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High Socks: Magical, Mythical, Historical

In an age of baggy pants that fall past the top of a cleat, one fan looks at the love of high socks, the history behind them, as well as their possible magical powers.

Tom Szczerbowski

Anyone who has been around me during a baseball game will tell you that after the National Anthem, after "Play ball," and after the players take the field, the thing I do next is check for the high socks report. I look to see who on what team is wearing high socks. In fact, I even have a method of marking it on my scorebook – a simple "HS" to the left of their name in the margin.

In 2013 on the Houston Astros team, the number of HSs written next to names have been shockingly low.

For someone who rarely wears socks, I have an awful lot of opinions about them, especially when it comes to baseball. I started watching baseball when ball players wore knickers, high socks and stirrups. Perhaps my upbringing has swayed me to be a fan of high socks still today, but an informal poll of baseball fans I know tells me that’s not the case and I am not alone. It seems fans (at least this one) prefer to see the opposite of what players prefer to wear.

To really understand the long pants vs. knickers/high socks/stirrups dilemma, we should take a look over our shoulder and see how it all developed over history. It all started in 1849 when the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York first adopted a uniform – white flannel shirts, blue woolen pantaloons, and straw hats.

Then in 1868 the Cincinnati Red Stockings ball club went big – they were the first club to do away with those long pantaloons and don knickers that were able to show off the red stockings they wore. This set off a trend of determining the identity of a team by the color of their stockings, ie, Cincinnati Red Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, St. Louis Brown Stockings. See? It’s always been about the socks.

The "knickers" themselves haven’t really changed much since 1900, we’ve seen fads of tighter and looser wear (and some guys wear them snug no matter the fad – hello? Dan Uggla? I’m talking about you!), but the pants themselves have pretty much remained the same. What has changed more dramatically is the length at which they are worn as well as the style of the "stockings."

In 1900 the stockings ball players wore were made of wool and were of one color, except the part that covered the foot, which was white, creating the illusion of a stirrup. The first actual stirrup (separate from the sock beneath) came onto the field in about 1905. At this point players wore their knickers just below the knee with stockings and stirrups showing off team colors.

...I asked Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter if they would mandate high socks for me. They both laughed, shook their heads and flatly told me, "No."

The length of pants continued to get longer over the century as players of the sixties showed us stirrups from knee to shoe, but by the 1990s the pants had dropped to mid-calf or lower and fans got just a glimpse of the stirrups below. Remember the Blue stirrups with the star on them that the Astrodome Astros used to wear? Closely trimmed trousers made it a possibility for players to wear pants that reached all the way to the top of their shoes without them getting in the way of their play. And so the long pants era began.

I often wonder about the length of a player’s pants and his walk rate, but I’ve yet to analyze that with numbers. Perhaps during the off-season I’ll take a look at it. But seriously, high socks define the strike zone so much more clearly than loose or baggy pants. There could potentially be an advantage to wearing loose pants at the plate.

Now the players have a choice and some wear their pants long and touching the ground (sloppy looking in my opinion), some wear them long and fastened beneath their foot (it should be noted that this is a BAD look – you know who you are!), and some wear kickers with high socks although the stirrups have long since disappeared. *Sigh* It’s that last group that steals my heart every time I walk into a ballpark.

I mean, really, go watch "Bull Durham" and tell me that those stirrups weren’t great. Do you think we’d love Kevin Costner the same in long pants? Oh, yeah – I could. Remember "For Love of the Game?" Now that I think about it, we could just chronicle the history of baseball uniforms through Kevin Costner movies couldn’t we? *Makes note to self to schedule Kevin Costner baseball movie marathon*

Why did I take you on this walk down memory lane? Oh yes, because I like high socks. It’s true. I think you’re much cooler if you wear high socks. It’s the look I think most fans prefer, but players don’t. I’m sure players think the high socks are "old fashioned" or "hot" or "not as comfortable" as the long pants. I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons including the fact that pants are being worn looser and loose pants with high socks is a fashion don’t.

But regardless of the reasons, I wish they’d all go back to high socks.

I want to believe that the team with the most players wearing high socks will win. I haven’t tracked this using the scientific method or anything, but one look at the 2013 Astros tells me that Justin Maxwell was the only guy in high socks and he plays for the Kansas City Royalsnow. Last night Josh Zeid wore high socks on the field and in the three innings he was on the mound, he allowed 2 hits, but not one run. See? The power of high socks - I think they're magical.

At the beginning of the season during Fanfest I asked both Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter if they would mandate high socks for me. They both laughed, shook their heads and flatly told me, "No." Well, they said it a bit nicer than that because they’re both genuinely good guys, but the end result was the same.

GMs and Managers aside, social media loves high socks. Twitter is aflutter each time a player wearing high socks plays particularly well. The hashtags #highsocks and #highsocksstartrallies are prevalent during games. Fans really do love the high socks.

Think about it. When your favorite baseball team takes the field in the throwback uni and is wearing high socks and stirrups, it makes you smile, doesn’t it?  Do baggy long pants make you smile? Nope, me either.

Maybe someday the players will catch on and the tide of the trend will turn. I certainly hope so. It’s tradition. It’s historical. It’s the way baseball players should look. And I’m still pretty sure the team with the most high socks wins.

***I generally don't like to say anything nice about anyone with ties to the Yankees, but it should be mentioned that David Robertson started the charity "High Socks for Hope" after tornadoes ravaged his Alabama hometown in 2011. The organization continues to support charities that aid people affected by tragedies as well as aiding in humanitarian efforts for those in need. So it seems, that high socks also change lives.