Cleveland Indians were first MLB team to wear numerals on uniforms, 100 years ago Sunday

classic jersey

3-5-14-18-19-21: The numbers of Tribe legends. Flash back 100 years and these numbers were nonexistent. Fans were not able to identify favorite players by number because players didn’t wear numerals. This changed on June 26, 1916. On that day the Indians management rolled out the new concept of numbered uniforms.

The day after the game, The Plain Dealer recorded a brief mention of this historic event:

“An innovation was sprung by the management when the Indians appeared with numbers upon their sleeves such as are worn by the drivers of race horses. It was the carrying out of an idea by Vice President Robert McRoy, and will, it is expected, be adopted by the league. Graney for instance, is No. 1, Turner, No. 2; Speaker No 3, and so on.”

And just like that, the Cleveland Indians became the first Major League franchise to wear uniform numbers. The pinstriped jersey with a blue block C on the breast featured a digit affixed to the sleeve.

Newspapers from St. Louis to Chicago to New York all covered the development. One paper noted: “The Indians wore numbers on the sleeves of their baseball blouses which tallied with those opposite their names on the scorecard. The innovation made a big hit. This is the first time in the history of baseball that this idea was tried out.”

The paper in St. Louis was not as excited, seeing the move as a stunt that forced fans to purchase scorecards: “The present system merely FORCES the fan to pay money for information that should be gladly given him gratis.”

The use of the sleeve numbers, however, gradually faded out during the season. No reason was given. Several years later, the Indians also claimed another first in the uniform world. In 1929 they became the first MLB franchise to wear a number on the back of the uniform. Often this achievement is traced to the New York Yankees, however the Yankees Opening Day was rained out, while the Tribe had clear skies and thus became the first club to don the numbered jerseys.

A replica jersey will be on display at the Corner Bar.

–Tribe curator/historian Jeremy Feador

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