Listen to any old time player talk about the game he played and one thing that is likely to be part of that discussion…those “heavy wool uniforms”. Of course this is not something I am debating, but rather something I thought to question as to just how heavy when compared to more modern jerseys and fabrics. In line with one of my favorite television shows (Myth Busters), I decided to look into this for myself.
I chose to look at some uniforms that had a number of things in common other than fabric. I found three examples that I felt would make a nice comparison based on similarities:
All are the same size (44).
All feature the same relative design (Cincinnati Reds Road jerseys).
All are sleeved jerseys.
None feature zippers.
My examples were:
1952 Cincinnati Reds Road (Wool based flannel)
1970 Cincinnati Reds Road (Wool/Cotton based flannel with synthetic fibers)
1976 Cincinnati Reds Road (Double knit fabric)
The weights for these jerseys were as follows:
1952 Road: 15.5 oz
1970 Road: 11.5 oz
1976 Road: 10.5 oz
While there is not much difference between the later flannel and early knit uniform, the 1952 jersey is roughly a 1/3 heavier than the more modern knit. While we are only talking a few ounces, I decided to look at them in a different manner. I have been wearing uniforms of one type or another for over 20 years…and have gone through more than a half dozen style of fatigues or “work uniforms.” If you think about it, this is what a baseball jersey really is. Actually fabric weight has little to do with comfort when you consider the impact of what the properties of the fabric hold in store for the wearer. I can tell you that the cold weather gear of today that features synthetic fabrics like Gortex and
Polypropylene are much lighter and warmer than the issue wool cold weather clothing I first used in the 1980s.
I decided to see if I could look at these uniforms in such a manner as to get an idea on how much heat they retained. To do this, I had to convince Michelle I needed a little room in the refrigerator in the laundry room. She has graciously given me great leeway over the years with what I have done with my “baseball stuff,” but even this request took her a bit by surprise. What I wanted to do was place a thermometer inside the jersey and see how the temperature changed given a constant time and starting temperature. I went to the local Target and for around $8.00, found a neat little digital indoor-outdoor thermometer.
All three jerseys started out with a temperature reading around 76-78 degrees and were placed in the refrigerator (35 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes. This is what the temperature read after that time:
1952 Road: Start 78.6 F
5 minutes: 59.9 F
10 minutes: 49.8 F
15 minutes: 44.8 F
Retained 57% of the starting temperature
1970 Road: Start 76.7 F
5 minutes: 59.4 F
10 minutes: 48.4 F
15 minutes: 43.0 F
Retained 56% of the starting temperature
1976 Road: Start 77.5 F
5 minutes: 55.4 F
10 minutes: 44.1 F
15 minutes: 40.5 F
Retained 52 % of the starting temperature
As you can see the double knit fabric does not retain heat as well as the either the wool or cotton based flannel.
I know this will probably make some collectors cringe, but what I did next was soak about one inch of the sleeve in 20 ounces of water for one (1) minute. I had no problem in doing this because I don’t think it was the first time these jerseys got wet nor was there any detergent in the water. Yes, they dripped dry and look just fine now.
After the shirts were removed from the water, I measured how much water the jersey had absorbed and held.
1952 Road: 2.5 oz
1970 Road: 1.5 oz
1976 Road: .9 oz
So what do we know? The 1952 wool based flannel was heavier than the modern knit by by some 35%. It retained roughly 5% more heat and some 64% more moisture. Yes, I know I did not factor in the heat of playing on turf versus grass. The other thing to factor in would also be the fabric make up of the shirt worn under the jersey. There is always the tendency to remember things from the past in the way we want to remember them. I remain convinced that Airborne School was tougher when I went through it than when my son did last year (and yes it was because they no longer have the “Gig Pit” or run in boots). But when players from the Golden Age of Baseball talk about how heavy their uniforms were and how much more those jersey’s weighed at the end of game in August, now it is easy and objectively to see they were not making it all up.
Was any of this really necessary? In a way it was to me. I have been collecting for over 30 years and have heard and been told many things. The information I am most comfortable with is that which I have looked into for myself. If you are a collector, your goal should be the same. This is not to say that I don’t learn new things from other people all the time…but if you have a question about some aspect of what you collect, think about how you could go about answering the question for yourself. In my mind, this is the difference between the collector and the obtainer.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.