No wonder this cap has become so popular

WILEY A. HALL

April 20, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

The Chicago White Sox are in town for a two-game series against the Orioles.

"You ought to write about the White Sox logo," suggested a friend.

"What about their logo?"

"Look at it," she said.

I looked. I looked again. I leaned over to get an even closer look. "So what?" I said at last.

"I think it's a good example of subliminal advertising," my friend explained. "The positioning of the letters, the type face. I think they spell out, or appear to spell out, or at least suggest in the mind, 'sex,' and I don't think it's by accident. Furthermore, I think it accounts for the sudden popularity of White Sox caps."

My friend is an award-winning graphic designer with 15 years' experience. She has suggested a number of columns for me in the past and has complained when I haven't given her credit. But for this one, she insisted that her name not be used.

"Are you kidding?" she exclaimed. "I don't feel like being sued by the Chicago White Sox. Baseball is supposed to be a wholesome, all-American sport and I doubt the White Sox would take kindly to someone blowing the whistle on them. For that matter, I doubt fans will take kindly to being manipulated or tricked. Keep my name out of it."

Well, if she won't go on the record, I will.

Now that she has pointed it out, that 'Sex -- er, Sox -- logo looks mighty suspicious to me.

Here are the facts: Among all Major League teams, White Sox merchandise traditionally stayed at, or near, the bottom in consumer popularity nationally. Then, near the end of the 1991 season, the team adopted its new look and Sex -- er, Sox -- merchandise zoomed to the top virtually overnight and has been there ever since.

The managers of several Baltimore-area sports stores confirm that Sex -- er, Sox -- merchandise sells nearly as well here as Orioles goods.

And nobody can explain this phenomenon to my satisfaction.

Ricky Clemons, Major League Baseball's manager of public relations, attributes the popularity of Sex -- er Sox -- merchandise to the silver-and-black color scheme and to the way the lettering harkens back to the 1930s and 1940s.

"Black is big and nostalgia is big," says Mr. Clemons.

"First and foremost, it is the colors," agrees Rob Gallas, a senior vice president with the White Sox. "Logos that feature silver and black are the category leaders in all sports. Secondly, it just looks good."

Yeah. But other teams on baseball's top 10 list for merchandising got there for reasons other than nostalgia or color scheme: The Atlanta Braves, second in sales, probably earned the position because of their recent successes on the playing field. The Yankees (third place) have a historic tradition. The expansion teams -- the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins -- probably made the top 10 because of their novelty. The Oakland A's, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets traditionally are stocked with marquee players.

And the White Sox? My bet is, they are selling sex. And sex sells.

"Sex is rampant in advertising," writes psychologist Carol Moog in her 1990 book, "Are They Selling Her Lips?" "And no other type of psychological imagery hits people closer to where they really live. . .The pressures to be sexy, stay sexy and get sexier are enormous."

Is it ethical of the Sex -- er, Sox -- to toy with our emotions like this?

I don't know and, frankly, I don't care.

All I know is that ever since the hidden symbolism of the logo was pointed out to me, my perception of the team has completely changed: Today, I am the most avid Sex fiend around.

Oops! I meant to say that I'm an avid Sox fan. Must be something in my subconscious.

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