Some pitchers tear rotator cuffs. Chris Sale tears uniforms.
On Saturday the Chicago White Sox sent their ace home from U.S. Cellular Field after he destroyed the team’s 1976 collared throwback uniforms during batting practice. A source told FanRag Sports that Sale, who was scheduled to pitch against the Detroit Tigers in hopes of becoming Major League Baseball’s first 15-game winner this season, “cut every jersey up” because he believed that the White Sox are putting “marketing over winning.”
Sale’s stunt was part Disco Demolition Night—an event the White Sox staged in the summer of 1979—and part Project Runway. The team swiftly suspended the American League’s top pitcher, and its most valuable player, five games (a $250,000 swatch from his $9.15 million salary) and fined him $12,700. Sale is eligible to return and take the mound Thursday, when the White Sox meet their northside rival, the Chicago Cubs, who have baseball’s best record, at Wrigley Field. That would make for wonderful theater.
In Sale’s defense, the White Sox’ 1976 uniforms, with their wide collars and jerseys that are designed not to be tucked in, represent the nadir of baseball garishness. They looked less like Major League Baseball uniforms than they did an outfit you’d spot Pat Boone wearing while appearing on The Merv Griffin Show. The wide-collared, navy-blue and white uniforms were as understated as a Gallagher comedy routine (although, let’s face it, the Houston Astros’ jerseys of that era were even more flamboyant). That was intentional.
In the winter before the uniforms’ debut, baseball hype master nonpareil Bill Veeck had purchased the White Sox, who had finished in fifth place in the American League West. The P.T. Barnum of American sports, Veeck had once sent a dwarf (wearing the jersey number ⅛) up to pinch-hit when he owned the St. Louis Browns. In the winter of 1976, Veeck knew that he needed to do something to distract White Sox fans from assessing their woeful club.
In early March of 1976 Veeck staged an impromptu press conference at Miller’s Pub on Wabash Street. “We are adding elegance to baseball styles,” Veeck pledged from a bar stool. “We may not be the greatest team in baseball…but we’ll immediately be the most stylish team in the game.”
That, of course, was a matter of taste. Later that summer Veeck had the team play three games in shorts, a first and last in big-league fashion history. “Players should not worry about their vanity, but their comfort,” Veeck said. “If it’s 95 degrees out, an athlete should be glad to put on short pants and forget his bony knees.”
Veeck’s 1976 White Sox garnered plenty of attention. Certainly they attracted more attention and fans (an 18 percent increase from the previous season), than a club with the worst record in the American League should. Their 64-97 record was the worst in the league.
These 2016 White Sox are, like their present-day uniforms, an unremarkable but not horrible outfit: Their record is 48-50, including having won two straight since sanctioning Sale. Their staff ace is a passionate and sometime petulant figure, though. In the spring, he erupted after the team informed designated hitter Adam LaRoche that his 14-year-old son, Drake, was no longer welcome in the clubhouse 100 percent of the time. LaRoche retired abruptly, leading Sale to assail the integrity of the White Sox front office.
Let history note that after Sale destroyed the team’s throwback 1976 jerseys, the White Sox took the field in their 1982 retro uniforms, which are even uglier (and more repugnant for their utter dearth of panache). The game was delayed three times by rain until officials decided to wait until Sunday to play the ninth inning. The White Sox would win that game and the regularly scheduled game on walk-off hits, the first time a team had accomplished such a two-fer on the same day since…1982.
As Sale sits and stews following his latest skirmish with the White Sox front office, here are three facts to consider: (1) If you visit the White Sox team store, you will notice that current White Sox jerseys sell for $99.99 while the most expensive jersey is a Chris Sale 1976 throwback jersey, which sells for $358.99; (2) if some enterprising clubhouse attendant is able to wrest the jerseys that Sale destroyed out of the ballpark and onto the black market, he could probably sell them to collectors for 10 times that amount; and (3) Chris Sale is himself on sale: with the August 1 trade deadline looming, he is the most valuable commodity for a White Sox franchise that is circling an eddy of mediocrity.
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