Sunday, August 6, 2017

Union Suits - YesterYear:  Babe Ruth, Union Suit Fan and Underwear Spokesman!

Decades before Jim Palmer pitched underwear in print and on the air and long before Yogi Berra and his sons, Larry, Curly, and Moe, I mean Larry, Dale, and Tim, argued in TV ads over white Jockey shorts and tee shirts (Yogi's preference) versus colored (the boys' favorite); and years before Steve Largent and his boy, Kyle, along with Lyle Alzado and his son, Justin, appeared in Hanes underwear on television; indeed, before a miriad of sports figures lent their names and prestige to the sale of underwear, George Herman Ruth, Jr (February 6, 1895 - August 16, 1948), "baseball's greatest", successfully sold Union Suits featuring his picture on every box. 

Certainly, “the Babe” was the most popular player in his time and still arguably one of the best baseball players of all time. He was widely known as “The Bambino,” the “King of Baseball,” and “The Sultan of Swat”. Due to his resounding success and popularity, he hawked everything from candy bars to chewing tobacco, cigarettes to shirts. And, yes, especially men's and boys' underwear.

Many boxes included miniature, wooden 14" bats that were engraved with “Authentic Babe Ruth Underwear” on them. You could get a bat along with the purchase of long underwear!

Wooden Bats Inscribed with
"Authentic Babe Ruth Underwear"

You might say Ruth "drove in the run" that led to the acceptance of other sports greats hawking underwear to American sports fans!

From the beginning of baseball in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York, players wore long underwear under their short sleeved baseball shirts. In the late 1800's, men and boys began wearing Union Suits under their uniforms like these players. It's a fact that red Union Suits were still being worn by many baseball players with the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox well into the 1970's, maybe even later. Growing up and playing baseball in Idaho, I and other boys on my high school team wore Union Suits under our uniforms as well. Spring training and night baseball games were cool in the Rocky Mountains.

Babe's profitable advertising deals were drawn up by his (and baseball's) first major league agent, Christy Walsh. Walsh was an expert in negotiating lucrative endorsements rather than player contracts. Possibly the best deal made on behalf of the Babe was with McLoughlin Manufacturing Company of Kokomo, Indiana. McLoughlin made Union Suits and had been looking for a major sports figure to sell their underwear. So, at the height of his career in 1926, Babe signed on. He greatly helped the company sell millions of Union Suits to men and boys across America. The product was popularly called “Babe Ruth All America Athletic Underwear.” These Union Suits could be purchased with either long or short sleeved tops and long or short length drawers, or with short sleeves and long drawers.

Ruth's association with this company extended until his death in 1948. Sales of men's and boys' Union Suits went through the roof! The company even had a large water tower atop their building that spelled out in huge painted letters: “McLoughlin Manufacturing Company, Home of Babe Ruth Union Suits.”

The reverse side of this photograph reads "Babe Ruth with superintendent at the factory of the McLoughlin Manufacturing Company, Indiana - Makers of the Babe Ruth Underwear. August 15th, 1927." Notice the hundreds of boxes of Babe Ruth Union Suits.
Other Union Suit manufactures managed to sign Ruth as their underwear spokesman as well including Allen A and Sealpax and even Jockey. Sealpax Union Suits were produced by Rubin-Meltzer of New York. This company sold underwear, robes, night shirts, and pajamas. It appears that none of their clothing sold as well as “Sealpax's Babe Ruth Underwear” from 1926 through 1930. The motto of this long underwear was “Step Thru – Button Two.” They advertised their Union Suits with “a new one free – if this one rips!”

Typical Ad Announcing that Babe Ruth, 
Himself, will be in the Store to Sell his 
Renowned Men's and Boys' Union Suits 

Sports fans clad in only their long red Union Suits enjoy cold beers while watching a baseball game from the upper deck. 

Why Not Go to the Baseball Park in Your Bright Red 
Long-Handled Underwear? Continue Their Lead!

Above Photo Added September 7, 2017; sent to me by Bay Area Bill.

Ever wondered what baseball umpires wear under their uniforms. Well, George Barr of Sanford, Florida showed off his long underwear during Umpire School as featured in a Life Magazine article in 1947.

Bill emails: "I like this story about baseball umpires wearing union suits. I have seen this mentioned in other places. Baseball is my favorite sport. Maybe in another lifetime, I will come back as a union suit wearing umpire!"


  1. Cory of Waterville, Maine emailed: Back in the late 1990's all us boys on my high school baseball team wore long underwear under our uniforms. My best friend, a pitcher who later scholarshipped at Univ. of Maine, insisted on wearing his lucky red Union Suit at all our games. He seldom lost a pitching battle. That kid also wore his unions under his track suit at practice. He would have worn that long underwear during meets but coach wouldn't let him!

    I didn't play hockey (too small) but a lot of boys on the hockey team always wore Union Suits cuz they didn't bunch up while skating and moving around the rink.

  2. Trevor of Shamrock, TX says he always wore a red Union Suit under his baseball uniform back in the late 1980's. Since the team uniforms were green he was known as "Mr. Christmas" for being decked out in red and green clothes.

    Trevor also emailed that as a teenager, he got to be a clown at the county junior rodeo for a couple of summers. During the course of the rodeo, he would take off his red shirt and, like a matador, wave it at a steer that had just thrown off some boy. As the steer began chasing Trevor he says his suspenders would snap off causing him to lose his clown pants. Reduced to just his long red underwear with the flap in back, he would race around the arena and jump into a barrel until the coast was clear. "The crowd loved it!"

  3. Love your comments guys! Keep sending them! ...Chris