How did we arrive at this muddled state of affairs? Here's the heavily abridged version: Teams wore knickers and colored stockings in the early 1900s, but textile dyes weren't colorfast in those days, so players who got spiked in the shin could get blood poisoning if dye from the torn stocking entered the wound. The solution, devised around 1910, was a white undersock, which would provide a sanitary layer of protection (hence the colloquialism "sani"). But the extra sock made players' shoes too snug, so someone came up with the idea of giving the colored outer stocking a bottom loop opening, instead of a closed foot design, and stirrups were born.
Since stirrups were meant to mimic stockings, the foot openings were extremely narrow, so that only a teeny bit of the sani would show through. Some teams dealt with this issue by making their stirrups white toward the bottom sometimes just at the ankle, sometimes about halfway up the shin, and sometimes even higher so that the lower stirrup would blend with and essentially disguise the exposed bit of white sani.
Over the course of the 1920s and '30s, stirrup openings slowly got larger, exposing a bit more of the underlying sani. By the late '40s and '50s, the white sani was no longer something to hide it had become graphic element in its own right, providing contrast against the colored stirrup and creating the game's unique visual signature. And in the early '60s, baseball leg wear entered what Uni Watch considers its Golden Age, with most players sporting a Platonic ideal of stirrup, sani, and pant length, all harmonizing in perfect proportion.
But by the late 1960s, some players were pulling their stirrup openings so high that they were wearing little more than a tapered vertical stripe of color against a white background (or, thanks to the advent of the colored sani, a gold, yellow, blue, ochre, or orange background), which unfortunately marked the beginning of the end for the sublime striped stirrup style. In "Ball Four," written in 1969, Jim Bouton reported that some players were actually slicing the bottoms of their stirrups and sewing in some extra material so they could be stretched even higher, exposing as much white as possible. That way, wrote Bouton, "your legs look long and cool instead of dumpy and hot."
This stirrup-lengthening trend continued through the 1970s, with two primary exceptions: the Reds, whose low-rider hose always looked kinda pathetic, and the late-'70s White Sox, who wore one-piece striped socks and thus became the first team in more than half a century go stirrup-less.
By the '80s, this trend had given birth to the heinous ribbon stirrup, and from there it was a short jump to the genuinely evil socks with the interwoven stripe (whose stripes don't even go down all the way into the shoes!). This development brought the game's hosiery evolution full-circle: Stirrups had been created to mimic stockings, and now we had stockings mimicking stirrups.
With lower-leg color reduced to barely a whisp of a stripe, it's no wonder players felt little reason to keep their pants cuffed high. And that's how we've ended up with the chaotic mess we face today. It's downright embarrassing that the only people who know the right way to cuff athletic trousers are NFL officials, and that the only team who knows the right way to wear stirrups is the U.S. Olympic softball team. Clearly, major reforms are needed. But for some reason Bud Selig thinks coming up with a steroid policy is more important than adjudicating this crucial leg-wear impasse, so Uni Watch will have to do it for him. Without further ado: