Were the Yankees Really the First Baseball Team to Regularly Wear Uniform Numbers?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: The New York Yankees were the first Major League Baseball team to regularly use uniform numbers.

First off, let’s get it straight that I’m not talking about the first team to EVER use uniform numbers, because that would be the Cleveland Indians in 1916 who wore small numbers on the left sleeves of their home uniforms.

No, I’m talking about the first team to use the back of the uniform numbers that have become so ingrained in the game of baseball.

And that honor has been given to the 1929 New York Yankees for many, many years.

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Just do a quick search for “yankess first team to wear uniform numbers” and you’ll see a lot of results (one even has “1939″ as the date, which is silly, as Babe Ruth was retired by then) crediting the 1929 Yankees.

Here’s a good one (from a “this date in Yankees history” site):

April 16, 1929 – Yankees become the first team to wear uniform numbers

Well, just for kicks, let’s see, did the Yankees PLAY on April 16, 1929?

A quick look at Baseball Reference, and we learn that no, they did not.

Their game on the 16th was rained out, so their first game was April 18th.

And by virtue of that rainout, the first team to wear uniform numbers was the Cleveland Indians, who DID play on April 16th (they were to play later in the day than the Yankees) and wore uniform numbers on the backs of their jerseys…

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So while yeah, it was a technicality, it was still a fairly important one, no?

So give the Indians their due, people!

The legend is…

STATUS: Technically False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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