WSO Co-writer Chris Lamberti and I are friends on the internet, so we had an internet conversation during after Game 1 of the NLCS. At the time, Pierzynski was messing with my goal for the playoffs–for them to slip by without the White Sox suffering any further nationally televised embarrassment. He had brought up Lance Lynn’s 12-strikeout performance against the Sox in mid-June, right before Lynn proceeded to get knocked out of the game in the 4th inning.
Getting less thrilled about AJ Pierzynski bringing up that time Lance Lynn struck out a billion White Sox hitters during the pre-game
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) October 15, 2012
@jrfegan Worse, he called them White Sock hitters.
— Christopher Lamberti (@CMLamberti) October 15, 2012
@cmlamberti I’ve heard enough! He’s gotta go
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) October 15, 2012
But I have always embraced the “Sox” in “White Sox” as being closer its own separate word, rather than merely a curiously-spelled pluralization of “sock”. I try to phrase around the awkward-sounding instances that arise from this, but if pressed, I would write in a sentence: “A.J. Pierzynski has been a good White Sox,” and submit for publishing like it wasn’t an affront to grammar.
However, actually thinking about this reveals I might not have any solid reasoning for this at all.
Growing up, my approval and embracing of the concept of “Sox” was simple–it sounded badass, in the same way that it seems completely cool to write “streetz” instead of “streets”, up until the age where it doesn’t at all. But that’s a rather ignoble birth for a franchise nickname. Socks are a mundane personal item, but misspelling them in the same manner that people* turn “sucks” into “suxx” for added punch just makes it worse.
Because of that, I’ve always chosen to think of “White Sox” as some abstract concept, or class of baseball player. Something beyond the idea of socks, since they don’t wear white ones anyway. It’s a safe, comfortable notion…and it’s shaken every time I see this.
Which would suggest that, yes, this team’s nicknames is just about the things you wear on your feet. Of course, we could always just look this up.
The White Sox originated as the Chicago White Stockings in 1901, during an era of bland, functional identifiers. Chicago Tribune headliners are credited for driving the change to the shorter “White Sox” primarily out of a desire to cut their spending on ink. Charles Comiskey recognized a pursuit close to his own heart and made the change official in swift order.
There are two important details to that.
First, as Slate‘s Daniel Engber pointed out in 2005, changing “stockings”, or “socks” into “sox, is not a touch of style unique to baseball but a relic of a fad at the beginning of the 20th century to shorten and simplify the English language. The Tribune’s Joseph Medill was a huge advocate of it, and this was one of its successful iterations.
It’s a neat historical tidbit, and it’s nice to have reiterated that the White Sox name predates that Boston team, but the abbreviation-link to “socks” has been eroded by the progression of the English language, and we’re left with a piece of gibberish that only exists as a proper noun.
Second, “White Stockings” was originally the nickname of the Chicago Cubs, and picked up by Comiskey when they discarded it. This seems like reason enough to disavow the historical intentions of the nickname, and that’s not just because it’s the Cubs either. Adopting the discarded ideas of another franchise is disgraceful on principle.
Or it’s another classic lesson from Comiskey about the lack of sanctity in brand names. A common rationalization of the U.S. Cellular Field name switchover was that it was a deal Comiskey himself would have made himself in a heartbeat.
Sure enough, the naming process for the team itself started with a placeholder masthead that was picked on the chance it might already have a local foothold, and swiftly changed for the purpose of easier media promotion. There was no great concept behind its creation, not even something as firm as having the team play in a uniform that matched its title.
Professional team names all strive to be vague enough for us to conceive our own reasons for affiliation; whether it’s the continuation of family ritual, appreciation of specific players, intense regionalism, or just a unique personal connection. At the very least, I can be glad that cheering “Go White Sox” has been intrinsically vacant enough to never force me to cringe like my alma mater standing behind a moniker like “Fighting Irish” occasionally has.
To add a fun element to my personal ritual of being a White Sox fan, I will continue to treat “White Sox” as a specific term–that acts as both the singular and plural form–for the occupation of “baseball player that I have a temporary allegiance to.” It can only add to my enjoyment.