The typical communiqué went something like this: "After all the crazy looks we've had over the years, you've somehow decided that the Cubs have had history's most innovative, most eccentric uniforms?! It's bad enough that the Sox can't get a fair shake in their own city, where it's all Cubs, all the time. But you'd think a uniform columnist would be able to recognize the obvious, namely that the Sox have had the most wide-ranging uniform history of any team in the bigs."
Fair enough. Uni Watch, ever obsessed with small details, was drawn to the subtlety of many of the Cubbies' quirks, but there's something to be said for a team that puts its uni abnormalities right in your face. And it doesn't get much more in your face than the ChiSox, who over the years have had some of the game's most bizarre, groundbreaking uni designs.
So in the interest of equal time, here's a top-10 breakdown of great (or at least noteworthy) moments in White Sox uniform history, along with Uni Watch's assessment of which ones might've been better off staying on the drawing board.
1. Who Wears Short Shorts?
When people talk about the bizarre uniforms of the 1970s, Chicago's shorts are usually cited as Exhibit A. Broadcasters love to name-check them, saying things like, "Yeah, remember when the White Sox spent a few seasons wearing those shorts?" Actually, the shorts were worn for only three games in 1976, but they've nonetheless assumed legendary stature over the years.
Uniqueness Factor: The Sox are the only MLB team to have exposed their knees. They weren't the first pro team to do so, however: Back in 1950, the minor league Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League wore pinstriped shorts paired with non-striped jerseys (additional view here, and there's a personal recollection from one of the Hollywood players here).
Official Scoring: Ridiculous? Sure. But hey, sometimes you have to dare to be ridiculous. Uni Watch wouldn't want to see a team dress like this for a full season, but three games was just about right. Wouldn't baseball history be much duller without this little episode? Hit.2. Collar My World
Call them pajama tops, leisure suits or disco duds, call them softball uniforms, proto-throwbacks or casual Fridays -- by any name, Bill Veeck's wide-collared jerseys, which were worn from 1976 through '81, were something to behold. Designed to be worn untucked (which looked better on some players than others), they also featured a custom typeface for the players' names -- an MLB first. And here's a detail you may have overlooked: The sock striping changed from year to year throughout this uniform's six-season run (compare, for example, this to this).
Uniqueness Factor: Lots of early baseball jerseys had collars (including some early ChiSox examples), but none of them were as extreme as the ones the Sox wore in the '70s. And no other pro baseball team has ever gone untucked.
Official Scoring: Can you believe they wore these things for six freakin' years? Error.
Baseball uniform or Halloween costume? You be the judge.
3. Beach Blanket Bingo
How do you follow up on history's most bizarre retro design? By replacing it with history's most bizarre futurist design (which looked oddly like a walking beach blanket). The Sox wore this design from 1982 through '86, a period that included Tom Seaver's 300th win. Was he celebrating that career milestone, or was he just happy to be headed to the clubhouse so he could change into normal clothes?
Uniqueness Factor: Nobody else has ever worn anything remotely like this on a baseball diamond.
Official Scoring: Why not just dress the team in clown suits and get it over with? Error.4. It Could Have Been Worse
When the Sox were developing the beach blanket design, they had a bunch of other ideas in the hopper, several of which later surfaced as prototypes.
Uniqueness Factor: There's nothing particularly unusual about a team's commissioning prototypes (indeed, Uni Watch devoted an entire column to that topic last year). But the Sox are probably the only team that's ever convened a prototype fashion show.
Official Scoring: Prototypes are always cool. Exhibiting them in public is even cooler. Hit.5. The Thigh's the Limit
One lesser-noted element of the beach blanket design is that uni numbers were worn on the left pant leg (additional views here, here, here and here). OK, sure, a bizarre-o detail for a bizarre-o uniform. The weird thing is, when the Sox switched to more conventional jerseys in 1987, they kept the leg number, which looked clunkier than ever (additional views here, here, here and here).
Uniqueness Factor: Totally stolen from the late-'70s Astros.
Official Scoring: The only thing worse than coming up with a really bad idea is copying someone else's really bad idea. Error.
Before Terry Forster became known as a "fat tub of goo," he managed to fit into the White Sox's powder blues.
6. What Team Is This Anyway?
OK, our team colors are red and navy. No, wait, just navy. Oops, make it navy and red again. I mean black and red. But blue is kinda nice. And what's wrong with red? Or maybe black. Oooh, I know, red and navy! Ahhh, let's just stick with basic black.
And hey, let's make a jersey logo out of the word "Sox." Three simple letters, it's easy -- we can style it like this. Or maybe we should add a bat and ball. Nah, let's go back to this. Or hey, block letters could work. Let's try a smaller version of that. Wait, wait, I've got it -- let's go with old English lettering. Now punch it up with some color. No, scrap the color. Hey, it works in any color! But now I'm bored, so let's try some really big lettering. On second thought, I liked the old English thing after all. See, it's easy!
Uniqueness Factor: Many teams change colors and logos at some point (did you know the Pirates used to wear this?). But when it comes to design overhauls, it's basically the Sox waaaay out in front and everyone else a distant second.
Official Scoring: Uni Watch has never understood how your colors can be A, B and C one day and then X, Y and Z the next. Changing them once per century or so might be OK, but not every other week. It's like the team has been having an ongoing identity crisis. Error.7. You Can Tell the Players Without a Scorecard
For nearly half a century, baseball coaches have been telling their teams, "Play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back." And they have the White Sox to thank for that, because the 1960 Sox were the first baseball team to add player names to their jerseys. Naturally, this also gave them the distinction of making baseball's first player name typo (explained in greater detail here).
Uniqueness Factor: In his autobiography, "Veeck as in Wreck," Sox owner Bill Veeck wrote that he got the idea for adding names to the jerseys while watching the Sox on TV during the 1959 pennant race and seeing the players' names projected on the screen. He wondered why fans watching on TV should have an advantage that fans in attendance at the park didn't have. His idea quickly caught on throughout the sports world: By the fall of 1960, all eight teams in the fledgling American Football League were using player names during their inaugural 1960 season. Other MLB teams soon got on board, too. Today, the only major-level pro sports teams that don't wear player names are the Yankees, Red Sox (at home), Giants (at home) and the occasional throwback uniform.
Official Scoring: While there's a certain elegance to a nameless jersey, even the most hardcore old-schooler would have to admit it's been fun over the years to see things like Tony Conigliaro wearing "Tony C.," Ken Harrelson wearing "Hawk," Andy Messersmith advertising Ted Turner's TV station, Johnny LeMaster inviting fans to boo him, and players whose super-long names barely fit on their backs. These are all spiritual descendants of the 1960 Sox. Hit.8. Solution to a Nonexistent Problem
In a somewhat more dubious distinction, the Sox were also the first team to have a separate batting practice jersey, a concept they introduced in 1972.
Uniqueness Factor: It took six years before another team -- the Angels -- added a BP jersey (by which time the Sox had already updated theirs). But almost every MLB team got on board in the early 1980s. The last holdouts were the Dodgers, who finally added a BP jersey in 1995.
Official Scoring: Uni Watch has never understood the point of BP jerseys, except as a merchandising scam. But jersey merchandising didn't yet exist in 1972, so there was even less of a rationale for the Sox to have introduced this useless wardrobe element. Can the postgame interview jersey be far behind? Error.9. Dress for the Occasion
When the Sox made it to the World Series in 1917 -- the same year America entered World War I -- they unveiled a special star-spangled, flag-adorned uniform for the Fall Classic, complete with red, white, and blue stockings. Four-plus decades later, when they played in the 1959 World Series, they lived up to their team name by trading in their black stirrups for special white stirrups (additional views here and, most famously, here).
Uniqueness Factor: Only one other franchise has worn special World Series attire: the Giants, who wore solid black in the 1905 Series (their normal uni had looked like this) and a similar design for the 1911 Series (instead of this).
Official Scoring: Wouldn't want to see every team do this for every World Series, but Uni Watch likes the idea of occasionally trotting out special garb for special games. Hit.10. What's in a Name?
Speaking of the White Sox's wearing white socks, they sure haven't been living up to their name in recent years. But it wasn't always that way -- the Pale Hose wore pale hose throughout their first several decades of existence. But other colors began creeping in during the 1940s: first blue and then black. By 1951, black had become their primary sock color (a particularly odd choice, considering the Black Sox scandal of 1919). Since then, white socks have reappeared three times: during the 1959 World Series (see above); in 1969 and '70; and in the leisure suit era. Other Sox socks over the years have been dark blue (often very dark), red, or blue and red. The weird thing is, over the years the Sox have worn little white sock illustrations on their chest insignia (here's a closer look), their sleeves, and their caps (it's hard to see, but those are two little crossed socks on the road cap). At one point they even wore an image of a white sock on their red socks. But hey, instead of slapping little sock icons all over the place, have they ever considered maybe, y'know, going back to wearing white socks?
Uniqueness Factor: OK, so not every team can live up to its name in the strictest sense of the term, but let's take the most obvious comparison: Do the Red Sox wear red socks? Duh.
Official Scoring: Granted, most players' socks aren't even visible anymore (although that will certainly change if -- sorry, when -- Uni Watch becomes commissioner), but Uni Watch actually blames the Sox for that, at least in part. If a team called the White Sox can't be bothered to honor its own hosiery heritage, why should anyone else bother? Error.Honorable Mention: Calendar, Shmalendar
You already know that lots of teams celebrate St. Paddy's Day during spring training by wearing green caps, green jerseys, or both. But only the ChiSox celebrate Halfway to St. Patrick's Day, an annual September rite marked by green jersey trim and caps (and sometimes helmets too).
Uniqueness Factor: Like you really have to ask?
Official Scoring: Some ideas should really be left to spring training. Let's just hope they don't try a Halfway to Christmas promotion next June. Error.
Finally, it's worth noting that Uni Watch has always loved this logo. Too bad the only uniform element it ever appeared on was a BP jersey.
Your favorite MLB team -- and every other MLB team -- will be wearing an American flag-based design this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (except for the Blue Jays, who'll wear a Canadian version), as part of a new MLB program to help military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. For additional details, look here and here.
Wrigley roundup revisited
Coupla follow-ups to last column's Cubbie treatise:
• Uni Watch had stated that the Cubs first wore their city name and team name in 1917 and then did it again in 1957. But as several readers pointed out, there was another team that did it sooner: the 1909 Cubs (here's a closer look). Reader Ronnie Poore notes that at least one Negro Leagues team also used the team/city approach.
• Uni Watch had claimed that the Cubs were the only team ever to apply a captain's "C" as a sleeve patch, but it turns out there's been at least one other example: Davey Concepcion of the Reds.
• Reader Jonee Eisen sent along some additional scorecard designs created by Wrigley's gum art director Otis Shepard (who also helped design several of the team's uniforms during the 1930s and '40s). Super-gorgeous stuff -- look here, here, and here. Also, check out this awesome Shepard-designed guide to the Wrigley Field flags.
• Remember how the Cubs use an embroidered logo patch on their helmets (instead of the flat decal that other teams use)? Reader Dave Dolmage reports that there's another team that does this -- any guesses? It's sort of a trick question, because the other team is the triple-A Iowa Cubs (plus their helmet mark has a trademark symbol!). Anyone know if the Cubbies' other minor league affiliates also use the embroidered logos?
• Speaking of which, Todd Jerles notes that the helmet patch apparently doesn't hold up too well to the rigors of a catcher's mask strap.
• And Bob Hulsey checked in with a memory jog about something Uni Watch had completely forgotten about: the three-season run in the mid-'90s when the Cubs' road and alternate jerseys looked a lot like the Cuban national team's design.
Paul Lukas looks forward to his complimentary muffin basket from the Chicago Tourism Bureau. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and his Page 2 archive is here. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.