Bill Veeck introduced two major innovations to baseball in 1960.
The first —Comiskey Park’s famous exploding scoreboard — received more notoriety then, and that fame continues to this day. In an age of constant bells and whistles drumming into the ears of fans, many actually are aware that the concept of fireworks (and, yes, bells and whistles) after home runs largely originated with Veeck.
The second innovation, one that few fans credit the clever owner for developing, was the concept of putting players’ names on uniforms.
On March 13, 1960, Veeck unveiled his idea, one that has impacted nearly every team thereafter, not only in baseball, but across all sports.
Veeck opted to have names only on the White Sox’s road uniforms, the thinking being, in public relations director Ed Short’s words, “The fans in Chicago are thoroughly familiar with their players.”
[Now, a Short sidebar: Ed Short was truly a miraculous sort of story. He started out as a publicity director with the team, was promoted to traveling secretary, and from there, in 1961, became the White Sox’s general manager, a job he’d hold for the rest of the decade. As a “non-baseball man” filling the GM role, Short could have been a cautious sort. Instead, Short was a ballsy GM, swapping away team cornerstones Billy Pierce, Minnie Miñoso, Luis Aparicio, Roy Sievers and Nellie Fox to re-stock the 1959 pennant winners on the fly. Short’s deals kept the team in tight pennant races in 1963-65 and 1967, and presided over the club for the best three-season stretch in White Sox history, 1963-65.]
Veeck’s thinking was to make the players more identifiable not only to visiting crowds, but to television viewers.
In spring training, right around the time of the lead photo above, garrulous second-sacker Fox was displeased with the innovation: “We look like semi-pros.” Other players felt exposed by the innovation, suggesting that Veeck simply print their home addresses or phone numbers on their uniforms as well.
Quaint, in this era of Twitter and Instagram, eh?
Ever the discount innovator, Veeck claimed that his invention — which eventually inspired every major league team to follow suit — cost a mere $200. “So why keep our fans in the dark?” he queried.
The bargain price was not without its hazards.
Balker Fox had his three-letter last name comically spaced all the way across his back. Bob Shaw received a uniform with his name as “Show.”
And during a series at Yankee Stadium, Ted Kluszewski donned a jersey with a backwards Z, and an X in place of his second K, making an already-challenging surname downright inscrutable (KLUSSEWSXI).
“It’s a good thing I’ve got a good, broad back,” Kluszewski told The New York Times. “Otherwise, they never would have got all the letters of my name on the shirt.”
Another innovation on the uniforms, one that is downright progressive in a sport that had restricted participation to white players just 14 years earlier:
That $200 was really working for Veeck. Sure, the tilde appears to be a straight line over Miñoso’s N, but given the gaffes earlier in the season, the lettering budget was stretching rather well.
In the end, it was manager Al Lopez who waxed most directly on the player-labeling “controversy,” telling The New York Times: “What difference does it make? After a while, you don’t even think about it. I can remember when I first came up in the late Twenties. The players weren’t even wearing numbers.”