With the possible exception of Disco Demolition Night and Eddie Gaedel, no Bill Veeck promotion remains more infamous or controversial than the White Sox’s short pants.
Although they were worn for only three games at Comiskey Park during the 1976 season, the team’s Bermuda shorts — one of the many gimmicks rolled out by Veeck that year to keep the turnstiles clicking despite the innate lousiness of his newly purchased team — captured (or scarred) the public imagination to such an extent that many people still firmly believe they saw the White Sox sport them on the road or that the Sox wore shorts for an entire season or more. During a recent Minnesota Twins broadcast, Dick Bremer insisted that the Sox wore short pants “for several years,” while his colleague Jack Morris reminisced about having pitched against the shorts-clad Sox — which clearly never happened, since Morris didn’t reach the majors until July 1977.
The topic of the Sox shorts inevitably comes up every August, around the anniversary of their major-league debut. The team wore them during the first game of their Aug. 8, 1976, doubleheader against the Royals, in which the Sox rose above the merry taunts of the impending AL West champs to beat them 5-2 at Comiskey. But my favorite Sox shorts-related anniversary is Aug. 21, because that date in 1976 is when Jack Brohamer became the first and only player to hit a home run in a major-league game while wearing short pants.
Brohamer, the Pale Hose’s regular second baseman that season, wasn’t much of a long-ball threat, clubbing 30 homers over a nine-year career with the Indians, White Sox and Red Sox. A left-handed hitter, Brohamer also generally fared quite poorly against southpaws, posting a .529 career OPS against them (as opposed to .663 against righties); only four of those career round-trippers came off left-handed hurlers. But that Aug. 21, with two outs in the bottom of the second inning and teammate Lamar Johnson on first, Brohamer connected off Orioles lefty Rudy May and drove one over Comiskey’s distant right-field wall.
“I always thought May was a good pitcher,” Brohamer remembers. “I wasn’t a power hitter by any means, and it wasn’t easy to hit it out to right in Chicago; but somehow I must have got lucky, and I hit it out off him. I remember hitting that home run, but I don’t remember having the shorts on at the time!”
Brohamer says he also has no memory of the shorts’ press debut, which took place in March 1976 during a bizarre “fashion show” held at Chicago’s Tremont Hotel to unveil the team’s new Veeck-designed uniforms. Several former White Sox players strutted their stuff on the catwalk while wearing the collared tunics that would come to visually define Veeck’s second go-round with the team, and 1950s Sox star “Jungle” Jim Rivera had the honor of introducing the team’s new “Hollywood shorts,” which were named in reference to the old Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, who wore short pants as part of their uniforms from 1950 through 1953. Anticipating some blowback from his more self-conscious players, the peg-legged Veeck told the press, “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.”
Hollywood Stars manager Fred Haney had sung a similar tune back in 1950 when his team’s shorts — which were paired with T-shirt-style pullover jerseys made of lightweight Rayon, a pretty radical statement at a time when teams were still wearing baggy wool uniforms — were introduced, touting the extra comfort and speed that the shorts provided. “It stands to reason that players should be faster wearing them, and that half step going down to first alone wins or loses many a game,” Haney told the Los Angeles Times after the Stars wore them for the first time at Gilmore Field. “These outfits weigh only a third as much as the old monkey suits, and when both are soaked in perspiration the difference is greater yet.”
While they received mixed reviews from the players themselves, the Stars’ shorts were immensely popular with the fans, both at home and on the road. “We filled every park in the Pacific Coast League with those things,” Stars first baseman Chuck Stevens later recalled to PCL historian Dick Dobbins. “Every time we wore them, the park was sold out.”
The Hollywood Stars weren’t the only minor-league team to wear uniforms with short pants. The Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League — like the Stars, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team — briefly donned shorts early in the 1950 season, while their league rivals the Houston Buffalos actually wore them for several weeks that summer. Though the Buffs’ players hated the shorts (not least because they provided additional feasting access for the local mosquitos), they actually persuaded the ownership to cut them by an additional three inches; the original knee-length versions, which were fashioned from old uniform pants, apparently looked too much like skirts for the players’ liking.
Other minor-league teams to sport leg-baring uniforms include the 1950 Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings, the 1952 Miami Beach Flamingos, the 1954 Phoenix Stars and the 1966 Austin Braves, the latter of whom wore short pants during the first game of a July 4 doubleheader, apparently as a dry run for a possible promotion to the uniforms of the parent club. “The shorts were worn in that first game as a trial to see if they would be appropriate for the Atlanta Braves players,” future major leaguer Ron Reed, who pitched for the Austin Braves that summer, told the NJ Baseball blog in 2011. “Summers in Georgia are rather hot, so some genius figured shorts might be better for the players 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. Obviously there is no protection at all when bare skin meets the dirt around all the bases when sliding.”
That lack of protection — along with Bill Veeck’s desire to save the promotion until he really needed another good boost at the gate — kept the White Sox from donning their new Bermudas until well into the summer of ’76. Responding to concerns about players tearing up their legs on the basepaths, Veeck designed special sliding pads to go under their socks, but the team had to wait until July before they received them from the manufacturer. “If you see the pictures, it kind of looks like we have tobacco pouches in our socks,” says Jack Brohamer. “They were these little cushions, maybe a quarter- or half-inch thick, and you wore them just below your knee on the outside.”
Brohamer says the first time he became aware of the shorts’ existence was when they — and the sliding pads — arrived at Comiskey in July, and the local press began peppering players with questions about them. Brohamer, who credits former Indians teammate Graig Nettles with fostering his acerbic sense of humor, was quoted in the Chicago papers saying he wouldn’t wear the shorts unless they let him wear a halter top, as well. “We had a lot of fun with that,” Brohamer remembers. “Bart Johnson, who was like 6 foot 6, told them, ‘I’m just going to wear Brohamer’s long pants!’ I’m 5-9, so we had a bit of a height difference there.”
Though legend has it that the Sox generally loathed the shorts, Brohamer remembers it differently. “I think we actually kind of looked forward to wearing the shorts, because it was so hot and humid in Chicago at that time of year,” he says. “We just didn’t know about sliding. Jerry Hairston had recently been called up, and (Sox manager) Paul Richards had him lead off that first game. Jerry got on base, and all of us told Paul, ‘Send him! Send him!’ because we wanted to see him slide. He stole second base, slid and got up; we said, ‘I guess we’re OK!’”
In fact, the Sox stole five bases in five attempts against Royals catcher Buck Martinez that Aug. 8, including Brohamer’s lone steal of the season. “That must have been something, with the piano I had on my back,” he says with a laugh. “They probably didn’t think we’d steal with those things on!” The Sox would swipe three more bags over their two other “shorts games” (Aug. 21 and 22), without being caught once, making them 8-for-8 in steals while wearing shorts — maybe my favorite baseball statistic of all time, small sample size be damned.
Brohamer also drove in two runs in that Aug. 8 game with a single off Royals starter Marty Pattin. Then, in addition to his two-run homer off Rudy May on Aug. 21, he took a bases-loaded walk off reliever Dave Pagan to plate another run during Chicago’s 11-10 victory over the Orioles. Along with being the only shorts-wearing player to homer in a majo-league game, Brohamer’s five RBIs still stand as the most racked up by any MLB player in short pants. “Well, I’ll be darned,” says the Sultan of Shorts-Clad Swat, upon being informed of his twin distinctions. “Maybe I should have worn them more often!”
Alas, the shorts didn’t help Brohamer or his teammates much on Aug. 22, when they managed just two runs on three hits off Jim Palmer in a 6-2 loss. Veeck, sensing that their novelty was already wearing thin — only 16,991 fans showed up for the Aug. 22 doubleheader at Comiskey, as opposed to the 32,607 who’d attended the previous day — packed the shorts away. Though he predicted at the time that other teams would eventually follow suit, no other MLB team since has donned short pants for a regular-season game, the White Sox included.
While the Sox shorts — which were of course paired with the untucked, collared jerseys that Brohamer says “made it look like we were in jail” — routinely top Internet lists of all-time worst baseball uniforms, I’d still love to see the White Sox bring them back for a game. Even though the ’76 Sox were pretty awful, finishing the season at the bottom of the AL West with a 64-97 record, the return of the shorts on a “throwback night” would be a fitting tribute to the legacy of Bill Veeck, who brought a welcome dose of whimsy to a sport that has often taken itself far too seriously.
“I thought Bill Veeck was first-class,” says Brohamer. “He was doing the best he could to get people into the stands and give them some fun, even though we weren’t a very good team in 1976. He was unique in a lot of the things he did, but I didn’t think he took anything away from the team or made it so you couldn’t concentrate, or anything like that. And thinking back, I have no memory of any of my teammates disliking him. Not that it didn’t happen; I just don’t remember anybody disliking Bill Veeck.”