THEM STINKIN' SOX
By Mike Hobbs
It was a fateful day in early October, 1959 when I turned on my parent's black and white TV set. On it was being broadcast a World Series game between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a ten-year old, I was innocent to the ways of the baseball world. All I had known was Little League baseball, and I liked it. I didn't have a favorite Major League team. My baseball innocence abruptly ended on that life-changing day forty-six years ago. I became a Sox fan. Since that time them stinkin' Sox have caused me happiness and heartache, high hopes and bitter disappointment.
The Sox went on to lose the 1959 Series 4-2 to a fine Dodger team with Jim Gilliam, Charlie Neal, Wally Moon, Gil Hodges, Johnny Roseboro, Maury Wills, Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, and Larry Sherry. The six-game Series drew a record 420,784 fans. Over 90,000 fans attended each of the games played in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It had started on such a high note when the Sox won Game #1 at old Comiskey Park 11-0 with starter Early Wynn and reliever Gerry Staley combining to shut out the Dodgers. First Baseman Ted "Big Klu" Kluszewski with his cut-off sleeves and bulging biceps had five RBI's in that game. For the Series he had three home runs and ten RBI's.
Hopes for a successful season had not been high on the South Side at the beginning of the 1959 season due to the age of key players Nellie Fox, Dick Donovan, Billy Pierce, Al Smith, and Sherm Lollar. They were all over thirty years old. Early Wynn was thirty-nine. But the "Go-Go" Sox with their fine pitching, defense, base running, timely hitting and teamwork made believers of their fans as the season progressed. With Wynn's twenty-two victories, Bob Shaw at 18-6 (2.69 ERA), a staff ERA of 3.29, Luis Aparicio's fifty-six stolen bases, Fox and Aparicio's double-play ability, Jim Landis' circus catches in center field, and the late-August acquisition of Kluszewski to shore up the offense, the Sox won ninety-four games. When they clinched the American League pennant for the first time in forty years, air-raid sirens went off in Chicago. For the season Nellie Fox was named American League MVP with Aparicio and Wynn second and third in the balloting. Early Wynn won the Cy Young Award.
Despite their disappointing loss in the 1959 World Series, the Sox were a very likable team. Starting at the top with Manager Al Lopez (who, I believe, is still living at age ninety-six), the Sox were low-key, blue-collar, and team-oriented. They hustled. I liked "Jungle Jim" Rivera who made some acrobatic catches in right field and ran the bases with reckless abandon. Future 300-game winner and Hall of Famer Early Wynn and Billy Pierce and Bob Shaw were fine pitchers. Pitcher Gerry Staley had been in the army with the late Bud Faralli of my hometown Abingdon. Future Hall of Famers Luis Aparacio and Nellie Fox were masters at turning the double play. I used a thick-handled Nellie Fox Louisville Slugger bat in Little League. I remember seeing photos of Jim Landis robbing opposing batters of home runs by snagging fly balls at the top of the center field fence. Slow-footed catcher Sherm Lollar could catch and hit. Al Smith was a steady fielder and a good hitter. Yes, I became hooked on the White Sox in October, 1959. I did not realize then how they would test my loyalty and patience in coming years.
Since 1959 the Sox have had many no-name, no-talent players. They even had a player with no neck, Walter "No Neck" Williams and a player whose name we weren't sure of. Was it Richie Allen or Dick Allen? I have been struck by the number of pitchers, like Britt Burns, Shawn Hillegas, and Kip Wells, who never panned out despite high hopes for them, and by the many players, like Earl Battey, Johnny Callison, John Romano, Tommy Agee, Steve Stone, Bucky Dent, Bobby Bonilla, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Cameron, who had notable careers after they were traded from the Sox. The Sox have also made a habit of acquiring big-name players whose careers were pretty well washed up by the time they came to Chicago: Herb Score, Joe Cunningham, Charlie Maxwell, Moose Skowron, Ken Boyer, Rocky Colavito, Tommy Davis, Bobby Bonds, Ron Santo, Jerry Koosman, Sparkey Lyle, and Steve Carlton. I can never forgive the Cubs for sending us that overpaid, under-achieving pitcher Jamie Navarro in the late 90's. That bum couldn't have beaten a good Double-A team. Hey, Cubs! We sent you Sosa, didn't we? Where's the fair play here?
It hasn't been just individual players who have tested Sox fans' patience over the years. Some teams have been so inept that I didn't pay much attention to them after the All-Star break. Then there have been teams that have built my hopes up high only to slam me down hard. The 1964 team with generally mediocre position players but with fine starting pitchers Gary Peters and Juan Pizarro, knuckleball relievers Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher, and productive pinch-hitter Smoky Burgess finished the season 98-64. One game out of first place! The 1977 "South Side Hitmen" team brought unaccustomed excitement to Sox fans. Led by Richie Zisk, Oscar Gamble, and Eric Soderholm, the Sox hit 192 home runs, a club record until 1996. Nine "Pale Hose" players finished in double figures in homers that year. The Sox were in first place from July 1 to August 12. They finished twelve games behind the Royals.
The 1983 regular season was a lot of fun for Sox fans. Although they started the season slowly, they caught fire after the All-Star break, won ninety-nine games for the season, and captured their division by twenty games. Pitchers LaMarr Hoyt, Floyd Bannister, and Richard Dotson were almost unbeatable in the second half of the season. Hoyt won twenty-four games and the Cy Young Award. The Sox had some nice players: Rudy Law, Harold Baines, Greg Luzinski, Greg Walker, Tom Paciorek, Carlton Fisk, and Vance Law. Ron Kittle hit thirty-five home runs and was named Rookie of the Year. It was the year of "winning ugly", but Sox fans didn't mind as long as we won. We were on a natural high. Then came the playoffs. After winning game #1 by a score of 2-1, the Sox only scored a total of one run in the next three losses to the Orioles. Thanks a lot, Sox!
The 1993 Sox had a nice opening day starting lineup of Tim Raines, Joey Cora, Frank Thomas, George Bell, Robin Ventura, Ellis Burks, Lance Johnson, Ron Karkovice, and Ozzie Guillen and good pitchers Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, Jason Bere, Tim Belcher, and Roberto Hernandez. Bo Jackson was an inspirational guy that year as he tried valiantly to come back after hip replacement surgery. He homered in his first at-bat in the home opener. Carlton Fisk broke Bob Boone's record for most games caught in a career. Frank Thomas was an All-Star and American League MVP. Jack McDowell won the Cy Young. What a great team! But? You guessed it. The Sox were blown out in the playoffs by the defending World Series champ Blue Jays.
The Sox fielded another good team in 2000. They scored 181 runs in April breaking the Major League record. Frank Thomas broke Luke Appling's fifty-year team RBI record in about 1,000 fewer games that it took Appling. The Sox broke the team home run and runs scored marks. Yup! You guessed it again. They were beaten in the playoffs.
So, what is there about the White Sox that would make a guy remain their fan through forty-six years of heartache and disappointment? They haven't returned to the World Series during that time. They have had so many mediocre players and inept teams, washed-up former stars, and young guys who didn't live up to their billing. Even some very good teams have been quickly and embarassingly dispatched in the first round of the playoffs. What Sox fan can forget that disastrous "Disco Demolition Night" at old Comiskey Park that resulted in a forfeit to the Tigers or those awful jerseys and shorts that the Sox called uniforms in the late 70's or the goofy Sox owners who threatened to move the team to Florida in the late 80's or upper deck seats in the new Comiskey Park that you felt like you had to strap yourself into to keep from falling forward?
Fact is there are many things about the Sox that have kept me rooting for them. Center fielders Mike Hershberger and Ken Berry were mediocre players in the 60's, but I liked them. The irrepressible, always smiling Minnie Minosa was an exciting player. In 1976 he became the oldest player in Major League history to hit safely when he singled to left as a designated hitter. He was fifty-three years old. Right fielder Floyd Robinson hit six singles in six at-bats against Boston in 1962. You could count on knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm out of the bullpen. "Beltin'" Bill Melton in 1971 became the first Sox player to win the American League home run title. Knuckleballer Wilbur Wood was the Sox opening day pitcher from 1972 to 1976. He once started both games of a double-header. Harold Baines and Tom Paciorek were good hitters. Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver notched his 300th. career victory in 1985 in a victory over the Yankees. Catcher Carlton Fisk was a scrappy player who knew how to handle pitchers. In 1989 he got his 2,000 career hit, and in 1990 he broke Johnny Bench's career record for home runs by a catcher. In 1990 relief pitcher Bobby Thigpen had a record fifty-seven saves. I liked third baseman Robin Ventura. I thought he was Hall of Fame material while he was with the Sox. In 1995 he had two grand slams in one game. Opening day pitcher ('91-'94) "Black Jack" Jack McDowell won a lot of games for the team.
My favorite all-time Sox player is Frank Thomas. Here is a slugger who has hit for average. At the 2005 All-Star break he had a .308 career batting average, eighth highest in team history. "Shoeless Joe" Jackson is first with a career .340 average. He is third highest in hits with 2,133. The two-time AL MVP ('93 and '94) and five-time All-Star ('93-'97) leads the Sox in career home runs (447), RBI's (1,462), runs scored (1,325), doubles (446), extra base hits (904), total bases (3,942), walks (1,464), intentional walks (162), sacrifice flies (109), on-base percentage (.428), and slugging percentage (.569).
I liked the 1959 "Go-Go" team for their pitching, defense, base running, timely hitting, teamwork, grit, and determination. The '83, '93, and 2000 playoff teams were fun to follow. The '91 team with Tim Raines, Lance Johnson, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, Carlton Fisk, Sammy Sosa, Ozzie Guillen, and Jack McDowell and the ''98 team with Mike Cameron, Frank Thomas, Albert Belle, Robin Ventura, and Magglio Ordonez had a lot of talent though neither made it to the playoffs.
I liked the old Comiskey Park (opened in 1910) although it was showing its age by the time I attended my first game there in the '60's. You ran the risk of getting a seat behind a post. I like the new Comiskey Park. Good food. Thank God they got rid of those upper deck seats that were only fit for mountain goats. I liked owner Bill Veeck, the one-legged, former Marine who introduced the exploding scoreboard, fireworks displays, bat day, and players' names on the back of their jersies. I remember going to a Sox game on a hot day around 1980 when fans went to stand under a cool shower in the center field seats that Veeck had rigged up for them. I liked managers Al Lopez and Jeff Torborg. Tony LaRussa looked like a genius during the second half of the '83 season. Radio announcer Bob Elson who began announcing Sox games on WGN in 1930 seemed like a nice guy, but boy could he put you to sleep. Harry Caray really livened things up on the radio when he came to the Sox in 1971. He made routine fly balls sound like they were going to leave the park. He and Jimmy Piersall were hilarious together. I've enjoyed the TV announcer teams of Don Drysdale and Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, Harrelson and Tom Paciorek, and Harrelson and Darren Jackson ("You can put it on the board. Yes!") I like the fans singing "Na, na, na, na. Na, na, na, na. Hey! Hey! Good-bye" when the Sox knock an opposing pitcher out of the game.
I like this 2005 White Sox team a lot, and I have high hopes for them. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that they would be 57-29 at the All-Star break. They remind me of the 1959 "Go-Go" Sox with their fine pitching, good defense, base running, timely hitting, teamwork, grit, and determination. Come on, 2005 Sox! Bring that AL pennant on home to the South Side this year. I can't wait another forty-six years