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The Chicagoist Flashback: The White Sox Don Shorts For the First Time

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 8, 2012 9:00PM

2012_8_8_whitesox_shorts.jpeg August 8 is a momentous day in local baseball history on both sides of town. Samantha will cover what happened on this date at Wrigley Field later. On Aug. 8, 1976, the White Sox took to the field for the first game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals in shorts.

Bill Veeck and a group of investors bought the White Sox from John Allyn in 1975, to the collective opposition of other MLB owners. (If Veeck Hadn't purchased the team it would have been a near-certainty the team would have moved to Seattle.) Shortly before the 1976 season started Veeck held a press conference at Miller's Pub—his regular watering hole—and, knowing he had to sell the team somehow, bragged about the upcoming changes to the club's uniforms.

“We are adding elegance to baseball styles,” said Veeck as he sat on his usual bar stool. “We may not be the greatest team in baseball, at least not for a few years, but we’ll immediately be the most stylish team in the game.” At the time, Veeck was reminded that Charley Finley’s Oakland Athletics had already taken uniforms to strange new colorful heights.

“The White Sox are not going to be dressed like a bunch of peacocks,” snorted Veeck.
“There is a difference between color and elegance… between style and class. You will be awed…..Comiskey Park will replace Paris and New York as the fashion center of the World.”

Now the White Sox' history of uniforms has been varied in both style and success; the current pinstripes and Olde English Sox logo is arguably their most successful incarnation. Veeck gave reporters a taste of things to come on March 9, 1976.

In classic cat walk style, Veeck paraded out former Chicago players Moe Drabowsky, Dave Nicholson, Dan Osinski, Bill “Moose” Skowron, and “Jungle” Jim Rivera each wearing a different style of the new Sox digs. The show moved along as planned with the first four models wearing the new blue-white knit ensembles, one with a pullover shirt, another with clamdigger trousers. Still another with a turtleneck beneath the upper jersey. All models wore the same seldom seen accoutrements: white socks. Finally, out pranced Jungle Jim in blue Bermuda shorts that stopped just above the knee. “It’s comfortable,” laughed Rivera. “But I’m afraid if you hit the dirt, you’re going to tear up your legs. I sure wouldn’t want to wear short pants sliding into third base.” Upon hearing Rivera’s assessment, Veeck chimed in, saying “You don’t slide with your knees…if you do, you shouldn’t be sliding. Plus the high socks have a roll top and a pad under them.”

Former Sox GM Roland Hemond said this was more than a Veeck stunt.

“Bill Veeck had determined that the White Sox would wear the most comfortable uniforms ever in baseball,” Hemond said. “The shorts used in some games were designed to be cooler on hot days. The socks, just below the knees, were held up by a form-fitting sock, not with a rubber band. The form-fitting sock prevented circulation problems while a rubber band would have worn down player’s legs during the course of a game. Naturally, Veeck also knew that the club would receive lots of publicity with the shorts innovation.”

Fans would have to wait for months before Veeck announced the Sox would finall wear the shorts. By the time the fateful August game rolled around they were 19 games out of first place in the AL West and any stunt to boost attendance would work. Player reaction to the shorts was widely sarcastic, with each player insisting that if Veeck said to wear the shorts, they'd wear the shorts. Goose Gossage and Alan Bannister did say they wanted enough advance notice so they could shave their legs.

Then the game came and Kansas City's JOhn Mayberry said, "You guys are the sweetest team we've seen yet."

Gossage told the Sacramento Bee of the shorts:

“Wilbur Wood and Bart Johnson looked like they were oversized kids. Bart looked like a 6-foot-5 baby. But I’ll tell you who looked the worst was Jim Spencer, ’cause he had no legs. I mean, your legs were white, sticking out of that dark blue color. It was bad. We were sitting there thinking, ‘What are we doing?!’

“It really didn’t settle in until we put them on. I think Bill Stein was the first guy to slide. You know, it’s not as bad as I thought.’ They said our jerseys looked like softball jerseys, but I know there were a lot better-looking softball uniforms than the ballooning stuff we had on.

“I mean, they were brutal. They were ugly. And I’ll tell you, we played exactly like we looked. But what are you going to do? Go on strike?“

The Sox would go on to wear the shorts two more times before Veeck decided Comiskey Park should be a center for baseball and not haute couture.