Birdie Tebbetts, who spent 30 years as a player and manager in the major leagues with five teams (but never the Yankees), once said, “The myth is that you put a Yankee uniform on a player and he becomes great.”
To be fair, you can see how that mythology grew. Any uniform would acquire a certain mystique when being worn by the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter for a club that’s won a record 40 pennants and 27 World Series. But it helps if your getup is as classic and flawless as a tuxedo.
The interlocking “NY” that is now one of the most famous logos in sport wasn’t intended for baseball at all. The design was created in 1877 by Tiffany & Co. for a medal to honour the first New York City police officer shot on duty. Bill Devery, one of the club’s owners—it was called the Highlanders at the time, named for Hilltop Park field—was a former police chief and the connection that led to the logo first appearing on the players’ uniforms in 1909.
By 1912, the club was known as the Yankees, and stepped out for the first time in white uniforms embellished with black pinstripes, inspired by the Cubs and Giants before them. The stripes disappeared for a couple of seasons, but by 1915, they were back for good. Seven years later, the team introduced navy caps with the “NY” logo, and the uniform that’s synonymous with baseball greatness has remained constant ever since.
One of the few changes came in 1936, when the “NY” monogram reappeared on the jerseys after a 20-year absence. “Babe Ruth actually played his entire Yankee career without ever wearing the club’s now-legendary insignia on his jersey,” the team’s history notes. It’s also a myth that the stripes were introduced to make the Babe look slimmer: He debuted with the Yankees eight years after the pinstripes did.
In 1929, they were the first team to use permanent uniform numbers. Three years later, numbers were standard across the league. Otherwise, the Yankees have remained stubborn traditionalists, eschewing names on the backs of their jerseys and alternate uniforms.
Their greats never seemed to mind. Someone once asked DiMaggio what was his greatest baseball thrill. Joltin’ Joe, with nine World Series championships and a 56-game hitting streak that has never been topped, answered, “Putting the Yankee uniform on every day.”
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.