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Throwback Thursday: A Long Ball in Short Shorts

Thirty-nine years ago this week, Jack Brohamer became the only Major League Baseball player to hit a home run in shorts.
August 20, 2015, 4:15pm

(Editor's note: Each week VICE Sports will take a look back at an important sports event from this week in sports history. We are calling this regular feature Throwback Thursday, or #TBT for all you cool kids. You can read previous installments here.)

Thirty-nine years ago this week, a Major League Baseball player hit a home run. It was an unremarkable home run produced by a forgotten player during a languorous campaign for a moribund franchise. Yet one oddity separates it from the other 2,200-odd home runs hit that season, and from the hundreds of thousands of long balls that came before and have followed since.

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The man who hit it was wearing shorts.

His name is Jack Brohamer. If you've never heard of him, you're forgiven. He was a light-hitting infielder for the Chicago White Sox, and on August 21, 1976, with two outs in the bottom of the second inning at Comiskey Park, Brohamer stepped into the batter's box. He wore a white T-shirt underneath his jersey, which hung loose at the waist, untucked. His shorts revealed a portion of his prominent quads, along with his knees, exposed above his white stirrups. With dark eyebrows and healthy mid-1970s sideburns, he bore a passing resemblance to the actor Peter Graves, of Mission: Impossible fame.

"Am I excited about wearing short pants?" said Chicago manager Paul Richards. "Boy, I don't get excited about nothing." Jack Brohamer looked dapper hitting his home run in shorts. Photo courtesy of the White Sox.

Brohamer struck a pitch from Baltimore starter Rudy May over the right field wall for a two-run homer. By the end of the game, the early-inning shot was all but forgotten, a footnote in a wild, back-and-forth, 12-inning 11-10 White Sox victory. It was a footnote to Brohamer, too, just one of his 30 career home runs. He thought little of it until a few years ago, when he realized he occupied a small, bizarre place in the game's storied history.

"A friend of mine was listening to the Dodgers game, and Vin Scully was talking about the anniversary of wearing the shorts," Brohamer said. "He said that I was the only one to hit a home run while wearing shorts…. I never knew if that was the truth or not."

It's true. And this is the story of why he was wearing them in the first place.

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"He was a good fielder, not much power," former White Sox pitcher Bart Johnson said about his teammate. "Jack was well-respected. He played hard. Professional."

Brohamer came to Chicago from Cleveland via a December 1975 trade. Less than a week later, notorious showman and raconteur Bill Veeck repurchased the White Sox from then owner John Allyn. The sale ensured that the team would remain in Chicago, ending persistent rumors of a move to Seattle.

It also ensured a circus.

Veeck had a reputation for breaking with stodgy baseball tradition by sponsoring all sorts of outlandish stunts in order to increase ballpark attendance, such as sending little person Eddie Gaedel to the plate for the St. Louis Browns. (Spoiler alert: he drew a walk). With the White Sox coming off their sixth losing season in eight years, Veeck immediately began tinkering, starting with the team's uniforms.

During a "press conference" at one of his favorite Chicago pubs that spring, he hinted at the changes to come.

"We may not be the greatest team in baseball, at least not for a few years," Veeck said. "But we'll immediately be the most stylish team in the game."

One of the bar owner's shouted out a guess that the Sox would be wearing shorts.

"I believe you may safely rule out shorts," Veeck said. "And panty hose."

Four days later, a parade of former Sox players unveiled the team's new uniforms for the upcoming season. Among them? An alternate ensemble featuring: a white shirt with a blue collar and the word "Chicago" written across the front in quasi-Olde English font, and dark blue Bermuda shorts.

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As always with Veeck, nothing could be ruled out.

To no one's surprise, the 1976 White Sox sucked. The team won its first two games, then failed to win back-to-back contests for another month.

Naturally, Veeck celebrated Opening Day by donning a peg leg and playing a fife in a bicentennial parade around Comiskey Park.

By early August, the team was 19 games out of first place. Its anemic offense had been shut out 15 times. The White Sox regularly drew less than 10,000 fans for home games. Veeck still had an unused weapon in his formidable arsenal of publicity stunts: the Chi Sox haute couture.

"It was the ugliest uniform in major league history," said Chicago sportswriter George Castle. "Even in the hot climates, you didn't see teams in the Dominican or Cuba wearing shorts."

Veeck's players reacted with resigned bemusement. Reliever Clay Carroll wondered if the shorts would help his ERA. Future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage hoped for advance notice so he could buy some Nair hair removal product. "I'm just happy to be here," said pitcher Jesse Jefferson. "I'll wear anything." (With a 8.52 ERA that season, Jefferson wasn't positioned to make much of a fuss.)

"Am I excited about wearing short pants?" said Chicago manager Paul Richards. "Boy, I don't get excited about nothing."

"One of the ugliest things I've ever seen, was Paul Richards, God rest his soul, in those shorts," Bill Veeck's son, Mike, told VICE Sports during a phone interview. During a second interview, just a few days later, Mike Veeck said the same exact thing, as if the image of the 67-year-old baseball lifer exposing his legs was lodged in his memory like a bad dream.

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The White Sox debuted their Bermuda shorts on August 8, the first game of a doubleheader against Kansas City. Brohamer went one for three, with two RBIs and a stolen base. The Sox swiped five bases in shorts, putting to rest questions of whether they'd get raspberries sliding around in them. Chicago won the game, 5-2.

Two weeks later, the Sox donned them again, setting up Brohamer's singular home run. Johnson was the starting pitcher that day. He lasted just one inning, giving up three runs on six hits. "I was 6'5'', 6'6''," he said. "Tall, skinny. I wasn't real anxious to go out there and show my legs off."

The next day, future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer tossed a complete game for Baltimore, which beat Chicago, 6-2, in the first game of a doubleheader. The White Sox never wore shorts again. Mike Veeck said the ploy had simply run its course: the first shorts game got ample attention in local newspapers, but by the third game the novelty seemed to have worn off.

Perhaps more important: the shorts had little appreciable impact on game attendance.

The following year, the Sox surprised baseball by winning 90 games and finishing third in the AL West. Attendance jumped by 700,000. Veeck's gimmicks—like having a beer-crate-stacking competition behind home plate, or penciling 50-year-old third base coach Minnie Minoso into the starting lineup for three games, both of which also happened in 1976—were unnecessary. Winning brought fans to the park.

As for Brohamer? He left baseball after the 1980 season and became a police detective in California, investigating child molestation cases. Today, he's retired and lives with his wife of nearly 50 years. People say the most untouchable record in baseball is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak. But unless an enterprising owner is willing to dust off the Bermudas, Brohamer's home run may be the most inviolable achievement of them all.

Thanks to Joe Knowles at the Chicago Tribune and David Fletcher at the Chicago Baseball Museum for their help in providing research for this article. Quotes from players at the time come from Mike Steiner and his article on the White Sox shorts and other uniform oddities.