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White Sox, 1977

October 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.

20 comments

  1. 1.  I still spend my free time playing solitaire Strat-O-Matic and masturbating.


  2. 2.  1 : God Bless America


  3. 3.  This picture has put me off both Strat-O-Matic and masturbating for a while.


  4. 4.  Too many personal stories of embarrassment in th 70s for me to include here, and I wouldn’t know where to start.


  5. 5.  3 Is it a coincidence that your username is”Peanut”?


  6. 6.  There is nothing wrong with shorts, or any other Bill Veeck idea.

    Bring back outfield showers!!!


  7. 7.  6 : Bill Veeck is the epitomy of a great American. I was planning to talk about him in the post but the writing got away from me a little, as usual. I think the idea of the shorts came from Bill’s wife (similarly, the idea of Disco Demolition Night came from his son, Mike), and I believe I read somewhere that she got the idea from the great old Pacific Coast League team, the Hollywood Stars, which wore shorts briefly in the 1950s.

    I was also planning to talk about the ’77 White Sox, who like the Cubs of the same year (who I talked about last week in relation to a similarly unforgettable card) had a rousingly great first-half then faded. Veeck tried to deal with the new problems of free agency by buying low on guys in the last year of their contract, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a team full of rent-a-players. Zisk, Soderholm, and Gamble led the way for the Southside Hitmen, who shattered the team record for home runs and won 90 games. The fans had a love affair with that team and from the sound of it it was one of the most enjoyable summers a fan could ever hope for. In fact, the fans might have loved too much: their insistence that White Sox home run hitters take curtain calls–a practice previously unheard of–angered the Kansas City Royals, who saw it as hot-dogging, and after losing a late-July series to the Chisox the enraged Royals went 46 and 16 the rest of the way (a 120-win pace).

    I wasn’t living in Chicago then, but I do remember the great Sports Illustrated “Chi, Oh My” story in midsummer that captured the excitement of the city for the Cubs and White Sox. I especially remember the picture of a fan’s sign, which included what would become my favorite childhood rhyme: “Pitch with risk to Richie Zisk.”


  8. 8.  I don’t even have to see the faces to know that that’s Oscar Gamble in the middle of the top row.


  9. 9.  I was two in 1977, but when I started paying attention to baseball about five years later, the White Sox program still had articles about the South Side Hitmen. Neither of the Chicago baseball teams played in any postseasons between 1959 and 1983, the Bears hadn’t built their Super Bowl team, and Michael Jordan hadn’t arrived yet. A 90-win team was pretty much all we had. The White Sox had the same record last year, and it was considered a disappointment until this year’s fiasco.


  10. 10.  1 only while thinking of suzyn waldman.


  11. 11.  10 : “Oh my goodness gracious!!!”


  12. 12.  I like to imagine the ’77 Sox using a Chrysler Cordoba as their bullpen car … and some unfortunate relief pitcher, en route to the mound, wiggling and screeching as his bare underthighs come into contact with the superhot Corinthian leather.

    Yeah, once the ’70s synapses get firing, most anything’s bound to come out.


  13. 13.  I don’t think I have ever heard the 70s described better than as the age of embarrassment. Looking back I realize that there were some good things about the 70s, but my general sentiment is “what were people thinking?”


  14. 14.  The 70′s started out great, by 74 I peaked with a MVP Babe Ruth season, graduated HS 76, and ended the 70′s by getting married in 79 because a blow job blew my mind and erased my dreams.


  15. 15.  12 : Maybe this scenario helped inspire Lerrin Lagrow to record the save in the Shorts game. I miss the bullpen car so much and will have to pour out my feelings on the subject before too long.

    13 : It was an era where pale, previously hidden parts of everyone were bulging and hanging out everywhere. Beauty and nausea intertwined.

    14 : Pure painful poetry.


  16. 16.  12: That made me laugh out lod

    13: Let’s not forget the leisure suit.

    Josh, two things:

    1. I was reading your Angels-Sox posts and enjoyed them. I’m just not much of a Game Chatterer when the Sox are involved. I can’t multitask like that.

    2. I forgot how to reference other posts here.


  17. 17.  16 : I’m excited to host some more game-chatter Friday night. In fact, I’m ready to start chattering right now about the series. The Indians scare me, much more than they seem to be scaring the Boston media hype-meisters who are ready to anoint the Red Sox (and who, three weeks ago, were burying them). It’s going to be a tough series, I think.

    The way to link to previous posts is in the Toaster FAQ here:

    http://fairpole.baseballtoaster.com/archives/548606.html


  18. 18.  17 I am cautiously optimistic. Then again, I didn’t really get worried in September. I guess that I’m phlegmatic.


  19. 19.  Congrats to the Red Sox for winning the ALDS, I was rooting for them, but not as much as I was rooting against the Angels. And now I can’t help but root for the Indians and Rockies. Both the Sox and D-Backs have won it all recently and, seriously, do you ever expect to see the Rockies in contention for the big prize again? I don’t. Maybe they can catch lightning in a bottle, I think they’re fans deserve it. Besides, if the WS is played in Colorado, maybe the announcers will stop talking about how manufacturing a run is the key to success and realize that home runs are a much bigger factor. Either way, though, I’m anticipating a very exciting finish to the post season.


  20. Josh—Jesus may have given up on you, but Strat-O-Matic can save your soul.



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