Why Do Baseball Players Wear Long Pants?

Long pants are a staple of baseball dating back to its early years.  All Major League Baseball and collegiate uniforms use pants instead of shorts.  To some this seems odd considering baseball is an outdoor sport played in the heat of the summer.  Why do baseball players wear long pants?

Baseball players wear long pants for a variety of reasons.  Sliding and diving on dirt infields can tear up players’ legs over time, especially over the course of a 162-game professional schedule.  Long pants provide some added protection for sliding.   

Also, because baseball players often wear metal cleats, long pants provide protection for fielders who are covering a base against a sliding opponent.  Long pants are also considered by many players and fans to be more of a professional look than shorts. 

Below we discuss the history of pants in baseball and discuss in more detail why long pants are used.


History of Pants in Baseball

When and where baseball was invented is argued among historians.  The first team to play baseball in the United States under modern rules is believed to be the New York Knickerbockers.   Their uniformed included a long trouser.

In the early years of the sport, some long trouser pants included quilted padding to help protect the legs of players.  Soon it was realized that long, padded pants were tripping hazards and restricted the ability of the players.

This caused baseball to shift to a knickerbocker type of trouser that ended just below the knee.  As baseball reached closer to the modern era, pants began to tighten and drift farther down the leg.  Some players chose to where stirrups with pants ending just below the knee while other chose to wear their pants down to the ankle.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, some players in baseball began to wear very baggy pants that ended on the top of the shoe.  This trend has drawn criticism from past players and “traditionalists” of the sport.

Currently there is no Major League Baseball rule on whether pants must be worn up near the knee or near the ankle or on top of the shoe.  Players can decide individually how they want to wear their pants as long as they meet all other uniform rule requirements.


Protection from Sliding

As we have discussed, one of the benefits of pants in baseball is protecting the leg from getting torn up from sliding and diving.  Long pants give a layer of protection all the way down the leg.

In modern baseball, most players will also wear an elastic sliding short under their uniform pants to give their thigh added protection.

For professional players, sliding wounds can be difficult to heal because once injured, the wound continues to re-open every time the player must slide.  This is why protective pants are important.

In modern baseball, some players still prefer to wear their pants high on their leg just beneath the knee.  Players will wear socks up to the knee so there is still protection against sliding.


Protection from Cleats

Baseball players wear cleats to help them get adequate traction while running on dirt and grass.  Some players wear metal cleats while others choose to wear molded plastic cleats.

The term “cleated” in baseball refers to when a fielder covers a bag and a sliding runner accidentally (or at times intentionally) puts his cleats into the leg of the fielder.  As you can imagine, this can be quite painful and can tear up a leg.

Long pants provide at least a little protection against incoming cleats.  The protection is certainly not enough to keep the cleats from leaving a mark, but it does help lessen the blow.

Professional baseball has made strides over the past decade to try and cleanup injuries involved from sliding baserunners.  But in the past few decades, baseball was a much more aggressive sport with players willing to deal out retaliation on the field.  This meant fielders could often expect aggressive sliding from incoming baserunners.

Having long pants provided a base layer of protection for these players and is another reason why long pants have become a staple in the game of baseball.


A Professional Look

Baseball has a history rooted in professionalism.  In the early years of Major League Baseball, fans would often wear suits and dresses to the park.  Sunday games were seen as an event  for the family to attend.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s many games were played during the day.  This gave business professionals an opportunity to leave or skip work and hit the ballpark instead.  This meant the stands had fans dressed in professional attire.

To many players and fans dating back to the beginning of the game, long pants displayed a more organized and professional look than shorts.  And just like much of the tradition in baseball, once it is ingrained and accepted, it is very hard to change.  This is another reason why long pants are still worn today.


Shorts in Baseball

On August 8th, 1976 the Chicago White Sox wore shorts as part of their official game uniform for game one of a double-header against Kansas City.

The White Sox wore shorts two more times that year on August 21st and August 23rd.  These three occurrences are the only time shorts have been worn in a Major League Baseball game.

Professional baseball players do wear shorts during practice and on-field workouts during pregame.


Shorts in Softball

Shorts are worn in softball on many levels of the sport.  Although pants are also used, even professional and national teams will include shorts as an alternative pant option.

There is no great explanation as to why shorts work okay for softball players and not baseball players.  Softball players slide, dive and run the risk of being cleated by baserunners just like baseball players do.  This is evidence that tradition plays a strong part in pants being the sole option in professional baseball.


Related Questions

Should Baseball Pants Be Tight?

This answer will be up to the personal preference of the player.  Baggy pants do present a possible tripping hazard when running.  Baggy pants and tight pants have both had their time in professional baseball.  The current fad seems to change with each generation.

What Do Baseball Players Wear Under Their Pants?

Professional baseball players will wear a protective cup under their pants accompanied with a jock strap or sliding shorts.  Sliding shorts have gained popularity over the past couple of decades and really help protect the thigh from being scraped during sliding.

Some players may wear knee or ankle wraps under their pants as well.

Do Baseball Players Wear Belts?

Yes, baseball players wear belts.  Most baseball pants have elastic button waists that remain snug regardless of a belt, but belts are worn regardless.

There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s where belts were eliminated, and elastic waists were relied upon.  By the 1993 season, all Major League Baseball teams had returned to using belts.

Belts do serve a purpose because of all the sliding and diving on a baseball field.  But it is also fair to point out that as we have discussed in this article, baseball uniforms tend to mirror a professional outfit: button-down shirt tucked into to long pants with a belt.

How important are belts in baseball?  That depends on the fit of your pants, but it would be incorrect to say they serve no purpose.  But to say purpose not tradition is the sole reason why they are used would also be incorrect.

Baseball is a traditionalist’s sport.  Some fans love it for that while other fans disregard it for that.

Why Are Baseball Pants So Long?

As we discussed earlier in the article, you may be watching Major League Baseball and notice some players wear their pants so long that that slip over the top of the player’s shoes.  This style is a personal preference for some players.

Many traditionalists of the sport are of the opinion that this baggy style is a sloppy look for professional players to use.  But currently there are no rules restricting Major League Baseball players from wearing their pants this way.

Baggy pants over the shoe also annoy some players because it can become a tripping hazard when running the bases and fielding a baseball.

Paul Johnson

Paul has been with us from our beginnings. He focuses on a wide range of sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB and golf.

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