Uni Watch Flashback – The Rise and Fall of MLB Zippers

Returning fans had plenty to watch on July 7, as the Phillies and Padres faced off in Philadelphia and traveled back in time to 1983. Fun stuff, although the returning gear had plenty of fun. design inaccuracies, the most significant of which was this: The Phils throwback jerseys had traditional button closures down the front – a big no-no, as the 1983 originals had zippers.

MLB uniform supplier Majestic has produced zipper throwbacks for other teams, but the Phillies have always opted to use period-inappropriate buttons for their throwbacks from the 1970s and 80s. Pity. It might not seem like a big deal, but the Phils weren’t just any team wearing a zipper. They were the last zip team, the last standard bearers of a uniform style that lasted half a century and involved more than a dozen teams – a distinction they are apparently not interested in claiming or promoting.

But whatever. If the Phillies don’t want to show off the zip-up jersey, we’ll just have to do it for them. Here’s a quick timeline of the rise and fall of the big league zipper:

1936: White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes wears a zippered jersey while the rest of his team wears buttons. According to a 1937 newspaper report, “Mr. Dykes is a zipper enthusiast, saying he can get away for his after-dinner talk much sooner.”

1937: The Cubs, perhaps influenced by their fellow Chicagoan Dykes, become the first club to wear team-wide zippered jerseys.

1938: Zippers are officially becoming a trend, as three more teams – the White Sox, Dodgers and Tigers – jump on the bandwagon.

1939-40: Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Four other teams disappeared in 1939: the Pirates, Senators, Browns and Cardinals (although the Tigers chose to return to the buttons). When the Giants flew away in 1940, that meant half of all major league teams — eight out of 16 — joined the zipped zeitgeist. This happens to be the high water mark for the zippers on the diamond.

1941 to 1975: Zippers keep a small but stable foot in the MLB universe. While some teams, like the Reds and Yankees, never try the zipper, many other teams try it at various times, including the Astros, Braves, Indians, Orioles and Red Sox.

1976 to 1986: While many teams opt for pull-on jerseys and others stick to button-ups, the Phillies find themselves as the last zipper holdouts.

1987: The Phillies return to wearing buttons, ending the era of the zipper.

It should be noted that zippers have their pros and cons. On the plus side, they’re quick and easy to use – no hassle, no fuss (even if you don’t have an after-dinner talk). Plus, you don’t have to worry about the ball getting lost in the space between your buttons.

On the other hand, because the two sides of a zip jersey don’t overlap, you inevitably end up with breaks in the chest badge as it crosses the Rubicon, so to speak.

Also, the lack of overlap causes the two front shirt tails to hang down as separate flaps, which can make the jersey look a little more unruly when tucked in. a small button and loop on the inner side, which he used to hold the two flaps together.

OK, so they don’t have to include this level of detail in the backtracking. But the next time the Phils step back in time to their zippered days, it would be nice if the jerseys could be zipped up properly.

Paul Lukas highly recommends this book on the invention of the zipper. If you like this column, you’ll probably like his blog Uni Watch, and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn more about his Uni Watch membership program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, get added to his mailing list so you always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.

Neal T. Doss