The short pants craze of 1976

This week marks the 35th anniversary of one of the oddest experiments in major league haberdashery. Playing the Royals in the first game of a doubleheader on Aug. 8, 1976, the White Sox wore short, dark blue pants as part of their uniforms.

The shorts, the brainchild of White Sox owner Bill Veeck and reminiscent of what the Hollywood Stars once sported in the minor leagues, drew looks of amused befuddlement from the fans at Comiskey Park that day. The opposition Royals saw the uniforms as purely comedic material. “You guys are the sweetest team we’ve seen yet,” said John Mayberry, playing first base for the Royals that day. A number of the Royals players openly laughed from the dugout as they watched the White Sox take the field with their bare-leg look.

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In a sense, the Royals should have kept their laughter to themselves; they lost the first game of that doubleheader 5-2. To their credit, the White Sox’ players did not allow the shorts to stunt their level of aggression that day. The Sox stole five bases, meaning that at least five times Sox players slid willingly into bases. The brave basestealers included Jerry Hairston Sr., the late Pat Kelly, Jorge Orta, Jack Brohamer and catcher Jim Essian.

Some of the Sox looked acceptable, including heart throb Bucky Dent (shown in the picture to the left of Clay Carroll and behind Chet Lemon) and outfielder Ralph Garr. But the ‘76 White Sox featured several players who were not known for their athletic builds, and they looked particularly strange that day. Hefty left-hander Terry Forster started the game, while the rotund Wilbur Wood watched from the dugout. The late Jim Spencer, who played first base that day, struck an odd pose with his thick waist and stumpy legs. And then there was pitcher Bart Johnson, whom Sox fireman Rich Gossage described as looking “like a 6-foot-5 baby.”

If there was any consolation to the short pants, they were a little longer than the thigh-hugging shorts worn by NBA and ABA basketball players of that era. The White Sox’ shorts reached a point a tad closer to the knee, reducing the shock value, if only somewhat.

Perhaps just as awkward-looking as the shorts were the high white socks that Chicago wore that day. The socks, which featured two horizontal stripes, practically reached the players’ knees and made them look like field hockey players. And let’s not even get started on the collars attached to those jerseys; those collars were wide enough to land a plane on.

Perhaps discomfited by the unorthodox look—not to mention the reaction to it—the Sox ditched the shorts for the second game of the doubleheader, wearing their usual baseball pants. (And, of course, the Sox lost the second game.) Contrary to popular legend, which has the White Sox using the shorts throughout the late summer, Veeck insisted the Sox wear the short pants only two more times that season, before putting them into mothballs permanently.

And no one in the major leagues has dared to wear shorts ever again.

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Comments

  1. Bruce Markusen said...

    Here’s what happened in the later games. On August 21, the Sox beat the Orioles, 11-10, and then the next day, in the first game of a doubleheader, they lost to the Orioles, 6-2. So their final record wearing the shorts was 2-1.

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