The sweater that Ruth wore: Baseball’s stylish legacy

From Christian Chensvold at Ralph Lauren magazine on April 15, 2014, with mention of SABR members Paul Lukas and Tom Shieber:

A century ago, as Babe Ruth, then a 19-year-old phenom, was just beginning his career, baseball was in the midst of a style hitting streak: From about 1910 to 1930, an extended but almost forgotten fashion moment, players entered stadiums clad in dapper team-issued sweaters. The default style was a chunky shawl-collar wool cardigan that was casual yet elegant.

As we salute the Babe—arguably the most famous of these players—on the centennial of his first professional contract (he signed with the Baltimore Orioles’ minor-league team in 1914), it’s worth noting his prominence off the field, as well. His rise coincided with an explosion in mass media, making him one of America’s first true celebrities. Said his teammate Waite Hoyt: “I’ve seen them—kids, men, women, worshippers all—hoping to get his name on a torn, dirty piece of paper or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they said, ‘Hi-ya, Babe.’ He never let them down—not once. He was the greatest crowd-pleaser of them all.”

And his personal fashion choices were on display for the public, too. “Ruth was a smart dresser,” says Roberta Newman, a professor at New York University who has researched the history of baseball in advertising. “He was often depicted in well-cut suits and beautiful fur overcoats.” But, as captured by newsreel, when drink and dissipation caught up with Ruth several years after he had signed with the New York Yankees, it was a shawl-collar sweater that he wore while chopping wood and recuperating on his Massachusetts farm. That look, it seemed, held a special place in his heart.

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Originally published: April 15, 2014. Last Updated: April 15, 2014.