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In 1973, new fashion for baseball umpires was strictly a judgment call

In this photo from the 1975 World Series, the contrast between umpires from the American League (in maroon blazers) and National League (all blue) is apparent.
In this photo from the 1975 World Series, the contrast between umpires from the American League (in maroon blazers) and National League (all blue) is apparent.Focus On Sport

Editor’s note: While the games are on pause, the Globe is reaching into its archives to bring you “Replay,” articles from the past that highlight something interesting, timely, or revealing. This column by Ray Fitzgerald on a new look for major league umpires appeared on Sunday, April 8, 1973, under the headline, “What’s next? Bermuda shorts?”

Play “Taps” today for another victim of American ingenuity and know-how.

Hold services for one of the last throwbacks to Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright.

The men in shiny blue suits are gone, vanished with the iceman, the buffalo, and the nickel beer.

No more do umpires rule their domain looking like refugees from a settlement house — Messrs. Doom, Gloom, Tomb, and Broom.

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Now they step right off the pages of Gentlemen’s Quarterly, decked in snappy double-knit maroon blazers and blue trousers.

They look like a quartet on their way to a meeting of the local chapter of the Society for the Preservation of Barbershop Singing in America.

“One more chorus of ‘Melancholy Baby’ and you’re out of the game, pal.”

They’d fit nicely into Lawrence Welk’s saxophone section, or a team picture of the St. Louis football Cardinals in formal dress.

Actually, Frank Umont, Don Denkinger, Bill Deegan, and Merle Anthony looked pretty sharp this weekend, working the first two games of the Red Sox-Yankees series.

So, for that matter, did the Yanks and Red Sox themselves, because they also have double-knits. The day of the flannel is as extinct as the day of the blue serge.

Each umpire gets one jacket and two pairs of pants for the season, said Anthony yesterday as he sat in an inelegant pair of long johns in the umpires’ dressing room before the game.

The blazers have an American League emblem sewn on the breast pocket, and a similar emblem on the navy blue cap.

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“We just got them in time for the opener,” said Anthony. “Very comfortable.”

At one time, the umpires paid for all their on-the-field wearing apparel, but now the league springs.

“Very nice of them,” said Anthony. “We appreciate it.”

Actually the emergence of umpires from the blue serge wilderness began around 1968, when they were actually allowed to take their jackets off on a warm day. Prior to that, they were forced to stay fully clothed, even if all about them people were watching the game in bikinis because of the heat.

In 1969, baseball’s centennial year, the umps celebrated by wearing an emblem, a move only slightly less radical in baseball’s scheme of things than the recent designated hitter innovation.

In 1970, the umpires went to double-knit blue blazers and gray pants, and traditionalists all over America tch-tched and said, “What’ll they think of next?”

Now the millennium has apparently been reached, although some deep thinkers insist it is only a step from multicolored umpire’s uniforms to Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, a combination that would do wonders for Mr. Umont, a chunky former New York Giants lineman.

The change in umpire’s garb, however, is no more surprising than the switch of the Yankees to double-knits. They were baseball’s last holdouts, the final bastion of sartorial conservatism in the grand old game.

The Yankees retained the famous pinstripes on their home uniforms, and didn’t go completely berserk in their switch to double-knits. They retained the buttons/belt type rather than the pullover jersey and pajama type pants of other clubs.

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“We did that so the managers and coaches wouldn’t be embarrassed,” said general manager Lee McPhail yesterday. Corpulent types look even more obese in the beltless suits.

Ralph Houk said his players love the double-knits, even though the uniforms didn’t seem to make them play any better.

What did Houk think of the change in the umpires?

“They didn’t seem any different to me,” said the manager.