Monday, August 16, 2010
White Sox by 'eras,' 1901-2010
In conjunction with ESPN.com's latest Ultimate Rivalry -- this one pitting the White Sox against the Cubs, via ESPN Chicago -- I'm continuing my efforts to divide every franchise's history into distinct "eras" tied to individual players.
I won't go into my guiding principles, because you probably know them already. (If not, see my introductions to Red Sox and Yankees eras.) Instead, let's jump right into the White Sox eras (with the Cubs coming soon).
The White Sox 'Eras'
1901-1908: Fielder Jones 1909-1914: Ed Walsh 1915-1922: Joe Jackson 1923-1931: Willie Kamm 1932-1943: Luke Appling 1944-1945: Johnny Dickshot 1946-1950: Luke Appling (II) 1951-1962: Nellie Fox 1963-1968: Joe Horlen 1969-1971: Bill Melton 1972-1974: Dick Allen 1975-1976: Wilbur Wood 1977: Richie Zisk 1978-1980: Mike Squires 1981-1990: Carlton Fisk 1991-2000: Frank Thomas 2001-2010: Paul Konerko
1901-1908: The Fielder Jones Era Like most (all?) of the teams in the new American League, the White Sox looked to the established National League for talent, and were happy to sign Brooklyn Superbas outfielder Jones. In 1904, Jones took over as manager (while keeping his place in center field), and in 1906 he led the "Hitless Wonders" White Sox to their first American League pennant and a shocking World Series victory over the heavily favored Cubs.
(Two years later, the White Sox lost the pennant on the last day of the season. Coming off a solid season on the field, Jones refused to continue managing the club unless owner Charles Comiskey made him a partner. Comiskey refused. Jones moved to Oregon and got into the lumber business.)
1909-1914: The Ed Walsh Era Walsh, probably the greatest spitball pitcher in major league history, joined the White Sox in 1904, and from 1907 through 1912 he went 151-99 with a 1.69 ERA; those are the six seasons that got Walsh elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.
(Walsh threw an immense number of innings in those years -- including an extra pile in a postseason "city series" with the Cubs after the 1912 season -- and afterward he was rarely healthy enough to pitch.)
Shoeless Joe Jackson batted .356 during his 13-year career.
1915-1922: The Joe Jackson Era Beginning in 1911, Indians outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson began to establish himself as one of the American League's greatest hitters, just a tick behind Ty Cobb. Nevertheless, in 1915 the Indians made it known that Jackson could, for the right price, be had. As the story goes, Comiskey dispatched his secretary, Harry Grabiner, to Cleveland with a simple order: "I want Jackson. Don't come back without him."
Grabiner got him, and Jackson ranked as the White Sox's star among stars -- leading the team to the World Series in 1917 and 1919 -- until he and the rest of the Black Sox were permanently suspended after the 1920 season. Future Hall of Famers Eddie Collins, Red Faber, and Ray Schalk remained, but the White Sox immediately fell from contention and the shadows of Jackson and the other Black Sox still loomed.
1923-1931: The Willie Kamm Era Comiskey -- today, so often remembered as a skinflint -- purchased San Francisco Seals third baseman Willie Kamm for $100,000, setting a new record for a minor leaguer. With the White Sox, Kamm would show a flashy glove and a solid bat, but the White Sox's string of second-division finishes would outlast his tenure with the club.
1932-1943: The Luke Appling Era The White Sox bought Appling from the Atlanta Crackers in 1930, and he was hardly an immediate sensation, picking up the nickname "Kid Boots" for his erratic fielding and failing to hit much. But in 1933, when Appling was 26, he started hitting and never really stopped. Most famously, he was almost impossible to strike out and gained the reputation for fouling off pitches at will. A perennial .300 hitter, in 1936 Appling outdid himself with a .388 average to win the American League batting title. Appling won another title in 1943 (when he was 36), then was drafted into the U.S. Army.
1944-1945: The Johnny Dickshot Era When Johnny "Ugly" Dickshot joined the White Sox in 1944, he was a 34-year-old journeyman who hadn't played in the majors since 1939. But in 1945, he finished third in the American League batting race with a .302 average ... and never played in the majors again. Such was wartime baseball.
1946-1950: The Luke Appling Era (II) Appling returned to the White Sox late in the '45 season, and in '46 was back at his accustomed shortstop ... even though he was 39 years old. But that was nothing. Appling played regularly through 1949 ... and topped .300 every season. In '49, he broke the record for games played at shortstop. As you would imagine, Appling became a newspaper columnist favorite. Famous for both his age and his tendency to complain about his age -- before going out and knocking a couple of base hits -- Appling was hung with a wealth of nicknames, most notably "Old Aches and Pains" but also "The Moaner," "Droopy Luke," "The Groaner," and "Old Moanin' Low" (among others). Appling's career finally ended in 1950, with the arrival of Venezuelan defensive wizard Chico Carrasquel.
Nellie Fox was a mainstay in the middle of the White Sox infield for 14 seasons.
1951-1962: The Nellie Fox Era Before Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, there was Fox and Luis Aparicio, White Sox middle infielders who anchored the Go-Go Sox during a string of winning seasons running from 1951 through 1967. But Fox was there first, arriving in 1950 thanks to a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Athletics. He manned second base for 14 seasons (1950-1963), while Aparicio wore the pale hose for only seven years (1956-1962). Too, when the White Sox finally broke through to win the pennant in 1959, it was Fox who took the American League's MVP honors.
1963-1968: The Joe Horlen Era Two things not many people would guess: From 1963 through 1965, the Chicago White Sox averaged 96 wins per season. Among all American League pitchers who pitched at least 1,000 innings from '63 through '68, Joe Horlen's ERA, relative to the league, was easily the best. Why don't people know these things? Because the White Sox finished second in those three seasons, and because their hitting attack generally was so weak that Horlen won more than 13 games just once.
1969-1971: The Bill Melton Era With the exception of knuckleballer Wilbur Wood, the White Sox didn't have many bright spots in the early '70s. Young Bill Melton was one of them, and peaked in '70 and '71 with 33 homers in each season. Also, he had a cool nickname ("Beltin' Bill").
1972-1974: The Dick Allen Era Following one-year stints in St. Louis and Los Angeles, Allen came to the White Sox in a deal that sent Tommy John to the Dodgers. The Sox had been in the doldrums since 1968, but their fortunes improved significantly in 1972, thanks largely to their new first baseman, who captured American League MVP honors after leading the loop with 37 homers and 113 RBI. Allen would miss much of 1973 with an injury, but in '74 he again won the AL's home-run crown (despite announcing his retirement in the middle of September).
1975-1976: The Wilbur Wood Era With Dick Allen gone and Beltin' Bill Melton fading, the knuckleballer Wood -- who'd won 20 or more games in each of the previous four seasons -- was among the best the fifth-place Sox had to offer. Unfortunately, in '75 Wood lost 20 games. More unfortunately, after getting off to a great start in '76, Wood's kneecap was shattered by a Ron LeFlore line drive. He missed the rest of the season, came back in '77, but was never again effective.
1977: The Richie Zisk Era Somebody should write a book about the '77 White Sox. Following a last-place finish in '76, owner Bill Veeck figured he would take one shot, loading up on free-agent hitters and bludgeoning the American League West into submission. It almost worked. As late as Aug. 20, the White Sox were tied for first place. But then Kansas City went on one of the great stretch drives in major league history and the South Side Hit Men just couldn't keep up. Still, the fans had a great time, thanks to rent-a-players like Zisk, Oscar Gamble, and Eric Soderholm. Unfortunately, Veeck couldn't afford to pay those guys for more than one season. In '78, Zisk and Gamble were gone and the White Sox fell far out of contention.
1978-1980: The Mike Squires Era Squires played more first base than anybody in these three seasons, and hit four home runs. It's not really fair to blame Squires for three straight fifth-place finishes ... but somebody has to take the fall and nobody else is volunteering.
Carlton Fisk played 13 seasons in Chicago.
1981-1990: The Carlton Fisk Era Tony La Russa, who took over as manager in 1980, deserves most of the credit for restoring order to Comiskey Park. But Fisk gets some, too. And if not for an accident, he never would have moved from Red Sox to White (not in 1981, anyway).
1991-2000: The Frank Thomas Era The Big Hurt actually debuted in 1990, and Fisk didn't play his last game until 1993 (when he was 45). But 1990 was Fisk's last good season and '91 was Thomas' first full season ... at the end of which, the near-rookie finished third in the American League's MVP balloting. Thomas would soon win two straight MVP Awards, and for most of a decade, every pitcher facing the White Sox had to figure, before anything, some way of getting Thomas out. And given his .320/.439/.581 batting line in these 10 seasons, it's clear that not many pitchers did that consistently.
2001-2010: The Paul Konerko Era This slot came down to Konerko and Mark Buehrle, both of whom have played well for the White Sox throughout the decade. But if we use 2010 as a tiebreaker, Konerko's the easy choice. At 34, he's having the best season of his career, and now has hit 348 home runs since joining the White Sox in 1999.
My hearty thanks to Don Zminda and Sox Machine's Jim Margalus, both of whom offered great advice and weren't offended when I ignored it. (At least I hope they weren't offended.)