by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When stirrup socks were worn by every baseball player for about a century, they ranked behind only neckties as items of apparel that surely will baffle archaeologists digging into our strata centuries from now. “What in the world were these things for?” the excavators will ask.
Still, uniforms seemed incomplete without stirrups, which endured in all levels of ball, worn by Hall of Famers from Wilbert Robinson (1885-1902) to Jackie Robinson (1947-56) to Frank Robinson (1956-76) onward.
Actually it was Frank Robinson who precipitated stirrups’ downfall when the slugger starting cutting them to look longer and sleeker. On his lean limbs, this innovation looked great, so everyone started to copy the style, to the extent that horizontal stripes disappeared, leaving the sox, what you could still see of them, all solid color.
As the stirrups got longer and thinner, and started to look ridiculous, the sport said enough is enough, and stirrups all but disappeared by the mid ’90s, replaced by full-length, form-fitting leggings that functionally make more sense anyway. Or by short pants with solid, no-stirrup socks.
However, the 2014 Elk River Elks are bringing back the stirrups.
Coach Ryan Holmgren has them decked out in duds old-fashioned all the way — short-stirrup socks with three horizontal stripes, knicker-style pants hitched up under the knees, and jerseys with one solid stripe down the front, not seen since the early 1900s.
“I wanted a throwback look,something to show them what baseball was before them,” Holmgren said. “I wanted something unique, too.”
And, frankly, the Elks look pretty cool.
“I think they’re awesome,” said Elk infielder Brandon Meyer. “The jerseys are sweet. The pants, they’re like football pants. The socks, at first you could feel them on your ankles, but once the game started, you don’t notice.”
Meyer said he’d never seen stirrups “except on old baseball cards.”
Holmgren literally had to teach the players how to put them on.
“I had to show them that the low part goes in the front, and convince them that they would be OK and not feel weird on the bottom of their feet.”
At a coaches association clinic expo in Dallas in January, Holmgren spotted the jersey at a Rawling’s booth. “Whew! That definitely screams old school,” he thought.
The stirrups had to be ordered from a firm in North Carolina as there’s not a lot of demand, although a few college teams have also been wearing stirrups.
The Elks’ new-old look was unveiled Monday in a 6-4 loss to Champlin Park. They still have the sock-less, full-length gray uniforms for the road.