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As part of our series on the 20 greatest players for each franchise, here are the best according to Wins Above Replacement for the Chicago White Sox.
A note on three players you probably expected to see on this list, but who are not. Paul Konerko ranks 21st, Carlton Fisk ranks 22nd, and Shoeless Joe Jackson ranks 24th all-time in WAR with the Chicago White Sox.
A taller Lefty Grove or a shorter Randy Johnson, if you will. Sale isn’t the measure of those two all-time greats, but he is adding to his accomplishments as he enters his thirties with his second Sox team.
Picking up on the comparison to Grove: before a start at home in Chicago for the Pale Hose, Sale tried on the 1976 throwback White Sox uniforms the team was planning to wear that day. Those uniforms were the brainchild of former Sox owner Bill Veeck, a sort of pajama outfit with untucked jerseys and wide lapel collars. Sale explained to team officials that the uniform was uncomfortable and asked that the team not be required to wear them. When he was informed that the uniforms must be worn, Sale flipped out and destroyed the uniforms. He took a knife and cut up every uniform in the clubhouse. The team was understandably shocked and Sale was immediately told to go home. Confused fans booed when his replacement was introduced on the field, the word quickly spread, and Sale’s slasher incident became legendary.
Flash back to a start by Grove in 1931 when things were not going well for the lefthander. Grove loaded the bases and watched all three runners scamper home after an error by one of his outfielders. A walk and a hit later, and Connie Mack bent his bony finger toward the mound to signal a pitching change (Mack rarely walked to the mound to change pitchers). Grove was unaccustomed to poor outings and hated losing. As he walked toward the dugout, the pitcher ripped off his jersey, popping the buttons as he went, then tore off his cap, destroying it and tossing it aside. The fans in Philadelphia hooted at the display, and Grove left the ballpark in his pants, cleats and undershirt.
At 6’3 and more than 220 pounds in his prime, Lee was unusually large for his era. He grew big and strong under the tall trees of northern California, and later attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He was BMOC (BUSY Man on Campus), playing basketball, and starring as a flanker on the football team. He also threw discus, javelin, and shot put for the Cal Poly track team. But Lee caught the attention of a scout from the San Francisco Seals after he struck out 19 batters. The Seals signed him for $1,500 (about $20,000 in 2020 money).
It took Lee a long time to get a spot in a rotation in the major leagues. He spent parts of six seasons in the minors before he was acquired by the Indians. But Cleveland in the 1930s was a boneheaded franchise, and Lee never found an ally in management. He started 36 games in four seasons with the Indians before they grew frustrated with his lack of control and traded him to the White Sox.
Lee whipped his arm from behind his body in a three-quarter sidearm delivery on his fastball, using his long legs and arms to extend his reach so much that some hitters felt that he was on top of them. Walter Johnson, briefly his manager in Cleveland, praised Lee’s fastball and sharp overhand breaking pitch. In Chicago he was introduced to coach Muddy Ruel, a former catcher. Ruel made adjustments in Lee’s delivery and before long the big lefty was throwing more strikes. He was an All-Star in 1941 when he won 22 games and led the AL in earned run average and complete games. By that time the late-bloomer was 34 years old but only in his fifth full season as a starter.
Lee probably tore his rotator cuff in 1942, but they didn’t have a way of knowing that back then. He tried to regain his form after that, but outside of a four-month stretch in 1945, he was never again effective or pain free. He retired with 117 wins but stayed in the game, scouting until he was 80 years old.
The four most important men in the history of the White Sox are Charles Comiskey, Minnie Minoso, Frank Thomas, and Fielder Allison Jones, the field general for one of baseball’s most inspiring teams.
The 1906 White Sox were all-world on the pitchers’ mound, but less than ordinary at the plate. They were one of the oldest teams in the league, hit only seven home runs all season, and averaged about one extra-base hit per game. The newspapers called them “The Hitless Wonders.” And that was the Chicago papers.
Jones was the manager and center fielder. He didn’t like to walk from his position to the mound: his pitchers finished three out of every four games they started. The Sox’ team ERA was 2.13, and they boasted rugged hurlers Big Ed Walsh, Yip Owen, Doc White, and Nick Altrock, a foursome that won 77 of their 93 games.
The Wonders had a food defense, not a great one, but good. They committed the second-fewest errors in the league, but it didn’t matter with that superb pitching staff because the opposition didn’t hit a lot of balls hard. The best position player on the club was shortstop George Davis, who at 35 was having the last great season of his illustrious career.
In the World Series, the ChiSox squared off against cross-town rival, the Chicago Cubs, and wouldn’t you know it: the Cubs were one of the most successful teams in baseball history. The Cubs won 116 games and were overwhelming favorites in the Fall Classic.
But the Sox scored when they needed to, they even pushed 16 runs across the plate in the final two games. Walsh won two games in three days and White defeated the Cubs in Game Six to finish them off.
Jones had high cheekbones and one of those upside-down smiles. His head was blanketed in thick, wavy brown hair, and as was the style in his day, he wore his cap to the read and side of his head. He also wore his collared jersey tacked up, close to his neck. He was immensely popular in Chicago, largely because of his steady leadership and outstanding play in the outfield. He had a strong arm, one year he threw out 20 baserunners, and he played shallow enough to peg a runner at second base on base hits several times. He typically hit second in the order, where he showed patience (about 70 walks per year) and was gifted at the sacrifice bunt.
In five years as player/manager of the White Sox, Jones won nearly 60 percent of the time, and he was well respected in the game despite a rascally temper that he often aimed at the umpires.
He was only five-foot-seven, which was tiny even for his era. In fact, White Sox pitchers complained to manager Kid Gleason that the young Schalk was too scrawny to catch them. But eventually Schalk became the catcher of choice for Eddie Cicotte, who had about ten different pitches, including a knuckle ball and a knuckle curve.
The White Sox have had two Hall of Fame catchers and both were better known by their nicknames: Carlton Fisk was “Pudge” and Schalk was “Cracker” because a teammate (or maybe a coach) thought he was a “Cracker Jack player,” which in those days was a popular treat.
White’s father was a physician in Washington D.C., and it was expected that his youngest son Guy would follow in his footsteps. He didn’t: instead starring for the Georgetown baseball team and earning a contract with the Phillies after his senior season. But thanks to his dad and his eventual dentistry degree, Guy also earned the nickname “Doc.” His outstanding professional baseball career postponed his chance at straightening teeth.
White ended up on the White Sox in one of those contract squabbles that happened a lot back at the turn of the twentieth century, and his career quickly blossomed. He had three straight seasons with an ERA under 2.00, and in 1907 the skinny lefthander won 27 games for Chicago. He was the winning pitcher in the clinching game in the 1906 World Series victory over the Cubs.
In 1904, White pitched five consecutive shutouts, a record that stood for more than 60 years until Don Drysdale broke it in 1968. When Drysdale tied his mark, 89-year old White sent a congratulatory telegram, urging Drysdale to break his mark.
Minoso had more than 4,000 hits in professional baseball: roughly 1,900 in Major League Baseball, 1,100 in the Mexican League and minors; and 1,000 hits in the Cuban League and the negro leagues. He’s one of nine hitters to top 4,000 professional hits. The other eight are (in order of hits): Pete Rose, Ichiro Suzuki, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Jigger Statz, Julio Franco, and Stan Musial.
The folks keeping Minoso out of the Baseball Hall of Fame are failing to appreciate the full measure of his career and the prejudices that prevented him from showing his talents in the top league in the United States.
Eddie Cicotte was a tall righthander who could throw anything to the plate and get batters to swing and miss. He had a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball that sailed up (or rather did not drop as fast as would be expected), a screwball, and a slider. Cicotte loved to throw a knuckleball, and his curved. Like most top pitchers of his era, he also threw a spitball. But his favorite pitch was his knuckler, he was one of the first pitchers to master it.
Cicotte was just as good as Stan Coveleski and Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt, others in his league who went on to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The reason you don’t hear much about Eddie today is that he was at the center of the ring that fixed the 1919 World Series. Gamblers paid the White Sox ace $10,000 in advance of the World Series. He was instructed to hit the leadoff man in Game One to indicate that the fix was on. He did, and the “Black Sox” lost the series thanks to his well-placed batting practice tosses to Cincinnati batters. Eddie also committed two errors. He lost twice, winning one game when he was worried that the gamblers were not going to pay his teammates.
Wood was a New Englander, he grew up rooting for the Red Sox in the era of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky. Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey took the word of one of his scouts in Massachusetts and authorized a $25,000 signing bonus for the pudgy kid with a good curveball. But Wood never did squat with his curveball or middling fastball. He didn’t become a 20-game winner or All-Star until he mastered the most difficult pitch in baseball.
A number of sources claim Hoyt Wilhelm taught Wilbur Wood the knuckleball when they were teammates on the White Sox. That’s not true, Wood threw a knuckler when he was with the other Sox in the early 1960s, it just wasn’t very good. Wilhelm helped Wood perfect the knuckleball, changed his arm angle, encouraged him to throw it 100 percent of the time. That’s exactly what Wilbur did, and of course he owed Wilhelm much of the credit for the success he enjoyed in the second-half of his career.
Wood might be the most underrated pitcher in baseball history. We have him ranked among the top 100 pitchers of all-time, but there are probably few people who would remember his name if they looked at that list. Why is he underrated? Because he threw a knuckler, and because he pitched on poor teams. Experts would rather slobber all over Don Sutton than admit that a round guy with a weird pitch was better. But Wood was better than Sutton.
For five years, his prime as a starter, Wood averaged 45 starts and 336 innings per season. He pitched about 20 percent better than league average. That’s tremendous value, and that’s why his Prime WAR (bext five straight seasons), WAR7 (best seven seasons), and WAR3 (best three) rate among the top 50 all-time. Before Chuck Tanner made him a super starter, Wilbur pitched five years as one of baseball’s most effective relief pitchers (2.55 ERA, 137 ERA+, and 109 IP in 65 games per).
Faber had a unique manner of throwing his signature pitch, the spitball, which helped him win 254 games and earn a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Even though Faber was allowed to throw the spitter legally his entire career, he could not simply spit or lick his fingers and toss it to home plate. He needed to disguise his intention so as to fool the batter. Faber favored licorice or slippery elm, which he chewed in tablet form. The slippery elm made his saliva more useful on a baseball. Many pitchers concealed their substance of choice on their body or their uniform, but Faber had the slippery elm in his mouth, so he would wipe his glove-hand across his face and place some of it on his wrist. From there, he would typically adjust his sleeves to grab a dollop. When he wanted to apply it to the baseball he would move the ball across his non-pitching elbow and lather it up. He could make these movements look so natural that opposing teams were not sure if he was wetting the ball or not. Many batters simply assumed he would throw his spitter every pitch.
Lyons was known for pitching once per week late in his career. That’s why they called him “Sunday Teddy.” He basically worked that way exclusively after the age of 33, extending his career to the age of 45.
The once-a-week schedule worked: Lyons had a higher winning percentage, lower ERA, and better strikeout-to-walk-rate when he was a weekly pitcher as opposed to pitching in a four-man rotation.
The White Sox weren’t babying Ted: in his last four seasons Lyons started 69 games in the weekly format and completed 61 of them. In 1942 the 41-year old started 20 games and completed them all, including two that went into extras. He averaged more than nine innings per start that year.
A few of the best “old” shortstops in history were Bad Bill Dahlen, Ozzie Smith, and Omar Vizquel. But the best was Luke Appling. “Ol Aches and Pains” was a star shortstop when he was 36 years old. In fact, that was his second-best season. His fifth-best season came when he was 39. Appling won his second batting crown when he was 36, and he ultimately hit .300 fifteen times.
He played 22 years in the big leagues, every game as a member of the White Sox. Late in his career the franchise held a Luke Appling Day, and owner Charles Comiskey Jr. presented his popular shortstop with a check for $100 for every season he’d played in a Chicago uniform. “On behalf of my father, my family, the organization, and my mother, we thank you for your great service to the city and the club,” an attached letter said.
This feature list was written by Dan Holmes, founder of Baseball Egg. Dan is author of three books on baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography, The Great Baseball Argument Settling Book, and more. He previously worked as a writer and digital producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
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