Uni Watch's Friday Flashback: Chicago's short attention span

Dear Chris Sale: It could always be worse (1:17)

Uni Watch's Paul Lukas gives White Sox pitcher Chris Sale some friendly wardrobe advice. (1:17)

As just about everyone knows by now, Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale was a bit unhappy with the 1970s "leisure suit" throwback uniforms that the team was slated to wear on July 23 -- so unhappy that he reportedly used a knife to cut the jerseys to shreds.

But hey, Chris, if you're reading this, keep in mind that it could have been worse. The Sox could have broken out the shorts.

Uni Watch is referring to, of course, the shorts that the White Sox infamously wore on the diamond in 1976. In fact, we're fast approaching the 40th anniversary of the shorts' on-field debut, which took place on Aug. 8, 1976. That makes this the perfect time for the Sox to trot out the shorts as a throwback, no? Perhaps it could even be timed to coincide with Sale's turn in the rotation (as long as the clubhouse staff hid all the knives and scissors).

Four decades later, there's a lot of misinformation about the shorts, especially regarding how often they were worn. Broadcasters will often say things like, "Remember that season when the White Sox wore the shorts all year long?" or "Remember that one game when the White Sox wore the shorts?"

The reality is that the shorts were neither a season-long enterprise nor a one-game experiment. They were unveiled on March 9, 1976, along with the rest of the team's leisure suit uniform set, (team owner Bill Veeck said at the time that the shorts would be ideal for hot weather) but they didn't make their on-field debut until the first game of an Aug. 8 doubleheader against the Royals. They were worn again on Aug. 21 and 22 against the Orioles (the second game of which was the opener of a doubleheader).

Those three games comprise the totality of the Sox-in-shorts saga. The team won two of the games, giving the shorts a nifty .667 winning percentage -- not bad, especially for a team that went 62-96, or .392, for the rest of its schedule.

Photos from the three games are rare, but you can see some good shots here. There's also some fantastic home-movie footage from the Aug. 22 game, which shows a bit of pregame and game action. The film, which has been preserved on YouTube, also features priceless shots of fans participating in a bizarre bit of between-games entertainment: a beer case-stacking contest.

Many fans mistakenly think the Sox couldn't slide in the shorts for fear of cutting up their knees, but that wasn't the case. The players had little pads tucked under the tops of their socks, just below the kneecap, which apparently provided enough protection to allow for sliding.

You might not think those little pads offered much protection, but the numbers don't lie: According to the archived box scores, the Sox stole eight bases without being caught in their three shorts-clad games, so the pads must have been doing the job. (Either that or the opposing catchers were too busy laughing to throw anyone out.). You can see some footage of two shorts-clad slides by skipping ahead to the 1:51 mark of this video:

Despite the winning record and the success on the basepaths, the shorts were retired after those three games, so MLB has been shorts-free since then (well, unless you count Hunter Pence). But while the White Sox were the first and still only big league team to wear shorts, several minor league teams wore them in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

And here's an interesting wrinkle: Those red shorts worn by the Austin Braves were a trial run for the team's parent club in Atlanta. Former MLB pitcher Ron Reed, who was on that 1966 Austin squad, provided the details in this 2011 article, in which he said, "The shorts were worn in that first game as a trial to see if they would be appropriate for the Atlanta Braves players. Summers in Georgia are hot [and 1966 was the Braves' first season in Atlanta after moving there from Milwaukee], so some genius figured shorts might be better for the players rather than the wool uniforms they wore at that time. After a couple of our Austin players came back to the dugout with giant 'strawberries' on their knees and thighs from sliding into second, third and home plate during that first game, the shorts idea was abandoned, thank God."

Hmm, maybe the Braves didn't think to use sliding pads like the White Sox did, eh?

Although the Chisox never wore their shorts after those three 1976 games, the shorts nonetheless had a bit of an afterlife. Like many MLB teams at that time, the Sox recycled their old uniforms in their minor league system, and the shorts ended up being worn by the Double-A Knoxville White Sox. At one point that resulted in a dream matchup of 1970s uniforms: the Sox shorts versus Houston's tequila sunrise design.

Of course, that took place long before Chris Sale was coming up through the White Sox farm system. Luckily for him -- and, maybe, for the shorts.

(For more information on the White Sox shorts, look here.)

Would you like to nominate a uniform or uni element to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.

Paul Lukas wore shorts while writing this column. If you like how it turned out, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. 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.