Chicago White Sox uniform history has always been a strange mixture of styles and colors that has defined each group of players that wore them. Before 1971, this history was not quite as unpredictable. Pre World War II teams consistently wore the large S with the smaller intertwined O and X on the front of jerseys and the Go Go Sox of the 1950’s and 60’s proudly wore the Old English Sox logo that has been resurrected by today’s team. Between 1971 and present day, the Sox sported five different styles of uniforms that has given the team a certain schizophrenic identity. While teams such as the Yankees and Tigers have not changed uniforms in nearly eighty years, the White Sox have gone through at least a dozen styles. Perhaps the most memorable and controversial style was worn during the late 70’s with an addition that shocked baseball purists and defined a comical era on the South Side.
By 1975, interest in the team began to wane due to a number of issues. Dick Allen had walked out on the team in late 1974 and owner John Allyn was beginning to lose money at a rapid rate. Late in the 1975 season, John Allyn’s financial issues reached the breaking point when the final team payroll was in jeopardy. During this time period, Major League Baseball was involved in a lawsuit with Seattle over the sudden departure of the Seattle Pilots in 1970, which left the city with a soon to be empty domed stadium. The answer to MLB’s and John Allyn’s problem would be to sell the White Sox and move them immediately to Seattle. With the prospect of being the man who gave the White Sox to Seattle, Allyn needed a savior to avoid this ugly distinction.
In late1975, Bill Veeck triumphantly returned to Chicago to purchase the White Sox against the wishes of Major League baseball’s owners. Veeck managed to assemble a group of investors in the owners mandated week’s time and won a final vote from the same owners that ran him out of baseball in 1953. Veeck had always been a maverick owner with his infamous midget stunt, Grandstand Managers Day, and many other visionary promotions. His first stint with the White Sox started with a World Series appearance in 1959 and ended mid-season in 1961 when he sold the team due to his failing health. During that first stint Veeck introduced the exploding scoreboard at old Comisky Park and names on the back of uniforms. In Veeck’s book, ‘Veeck - as in wreck,’ he promised that he would be back someday to rescue a franchise down on its luck, and one that nobody particularly wanted. In 1975, Veeck made true to his promise and saved the Chicago White Sox from extinction.
John Allyn and Bill Veeck In 1976, Veeck would typically hold court for the Chicago Press at Miller’s Pub on Wabash Street in Chicago. Miller’s Pub still to this day commemorates a spot near the bar as “Veeck’s corner.” On Thursday March 4, 1976 Veeck held one of his famous impromptu press conferences at the pub and legendary Chicago Tribune sportswriter Dave Condon was there to record the moment. This winter day’s subject would be a tease about the new secret uniforms the Sox would be wearing on opening day. The White Sox of 1976 didn't bring much hope, so the new uniforms immediately became the hot topic.
“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.”
“You are going to have the White Sox wearing shorts?” guessed Jimmy Gallios, part owner of Miller’s. Gallios, a drinking buddy to Veeck and Harry Caray, must have been in on the stunt from the start in order to make that bold prediction. “That’s it, shorts… like the Hollywood Stars used to wear!”
“We don’t borrow ideas from anyone,” said Veeck. “However, I believe you safely may rule out shorts… and panty hose.” At that point Miller’s clientele voiced their opinions on how mod 'Sport Shirt Bill' came to work dressed in his casual attire and pleaded for the secret to his latest promotion. “No one will ever guess,” he said. “But let your imaginations run wild. Think of the most elegant designers in fashion.” Dave Condon refused to speculate: “You can’t anticipate what Veeck will do because the man is absolutely unpredictable.” Veeck, the Oscar de la Renta of the South side chuckled at this and said, “You can’t get the secret out of me.”
Jimmy Gallios, Bill Veeck and Nick Kladis
The grand unveiling occurred on Tuesday March 9, 1976. Veteran scribe Bob Verdi from the Chicago Tribune was there to document the historical moment. 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.” Tribune scribes Bob Verdi and Dave Condon gave the new uniforms a 'thumbs up' in their columns the following day. “They are not garish,” said Veeck. “Like my wife Mary Frances said, they have understated elegance. Basic blue for the road, white at home – the traditional Sox colors. What have the White Sox been doing wearing red socks all these years, anyway? Besides, these new uniforms are more practical and utilitarian. A guy who hasn’t sweated as much may have that extra step on a hot day to help us win a game. Or a pitcher in the pullover shirt may have more freedom to throw than with the usual tucked-in shirt.” Verdi then questioned if it were a good idea to have more corpulent Sox exposed at the waist. “Players should not worry about their vanity, but their comfort,” offered Veeck. “If it’s 95 degrees out, an athlete should be glad to put on short pants and forget his bony knees. Hell, I’ve got a worse looking knee than any of my players. It’s solid wood.”
One man on the ground floor of White Sox operations at the time was General Manager Roland Hemond, who was kind enough to give me his recollections of the shorts and the thought process behind them. “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.”
The White Sox began the 1976 season in their new home white jerseys and blue pants on April 9th at Comiskey Park with a 4 – 0 victory against the Royals. Veeck wasted no time on the promotion schedule and started the season with a “Spirit of 76” parade that included him as the peg-legged fifer. Wilbur Wood gave up 4 hits and pitched a complete game shutout for the win. It looked like the old knuckle baller would have another great season, but on May 9th his season ended with a shattered kneecap off a line drive from Ron LeFlore. The Sox would go on to play .500 ball through April and May with a 10 game winning streak during May. The month of June brought the Sox back down to earth with a 10 game losing streak and a sub .500 record. During the month of June, baseball Commissioner Bowe Kuhn banned one of Veeck’s uniform additions. Apparently the alternate white caps, only worn a few times, were making life miserable for hitters. Batters complained that the view of the ball was lost in the white hat when thrown by the pitcher. As of July 4th of the nations Bicentennial, Sox fans had still not seen Veeck's craziest uniform addition for the season.
Rudy Schaffer, Paul Richards and Bill Veeck On July 4th, 1976 Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune reported the much awaited and much debated Bermuda shorts uniforms had finally arrived at Comiskey Park. We all know how Jungle Jim felt about the shorts, but now it was time for the players to give us their thoughts:
Bart Johnson: “They don’t have to get a pair for me. I’ll just use Jack Brohamer’s regular pants and they’ll look like shorts.”
Pete Vukovich: “If Bart does that, he’ll be the laughing stock of Chicago”
Jack Brohamer: “I don’t think what Bart said is very funny. I’m not going to wear short pants unless they let me wear a halter top, too.”
Clay Carroll: “I won’t mind wearing them. They’ll be cooler, but will they help my earned-run average?”
Jorge Orta: “I’ll do whatever my bosses want. I don’t wear them usually, though. Haven’t worn them since I used to play basketball.”
Kevin Bell: “I’ve got to go out and get a tan. I’m all white.”
Jim Spencer: “Me too.”
Bill Stein: “Me too.”
Terry Forster: “I’m not worrying about a tan. I’ll just go out and buy some Joe Namath pantyhose.”
Rich Gossage: “Hope they give us a little notice so I can buy some Nair.”
Jim Essian: “I’ll just shave my legs. When we slide in those things and get all cut up, we’ll need to shave before we put the bandages on anyway, right?”
Alan Bannister: “I’m not worried about sliding in the short pants, because I probably won’t play. So how can I slide?”
Chet Lemon: “Man, I slide and I slide head first. It could get a little embarrassing. I think I’ll wear something to protect my thighs for sure.”
Lamar Johnson: “I got the nicest thighs you ever saw. I can’t wait.”
Buddy Bradford: “Not me. They’ll have to force me to get into them.”
Ken Brett: “I’ll get into them, but I may not get out of the dugout.”
Francisco Barrios: “If we wear them for Sunday, and I am the pitcher, I may be the Numero Uno to do it, eh? Bueno, bueno.”
Bucky Dent: “With my crooked bow legs, I can wait.”
Rich Coggins: “So can I. I’m gonna wear knee pads.”
Chris Knapp: “The idea doesn’t bother me at all. My wife says I have nice legs and that’s all that really matters.”
Dave Hamilton: “I don’t have nice legs. They’re bird legs. Don’t think I’ll look too good in them, but maybe when the batters see me they’ll get all distracted.”
Pat Kelly: “Wow, if we wear those things, there’ll be 50,000 people out there to see us. It can’t hurt our attendance…or can it?”
Jesse Jefferson: “I’m just happy to be here. I’ll wear anything.”
Brian Downing: “I got other things to worry about.”
Paul Richards: “Am I excited about wearing short pants? Boy, I don’t get excited about nothing. If everybody else wears them, Jim Busby will make all the appearances for me. I’ll manage incognito.”
The date was finally set for the shorts to make their first appearance. On Sunday August 8, 1976 the White Sox were set to play a doubleheader at home with the Kansas City Royals. The Sox were 19 games back in the loss column and a stunt was just what they needed. The plan for the day was to wear the shorts in the opener, if not both games. “It depends on the weather,” Veeck added. In pure Veeckian style, a promotion was scheduled between games with local Chicago softball players competing in a home run hitting contest. The starters for the first game would be Terry Forster of the White Sox and Marty Pattin of the Royals. Forster was in the middle of a terrible season with the Sox and would later go on to be labeled a 'fat tub of goo' by David Letterman when his weight reached a high of 270 pounds with the Braves in 1985. Marty Pattin would go on to have a hard luck season for the Royals with a record of 8 wins and 14 losses, but still managed a very impressive 2.49 ERA. White Sox manager Paul Richards delivered the lineup cards to home plate before the game and was then never seen again once the game started. Surprisingly, Forster pitched a great game going six innings and giving up no runs, six hits, one walk and recorded four strikeouts. Forster left the game with a three run lead and gave the ball to Clay Carroll to pitch the seventh. Carroll promptly gave up one run and then handed the ball to Dave Hamilton who did the same. At this point, White Sox starter Richard Gossage was called on to shut down the Royals and secure a win. In 1975, Gossage was anointed the closer for the Sox and came through with a 26 save season and a 1.89 ERA. For his stellar 1975 record, Gossage was voted the Sporting News Fireman of the Year Award. At the beginning of the 1976 season, Gossage was converted to a starter by manager Richards since there just wasn’t enough quality talent to go around. His record for 1976 was a forgettable 9 wins, 17 losses and a 3.94 ERA with a surprisingly high 15 complete games. Upon entering the infamous game in the 8th innning in 1976, Gossage proceeded to revert back to his closer form and shut down the Royals for two innings with one walk and one strikeout to earn his first and only save of the 1976 season. Forster was given the win, which would be his last in a Sox uniform as he and Gossage were traded the following offseason to Pittsburgh for slugging rent-a-player Richie Zisk. “We picked the coolest day of the summer to break out the shorts,” groused Veeck, who also sported Bermudas for the opener. “That’s the way it’s been going for us all year. We had to wait until this late in the summer to wear them because we had to get the right pads under the socks to protect the knees,” Veeck explained. “Paul said there were no skinned knees and everybody seemed to like them fine.” Contrary to Veecks assertion of the shorts, the players preferred to shift back into pants for the second game of the doubleheader which they promptly lost 7 – 1. Following game one, Kansas City slugger Big John Mayberry was classically documented to have said: “You guys are the sweetest team we've seen yet.” Attendance for both games was a paltry 15,997 which had to be a disappointment for a Bill Veeck promotion during a Sunday doubleheader. Following game two of the doubleheader the Sox packed up for a six game road trip to Cleveland and Baltimore. “Now we’ll wait to see if any other teams try them,” Veeck said. “They probably won’t for five years, like the scoreboard and Bat Days.”
Goose Gossage The White Sox returned home to Comiskey Park on August 16 for a five game set with the Boston Red Sox, wearing their regular collared uniforms with clamdiggers. Then on Saturday August 21, the Chicago Tribune reported the White Sox would be wearing shorts for the Saturday afternoon game against the Baltimore Orioles. Paul Richard’s wife Margie reportedly came to town for her first game of the 1976 season to see Paul in shorts. The White Sox assured NBC they would wear the Bermudas for the Orioles game due to the game being scheduled as the network’s back-up game to NBC Baseball’s Game of the Week. It was also reported that the Sox intended to wear the shorts in the first game of the Sunday double header against the Orioles, weather permitting. Saturday’s promotion was a Frisbee-chasing dog named Martha Fay Pickerill that entertained the masses with many superb catches in her teeth before leaving her mark in right field to the delight of the crowd. For Saturday’s game the Sox started Bart Johnson against the Orioles Rudy May in what would turn out to be a slugfest. Neither pitcher lasted long and both teams combined to run eleven pitchers to the mound in an 11 to 10 victory for the White Sox. Dave Hamilton of the Sox pitched four innings of three hit ball to earn the victory and even his record at 5 and 5. Chicago second baseman Jack Brohamer homered in the second inning to earn the distinction of being the only major leaguer to hit a home run in shorts. Besides now being 2 and 0 on the season in shorts, the Sox drew 32607 which was a rousing success for the 1976 season.
Ticket Stub from second shorts game on August 21, 1976
Ralph Garr and Minnie Minosa
The following day on Sunday, August 22, the Sox were scheduled again to don the shorts in game one against the Orioles. Game one time temperature was a balmy 87 degrees and topped out at 90 degrees for the second game. If there was a game to be played in shorts this season, August 22 was the prototype game with little wind and high humidity. As advertised, the White Sox took the field in shorts and proceeded to waste an excellent pitching performance by rookie Ken Kravec. Kravec pitched eight strong innings and departed with a 2-2 tie and bases loaded in the ninth. To close out the ninth, Manager Richards sent August 8th shorts winner Terry Forster to the mound. Orioles Manager Earl Weaver countered with pinch hitting slugger Reggie Jackson. Reggie looked at one pitch from Forster, then smashed his second grand slam homer off Sox left-handers in a nine-day period. The Sox went down in the bottom half of the ninth with barely a whimper to lose game one 6-2. Before game two, the Sox staged a beer case stacking contest to the delight of the drunken crowd. For game two, the Sox started the game in their regular home blue pants and managed to pull out a 7-3 win. Sunday’s crowd was a meager 16991, which again had to be a disappointment for a home Sunday doubleheader. Tribune reports from the weekend gave no mention at all of the shorts and spent more print space on the bizarre beer case stacking event between Sunday’s games.
The above video from You Tube may be the only existing video from the third and final shorts game on August 22, 1976. As far as I know, no video exists from the first game on August 8, 1976 and only a short snipet of Jorge Orta in the batters box against the Orioles exists from either August 21 or 22, 1976. This video is a home movie from a family outing to Comiskey Park from that famous day. The views of the players in shorts are great, but we also get to see some great shots of the old park including the beer case stacking contest and the infamous centerfield shower. When Bill Veeck returned to Chicago for the 1976 season, he persuaded his 25-year-old son Mike Veeck to give up his rock star aspirations and join him for the second Sox ownership stint. Mike began his baseball career in the ticket office at Comiskey Park and eventually moved up to Promotions Director and Assistant Business Manager to Rudy Schaffer. “We weren’t much on titles in those days and pretty much wore many hats for the ball club,” said Mike Veeck. Few theories exist on why the shorts disappeared after the first game of the Sunday double header on August 22, but the younger Veeck has his suspicions. “Remember this…the old man had a great sense of timing. He knew when the gag was working and knew when it had run its course,” said Mike. For the first game on August 8th, the Chicago Tribune gave a large amount of type space and photos to the shorts stunt, while type space from the second game on August 21 barely amounted to a few sentences. Tribune reports from the third game on August 22 gave no mention at all of the shorts. Bill Veeck was notorious for measuring type space in the Tribune in his ever growing battle with the Cubs and believed the Tribune gave the Cubs more type space. With no mention in the Tribune for the third shorts game, the shorts stunt had essentially lost its appeal for the fans. “We took a lot of chances in 1976 just to get people talking. We started the season with the Spirit of 76 parade and the shorts helped keep us on the minds of the fans. The shorts made a lot of sense and that 1976 team was not a world beating team if you know what I mean,” said Mike. Legend has it that the players hated the shorts and refused to wear them. “Not true,” said Mike. “The players with the bad attitudes didn’t like anything new, but most of the fun players had no problem with them.” Another little known fact on the demise of the shorts was the problem they caused photographers of the day. “The reason they weren’t worn as often was not the design, but the color. Photographers complained to dad that the shorts were not showing up in pictures of the black players. On the white and latin players you could see where the uniform stopped and started, but not on the black players. Dad would have had the team wear the shorts more often had the photographers not hated them,” said Veeck. Another myth related to the Sox shorts legend was the alleged creator. Bill Veeck’s wife Mary Francis is consistently given credit on the creation of the 1976 uniforms along with the shorts. “The thing about mom designing the shorts was apocryphal at best. It was always a collaboration between mom and dad on everything. She’s forgotten more about baseball than most of these guys know today,” said Mike. “The shorts were a heavily guarded secret that only mom, dad and Rudy Schaffer, could know and dad liked the idea of using the shorts sparingly. They were never designed to be the full uniform. Now teams have Sunday uniforms and batting practice tops and all kinds of alternate jerseys. This was simply another thing he did that was ahead of its time.” Following 1976, the shorts made sporadic appearances on batboys and had one fleeting moment for the 1977 South Side Hitmen. Free agent infielder Eric Soderholm was one of Bill Veecks famous reclamation projects for 1977 and proved to be worth every penny of his contract. Eric was definitely not a fan of the shorts but he did remember them well. “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,” said Soderholm. I asked Mike Veeck about the 1977 team and the Spring Training moment and he felt it was all part of the spirit of that team. “It doesn’t surprise me the 1977 team would consider wearing the shorts in spring training since they were a fun team,” said Veeck. As for the batboys, “We were encouraged to create our own gags anyway we could,” said Veeck.
Eric Soderholm and a batboy in the shorts. In 1993, the Sacramento Bee interviewed Hall of Famer Goose Gossage on his uniform recollections including the shorts. From the late seventies Pirates bumblebee jerseys to the eighties taco brown Padre tops to the infamous shorts, Goose has worn many of baseballs ugliest uniforms. “Wilbur Wood and Bart Johnson looked like they were oversized kids,” Gossage said. “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?!’” Gossage said. “It really didn't settle in until we put them on. I think Bill Stein was the first guy to slide. He said, ‘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,” Gossage said. “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?” Gossage said. “Go on strike? But that was the circus atmosphere that Bill Veeck created there.” In late 1999, the Chicago Daily Herald interviewed other former Sox players on their thoughts from 1976. “The shorts didn't bother me one bit,” says third baseman Kevin Bell. “It was fun. A couple of the older players didn't care for them too much, but I wouldn't have minded at all if we'd worn them a couple more games.” Then again, Bell notes, “It was my first year in the big leagues, so I was happy to wear what ever they gave me.” As mentioned earlier, Eric Soderholm, who joined the team in 1977, said some Sox weren't so enthralled. “It was a fiasco,” he said. “Players were still talking about them a year later. ... it wasn't too attractive.” Mary Francis Veeck also gave the Herald her recollections. “They were not totally a gag thing,” she says. “It got very hot in Comiskey Park.” But Mary Frances admits, “Part of it was doing something different. They were an alternative look. Somebody referred to them as 'little boy' pants - I mean, my God, people always wore shorts, and nobody says they were little boys,” she protests. “There was always this thing about how all the guys hated them. Well, they didn't. They thought it was a good idea. When you were sliding into a base, well, that might have been a problem. but hey, little kids and high-schoolers do it all the time.”Epilogue
In the summer of 1997, I purchased at auction the game worn shorts of Goose Gossage, which quickly became the centerpiece of my collection, due to their rarity and uniqueness. With Gossage’s election to the Hall of Fame in 2008, he is the only player in the Hall of Fame that played a game in shorts. I’m proud to say these shorts reside in my collection. My collection also contains jerseys from Hall of Famer’s Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Carlton Fisk, but in my mind the shorts stand above them all. When I bought the shorts in 1997, I was sure I would be adding at least one other pair during my collecting career. Nearly twenty years later, I have yet to see an authentic pair hit the memorabilia market. But I have seen two other pair that were not for sale. The shorts of Jack Brohamer reside in the White Sox collection at US Cellular Field and the Baseball Hall of Fame had a pair in its Baseball As America Traveling Exhibit a few years ago. The pair in the Hall’s Traveling Exhibit was on loan and quite possibly were the Brohamer shorts from the White Sox collection.
One pair of shorts was offered to me a few years ago, but they lacked the proper taging. Authentic White Sox shorts from 1976 were made by Rawlings with the classic red Rawlings tag. To the left of the Rawlings tag is a white strip tag with the players’ last name and waist size in cursive chain stitched letters, and a small flag tag with the year 1976. This type of tagging is very different from blue White Sox full pants from that era. Telling the difference between pants and the shorts is very simple. If your shorts have an inseam number and year noted on the strip tag, they are a pair of pants converted to a pair of shorts.
1976 White Sox shorts In 1999, I attended a memorabilia show in Chicago to get an autograph from Goose Gossage and snap a photo of him and his White Sox shorts. Besides the shorts, I had brought with me a great photo of both Goose and Sox pitcher Ken Kravec sitting in the dugout before one of the shorts games. As I made my way to the front of the line, I began to sense the security guy next to Goose was going to be a problem. I could see Goose signing typical Yankee items at a quick pace and not speaking much with the guys in line. I figured this quest of mine might not go as smoothly as planned. Since I had two items and a camera in my hand, I was quickly told that only one item could be signed and no pictures would be allowed. I showed the security guy the photo and his stern mood changed quickly to amusement. Goose smiled at the photo and quickly signed it. I then dropped the shorts in front of him and asked if he remembered them. He picked the shorts up, gazed at them and then said to the security guy, “Where do these guys find this stuff?” The sight of the shorts made him quite speechless, although he did wonder how he fit into them over twenty years before. Now that I had Goose's attention, I quickly asked for a photo of him holding the shorts and he happily obliged.
Goose Gossage in 1999
Story by Mike Steiner