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This Was L.A. Baseball in the 1880s

The Los Angeles Dodgers occasionally don so-called throwback uniforms with retro designs that honor the team's history. When they do, they never want for flamboyant options. There's the 1944 outfit worn by their Brooklyn forebears during night games, cut from powder-blue satin so that it would shimmer under the artificial lights. There's the uniform from Brooklyn's 1937 season when, for one year, the Dodgers inexplicably abandoned their signature blue for green.

Los Angeles' early baseball history provides another option – if only the Dodgers could muster the sartorial courage.

The semi-professional Los Angeles Base Ball Club of the mid 1880s sported uniforms whose distinctly western accents set them apart from the outfits worn by East Coast teams. Some elements were standard issue, of course. Teams everywhere wore knickerbockers that gave way at the knee to often-colorful stockings. But the Los Angeles club's lacy tunics and cowboy-style neckerchiefs seemed to reflect the team's pride in its home city and its western roots.

The Los Angeles Baseball Club, circa 1884. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection
The Los Angeles Baseball Club, circa 1884.  Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection

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And why shouldn't they? When the Los Angeles nine took the field at the Sixth Street baseball grounds (the current site of downtown's Aon Tower and Pegasus Apartments) to face off against teams from Colton or San Francisco, they represented their home city in a way that teams in today's era of free agency can't. When the major-league Louisville Colonels barnstormed through Southern California in the winter of 1886 or the Philadelphia Athletics in 1887, the Los Angeles club's uniforms would have instantly announced their local allegiance.

But the team's clothing wasn't all that challenged national norms. So did its multicultural roster. Whereas much of organized baseball in the eastern U.S. excluded nonwhite players at the time, teams in California -- which after all had been American for less than half a century -- were much more likely to feature white players sharing the diamond with teammates of Mexican descent. Among them was one "A. Solano" (top-left in the above photo) who was quite possibly Alfredo Solano, a civil engineer, surveyor, and charter member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. A. Solano spent several years at shortstop and third base for Los Angeles between 1884 and 1886. By the late 1880s he no longer fielded a position, but his name frequently appeared in box scores as umpire.

The Solano name continues to resound with L.A. baseball history. Tucked between Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park is the quiet community of Solano Canyon, named for Alfredo's father Francisco Solano. For more than fifty years, from the age of Koufax to that of Kershaw, each roar of the Dodger Stadium crowd has echoed through a canyon that shares its name with a pioneer of Los Angeles baseball.

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