In the United States, 1976 marked the bicentennial. In the world of the White Sox, it marked the return of maverick owner Bill Veeck, who had previously served as Sox owner from 1959-61.
In 1951 with the St. Louis Browns, Veeck signed 3-foot-7 Chicago native Eddie Gaedel, who managed to appear in a Major League game. Ten years later, Veeck introduced an exploding scoreboard which roared and lit up the sky after White Sox home runs. His latest stunt in March 1976 might be the one that people remember the most.
On Tuesday, March 9, Veeck unveiled the new White Sox uniforms. A long pullover top with a faux collar and early 20th century lettering turned heads. But what stole the show were the shorts. It wasn’t the first time a baseball team wore shorts; the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League wore them for a few seasons in the early 1950s. But nobody had ever tried it in the major leagues, and Chicago isn’t Hollywood.
Veeck deflected criticism of the shorts. “They are not garish. Like my wife Mary Frances said, they have understated elegance.” When asked how the heftier Sox players might feel with their knees exposed, Veeck added, “Players should not worry about their vanity, but their comfort. 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.”
So if you ever wondered why the 1976 White Sox wore shorts? Veeck would most likely answer, “Why not?”
Some of the player reactions to the shorts were priceless.
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.
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.”
Lamar Johnson: “I got the nicest thighs you ever saw. I can’t wait.”
White Sox organist Nancy Faust had one word for the fresh outfits: “Sexy.”
The White Sox ended up wearing the shorts in three games, winning two of the three. Looking at it from a record standpoint, in 1976 they went 2-1 in shorts and 62-96 in regular baseball pants.
The shorts debuted on Aug. 8 in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Royals at Comiskey Park. Terry Forster, listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds (though that’s a very low estimate) took the mound and pitched six scoreless innings. The first White Sox batter in shorts was Jerry Hairston, who promptly singled and stole second base.
The biggest concern with the shorts was the potential disaster from sliding, yet the Sox tied their season high with five stolen bases — in five attempts — in this game. Perhaps it was the element of surprise; maybe the catchers were laughing too hard. Regardless, when the dust settled, the White Sox collected seven hits — all singles — and won the game 5-2. They switched back to regular pants for Game 2 of the doubleheader and lost 7-1.
The second “shorts game” was on Aug. 21, a 12-inning, 11-10 slugfest against the Orioles at Comiskey Park. The White Sox were 2-for-2 in stolen base attempts, and perhaps most notably Brohamer became the first, and only, major league player ever to homer while wearing shorts.
Finally, the next day, in Game 1 of a doubleheader, the White Sox took the field wearing shorts for the third and final time. They lost 6-2 to the Orioles, but it’s hard to blame the shorts, as it took the eventual 1976 American League Cy Young Award winner — Hall of Famer Jim Palmer — to beat the shorts-clad South Siders.
Sadly (or not), the White Sox never wore the shorts again, but it should be noted not only that they went 2-1 wearing them, but that they scored six runs per game and were a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.
Bill Veeck dared to be different, and while some criticized his eccentricities, he never failed to make the game fun – even if Wilbur Wood’s bare legs aren’t exactly your idea of fun.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.