White Sox, 1977October 9, 2007
I grew up in the 1970s, the age of embarrassment. In the early years of the decade the president was revealed as a paranoid criminal. He quit, disgraced, and was replaced by a guy known for being ineffectual and tripping over things. This second guy soon got voted out of office in favor of a peanut farmer who revealed more than anyone wanted to know in an interview in Playboy, admitting he had “lust in his heart.” Later, in a nationally-televised speech, he described America’s “erosion of confidence”; in the embarrassingly frank president’s estimation the whole country by the end of the 1970s was demoralized and ashamed, as if it had somehow channeled from sea to shining sea the cringe-shouldered stoop of an awkward acned bespectacled teenager who spent his free time playing solitaire Strat-O-Matic and masturbating.
It’s fitting that this infamously depressing “malaise” speech by President Jimmy Carter on July 15, 1979, came just three nights after Disco Demolition Night, just as it’s fitting that Disco Demolition Night occurred in the same place where, three years earlier, several of the gentlemen pictured here played a major league baseball game while wearing shorts, an event that, until the time when a major league baseball team takes the field wearing flowery sleeveless summer dresses and heels, will stand as the single most embarrassing uniform-related moment in baseball history. Though embarrassment was everywhere in the 1970s, it may have crested on August 8, 1976, when the White Sox plied their trade in front of their competitors, the media, and 15,997 paying customers while dressed in what must have felt for all the world exactly like it feels in a dream when you realize you’ve left the house after forgetting to put on your pants.
Incredibly, the White Sox won that game. They did not win many others that year and did not ever wear the shorts again, except, curiously, for this portrait for their 1977 team card. I’m not sure why they did this, but whoever made it happen deserves a medal. The whole team deserves a medal, in fact, for they and whoever had the idea for the pose in the first place are embodying the greatest aspect of the 1970s, one that goes hand in hand with its designation as the age of embarrassment: no matter what might come your way, embrace it. If you find yourself out in the middle of the action dressed in a shirt with a preposterously huge collar and your afro bulging like Mickey Mouse ears out from under your cap and your touchingly vulnerable knees as visible as those of a skirt-wearing member of the flag squad, embrace it. You only go around once, and most of that once is monotony and sameness, so you might as well celebrate the glorious mistakes.