Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Pajama Game

Baseball season is mere weeks away, and to prepare you for its onset, let's go back to a scene from my childhood and the White Sox' lefthanded knuckleball specialist Wilbur Wood, wearing the infamous pajama uniform that the Sox wore from 1976 to 1981. The shot at right, taken, I'm pretty certain, at Fenway Park on April 18, 1976, comes to us from a remarkable site called Steve's Baseball Photography, which features many riotous full-color shots of mostly forgotten baseball players from the 1970s, which was of course the best time ever to be a baseball fan.

These uniforms were both mind-spinningly retro and entirely unique when they were introduced as part of baseball's bicentennial in 1976. We in Chicago loved them, and I still have a sand-knit version of it in a drawer somewhere. But we must be honest now: They stink.

The overall near-blackness, once so deliciously different, now looks dull. The promise of returning us to baseball of the 19th century is undercut by the silly logo on the cap. (The white caps, thankfully, only lasted a single year, to be replaced by solid navy ones.)

But most problematic is that - and I can't tell if this is because of the design of the uniform, or because Wood was just naturally slovenly - they look so sloppy. The bagginess in the uniform's gut area cries out for a belt to provide a bit of a blousing effect. And no one has bothered to knicker the cuffs of his trousers, which hang around Wood's ankles as if they were a pair of discontinued capri pants he bought at Zayre.

The unis were bad luck for Wilbur Wood: Seven starts into the pajama era, he was pitching very well for the White Sox (a 2.24 ERA, although with ten unearned runs, always a problem for knuckleballers) when Ron LeFlore of the Tigers lined a shot off Wood's kneecap, shattering his patella, ending his season, and more or less finishing his career: Although he came back the following year, Wood pitched poorly in 1977 and 1978, and he was done at the age of 36, which is when most knuckleballers are just kicking it into gear. I blame the PJs.


MJN said...

By my reckoning, some folks are going to be celebrating baseball's bicentennial in 2039, and others will do so in 2045. I hope to be a part of the festivities.

Pike said...

Am I the only one who hopes the "That's My Boy" label is an Eddie Mayehoff reference? (That's just too obscure, right?)

T. Nawrocki said...

I think 2039 has been pretty thoroughly debunked, hasn't it?

As for "That's My Boy," I have no idea. You'll have to ask the eponymous Steve.

T. Nawrocki said...

Of course, my first thought was that it was a "Watching Scotty Grow" reference, but unless Gaylord Fields shows up, I'm the only Bobby Goldsboro fan here.

MJN said...

I don't know if the officials in Cooperstown still cling to 1839. But yes, I agree that the whole Abner Doubleday story is fiction.

T. Nawrocki said...

Ah, I see now I should have said baseball's centennial, rather than bicentennial. Even better, major league baseball's centennial.