids. The stitched-on stirrup is just a sock with a stripe sewn on the side. They are the most comfortable of all of the different types of stirrup looks.
Cons of the Stitched-On Stirrup: It is a very plain look. Just a simple stripe down the side of the calf and ankle. Also, the stripe was not always stitched far enough down, so there was a gap between where the stripe ended and where the baseball shoe began. Even as a nine-year-old, I knew that looked dumb.
Major League Representative: Greg Maddux was always a proud supporter of the stitched-on stirrup. And with 355 career wins, who am I to argue?
True Baseball Stirrups
When I reached high school baseball we began to wear true baseball stirrups. This required a white sanitary sock with the stirrup worn over on top. True stirrups certainly look better than the stitched-on stripe that was worn in little league, but they did have their drawbacks.
Pros of the True Baseball Stirrups: Wearing real stirrups give a very authentic look, and for good reason--real stirrups go back to the early days of baseball. Also, with an actual stirrup the player can form his own style. If he wears his pants legs down low, only a single stripe will be shown. But if he pulls his pants legs up high at the knee, the solid portion of the stirrup will be shown up high.
Cons of the True Baseball Stirrups: The only negative I experienced with real stirrups was when I wanted to wear the solid portion of the stirrup down low. To do this in high school we had to wrap a loop of the stirrup around our foot to bring the solid portion lower. So in the sake of baseball style my teammates and I would run around with what felt like a rock under our heel. Now you can simply buy a stirrup with the solid portion lower, but in high school we didn't have that option. The last bad thing about real baseball stirrups is that they can get lost. And if you lose one, you might as well lose them both.
Major League Representative: Lots of players wear real baseball stirrups, and with varying styles. One of these is Barry Zito. He tends to wear his pants legs at his knees with the solid portion of the stirrup sometimes going to his ankle (like shown) or to near the bottom of his calf so that a long stripe if very visible. Occasionally he can be seen with a stirrup that has horizontal stripes at the top.
No Baseball Stirrups - Just Plain Ole Socks
Eventually, many players ditched baseball stirrups altogether and just started wearing colored socks. One of the reasons for this was the move toward longer pants which eliminated the need for any kind of stirrup. Players still wear socks colored with their team's color, but it is just that--a sock. There is no stripe or stirrup to be seen.
Pros of the Colored Sock: Easy to manage. It's just a sock. And with long pants, there is no need to have a stirrup.
Cons of the Colored Sock: It is not very traditional. Stirrups are something that should be a part of the baseball uniform. But I understand things change, and baggy pants are in style. With baggy, long pants I can see how stirrups are not necessary.
Major League Representative: Ian Kinsler. However, Kinsler does not wear solid colored baseball socks because of long pants. He wears his pants legs at the knee and likes to show off the solid socks.
Baseball Stirrups Have Evolved Over Time
These are the three styles of baseball stirrups that I have worn and with which I am most familiar. But these are not the only styles to have made their way into baseball history. Older versions of baseball stirrups include colorful, horizontal stripes. Occasionally, you will see teams--many times college baseball teams--emulate this look.
The baseball uniform is unlike the uniform of any other sport. With the baseball cap, belt, and stirrup, there is no mistaking the look of a baseball player. And what other sport makes the manager and coaches wear their own jerseys?
The baseball uniform has changed throughout the ages. Jerseys used to be made of heavy cotton. Later on they were almost like t-shirts. For a while, baseball pants didn't have belts, but instead were just buttoned together. Just like those changes, baseball stirrups have changed and will continue to change over time.