Meet The Grandfather Of Modern Baseball Pants

Rays first-base coach George Hendrick is one of baseball’s forgotten pioneers — a man whose influence is still being felt nearly 30 years after his revolutionary decision one day in 1979…to pull his pant legs all the way down.

George Hendrick

(It may be mint, but this is ‘88 Topps, so the plastic holder is actually worth more than the card)

These days, nearly every major leaguer has their pant legs pulled down to the tops of their shoes, and some even wear their pants all the way to the ground (like Jose Reyes). Few, however, likely know that Hendrick was the one who decided to turn the notion of the proper uniform on its head.

The NEW YORKER’s Roger Angell  devotes a recent blog post to Hendrick’s creation, and notes that it was done with a hint of rebellion:

The fad took hold instantly, first with Cardinals teammates like Garry Templeton and, within weeks, right across the league. The style shift came when sports cool was still trying out its early variations and burnishings, and it was semi-political, since it outraged old fans and front-office grandees, who were mostly white, and was seized upon by players who were mostly unknown and almost entirely African-American. 

Hendrick is a mysterious trendsetter, though, as he has never explained exactly why he unveiled the new style. In fact, Hendrick didn’t talk to the media during nearly all of his 18-year career in which he hit 267 home runs and won two World Series rings. And, according to Angell and this 2006 ST. PETE TIMES article, Hendrick still isn’t talking:

They talk about his baseball knowledge, his funny stories and his upbeat locker room presence. They talk about his dedication, his friendly manner and his knack for communicating with Rays players.

But there’s just one catch. George isn’t talking.

At least, not to inquiring media members. Not now. Not in the ’90s, the ’80s or most of the ’70s. Not if you want to ask him anything about himself.

“Nah, it’s just not my thing,” he tells a reporter. Then he smiles, pats the reporter on the shoulder - as if a polite acknowledgment of the failed attempt - and disappears into the coach’s office.

This description of Hendrick as a gentle, humble man is in stark contrast to his playing days, when he was often described as being aloof and bitter. Padres owner Ray Kroc had this to say about Hendrick in 1978 when he played in San Diego, in reference to his refusal to give interviews, even to the Padres’ yearbook staff (via THE BASEBALL PAGE):

“It’s a good thing he’s a .310 hitter. He can probably get away with that as long as he hits like that. But if he were a .210 hitter, he’d be in real trouble.”

We may never know exactly why Hendrick chose to wear his pants that way, nor what he thinks of the fact that his style choice has become the norm. Maybe he just forgot to pull them up that day.