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This uniform shirt, made between 1860 and 1880, was used by a base ball club (BBC) that had a name that began with “A.” ID.2002.165.1.


March 2006

Rooting for the Team

A crack of the bat, and a roar from the crowd, as a blaze of red hurries into second, on the strength of a well-struck ball to left...

 This bright red uniform shirt, with the oversized “A” for the name of the base ball club (the sport was spelled as two words into the early 1900s) , helped to make this 19th-century team readily visible to its supporters and opponents alike.

What did the “A” stand for? It may have been the community where the base ball club was based, such as Adrian , Akron , or Alpena. It could have been the club nickname, such as the Alerts or the Atlantics. Perhaps, it was the name of a profession, business, or a school or college.

In the decades following the Civil War—a time of tremendous change and growth throughout the nation—base ball clubs rapidly came to represent a community’s identity and honor.



MORE: Rooting for the Team

A young man proudly posed in his baseball uniform in this tintype, taken in a photographer’s studio about 1880. ID. 93.144.1


Starting in the 1850s, baseball surged in popularity as it changed from an informal game played by children to an organized leisure sport for adults. Rules were written down, modified and adjusted to improve the game, and then circulated across the country in inexpensive publications such as Haney’s Base Ball Book of Reference, first published in 1866. Base ball clubs were formed in many communities and soon began to challenge one another to games. With improvements in railroad travel and the proliferation of newspapers, these challenges attracted clubs, and their supporters, from a wider and wider area.

Communities began to promote themselves by hosting tournaments— as the Detroit Base Ball Club did when it hosted the World’s Tournament of Base Ball in 1867—and through the success of their clubs on the field of play. Supporters took to wearing the colors of their team, as the Detroit Post newspaper described the city during the 1867 tournament: “every second person one met on the street had on either a red cap, blue pants or carried over his shoulder a murderous looking club.”

Today, as cities jockey for the right to host high profile sporting events and we see supporters decked out in team colors—their happiness dependent on the outcome of games—we can recognize the roots of this identification in the early days of baseball.

Jim McCabe


See this baseball shirt for yourself in the exhibit, Baseball as America, open from March 11 to September 5, 2006 in Henry Ford Museum.


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