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Stirrups make a comeback with starters

Giants starters to show unity from head to toe

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For the Giants' starting pitchers, old-school means a new spirit.

The starters intend to wear stirrup socks, a staple of bygone eras, as a demonstration of solidarity amongst themselves. Noah Lowry and Tim Lincecum displayed the look Friday while throwing off bullpen mounds. The pitchers' sartorial expression is consistent with the refreshed clubhouse atmosphere the Giants insist will prevail this year -- thus enhancing, they believe, their on-field cohesion.

"It's more of a symbol of camaraderie than anything," Lowry said. "We're not worried as much about the look as everybody trying to say that we're on the same page here. Because that's what we've got, a tight-knit group."

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The notion of adopting the retro look began late last season when Barry Zito, who wore stirrups during much of his 2000-06 tenure with the Oakland A's, discussed the idea with Matt Cain. The starters raised the subject upon reporting to Spring Training this week and brought the issue to longtime equipment manager Mike Murphy, who unearthed some stirrups Thursday afternoon at the Giants' Minor League clubhouse.

"I love that the guys are open to it," Zito said. "This is fun. We need to start having some fun, be a little quirky if you have to, have some personality."

Younger fans might not know what stirrup socks are, since players stopped wearing them in the early 1990s. They served no practical function except to display stripes, logos or team colors. Stirrups were typically worn over long, smooth, thin white socks known as "sanitaries," which some players still don underneath thicker socks.

A stirrup sock has no toe or heel. A strip of material fits under the foot, revealing the white sock underneath (the A's of the 1970s, who wore gold sanitaries, were a notable exception). Many players wore relatively low stirrups, exposing a small half-moon of white above the shoe, as Lowry and Lincecum did during Friday's throwing session. Aficionados of the 1960s and early '70s might recall various players, including legends such as Willie McCovey and Frank Robinson, wearing high, tight stirrups that featured skinny strips of material rising to mid-calf level. They looked sleek -- and cool.

Since the stirrup was largely decorative, its disappearance was probably inevitable. Zito noted that running can be difficult while wearing them, which explained why he was tugging off traditional socks as he spoke. The stirrup's Major League extinction was hastened in the mid-1990s, when players began wearing socks with a stirrup pattern printed on them.

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Many amateur players continued to wear stirrups, and a handful of organizations insisted that Minor Leaguers use them to reflect unity and discipline. Lincecum said he wore them at Liberty High School in Renton, Wash. Lowry wore them at Pepperdine University and in the Giants' farm system.

"Then I got up here and they had bigger pants, so I wore them down," Lowry said.

Which leads to the by-product of wearing stirrups: It requires wearing high-kneed uniform pants -- "Going up," in Zito's parlance -- as opposed to the pants favored by most contemporary ballplayers that extend completely to the shoe. "Personally, I think it's classic," Lincecum said of the high-kneed, tall-sock style. "I always kind of liked that look growing up. So it's not a look that's too far out with me."

Although the Giants haven't settled upon a fifth starter, Jonathan Sanchez, a candidate for the role, already has agreed to wear stirrups. Kevin Correia, the favorite to claim the No. 5 spot, sounded prepared to follow suit. "They're talking me into it," he said.

All that's necessary for the starters to execute their plan is a fresh supply of stirrups, which is Murphy's duty.

"They should be here in a couple of days," he said.

Don't expect any other clothing innovations from Giants pitchers, however.

"They won't let us wear the orange sanis," Zito said. "I think [pitching coach Dave] Righetti would kill us."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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