1983 Chicago White Sox uniforms
Pitcher Addison Reed (left) and first-base coach Harold Baines sport the throwback uniform from the 1980s that White Sox players will wear at all Sunday home games this season. They are joined by three retro racers, who will run the base paths during the seventh inning at U.S. Cellular Field. From left: Racing Pudge (Carlton Fisk), Racing Harold (Baines) and Racing Kitty (Ron Kittle), all members of the 1983 “Winning Ugly” team.

The Cubs have announced a plan to come up with a new logo to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in 2014. Having failed to win a World Series during that long century, the team has offloaded the design chore to an already overburdened group: their long-suffering fans. Given past history, there’s only one way this can turn out: badly. Look what happened 32 years ago.

In 1981, Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, then the new owners of the White Sox, announced a “Dress Your Own Team” contest. The plan was to allow Sox fans to come up with a new look for the South Side nine. The team did need a new look. The former owner, Bill Veeck, perhaps after a too late night at Miller’s Pub, had designed the unorthodox navy blue and white uniforms the Sox sported beginning in 1976. The outfit even included a short-lived experiment with shorts.

Fans may have loved Veeck, but they hated the uniforms, as did many Sox players. “Those sloppy shirts [worn untucked], with their old-fashioned collars blowing in the breeze, and the clam-digger pants that just hang there were universally jeered,” Cheryl Lavin wrote in the Tribune in April 1981. As Einhorn told her: “I knew they were controversial, but I didn’t know how much people hated them. They look like softball uniforms.”

Heading up the search for a new uniform design was 28-year-old Laureen Ong Fadil, director of special projects for the new Sox owners. According to reports at the time, Fadil got a list of top designers from a Women’s Wear Daily reporter, and 15 of them submitted sketches. The floodgates opened with the contest announcement. The Sox ended up with some 1,600 proposals, from which a team of judges selected six finalists: three from professionals and three from fans.

Steve Wulf, then a writer for Sports Illustrated, served as one of the judges. (According to Wulf, the other judges included the fashion editors of the Tribune and Sun-Times, Reinsdorf’s wife, Martyl, and Sox first baseman Lamar Johnson, among others.) In the article he wrote for SI, he described a rainbow coalition of entries: a claret-and-navy ensemble; a “swashbuckling” lavender and gold number paired with knickers; a “dramatic tunic” in the shades of Old Glory; and a yellow, red, and sky-colored combo with a ChicaGo logo. “While some of the amateur creations were surprisingly good,” opined Wulf, “the professional entries, on the whole, were disappointing.”

The early reviews of the final six were not good. “I think they’re all awful,” columnist Jack Mabley groused in the Trib. “They look as though Frederick’s of Hollywood dreamed them up.” His colleague, Steve Daley, called the choices “a handful of double-knit possibilities most ballplayers wouldn’t wear to a hanging.” Sox slugger Greg “The Bull” Luzinski said, “I don’t like any of them.” A players’ kangaroo court fined Johnson $10 for serving as a judge.

Fans voted on the finalists at games played at old Comiskey Park the week of June 26, but the winning design wasn’t revealed until the end of the season. But in mid September, Aaron Gold, author of the Trib’s “Tower Ticker,” made a prediction that turned out to be right on all counts. “The Number 2 entry in the White Sox fans-pick-the-uniforms contest will win,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, that’s the one the players reportedly like the least. It’s red, white, and blue, with the player’s number on the pants leg. When it’s announced, you had better believe that owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn will have to modify the way the colors are used, to keep their players happy.”

The winning entry ended up coming from a fan. Well, sort of. Richard Launius, 25, was a graphic designer living outside Dayton, Ohio—and a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Braves. (Today he lives in Georgia and designs board games.) He learned about the contest from his father-in-law, who lived in Chicago. Launius spent a few hours on the design, submitted his entry, and then promptly forgot about the whole thing—until the Sox called him in June to tell him he was a finalist. On the last weekend of the season, he was at Comiskey when the Sox announced his design had won. For his efforts he got an all-expenses-paid trip to the 1981 World Series (he traveled to the games on the private plane of Bowie Kuhn, then the commissioner of baseball) and 1982 Sox season tickets.

Luzinski, who had trashed all six finalists, must have been thrilled when Sox management picked him to model the new uniform, which they’d modified from Launius’s design. “You could call the latest [uniform] an improvement,” observed the Trib’s Daley, “though decked out in his new regalia, the Bull looks like a box of cereal or a road sign.”

Agreed. I never liked the uniform, with its boxy, horizontal S-O-X and the garish colors reminiscent of the Astros’ uniform. (Launius acknowledged that he’d found some inspiration from Houston’s livery.) Even today, the Sox on their website acknowledge that the design is “void of tradition.”

But what do I know. I still see fans at the Cell sporting that 1982 design (which the team retired in 1987), and this season players will wear a throwback version of those mid-eighties duds during all Sunday home games. It is, after all, the uniform they wore 30 years ago when Tony La Russa’s “Winning Ugly” Sox won 99 games—best in the majors—and the American League West, sending them to the postseason for the first time since 1959.

So maybe the Cubs are on to something with this whole fan-designed-logo thing. I’ve got Richard Launius’s phone number if they want to give him a call.


Photograph: Ron Vesely © Chicago White Sox