It's been said that a baseball game will always show you something that you've never seen before. The most memorable part of last night's Tigers-White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field was certainly unique, though neither I nor any of the other 32,527 fans in attendance were actually able to witness it.
I refer, of course, to Chris Sale's pre-game uniform-slashing incident, in which the Sox ace — apparently troubled by the prospect of having to pitch in the evening's collared throwbacks from the second Bill Veeck era — did his best Jason Voorhees impression on the team's '76-style uniforms, resulting in a scratched start and a five-game suspension from the front office.
This, in itself, would have been enough weirdness for one evening at the ballpark. In all my years of loving, researching and writing about baseball, I've never even heard of a player throwing this kind of a tantrum over the uniform he was supposed to wear. Certainly, there were members of the 1963 Kansas City A's and the 1969 Seattle Pilots — to name two early adopters of colorful uniforms which flouted the bland "home whites/road grays" tradition — who were significantly less than happy about the fashion statements that their teams were making.
“There was a lot of grousing about the uniforms," wrote Pilots hurler Jim Bouton in Ball Four. "I guess because we’re the Pilots we have to have captain’s uniforms. They have stripes on the sleeve, scrambled eggs on the [bill] of the cap and blue socks with yellow stripes. Also there are blue and yellow stripes down the sides of the pants. We look like goddamn clowns.”
Still, Bouton and his Pilots teammates went ahead and wore their "captain's uniforms" (at least until until Bud Selig and his cronies stole the Pilots from Seattle and moved them to Milwaukee) without incident. Ditto for the 1976 White Sox, whose Veeck-designed uniforms — truly the most unique unis of baseball's most fashion-forward era — were being celebrated last night.
The '76 Sox wore uniforms featuring collared jerseys that were meant to be worn un-tucked; Veeck believed that this unusual look would give his players players more comfort and flexibility in the field. White Sox utility man Jack Brohamer (more on him in a sec) told me last year that the '76 uniforms "made it look like we were in jail," but the players still went along with the concept, even during the three games that August when Veeck asked them to take the field in short pants.
Obviously, as the author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76, I have a special fondness for those '76 White Sox uniforms; while I can completely understand someone else's aesthetic aversion to them, they are so iconic, so emblematic of the welcome whimsy that Bill Veeck brought to the game, that they practically transcend criticism at this point. They're like the visual equivalent of Peter Frampton's talk-box solo on "Show Me The Way" — goofy as all hell, yet also guaranteed to transport me back to one of the happiest summers of my life in a nanosecond.
Which is why, along with the fact that our beloved Detroit Tigers were in town, that my wife and I went with some friends to "The Cell" last night. Not only were the White Sox giving away '76 throwback jerseys to the first 20,000 fans who showed up — which unfortunately turned out to be sullied by the Xfinity logo on one of the sleeves — but the team was also going to take the field in the full '76 throwbacks, as well. Or so we thought...
We arrived in time to catch the tail-end of the Tigers' batting practice, and while I was a little disappointed to see that the Tigers were wearing their usual road uniforms instead of 1976 road throwbacks, I know that visiting teams don't always get on board with their opponents' promotions. I was further disappointed a few minutes later to learn via Twitter that Chris Sale had been scratched from his scheduled start; he is, after all, one of the best starting pitchers of the past few years, and you always want to see the top guys in the game do their thing, even if it means additional challenges for the team you're rooting for. But there's been a lot of talk in recent days about the White Sox trading Sale to a contending team, and it seemed like maybe this was the team's (albeit clumsy) excuse to keep him out of action and free of harm before they had the chance to deal him.
But then, when the White Sox finally took the field after a minor rain delay wearing their early 80s "Winning Ugly" throwbacks instead of the '76 ones, I felt kind of ripped off. Don't get me wrong — I am fond of those uniforms, as well, but that's really not what I'd paid to see. Figuring that this must have been some kind of screw-up on the part of the team, I tweeted out the following joke:
At least, I thought it was a joke. But an hour or so later, when I got a text from a friend saying, "I want one of the cut-up throwbacks! Can't believe Sale did that!," I checked social media and realized that Sale had indeed blown a fuse over uniforms — only, it was the '76 ones that he didn't want to wear...
There was a strange energy (or maybe lack thereof) to the game itself. No longer facing one of the game's best lefties, the Tigers should have been able to tee off against a succession of bullpen arms led by Matt Albers, the beefy journeyman reliever who'd already pitched the previous two nights, but it was not to be. Numerous scoring opportunities were squandered; and while Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos did knock in two of the Tigers' three runs, Cabrera, Castellanos, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez went a combined 2-for-14. Only Cameron "Extra Cheese" Maybin seemed completely impervious to the evening's oppressive humidity, going 2-for-3 with a walk, two stolen bases and two runs scored. I love that guy; the Tigers would be in a far worse position right now without Kinsler and Maybin at the top of their lineup.
The game was also delayed by three thunderstorms, two of which (including the final one, which caused the 3-3 contest to be postponed until today) were the most insane I'd ever witnessed at a ballpark. We'd somehow lucked into buying field-level tickets that were actually under the mezzanine overhang, so we were able to watch the torrential downpours and sky-piercing lightning flashes in relative comfort, and (mostly) avoid the crowds that were slowly shuffling "zombie apocalypse" style through the packed concessions areas. We also spent a lot of time watching the jumbotron on the centerfield scoreboard, where they were flashing a lot of 1970s Sox pics and trivia, and at least one major gaffe:
Yeah, Jack Brohamer was the only White Sox player to hit a home run while wearing short pants. But it happened in 1976 — you know, the year that the White Sox were supposed to be paying tribute to, until Chris Sale freaked the fuck out? — not 1979. (The Sox didn't even wear shorts in 1979, fer chrissakes.) Well, at least they got Jack's name right; I found out later that my friend Michael was at the game, and his family put up a birthday message to him on the jumbotron in the eighth inning, but the Sox put the message up with the wrong middle name...
Speaking of screw-ups, an interesting, er, wrinkle to the Sale slash-fest emerged today in this article by Jon Heyman:
Wait, what? The throwbacks were made out of "heavy wool"?!? Either Heyman's reporting is inaccurate — today's throwback uniforms typically come in the same lightweight synthetic blends as the regulation unis — or the White Sox are absolutely insane. Why would you make throwback uniforms out of wool, especially when the originals that you're throwing back to were made out of lightweight poly?
But maybe that's just how it's all going at The Cell these days. There's been weird energy around the White Sox since the bizarre Adam LaRoche incident in spring training — which you'll also recall Sale unnecessarily losing his shit over — and they've seemed pretty unfocused since their 17-8 hot start in April. Maybe it is indeed time to fire Robin Ventura and/or Kenny Williams, and deal off Sale and anyone else they can get some choice prospects for, and just start over. And, at the very least, maybe it's time for Sale to reconsider his priorities. I'll leave the last word here to my friend and colleague, Cardboard Gods author Josh Wilker, who summed the whole fiasco up quite nicely, and invoked my favorite White Sox pitcher in the process: