Last month, we marked the 35th anniversary of Disco Demolition. This week, we mark another dubious anniversary in White Sox history.
On August 8, 1976, the White Sox wore shorts.
Like Disco Demolition, the shorts were a Bill Veeck publicity stunt. And like Disco Demolition, a number of myths have bubbled to life over the past 38 years. For example, they didn't wear the shorts all season long. The Sox wore the shorts three times in August 1976.
The shorts, Disco Demolition, Dick Allen's heroics, and Oscar Gamble's afro are shorthand for the White Sox in the 70's. The decade wasn't kind to the team, yet for some reason, it's the era that looks pretty good through the warm haze of nostalgia.
I have always been fascinated by the 1970's. It's a decade of transition, as American society creaked out of the post-World War II era. It was also a decade of transition in Chicago. The industries that provided the economic lifeblood of the neighborhoods around Comiskey Park shut down and moved away. The Sox fans who lived in the south side Bungalow Belt moved to the suburbs.
Despite all of the changes taking place around it, Comiskey Park still stood as a monument to fading glory. It had survived an attempt to build a new stadium in the South Loop. It had survived a threatened move to Milwaukee. It had survived a threatened move to Seattle.
In 1975, Bill Veeck had swooped in at the 11th hour to buy the White Sox and keep the team in Chicago. With the exception of 1972, the White Sox were going on 9 years of bad baseball. Veeck was supposed to make everything right. After all, he presided over the Go-Go Sox in '59.
Veeck didn't have the talent in '76, but his promotional mind was as sharp as ever. The first order of business? New uniforms. The Old English SOX that had been part of White Sox uniforms since 1949 was ditched in favor of a modern typeface that owed more to the NASA logo.
The traditional button down pinstripes were ditched in favor of a wide-collared polo shirts with the word CHICAGO across the chest. It was supposed to be a callback to the uniforms of the early 20th Century. It was the first throwback.
Veeck unveiled the new uniforms in a fashion show on March 9, 1976. White Sox legends Moe Drabowsky, Dave Nicholson, Moose Skowron, Minnie Minoso, and Jim Rivera were his models.
Now, I'll turn it over to Mike Steiner, who wrote the definitive piece about the White Sox and shorts:
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."
The shorts would remain a pre-season gimmick....until August. The Sox were 19 games out of first as they hit the Dog Days of summer. Veeck needed to do something to move the needle. It was time to break out the shorts.
Sunday August 8, 1976 was a doubleheader. The Sox were hosting the Kansas City Royals. They wore the shorts in game one. They refused to wear the shorts in game two.
The shorts would return later in the month, during a series with the Baltimore Orioles on August 21st and 22nd.
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And with that, the shorts era was officially over. But there is a post-script. They almost wore them in 1977. Steiner quotes Eric Soderholm:
"We did have a discussion about wearing the shorts for a spring game and it got nixed. Thank God, with my scarred up knees it wouldn't have looked good. A couple guys wore them in practice for photo ops and laughs, but that was it."
The shorts have become a symbol of the "free to be you and me" 1970's. They are very much a product of their time, like EST and key parties. It was harmless fun, and a stunt that could only take place in 1976.