If the reports currently circulating are true, Chris Sale might have issued the most emphatically negative review of a uniform that any athlete has ever issued.
But it’s certainly not the first negative review.
First, some quick background: The Chicago White Sox were slated to wear a throwback version of their infamous 1976 “leisure suit” uniform on Saturday night, complete with the untucked jerseys and the disco collars.
But when the Sox took the field tonight against the Detroit Tigers, they weren’t wearing the 1970s throwbacks. Instead, they wore their 1980s “beach blanket” throwbacks, which they normally wear on Sundays. And instead of Sale, who had been scheduled to be on the mound, the starting pitcher was Matt Albers — a relief pitcher.
The Sox soon issued a statement indicating that Sale had been scratched due to “a clubhouse incident.”
That prompted a flurry of reports from multiple sources indicating that Sale had been so upset about the prospect of wearing the throwback uniform that he cut his jersey to shreds, along with those of some of his teammates.
The White Sox have declined to confirm or deny these reports, at least for now.
It wouldn’t be the first thumbs-down assessment this uniform has received. The leisure suit design, which was conceived of by White Sox then-owner Bill Veeck, was the object of constant ridicule when it was originally worn from 1976 through 1981. Forty years after its introduction, it remains the only uniform in MLB history to include a jersey that was designed to be worn untucked.
But the Sox nonetheless stuck with the design for six seasons. And they revived it as a throwback last year, for an Aug. 27 game against the Seattle Mariners, without any player throwing a tantrum like the one Sale reportedly threw Saturday night.
Carlos Rodon had to pitch in the “leisure suit” throwback on Aug. 27, 2015. David Banks/Getty Images
There is nothing in the historical record to compare with an athlete disliking a uniform so much that he went all “Edward Scissorhands” on it. But there is at least one other instance of a player essentially vetoing his team’s scheduled uniform for a given game.
That was in 1995, when Sam Wyche was set to coach his final game for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs were still wearing their original orange-based uniform set at the time, and the plan was for the team to wear solid-orange — orange jerseys paired with orange pants, something that had never been worn before — for Wyche’s finale.
Longtime Bucs equipment manager Frank Pupello explained how that played out in an exclusive 2010 Uni Watch interview:
“The fans had voted on it. The team had a food drive — you were supposed to bring in a canned food item, and they had two barrels set up to receive the food. One barrel had a picture of a uniform with an orange jersey and orange pants, and one had and orange jersey with white pants. So the fans voted by where they deposited the food. And the orange-on-orange won in a landslide. … I had the orange pants all laid out in the lockers and everything. And some of the players were all excited about it. But [linebacker] Hardy Nickerson said, ‘I ain’t gonna play this game if I gotta wear orange pants with my orange jersey. I don’t like it.’ And Coach gave in. So one guy vetoed the whole thing.”
Of course, there are lots of additional examples of players saying they don’t care for a particular uniform (when the Red Sox introduced their bright-red alternate jerseys in 2003, one unnamed player reportedly quipped, “We’ll be visible from space!”), but they usually wear whatever’s put in their lockers, whether they like it or not. In recent years, however, players have had more and more say regarding their uniforms. MLB starting pitchers often get to decide what the team will wear each day, NFL players routinely lobby for certain uniform combinations, and LeBron James personally decided that the Cleveland Cavaliers would wear their sleeved alternate jerseys in Games 5 and 7 of last month’s NBA Finals.
If Sale really did take scissors to his team’s uniforms on Saturday night, he may have set a new standard for uniform pushback, but he’s just the latest in a long line of players to have strong feelings about what they wear.
Paul Lukas writes about uniforms for ESPN.com. If you liked this column, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you’ll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.