Answering an obvious baseball question: Why do the Yankees wear pinstripes?

Baseball is a sport that inspires curiosity; heck, it darn near demands an inquisitive nature with all the downtime between pitches, plays, and innings. There are questions, however, that seem too silly to ask, given they're likely to be met with what's certain to be an obvious, well-known answer. Take, for example, this one: why do the New York Yankees wear pinstripes?

With due respect to Jay Z, the pinstripes are the Yankees' most identifiable uniform trait -- more so than their cap's interlocking NY insigma or their missing nameplates. Yet how many people know why the Yankees wear pinstripes? Probably not as many as one would expect. Don't blame that lack of knowledge on anyone's ignorance -- blame it on a boring backstory. In fact, anyone seeking an answer to the question will stumble across a conspiracy theory that is both, nonsensical and way more entertaining than the legitimate answer.

The theory goes something like this: the Yankees began wearing the pinstripes so Babe Ruth would appear slimmer as his career winded down and his stomach protruded. Do note that Ruth joined the Yankees in 1920, a full eight years after the pinstripes first graced their uniforms, and five seasons after they became a staple. By the time Ruth played his final game with the Yanks, in 1934, the pinstripes had been in place for nearly two full decades.

At least the Ruth theory ascribes ingenuity to the Yankees' decision to wear pinstripes. Truth is, the Yankees didn't take to the look because they were thought leaders or branding experts; the opposite is true -- the Yankees seemingly co-opted pinstripes because other teams were wearing them.

Here's what Snopes uncovered from the New York Times in 1912 (read it for yourself here):

When manager Harry Wolverton's Yankees trot out from their clubhouse on April 11 to open the season with Boston, Hilltop fans will see their favorites togged out in uniforms closely resembling those worn by the Giants last season. The fad for the pin stripe in baseball toggery, introduced by the Cubs a few years ago, has reached the Hilltop, and the home uniforms of the Yankees this year will be of that design. The home uniform will consists of white shirt and pants, with black pin stripe and "N.Y." on the left breast; a white cap with a blue monogram, and blue stockings with maroon stripes.

That's right -- the Yankees weren't even the first New York team to wear pinstripes, with that distinction instead belonging to the Giants. Nonetheless, the Yankees have become arguably the team most associated with the uniform feature, more so than the progenitor Cubs, because they've left good and well alone.

That isn't to suggest the Yankees have never thought about tweaking their now-iconic look. As uniform connoisseur Paul Lukas once highlighted, there was a time during the '70s when the Yankees pondered inverting their colors and turning to a darker road uniform with white pinstripes. Jarring as that would have been, it speaks to how the pinstripes have and will continue to define the Yankees -- regardless of how they became part of their uniforms.

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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