Over the course of the next month, we'll venture through the history of each of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises, discussing some of the best and worst moments, players, teams, etc. It's more a fun snapshot for discussion purposes than a be-all, end-all declaration. We continue today with the Chicago White Sox.
When the Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005, their championship ended a drought lasting 88 years. It would have been hard to believe, let alone accept that, in 1917 or 1919 when the team had reached the Series, it would take so long for the franchise to win again. The White Sox had been one of the American League’s most successful franchises over their first 20 years of existence, winning five pennants.
Founded as the Sioux City, Iowa franchise of Western League in 1893, the club was bought by Charles Comiskey and moved to St. Paul, Minn., the next year. By 1900, the American League had formed and the Chicago White Stockings — borrowing a vacated nickname of a charter National League team soon to be called the Cubs — had found a permanent home. Before the 1901 season, the American League declared itself a second major league, with the Sox going 83-53 and finishing in first place.
The next 115 or so years wouldn’t be as successful, usually, but they also wouldn’t be boring.
Best team: 1917
With apologies to A.J. Pierzynski, Ozzie Guillen and others from ’05, the ’17 White Sox went 100-54-1, winning the pennant by nine games. They led the league in ERA and runs scored, and they won the World Series. Beyond Joe Jackson and Eddie Collins, many of the names on the ’17 squad are recognizable because of the 1919 squad that had eight members banned from baseball for conspiring to fix the World Series.
Worst team: 1919
Only three times in club history have the Sox lost at least 100 games — 1970, 1948 and 1932 — though the 2013 version came within a loss of making it four. A few teams were so bad, they almost got the franchise moved to another city. The club in 1976 wore pajamas and shorts for uniforms and went 64-97. But it’s hard to top throwing the World Series, which probably happened with other teams in other years, but the only one we know about for sure is the 1919 Black Sox. Joe Jackson has his defenders, and Buck Weaver looks like he got a raw deal. But throwing the World Series? That’s the worst.
Best player: Frank Thomas
The White Sox have 14 Hall of Famers (the New York Yankees have 26), so it’s not hard for a player such as The Big Hurt to stand out in history. He’s the club’s all-time leader in home runs, extra-base hits, bases on balls and adjusted OPS, and Thomas accumulated more than twice as many adjusted batting runs as the next man on the list, Eddie Collins. Thomas was larger than life physically, but it was his plate discipline that further set him apart from most players.
An aside: You wonder what might have been had Dick Allen started his career in Chicago and stayed there. He put up 2 1/2 monster seasons from 1972-1974, but he was a travelin' man by nature.
Best moment: On the way to a World Series title, Paul Konerko electrified U.S. Cellular Field with a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning of Game 2. It might seem apocryphal to rank Konerko’s home run ahead of that by Scott Podsednik to win the game later on, or the last out of Game 4 to clinch, yet there it is. Konerko's slam was a sign to Sox fans that the championship drought was ending soon.
Best uniforms: 1972-1975
Similar overall to what the club wears today, the red pinstripes were a look the team should have stuck with. The flying sock logo on the sleeve and stirrup was a great detail. And the powder blue road uniforms are by far better than any other road uniform the club has ever had. Coincidentally, these are what the team wore when Dick Allen helped to briefly revive the franchise. By '75 he was was gone, and by '76, well...
Worst uniforms: 1976 Pajamas 'n' shorts
Best trade: Joe Tipton for Nellie Fox
Aside from the proto-sabermatricians of the period, few fans probably knew who Nellie Fox of the Philadelphia Athletics was when White Sox general manager Frank Lane traded for him in October 1949. Joe Tipton was a 27-year-old backup catcher who hit .204/.306/.309 in '49, and was comparable throughout his career to say... Greg Olson of the Braves in the 1990s. Nothing of which to be ashamed. Tipton also was out of pro baseball after the '55 season.
Fox, on the other hand, won an American League MVP award as a second baseman in 1959, leading the "Go-Go!" White Sox to a World Series appearance, the franchise's first in 40 years. In 1997, he was elected to the Hall of Fame. So, Lane won the trade. The South Side Sox blog has a neat story about how Tipton fell out of favor in Chicago (aside from batting .204).
Fox's arrival was no small reason for the club's golden era, which basically was 1950-1967, when only the Yankees were better consistently. Without divisions and wild cards, the White Sox only brought home one pennant in that time, but hey — it's better than the second division.
Worst trade: Sammy Sosa and Ken Patterson for George Bell
Just because Sosa is ostracized nowadays doesn't mean the Cubs ever would consider undoing this deal. Sosa revived the franchise, hitting 545 home runs from 1992-2004. While he might not ever get into the Hall of Fame based on suspicion he used PEDs, Sosa produced millions of dollars and lots of memories on the North Side. Bell had one below-average season with the Sox, a second horrible season, and no more seasons in MLB after that. Lefty reliever Ken Patterson wasn't special as a player, but he was the White Sox union rep — so it probably pleased owner Jerry Reinsdorf to shake up the proleteriat like that.
Best organ: The Hammond played by Nancy Faust
She played at Comiskey/U.S. Cellular from 1970 to 2010, but her best work came at the old ballpark when Faust used to taunt opposing pitchers by playing Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" as they were removed from the game. The tradition dates back to 1971. Schadenfreude before its time!
Best explosion: When the home team hits a home run
The man who helped to plant ivy at Wrigley Field, and who once sent up a little person to pinch hit, Veeck installed an exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park in 1960. It would shoot off fireworks whenever the Sox hit a home run, or when they won the game. Hey, neither has happened all that much in team history, relatively speaking, so why not party when given the opportunity?
Best home run by a guy with a plastic and titanium hip: Bo Jackson in 1993
Neal Heaton of the New York Yankees served it up on opening day.
Worst manager: Terry Bevington 1995-1997
This category is subjective, because any manager is at the mercy of the talent on the roster. But if you listen to this audio of Bevington trying to explain his side of an argument with umpires, it'll all make sense. Or something.
Best NBA player to suit up: Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan getting an RBI single against the Cubs in 1994 has to be the highlight of the season for Sox fans. The White Sox finished the season in first place, but with the World Series canceled beause of a players strike, that and $1.25 would get you a ride on the "L."
Best divisive figure: TV broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson
Harrelson is the first thing most people notice when they happen upon a White Sox game on TV. Unless you're a fan who also happens to like the Hawkeroo, you probably dislike the Hawkeroo. He's more cheerleader than broadcaster. His schtick is repetitive. He complains too much about umpires. He openly pouts — as in stops talking — when stuff goes wrong for the Good Guys. His logic is not always sound. And yet, for enough of us, there's something endearing about The Hawk having the team's back. You don't like him? OK, the Hawk isn't for you. Of course, there are many White Sox fans who agree with the critiques of Harrelson. They're kind of left out in the cold.
Best contribution to MLB history: Hosting the 1933 All-Star Game
It's not all throwing games, bad clothes and dopey managers for the White Sox. Never before had so many great current major leaguers been present at the same ballpark, but on July 6, 1933, the brainchild of Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward came to fruition. Babe Ruth even hit a home run in the AL's 4-2 victory to christen the procedings.
The White Sox weren't always second fiddle to the Cubs in Chicago. They consistently outdrew the North Siders for decades and while being a winning franchise (relatively speaking) had something to do with it, the Sox often have been good theater.
Up Next: On Wednesday, we'll look at the best and worst moments for the Kansas City Royals.