King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Stirrup socks are sexy! Who knew? Plus: NBA Finals, hating "Deee-troit bas-ket-ball" and pedantic corrections galore. The readers write.

By Salon Staff
Published June 21, 2005 7:00PM (EDT)

You never know what you're going to stir up.

Every weekday, this column tackles the sporting issues of the day, on the field and off. We got your racial politics, your sexual identity, your economics, your role of sport in the larger society, your did you see that game last night and more, all right here, Monday through Friday.

I bleed on the keyboard to bring you this stuff, and every once in a while, the mood just right and the stars aligned, you drop me a line. "Idiot!" you say. And that's good, that's fine.

And then in the third item of a three-item column, buried on Page 2, when I think no one's looking, I noodle around a little about stirrup socks. And I get deluged with e-mail.

Not to go all Howard Rheingold on you or anything, but this is one of those things the Internet does so well. It helps foster communities of people who may not have even known they were communities.

For 35 years I had no idea that anyone other than I had given more than a moment's thought to the stirrup socks that were once a standard part of the baseball uniform and are now nearly extinct. Turns out there are legions of people who obsessed over them as kids or think way too much about them now, or both.

I'm not sure I need to be a part of the Stirrup Socks Community, or to know anything more about what it gets up to -- I'm afraid to look, but I'm now reasonably certain there's such a thing as stirrup socks porn. But it's nice to know such a community could be out there if I wanted to get involved, or if I wanted to organize it myself.

That's also the best part of what sports are all about. They bring people together, form communities. Walk into a bar in Madagascar, and if there's a guy in a Phillies hat you at least have a conversation starter.

So I hear the Stirrup Socks Community singing, if I may riff on that line for the second time in a week. It's time to hear from you, the readers, about funny footwear, the NBA Finals and a few other things too.

Jane Woolway: Enjoyed your piece regarding stirrup socks. I have watched the players on the Boston Red Sox the past two years and make note of their legwear. Some players always hike their pants legs up, others do it only sometimes. Just another thing to track.

I scorecard each game and one of the things I always take note of is how the players are wearing their socks. The stirrup vs. solid sock look is one more variation for me to track. Yes, a fanatic.

Joe Smith: Finally, a fellow traveler -- of a sort! I'm a gay man and a sports nut (wrestling minor in college) whose earliest baseball memories are of the '69 Mets. Truth is, Thurman Munson turned me gay. The '77-78 Yankees with the high-cut stirrups were my best adolescent (*ahem*) hard-ons.

Jim Bouton in "Ball Four" describes his campaign for high-cut stirrups: "They make the legs look long and cool instead of short and dumpy." Yow!

Steve Bentley: Stirrup socks. They were great! It also marked the passage from the very basic Little League team (8-10 years old) where we basically wore T-shirts to a full uniform at 11. And it took a while to figure out how to wear the stirrups so they wouldn't slip off the heel.

Chris Dawson: Apparently I wasn't the only 12-year-old who obsessed about my baseball socks. How high to pull them? If they were too short, could you convince your mom to sew in a fabric spacer so you could pull the straps up nice and high?

Remember that the high part of the stirrup goes in back! There was no surer way to look like a rookie than to wear your stirrups backwards. How high should you wear your pants? Should they be up above the calf in the '20s and 30's style, or down below the calf?

George Brett was my hero so I wore my pants at the calf with the stirrups low. Don't get me started on the issue of wristbands (yes!) and batting gloves (no!).

As for the Nebraska sox, if you look very closely at the photos on their Web site it appears that they actually wear stirrups, but over red sanitary hose. Which begs the question: Why bother?

King replies: Good God, Chris is right!

My inspiration to root for Nebraska -- which plays an elimination game against Arizona State Tuesday afternoon -- was that the Cornhuskers don't wear stirrup socks, but at least they adorn their full-length socks with horizontal white stripes, some much-need decoration.

But as Chris points out, at least some of them actually do wear stirrup socks -- all the better! -- but over red sanitary hose, a phrase that would be oxymoronic if sanitary hose were still intended to be sanitary. So it's a good question. Why bother? But I'm glad they do. Stirrup socks over same-colored sanitary hose are better than no stirrups at all, though not as good as stirrups over white sanis.

Now, if you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about with that "sanitary hose" stuff, I invite you to read Paul Lukas' June 2 Uni Watch column, in which he discusses the history and origin of stirrup socks.

Several readers noted that my stirrup socks item, dated June 16, bore more than a passing resemblance to the then-current Lukas column. Except for the fact that Lukas was far more thorough and interesting than I was on the subject, they're right!

I wrote Lukas, whom I interviewed for Salon in 2002 when he was writing Uni Watch for the Village Voice, and apologized for accidentally plagiarizing his column, which I hadn't read when I wrote mine. Lukas will know that I'm plagiarizing his writing on uniforms intentionally when my writing on uniforms improves drastically.

Nick Williams: I felt the same way about stirrup socks when I was a kid. For some reason, they struck me as a fascinatingly badass technological achievement. I didn't care that I didn't really get a lot of sock-supporting action out of them. They were just weird and awesome, and I wanted them.

First year in the neighborhood YMCA league, I was very disappointed that nobody wore stirrup socks. The closest anybody came was owning a pair of those fakey knee-highs with a colored stripe printed on the side.

I shared my feelings with my teammates, and we successfully petitioned the adults to furnish us with the real deal: two components, elastic, the works. The way I felt in those socks is the way I feel now when I watch James Earl Jones deliver his soliloquy toward the end of "Field of Dreams."

It was a great day for baseball.

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On June 10 I criticized Pistons coach Larry Brown's "rule" that any player who gets his second foul in the first half sits until halftime, calling it one of his neuroses.

The Pistons had gone in the tank in the second quarter of Game 1 with Tayshaun Prince sitting out the quarter with two fouls.

Terry Maguire: The two-foul benching is the most paranoid, illogical "rule" in basketball. It shows no sense of probability or chance. Maybe those will be the only two fouls all game. As a Sixers fan, one of the reasons Im thrilled Jim O'Brien is gone is because he would sit Samuel Dalembert anytime he got two fouls. I think it was mostly punishment. Guys like Brown and O'Brien are control freaks.

You dont think maybe Prince would know he has two fouls and play accordingly? And let Dalembert learn how to play in foul "trouble." Yes, Brown is a great coach, but relax dude.

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King talking: On June 9, I wrote, "The Spurs vs. the Pistons is only the fourth time in NBA history that neither team in the Finals plays in a coastal state."

Ralph Goonan: Thanks for the geography lesson Thursday. All this time I thought Texas was a coastal state, but it appears that "Gulf of Mexico" thing that sends a hurricane toward my house here in Corpus Christi every few years is really all in my head. I guess I can cancel my windstorm coverage.

King replies: Goonan is one of a few Texans who wrote in with this complaint. I guess they get confused when someone refers to a coast-to-coast broadcast or flight. And what about Alaska? It has a coast. Hawaii is nothing but coast.

I'm comfortable that my meaning was clear, but I'll try to be more sensitive to the feelings of Gulf Coasters in the future.

Mark Cloud: Thank you for the link to the incoherent Rob Thomas lyrics. It's the best laugh I've had all week.

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King talking: Also on June 9, writing about the 2-3-2 format of the Finals, in which the middle three games are played in the same arena, I typed, "That makes it awfully tough on the team that opens on the road. They must get a split in the first two games because it's almost impossible to win those middle three in a row. In fact, until the Pistons did it last year against a Lakers team that had already keeled over and died, no team had done it since the format change in 1985."

Tim Kokesh: Pedantic correction: In 2001, the Lakers won all of the middle three games against Philadelphia -- but they did it on the road. I understand your point, which is why the correction is "pedantic."

King replies: Pedantic perhaps, but correct for sure. I also wrote that I didn't know why the NBA switches from the 2-2-1-1-1 format of the rest of the playoffs to 2-3-2 for the Finals. Several readers pointed out that since the rest of the playoffs are all intra-conference, the Finals are the only series that might have a matchup of two teams on opposite coasts.

Uh, by which I mean one on the West Coast and one on the East. I'm not talking here about any of the other fine coasts that help make America great.

So the 2-3-2 format means a maximum of two cross-country flights for the team, media and league bureaucrats, rather than a maximum of four. The poor babies don't want to have to fly so much. It's expensive and tiring.

That's not a compelling enough reason to have a rule that affects the on-court results so drastically. It's stupid.

Kevin J. MacDonald: I cannot EVER get behind your view that Detroit's P.A. announcer is "colorful" or anything remotely close to it. He's a hack. Pure and simple.

To me, the scourge of the NBA is pinhead P.A. announcers who think they are somehow part of the game. I hate, hate, hate Mason's shtick. I hated it when Orlando's announcer years ago (he may still do it, for all I know) would crow and hoot over an opposing team's traveling violation.

Mason's signature "Deee-troit Bas-ket-ball" is just as annoying and obnoxious. Crowing over a dead-ball rebound? Yeah, that's fresh. That's hip.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I like San Antonio's announcer any better. He's not favorable for different reasons. But there are a few announcers out there who know how to rev up a crowd without turning it into a show about the P.A. announcer.

And because I live in Indianapolis and call the Pacers my team doesn't mean I hate all things Piston. I hate the Chicago Bulls, but think Ray Clay is one of the best P.A. announcers going. I grew up a Pistons fan and still like their style of play. I just don't like hack announcers who get great gigs.

Now you may think I'm a dork for giving so much attention to the topic of NBA P.A. announcers, but I have good reason. I do P.A. announcing for a local NCAA D-I men's basketball program, the IUPUI Jaguars.

Is it the big time? Of course not. But I take the job seriously and work every game to rev up the crowd, support the home team and have fun. But I have never felt I am a part of the game. My job is to enhance the experience and I think I do that. But I also believe you can be a homer without all the a-hole "homer" shtick.

Gloating and self-promotion are two traits I despise. That hack in Detroit embodies all that and then some.

King replies: I grew up in Los Angeles, with the stentorian John Ramsey announcing everywhere: Dodgers, Angels, Kings, Lakers, Rams and USC. That to me is what an announcer should sound like. Like the voice of God:


But with rare exceptions like Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium, nobody does it that way anymore, and I try to be open to other styles. Even as a kid, without knowing his name, I got a kick out of legendary 76ers P.A. announcer Dave Zinkoff, who'd punctuate a basket by Philly's best player by saying, "Hal GrrrrrEEEEEEEEEEER!!"

I think Mason makes it fun without taking over. I think the key is, it feels -- to me but I'd say also to the people at the Palace at Auburn Hills, given the way they respond -- like he's including the crowd, making them a part of what's going on, rather than performing "at" them.

But ultimately, it's a matter of personal taste.

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This, that [PERMALINK]

Writing about the quintet of Red Sox who appeared on "Queer Eye," I called Kevin Millar "the most colorful character, the lead 'idiot,' to use his immortal term." I am about to stand corrected.

Neil Serven: A minor note: It was Johnny Damon, not Millar, who first referred to the team as "idiots." Damon even has a book out now called "Idiot." Millar is the one who launched the "Cowboy Up" juggernaut in 2003.

Jeff Dieffenbach: I think that Major League Soccer is behind the NHL and NBA labor problems. I don't know how they are doing it, but the master plan to gain popularity by subtraction is brilliant!

King replies: Looks like MLS has worked its magic on Formula One now too.

Previous column: A close game in the Finals at last

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