“What do you do for a living?”
“I write about sports uniforms”
“Hey, didn’t the White Sox use to wear shorts?”
This conversation has happened multiple times in my life. Those Chicago White Sox shorts. It seems to be what baseball fans of the appropriate age who don’t care so much about uniform design think about first when forced into a conversation about uniforms.
Four decades later these largely, otherwise forgettable baseball games, get brought up more often in my circle far more than anything else from the 1970s. The Astros rainbows? Old news. Powder blue pullovers? Boring. Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in a World Series game? What are you nuts!? It’s all about the shorts!
So yes, to answer your question the White Sox did indeed wear shorts.
It was during the U.S. Bi-Centennial in 1976, and it all started within the mind of the unique genius that was Mr. William Veeck, Jr.
You see, Bill Veeck liked to challenge the status quo.
There were the silly stunts — signing Eddie Gaedel who stood just 3’7″ and wore uniform number “1/8” (he walked on 4 pitches in his only appearance), or hiring Max Patkin a professional “baseball clown” to be an official bench coach, he buried the Cleveland Indians 1948 AL pennant during their failure to repeat the following season, and even allowed fans to vote on in-game team strategy while with owning the St Louis Browns in the 1950s.
And then there was his more historically important maneuvers — he reportedly tried to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies and stock the roster full of Negro League stars a full five years before Jackie Robinson’s debut, subsequently blocked by the National League with the segregationists in charge of the league caught wind of his plan. When the colour barrier finally broke in 1947, Veeck now owner of the Cleveland Indians signed Larry Doby therefore breaking the colour barrier in the American League. When three of his players refused to shake Doby’s hand, Veeck kicked them off the team. Long-time Negro League star Satchel Paige, at age 42, was signed the following season, making him the oldest rookie in Major League history.
But we’re going to stay true to the focus of this website and look at Veeck’s tinkering with the baseball uniform; while Veeck is also credited with introducing player names to the back of jerseys we’re going to talk specifically about those infamous “Hollywood Shorts”, as he called them.
T’was the March of 1976 at the Tremont Hotel in Chicago when Veeck trotted out former Sox stars to model the team’s new uniforms. This new look is the one most people now associate with the 1970s White Sox — the giant collars, the team name arched across the front in the “Tuscan” style font, the midnight blue pants. Fans today seem to love them, despite ace pitcher’s Chris Sale’s thoughts on them.
The uniforms offered three different pants styles, the “clamdiggers” which are just your modern-day long pants worn by most MLB players in 2016, the “knickerbockers” which are short pants with high socks — still popular these days but less so than they used to be, and the aforementioned “Hollywood shorts” – named for the short-pant uniforms previously worn by the minor league Hollywood Stars in the ’50s, traditional shorts you’d wear around your backyard on a warm summer day. Despite the knees being exposed, players weren’t exactly going to have problems sliding, the high socks worn with the shorts had special rubber sewn in just below the knee to act sort of like a sliding pad, protecting the players legs from any potential burns or cuts.
Naturally the shorts stole the show (Can you imagine if SportsLogos.Net existed in 1976? Or even Twitter?)
“Players should not worry about their vanity but instead their comfort. If it’s 95° out, an athlete should be glad to put on short pants and forget his bony knees”, Veeck told the press at the time. “Hell, I’ve got a worse looking knee than any of my players. It’s solid wood!”, he added, making reference to a World War II injury.
Four months into the 1976 season every White Sox uniform combo but the shorts had been worn, players were asked when they thought those infamous shorts would finally make their debut (if ever). Sox second baseman Jack Brohamer said, “I’m not going to wear short pants unless they let me wear a halter top too!”, while future Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage requested “a little notice” so he could remove all the hair from his legs.
Finally, on August 8, 1976 – forty years ago today – the Sox took the field for the first game of a doubleheader with the blue shorts, paired with their collared white tops and solid blue baseball cap.
Their opponents that Sunday afternoon were the American League West Division leading Kansas City Royals, who at 66-41 held a commanding 11 game lead over the second-place Oakland A’s, even further ahead of the Sox who were 15 games back in 4th place.
Yeah, you bet the Sox players heard all about it from the Royals.
“You guys are the sweetest team we’ve seen yet!”, Kansas City first baseman John Mayberry was overheard saying to some White Sox players before the game. Later on with Ralph Garr at the plate for Chicago, Mayberry was again heard shouting, this time a promise for Ralph, “If you get over to first base I’m gonna give you a big kiss!”.
Garr did, Mayberry didn’t.
The mockery didn’t seem to phase the Sox too much, they beat the Royals 5-2, leading some to think those silly-looking shorts could actually be something worthwhile. It helped that the Royals went on to win game two 7-2 with the White Sox having switched back to their long pants.
“They felt great”, Sox manager Paul Richards said of the shorts following the game, “I think they’d be great in warm weather, they’re alright!”.
When asked why the club then switched in-between games, perhaps, leading to the doubleheader split, Richards explained, “it was getting a little chilly out there”.
Brohamer, who earlier had said he wouldn’t wear them unless he could add the halter top seemed to change his tune, “I like them, they’re very comfortable and everybody seems to like them”.
After all sorts of press coverage, both positive and negative, Veeck wanted to bring them out again, announcing they’d be worn on August 21st against the Baltimore Orioles.
Attendance went up for the game and the Sox beat the O’s 11-10 in extra innings. Something was clearly working here.
The White Sox wore the shorts again the following afternoon, a day game of a doubleheader again against the Orioles. Luck ran out, the White Sox lost, attendance had dropped, and the media seemed to care a lot less about the novelty of shorts in baseball.
So what happened?
August 22, 1976, that was the last time they were ever worn, all it took was dwindled attendance and a disinterest by the press (hey, that’s how Veeck did things, milk it until it’s no longer interesting and move on). All-time the White Sox were 2-1 while wearing the shorts and Jack Brohamer (“Mr Haltertop”) became the only Major League player to ever hit a home run whilst wearing them.
Chicago will likely never wear the shorts again, that’s just my opinion but realistically there’s no way the players or even the union would allow it, probably citing increased potential for injury as an official reason over appearance. We contacted the team asking if there’d be any chance they’d be brought back and we just haven’t heard back yet (in fairness to them, I just asked like an hour ago).
The team *has* thrown back to this uniform set several times in the forty years since, opting for the long pants each and every time — that is, of course, when they actually took the field. Two separate incidents saw the team schedule a game wearing the uniform only to have the players refuse to don them just prior to the game. There was the Chris Sale story last month everybody knows about now in which the pitcher destroyed the uniforms during batting practice resulting in a multi-game suspension, and in 2001 the team decided against them before a 1977 throwback game in Toronto (which I attended, just for the throwbacks), instead wearing their regular alternate jerseys with the throwback caps.
As for Veeck, he kept up with the whacky promotions, the last of which “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979 resulted in a riot and forced the White Sox to forfeit a game.
Bill Veeck ended up selling off the White Sox and left the game in 1981, he died six years after following a battle with cancer. For his ingenuity and genuine love of the game found his way into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, inducted as a builder posthumously in 1991. Notes of his promotional stunts were even added to his hall of fame plaque, but sadly no mention of those shorts, which are still talked about to this day.