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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cleveland Guardians (formerly Indians) Uniform and Team History

Please click on the evolution of the Indians uniform poster above for a close-up version of the poster. The descriptions below give you some insight and background about the uniforms and/or eras depicted in the poster.

Fall 2021: To purchase a reasonably priced 8" x 24" plaqued mounted version of the Cleveland Indians poster that's ready to hang on your wall, please visit Heritage Sports Stuff.


Cleveland joined the National League in 1889 and were originally known as the Cleveland Spiders. They were a part of the National League until 1899, after which the NL downsized from 12 to 8 teams with Cleveland (and their 20-134 record in 1899) being one of the casualties.

But the team was reborn in 1901 when they joined the brand new American League, and they are one of only four AL teams to have stayed in the same city from day one (the other “Charter Members” being the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox). To go along with their change of leagues, they changed their uniform from white to blue, and appropriately changed their team name to the Cleveland Blues.

There seems to be some dispute as to their nickname from 1902 to 1907 or so. Our call is that they were known as the Broncos in 1902, then the Naps from 1903 to 1914, and the Indians thereafter. Team nicknames in this era were somewhat loose and somewhat unofficial, with different newspapers calling the same team by different nicknames.

One thing we know is that they were known as the Napoleons or Naps in honor of their second baseman and manager Napoleon Lajoie (Nap Lajoie, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, played for the Indians from midway through the 1902 season to 1914, and interestingly managed the team from 1905 – 1909).

The 1906 Naps finished the season in 3rd place, with a record of 89-64, their best record to date - isn’t it remarkable to think that as early as 1906 teams played in excess of 150 games per season?

Notice the blue collar on the 1906 home uniform, standard issue on all uniforms of the early 1900’s. This collar was blue when turned down, as we have shown it, but when the collar stood up, it was white. Note also that even though the jersey has four buttons down the front, this is still a “pullover” style jersey that had to be pulled over the head – once again, this was common in jerseys throughout baseball at this time. We believe the first major league team to wear a completely buttoned front jersey (ie one that didn’t have to be pulled over the head) was the 1909 Phillies, followed by the 1911 Cubs. The pullover style jersey finally disappeared after the 1939 season (we believe the A’s were the last team to wear it), but of course pullovers resurfaced in a big way with the double knit era of the 70’s and 80’s.


The Cleveland Naps road uniform has a classic look for the era. Notice especially the thin blue pinstripe - a good three years before the Yankees wore pinstripes. As best we can tell, the first instance of pinstriped uniforms was in 1907. That year the Boston Braves’ road uniform were made from a gray flannel with a fine green pinstripe. Later that same year the Cubs had a new gray uniform with fine pin striping made for the World Series - they wore it for the World Series opener in Chicago and were later reprimanded by the league for not wearing a white uniform at home. The Yankees, most often associated with pinstripe uniforms, first wore a pinstriped uniform for one year at home in 1912 (the New York Times wrote about their 1912 home opener “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes”), then every year from 1915 to the present.

The Naps finished the 1909 season in 6th place with a 71-82 record, and player-manager Nap Lajoie handed over the managerial reigns to Deacon McGuire 2/3rds of the way through the season.

Baseball is rightfully proud of its past, and it’s remarkable how some statistics remain relatively constant over baseball’s history. But there are some things that highlight the difference in eras – for instance, from 1901 – 1909, the league leading # of home runs in the American League were 14, 16, 13, 10, 8, 12, 8, 7, 9 – this was indeed the “dead ball era”.

1909 was the last year for Cleveland’s old wooden facility known as “League Park”. It was replaced in 1910 by a brand new concrete and steel ballpark also called League Park. The new League Park, located at East 66th and Lexington, played home to the Indians for the next 36 years.


In 1915 the Naps were no more, and Cleveland would henceforth be known as the Cleveland Indians. Why the name change? After being known for over a decade as the Napoleons or Naps in honor of their second baseman and manager Napoleon Lajoie, Lajoie was released by Cleveland and claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Athletics prior to the 1915 season.

And why the “Indians”? Prior to joining the American League in 1901, Cleveland was sometimes called the “Indians” in honor of their star player Louis “Chief” Sockalexis. Sockalexis was a native American who joined Cleveland in 1897 and played only 94 games over a 3 year span, hitting .313. Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward referred to Sockalexis as "a marvel". He must have made quite an impression for the team to adopt Indians as their nickname, if indeed that’s how the name came about. If anyone has other information about the origin of the Indians nickname, please contact us at .

The 1916 uniform features a very unusual design element: uniform numbers on the sleeve. This is the first time in major league history that numbers were sewn on the sleeve, and it was a one year experiment. Amazingly, it wasn’t until the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers that uniform numbers made their first appearance on the front of a uniform.

And for those of you counting at home, the 1916 Indians finished at exactly .500 with 77 wins and 77 losses, far better than their 57-95 effort a year earlier, and not nearly as good as their 88-66 record would be in 1917.


The Indians won the World Series in 1920 5 games to 2 in a best-of-nine series over the Brooklyn Dogers (aka Robins). This was the first World Series victory for the Indians in their firsy visit to the baseball classic - their next victory would come in 1948, also their second World Series appearance.


After coming off a World Series Championship the year before, the Indians took a page out of the 1906 Giants uniforms, by displaying the words, “Worlds Champions” on both their home (pictured here) and road jerseys.

The 1920 World Series was Cleveland’s first trip to the fall classic since it began in 1903, and player-manager Tris Speaker’s 98-56 Indians squared off against Wilbert Robinson’s Brooklyn squad, then known as the Robins. After falling behind 2 games to one, the Indians reel off 4 straight victories and take the best-of-nine series 5 games to 2. The batting heroes for the Indians were Indian great and hall-of-famer Tris Speaker, Sam O’Neill and Charlie Jamieson, while Stan Coveleski won 3 games and Duster Mails 1 (with a total of 15 2/3rds scoreless innings). This was to be the Indians’ only World Series appearance until their record setting 1948 season.

The 1920 World Series saw several “firsts”, all of which took place in game 5: Elmer Smith belts the first ever World Series Grand Slam in the first inning. Then in the 4th Jim Bagby becomes the first pitcher ever to hit a home run in the Series. And in the 5th, the improbable happens - Bill Wambsganss turns an unassisted triple-play, a feat that may never be duplicated.

The 1921 “Worlds Champions” jersey is still the pullover style jersey with four buttons down the front. It also has a blue “cadet” collar, a small upright collar worn by many teams from about 1910 to the mid-late 20’s.

The 1921 Indians were no slouches either – they finished with a 94-60 record, 4.5 games behind the AL leading Yankees.


This Indians home jersey is now a full button down style jersey with blue piping around the collar and down the buttoned front. Of particular interest is the Indian head logo on the left breast - this is the first time the Indians have used an Indian head logo on a uniform. We had a devil of a time trying to find an original source photo for this patch. If anyone has a particularly good photo of this patch (but not a reproduction), we would love to see it! Please contact us @ (416) 315-4736 or

By 1928, hall-of-famer Tris Speaker has left the Indians after 11 glorious years (the last 8 of which he player-managed) during which he batted below .300 only once (.296 in 1919), and the Indians are playing their games at League Park at East 66th and Lexington where they’ll play for another 18 years. 1928 was an off year for the Tribe as they fell to a dismal 62-92 mark.


We absolutely love this home jersey, especially because of its innovative use of a wide red band around the collar and down the buttoned front. The Indians wore this style of home jersey from 1933-1935, and they were the first team to use this style. Note also how the Indian head logo is now on the left sleeve (where it first appeared in 1929) and has been re-designed since it’s 1928 debut.

The 1935 Indians were coached by Washington’s pitching legend Walter Johnson, who guided the team to a 3rd place 85-69 finish the season before. But after going 46-48 in the 1935 season, Johnson is relieved of his duties part way through the season. The Indians rebound a bit in the second half, and finish with an 82-71 mark.

It’s interesting to note that between 1932 and 1946 the Indians played their games at two facilities. They typically played their weekday games at League Park, their home since 1910. Then on the weekends, they played at the massive new Municipal Stadium. Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1932 and seated over 80,000 fans. Later renamed Cleveland Stadium, it would become the Indians’ full time home from 1947 to 1993.


What a year, what a uniform, what a lot of stories!

First, the season: Under the guidance of player-manager Lou Boudreau, the Indians finished the regular season tied with Boston with identical 96-58 records, just two games ahead of 3rd the place Yankees. Thus Cleveland and the Red Sox played a one game playoff in Boston. Cleveland, behind rookie pitcher Gene Bearden’s knuckleballs, beat the Red Sox 8-3 and advanced to the World Series. For more about this game, please visit .

Second, the World Series: This was only the Indians’ second appearance in the World Series, their previous visit being a win in 1920. This time they faced the 91-62 Boston Braves. The good thing was the Indians simply stayed in Boston after their one game playoff against the Red Sox. Lead by two wins by Bob Lemon, 10 2/3rds innings of scoreless pitching by Gene Bearens, and great hitting by Larry Doby, Lou Boudreau and Eddie Robinson, the Indians won the Series 4 games to 2 over Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain’s Braves.

And stories? Ask anyone from Cleveland born before 1940 about the 1948 season – you’ll get an earful…I recall driving on Interstate 90 in Ohio in 1992 and hearing a replay of one of the Indians games from the 1948 season – how’s that for reliving the past?

As for the uniform, look at the new Indian head logo on the sleeve of both the home and road jerseys – this was actually introduced in 1947 and was designed by 17 year old high school student Walter Goldbach.

Note also the “swoosh” underlining the word “Indians” on the home jersey. This style was introduced to baseball by the 1932 Cubs, and has been worn by many teams since then. The Indians would wear a “swoosh” on their home jerseys from 1946 to 1949, then it would be re-introduced in the 1990’s.


This home jersey is a simple design. There is no piping and the text on the front of the jersey has been simplified – the result is a wonderfully beautiful jersey. Note also the Indian head logo on the left sleeve. This is “Chief Wahoo”, another in a series of Indian head logos. But Chief Wahoo is different – he was introduced in 1951, and 50 years later a very close facsimile is still gracing the Indians’ uniforms.

1954 saw Cleveland host the All Star game, with the American League defeating the National League 11-9. More importantly, the Indians set a club record with an amazing 111 wins in the regular season against only 43 losses for a tremendous .721 winning percentage. The reason? Pitching! Early Wynn goes 23 -11, Bob Lemmon goes 23 – 7, Mike Garcia goes 19 and 8, Art Houtteman goes 15 –7 and Bob Feller, then a 16 year veteran (not including the 3 ½ years he took off for WWII), went 13-3. The bad news? The heavily favored Indians fall in 4 straight games to Alvin Dark, Don Mueller and Willie Mays of the New York Giants.


Short sleeves become shorter on this home jersey, and buttons are replaced with a long zipper. During the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s many teams used zippered jerseys instead of the more traditional button front jerseys, while a handful of teams wore them well into the 70’s and even the 80’s. The Reds, Yankees and A’s were the only three pre-1977 major league teams that never wore zippers. The 1937 Cubs were the first team to wear a zippered jersey, and as far we can tell the 1988 Phillies were the last to wear one.

The patch on the front of the vest – a patch worn by all teams in 1969 - commemorates the 100th anniversary of professional baseball (the barnstorming Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first openly pro team in baseball history, going 65 and 0 in their first season).

Note also the numbers on the front of the jersey. Numbers first appeared on Indians uniforms in 1963. Uniform numbers first made their appearance on the front of a uniform in 1952 - the Brooklyn Dodgers were the first team to adopt them. The Braves followed suit in 1953, and the Reds joined in beginning in 1956. As noted earlier, the 1916 Indians actually wore a uniform number on their sleeve, but it wasn’t until the ’52 Dodgers that the number made it to the front.

As for the Indians’ ’69 season, it was more miss than hit as the Tribe finished 46.5 games behind the Orioles with a 62-99 record.


In an attempt to recapture an earlier era, the Indians adopt the pinstripes once again, as shown on this home jersey. Thankfully, the zipper is now gone and Chief Wahoo is still smiling on the left sleeve. As noted earlier, Chief Wahoo was introduced in 1951, and 50 years later he’s still gracing the Indians’ uniforms.

And it must have made a bit of difference as the Indians rebounded from an off year in 1969 to a more respectable 76-86 record in 1970.


The jersey is totally redesigned, but not many would say for the better. This road jersey is of a double-knit style that most major league teams succumbed to during the 70’s and early 80’s. It was a pullover style, made of stretchy, synthetic polyester. The pants were called “Sans-a-Belt”’s because the elasticized waistline eliminated the need for a belt.

The jersey script resembles an early Greek style of typography. It was dropped after 3 years of use. Thank heavens.

April 8, 1975 is a great day for baseball. Frank Robinson becomes the first African-American manager in MLB history – a player-manager to boot - and he does things in grand style, hitting a home run in his first at bat.

And the Indians just miss the .500 mark with a 79-80 record, a harbinger of things to come in 1976 when they would finish above .500 for only one of three times (the others being 1979 and 1981) between 1969 and 1986.


Polyester has almost ridden its course, as this third blue jersey shows. Because of a players’ strike, the season is much shorter than usual, but memorable nonetheless for the Indians who finished with a 52-51 mark. On May 15th Lenny Barker retires 27 consecutive Toronto Blue Jay batters, for a perfect game and 3-0 win at Cleveland Stadium. Barker’s perfect game is one of only two “No-No’s” in Indians’ history, the other being pitched by Adie Joss on October 2, 1908. Barker would go on to finish the 1981 season with an 8-7 record and a 3.92 ERA.


The Indians do themselves and fans a favor and return to a clean, classic jersey design, as shown in this handsome road uniform. Uniform numbers returned to the front of the jersey in 1986, the first time since 1969.

The Indians finish 73-89, 6th in the AL East, but good times are just around the corner…


Welcome to the success known as the Indians of the 90’s!!! Not only has the team become a perennial powerhouse, but they’re looking pretty good doing it!

The “Indians” script on this 1995 home jersey is similar to their 1954 jersey. The patch on the right sleeve commemorates their new ballpark, Jacobs Field, which opened a season earlier on April 4, 1994.

Now the real news: A 41 year drought ended on September 8, 1995 – The Indians clinch the AL Central Division to advance to post-season play for the first time since 1954. The 1995 Indians go 100-44 (the player lockout caused teams to miss the 1st 18 games of the season), winning the Division by 30 games, the largest margin ever recorded by a Division winner! One amazing individual stat was the fact that on September 30, 1995, Albert Belle became the first player in major league history with fifty doubles and fifty home runs in the same season – a remarkable statistic!

But more importantly, the Indians swept the Red Sox 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs. They then advanced to the American League Championship Series against the Seattle Mariners, and the Indians won 4 games to 2 to win their first pennant since 1954. Thus it was on to the World Series for the 1st time since 1954 – this time is would be the Indians vs the Braves (in 1948 it was also the Indians vs the Braves, only then it was the Boston Braves). The Series went six games, but the Braves came out on top in a dramatic 1-0 game in game 6 as Tom Glavine and Mark Wohler one-hit the Indians in Atlanta.


This third jersey was worn both at home and on the road. Notice the team logo on the collar of the blue undershirt - a trend that started in the mid 90’s and is now quite commonplace. The patch on the right sleeve is the “A.L. champions” patch. During most of the 1997 season, the right sleeve of Indians’ uniforms instead had a patch honoring the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. All teams wore this patch in honor of Jackie Robinson and all he achieved, and all MLB teams retired his number 42 - the first time in the history of the big four North American sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) that a number has been universally retired (hockey has since done it with Wayne Gretzky’s #99).

Now back to the season itself. After capturing the AL Central, our beloved Indians win Round One of the Playoffs 3 games to 2 over the Yankees thanks to a 4-3 Game 5 victory. As it turns out, this Indians victory prevents the Yankees from stringing together at least 5 World Series Championships in a row as they won in 1996, then three-peated from 1998-2000. The Indians’ 1997 victory is the only Yankees series loss against 12 series wins over the 5 year period 1996-2000.

After knocking off the Yanks, the Indians go on to beat Baltimore in 6 games to win the ALCS and the pennant, and advance to the World Series for the 2nd time in three years. This time the Indians arrive as favorites, facing the upstart Florida Marlins.

I could go on and on, but it wouldn’t change the result. The Indians were overcome in Game 7. In 11 innings. After leading 2-1 in the 9th. Enough said. Arghhhhh!!!

But what a run it’s been for the Indians! They have been a model franchise in baseball in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, including winning the Central Division Championship every year from 1995 to 1999 and again in 2001. In ’95 they went 100-44, in ’96 they were 99-62, then 86-75 in ’97, 89-73 in ’98, 97-65 in 1999, 90-72 in 2000 (missing the post season by a single game), then back on top in 2001 with a 91-71 record.


Text not yet written but enjoy the Indians' 2005 jersey.

Celebrate the Indians' uniform history by owning a piece of history:
If you love the Cleveland Indians and the history of the Indians franchise, you might really love to own an original piece of artwork celebrating the team's historic uniforms as seen in the poster at the top of this blog - you can actually own one of those original pieces of art! There are only 17 pieces of original art available for sale, and when these 17 are sold, that's it, they're all sold out.

These original watercolor paintings would make a great gift (birthday gift, anniversary gift, retirement gift, Christmas gift, etc.) for someone you love or even a great gift for yourself (one of these framed pieces would look fantastic in your home or office). Each piece can be bought one of three ways:
1. As unframed art that you could have framed or mounted yourself (the one on the left)
2. Framed in our "Classic" framed version (the middle version)
3. Framed in our "Deluxe" framed version (the version on the right)

If you would like more information about this great artwork including the three ways you could purchase each piece, please visit our Cleveland Indians YouTube video at or go directly to the artwork website where you can see and purchase the artwork.

And if someone you know loves the history of sports uniforms (but maybe another team) and loves great art, please let them know that we have over 1500 pieces of great original artwork for sale at (all NFL teams, all MLB teams, all NHL teams, all CFL teams, select NCAA football teams) or check out each team's video at the Heritage Sports Art YouTube Channel

And please search my blog archive for other blogs on the history of the Indians.

This text was written by Scott Sillcox and was last updated August 21, 2010. I have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information, but I am human and can make mistakes. If you believe I have made a mistake, please let me know by email at !

Many thanks!!!

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Thank you for taking the time to add a comment - all input is welcome, especially the constructive kind! All the best - Scott