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Right on Q: Winning Ugly ... forever

They didn't earn rave reviews, but the White Sox uniforms from the early 1980s stand the test of time.

When it comes to uniforms, it is always 1983.
When it comes to uniforms, it is always 1983.
Brian Kersey

In the beginning, it was known as "uniform design number 2."

When Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn bought the White Sox from Bill Veeck in early 1981, they didn't have enough time to make their mark on the club. With the exception of Carlton Fisk and Greg Luzinksi, the White Sox team that opened the season at Fenway Park on April 10, 1981 looked an awful lot like the team that was owned by Bill Veeck for the previous five years.

They still wore the softball uniforms designed by Mary Francis Veeck. The most dominant feature at Comiskey Park was the exploding monster scoreboard that was installed in 1960.

The Sunshine Boys slowly made their mark as the 1981 season progressed. Ribbie and Roobarb were introduced late that summer.

They planned on a top-to-bottom renovation of Comiskey Park during the 1981-82 offseason. Veeck's monster scoreboard would be replaced with a modern rig that could display video highlights. The upper deck would be ringed with skyboxes. The wooden seats closest to the field would be renamed "Golden Boxes," where the high rollers could enjoy the game in a brand-new plastic seat.

Reinsdorf and Einhorn wanted to build the team of the 1980's, and that re-branding included new uniforms. Veeck's duds had to go.

The new owners announced the uniform contest early in the '81 campaign. Wannabe designers had to submit their sketches to the club by May 7. Fans could then choose from the top six entries. The winning designer would win two tickets to the 1981 World Series, and season tickets for 1982.

The final six were on display at Comiskey Park from August 27 to September 6, 1981.

"A team of design wizards and guys with chains around their necks got together and brought forth a handful of double-knit possibilities most ballplayers wouldn't wear to a hanging," wrote Tribune columnist Steve Daley on September 23, 1981.

The results of the fan vote were supposed to remain a secret until Opening Day, 1982. But the word slowly got out, and on Oct. 4, the Tribune reported that "uniform no. 2 was the winner of the design contest, but the uniform is undergoing revisions and won't be ready for viewing for about a month."

The world didn't see the new Sox uniforms until March 26, 1982.

"THE SOX WILL BE UNIFORMLY RED, WHITE, BLUE, AND SNUG," read the headline on the front page of the Trib. Above the headline was a picture of Greg Luzinski modeling the look of the 80's.

"The new uniforms are made of a lightweight synthetic and are tailored for a snug fit. No more hiding a paunch under the loose fitting jersey. The most distinctive feature is the navy blue band, bordered on each side by red piping across the chest. The word SOX is emblazoned in the middle of the band."

The article noted that the winning design came from Richard Launius of West Carrolton, Ohio ... with some alterations by the White Sox.

30 years later, ESPN caught up with Launius:

Launius had studied fine art in college, but he wasn't exactly pursuing high-end aesthetics when the Sox announced their contest -- he was working for a Dayton company that produced Yellow Pages phone directories. "But I'd always been interested in sports, and I'd done lots of uniform doodles as a kid," he says. "And the uniform they'd been wearing, it didn't look like a baseball uniform, or even a softball uniform. So I figured anything I did -- or that anyone did -- would be better than that."

Launius, then 25, got to attend the 1981 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. He flew between New York and Los Angeles on the private jet of MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Since he lived near Dayton, Ohio, he sold his White Sox season tickets to friends in Chicago and used the proceeds to buy a piano.

The SOX uniforms were discarded after the 1986 season, in favor of a new design that called to mind the Sox uniforms of 1942. Those uniforms were ditched in 1990 in favor of the black pinstripes that are still in use today.

The early '80s Sox uniforms make the list of worst uniforms in the history of sports. Yet, for some reason, they continue to pass the test of time. Fans who were born after 1986 wear early 80's throwback uniforms - or some other form of Sox gear inspired by that design.

It's hard to say why that uniform design lingers on. Yes, they do call to mind the "Winning Ugly" months of 1983. But they were also worn in years when the White Sox were also-rans (1982, 1985) or just plain bad (1984, 1986).

The early '80s uniforms evoke memories of fleeting postseason glory. If you are a child of the '80s, that was your team. And if you were born after the uniforms were discontinued, the design carries some kind of hipster cachet. They are the baseball equivalent of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Now they are here to stay. Officially enshrined as alternate uniforms. With some changes, of course. The "authentic" SOX hat has been replaced by a stylized version of the "batter man" logo.

The hats, of course, are on sale at the Chicago Sports Depot. But hurry, they are priced to move.