By Glen Sparks
The great–and disgraced–“Shoeless Joe” Jackson died on this day in 1951. One of the best players ever, Jackson batted .356 over a 13-year career. Commissioner “Kennesaw Mountain” Landis kicked Joe and seven other Chicago White Sox players out of baseball after they allegedly threw the 1919 World Series for $5,000 apiece.
Jackson’s story—the part about how his career ended, at least– is sports tragedy. The early part is pure Americana, Southern style. Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born on July 16, 1887, in rural Pickens County, South Carolina. He began working as a millhand at age six or seven and almost died following a bout with the measles when he was 10. A few years later, young Joe began playing baseball on a mill team.
(Why “Shoeless” Joe? Well, the story goes back to the mill days. Joe put on some new, uncomfortable, cleats. His feet ached. So, he took of his shoes. He stood barefoot in the outfield. He stood barefoot as walked into the batter’s box. Not surprisingly, the other players noticed.)
Jackson signed with the Philadelphia A’s in 1908. He didn’t play much in his first two seasons. The A’s traded Jackson to the Cleveland Naps in 1910. Jackson hit .408 in 1911, .395 in 1912 and .373 in 1913. The outfielder established himself as one of the game’s great players. He could still barely read.
The White Sox traded for Jackson in August 1915. Shoeless Joe batted .341 in 1916 and helped Chicago to a World Series championship the following year. Jackson blended in with other great White Sox players from this era, including Buck Weaver, Eddie Collins, Eddie Cicotte and “Lefty” Williams.
Chicago’s 1919 squad went 88-52 and captured the American League pennant. The White Sox met the Cincinnati Reds in the fall classic. There had been rumors of a fix long before Cincinnati’s “Dutch” Ruether threw the first pitch on Oct. 1 at Redland Field. Many White Sox players loathed owner Charles Comiskey. He was a cheapskate, the ballplayers swore. If they could get a few extra bucks out of a bigshot gambler like Arnold Rothstein, so be it. Rothstein, a New York City mobster, bankrolled the scandal.
Cincinnati took a 2-0 lead in the Series, but Chicago tied things up after four games. The Reds won the best-of-nine match-up five games to three. Alfred “Greasy” Neale led Cincinnati. The outfielder batted .357 (10-for-28) with three runs scored and four RBIs. Pitcher Horace “Hod” Eller won both his starts. The right-hander hurled two complete games, gave up four runs and struck out 15.
Jackson batted .375 in the Series (12-for-32) and knocked the lone home run. He hit .351 in the regular season. A Chicago grand jury acquitted Jackson and the others in 1921. Even so, the all-powerful Landis banned them all. Said Landis: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” (Eddie Collins, never implicated in the scandal, batted .226 in the World Series. The future Hall of Fame hit .319 in the regular season.)
Jackson retired to his native South Carolina and proclaimed himself innocent. Was he? Well, we’ll probably never know for sure. Reportedly, he refused the money. We know that Jackson’s .375 batting average led all hitters in the Series, White Sox and Reds. He not only hit the only Series home run, he also handled 30 chances and didn’t commit an error. Jackson threw out five baserunners.
Some experts point out that Jackson hit just .286 in Chicago’s five losses. Well, OK. But, .286 is still respectable batting. (National and American league hitters averaged .263 in the 1919 season.) And, he split his six RBIs between wins and losses. That home run? Jackson ripped it in a 10-5 loss in Game 8.
It probably didn’t help Jackson’s cause that he had White Sox team attorney Alfred Austrian representing him. Austrian, among other things, talked Jackson into signing a waiver of immunity from prosecution. Supposedly, Jackson never confessed to throwing the Series, as Eliot Asinof claimed in the 1963 book Eight Men Out.
(You may know that the most famous story connected with the Black Sox scandal never happened. The story goes that a kid, with tears in his eyes, afraid that his favorite team had thrown the World Series for money, races up the Chicago courthouse steps, tugs at the pants of the great—now sullied—Jackson and pleads to his fallen hero, “Say it isn’t so, Joe.”
Jackson, not a really articulate guy, solemnly says, “It is so, kid.” He then takes one more step toward the clicking cameras, the eager reporters and his doomed, and sealed, fate.
The story is a good one; it certainly captures the poignancy of the moment. Jackson, though, later said that no one–not a crying kid, not a hotshot news man—spoke to him as the grand jury testimony concluded. Apparently, he left through a back entrance and hitched a ride home with a court deputy.)
Baseball expert Bill James has rated Jackson as the 33rd greatest player of all-time. He is, nevertheless, banned from any Hall of Fame honors (If he could get in, he’d be in). Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, dead now for 66 years, remains—like all the Black Sox players—on baseball’s ineligible list.
By Glen Sparks
A con named Jimmy Karella wrote to Billy Martin about Ron LeFlore.
Billy was managing the Detroit Tigers at the time. Karella supposedly had been one of Martin’s old drinking buddies, one of many.
LeFlore, Karella relayed, was spraying line drives all over the Jackson, Mich., State Penitentiary baseball field. And, the guy could outrun just about everybody. There was just one problem. Ronald LeFlore, born June 16, 1948, owed the state a few more years on an armed robbery conviction.
Martin, determined as always, made a few phone calls. He arranged a tryout for LeFlore at Tiger Stadium in the summer of 1973.
The longshot prospect had been a former heroin user and small-time drug dealer. Now, he spent his days and nights inside a maximum-security penitentiary. How many more chances did he have?
Karella got the scouting report right. LeFlore belted shots all over Tiger Stadium. He busted it down the first-base line. Detroit signed him to a deal. LeFlore met the conditions for parole: He had a job.
Detroit called up LeFlore mid-way into the 1974 season. As a rookie, he hit .260 in 59 games and stole 23 bases. (Martin, predictably, didn’t get to see any of this from the Detroit dugout. The Tigers fired him late in the ’73 campaign after Billy told reporters that he liked his pitchers to throw spitballs. Ralph Houk replaced Martin.)
By 1975, LeFlore had won the full-time centerfield job. The next year, he stole 58 bases and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team. LeFlore also scored 100 runs; he collected a career-high 212 hits and blasted 16 homers. In 1978, he led the A.L. in runs scored (126) and stolen bases (68).
One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story, a made-for-TV movie, premiered on CBS on Sept. 26, 1978. LeVar Burton, of Roots fame, played LeFlore. Billy Martin, not surprisingly, played himself.
The former con, the teenage drug abuser from the tough streets of Detroit, had turned around his life. Baseball fans liked to talk about Ron LeFlore. They looked at him as a last-chance guy who made good, playing America’s game.
But, the truth got all muddled up. LeFlore still fought to stay out of trouble. The Tigers traded him following the 1979 season. LeFlore had just scored 110 runs and stolen 78 bases, and Detroit shipped him to the Montreal Expos for journeyman pitcher Dan Schatzader. Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson didn’t like LeFlore’s attitude or his friends. The drug use whispers began.
LeFlore spent one season in Montreal. He swiped a career-high 97 bags in just 139 games. Unfortunately, the drug talk—cocaine and heroin—got louder. Montreal opted not to re-sign the speedy outfielder.
The Chicago White Sox gave LeFlore another chance. They signed him to a two-year free agent deal. LeFlore fell fast. He played two injury-riddled seasons and hit only four home runs (He did steal 64 bases). His off-field life turned into a mess. Police arrested him at one point on drug charges and illegal gun possession.
Chicago released him in the spring of 1983; no one picked him up. LeFlore hit .288 in nine seasons (.342 on-base percentage) and swiped 455 bags. He ripped 59 homers and drove in 353. LeFlore topped the 90-run mark and the 50-stolen base mark four times each.
LeFlore later admitted that he was four years older than previously reported. So, he was 34 when he retired, not 30. That probably helps explain the quick drop in his baseball numbers.
Then, things got worse. LeFlore couldn’t find a job. He worked for a while as a baggage handler for Eastern Airlines and then went to the famous Joe Brinkman umpire school. LeFlore did so poorly he didn’t even merit a minor-league job.
More embarrassment followed. Police arrested him in Detroit on Sept. 27, 1999, for unpaid child support, following a ceremony marking the final game played at Tiger Stadium. On May 5, 2007, police arrested LeFlore again for non-payment, this time while he was signing autographs at a show.
Five years ago, LeFlore lost his right leg to arterial vascular disease, caused by a lifetime of cigarette smoking. Now, he gets along carefully in a prosthetic leg and lives in the Tampa, Fla., area.
LeFlore, 68, says he still loves the game of baseball. He can offer some valuable lessons, he says. Ron LeFlore is asking for just one more chance.
By Glen Sparks
They called him “No Neck”, and it stuck.
Walt Williams liked the nickname, or he hated it. That depends on what article you read. Williams, 72, died Jan. 23 in Brownwood, Texas.
No Neck played 10 seasons in the majors (1964, 1967-75). He put on the uniform for the Houston Colt .45’s, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. He hit 33 home runs and drove in 173 runs. Modest numbers. Mostly, fans remember him for being No Neck.
This is the story behind that unique nickname: Born Dec. 19, 1943, in Brownwood, Williams entered the world just as a major flood hit central Texas. Local doctors decided to inoculate residents against typhus, as legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray explained in an article about Williams.
Even as a baby, the muscles on little Walt bulged. The doctors looked for a good vein to issue a shot. Only the neck would do.
Well, Walt Williams didn’t get typhus. But, he did get a serious crick in that neck. His head titled sideways, Murray wrote, “like a guy listening at a crack in the door.” Eventually, the stiff neck began to shrink. And shrink.
Williams grew to a compact 5-feet-6. He sported a muscular chest and, yes, no neck. Or, well, a very, very short neck.
Still, he did what every young boy dreams to do. Houston signed him as an amateur free agent in 1963. He debuted with the Colt .45’s on April 21, 1964. Williams played just 10 games for Houston before being let go. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him up, sent him to the minors and traded him to the White Sox on Dec. 14, 1966.
No Neck enjoyed his best season in 1969. He set career highs in games (135) at-bats (471), runs (59), hits (143), doubles (22) and batting average (.304) for Chicago. And, he always hustled. Fans loved No Neck.
In 1971, Williams belted a career-high eight homers and batted .294 in 397 at-bats. He didn’t walk a bunch, that year or any other. (Just 24 times. He topped out at 26 bases on balls in ’69. No Neck was up there to hit.)
But, he didn’t strike out much, either. Pitchers fanned Williams only 27 times in 1971. He struck out only 211 times in 2,373 career at-bats.
Following a six-year run on the south side of Chicago, Williams headed to the Indians in 1973. He stayed just one year and then went to the Yankees. No Neck only got into 43 games in 1974. He played 82 in ’75, averaging .281 and smacking five homers.
New York released Williams in January 1976. No Neck played a few seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan and in Mexico. He served as White Sox first-base coach in 1988 and managed in the minors for a few years.
Williams, who went to high school in San Francisco, returned to Brownwood following his playing days. The Brownwood Bulletin newspaper reported that he enjoyed working with local youth. He taught kids how to play baseball, basketball and other sports.
“He was instrumental to this community,” said Draco Miller, one of Williams’ good friends and a Brownwood City Council member. “He was a mentor.”
Services for the former ballplayer will be Saturday at Victory Life Church in Brownwood. RIP, Walt “No Neck” Williams.
By Glen Sparks
Orestes “Minnie” Minoso grew up in El Perico, Cuba, outside Havana, and loved to watch the great Martin Dihigo play baseball.
Dihigo hit for power, hit for average and ran fast. Former Dodgers executive and legendary scout Al Campanis once told the team’s Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, “’Jaime, the best player that I have ever seen in my life is Martin Dihigo, but he never came to the Major Leagues.”
The four-time Cuban League MVP could pitch, too. Dihigo batted .387 for Aguila de Veracruz of the Mexican League in 1938 and went 18-2 with a 0.90 ERA on the mound. Dihigo ripped line drives and especially liked smacking pitches to the opposite field. Fans nicknamed him El Inmortal, The Immortal. Minoso patterned his own game after Dihigo’s.
The Negro League Committee elected Dihigo (pronounced “DEE-go”) to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. Many baseball experts say Minoso also should be enshrined.
Minoso, born Nov. 29, 1922, was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 following several pro seasons in Cuba and in the U.S. Negro leagues. He debuted with the Indians on April 19, 1949. By 1951, Minoso had established himself as a star. The Chicago White Sox traded for him early in that campaign.
Later in his career, Minoso returned to Cleveland (1958-59) before going back to the White Sox (1960-61). He also played for the St. Louis Cardinals (1962) and Washington Senators (1963) and then retired (sorta) as, yes, a White Sox player once more, in 1964.
Minoso hit for some power (186 home runs in 17 seasons, at least 20 home runs four times) and a solid average (.298 lifetime, at least .300 nine times). He could run (205 lifetime steals. He led the American League in thefts three times.), and he could drive in runs (1,023 career RBI, four seasons with at least 100). Adept at drawing a walk, Minoso retired with an on-base percentage of .389 and enjoyed six full seasons with percentages of .408 or higher.
The left-fielder made nine All-Star teams, with both the Indians and White Sox, and finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. He also had a high pain threshold. Minoso led the league in getting hit by a pitch 10 times. He took a bruising for the team.
Minoso topped the A.L. in hits one time, doubles one time and triples three times. Oh, and he scored at least 100 runs in a season four times. So, how did one of the best all-around players of the 1950s do in the Hall of Fame voting? Not well at all. In 15 years on the ballot, Minoso topped 20 percent just two times. … Huh?
Bill James in his 2003 Baseball Historical Abstract ranked Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder in baseball history. He wrote that if Minoso had gotten the opportunity to play in the majors when he was 21 years old, “he’d probably be rated among the top 30 players of all time.”
Unfortunately, many people remember Minoso more for how he retired than how he played. Or, more precisely, how he didn’t retire. He left the White Sox after 1964 to go to the Mexican League as a player-manager. He was “El Charro Negro,” the Black Cowboy.
In 1976, Minoso went back to the majors and to the White Sox as a coach. The big club activated him in September; he went 1-8 at the age of 50. He also pinch-hit twice in 1980 for the White Sox, going 0-2. He is major league baseball’s only five-decade players, appearing in a game in the 1940s, ’50, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (His streak didn’t end there. In 1993, at the age of 67, Minoso grounded out as a member of the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League. He drew a walk for the Saints in 2003, an 87-year-old ballplayer. Minoso is a seven-decade man.)
Some baseball people argue that those comebacks actually hurt Minnie’s Hall of Fame chances. They criticize them as publicity stunts. Which they probably were. So, what?
The White Sox retired Minoso’s No. 9 in 1983 and unveiled a statue of the beloved former ballplayer outside U.S. Cellular Field in 2004.
Last year, baseball included Minoso on the Golden Era ballot, comprised of former players and managers who mostly played from 1947-73. The 16-person Golden Era committee gave Minoso eight votes, one fewer than he earned on the 2011 Golden ballot. He needed 12 for induction.
Minoso died in Chicago on Feb. 28, 2015, of chronic pulmonary disease at the age of 92. The man dubbed “Mr. White Sox” had been working for the team in community relations for decades.
He already is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the Hispanic Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in Exile and the Mexican Professional Baseball of Fame. Will Minoso ever make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.?
By Glen Sparks
Dave DeBusschere threw a fastball just like he crashed the boards. Hard.
The 6-foot-6-inch Detroit native, born Oct. 16, 1940, is more familiar to basketball enthusiasts than he is to baseball fans. DeBusschere spent 12 seasons in the NBA, playing in 440 games for the Detroit Pistons and 435 games for the New York Knicks. He averaged 16.1 points per game and 11.0 rebounds.
DeBusschere made eight NBA All-Star teams and six all-defensive teams. He played on the 1969-70 and 1972-73 championship teams, alongside great players like Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley. In 1996, DeBusschere was named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.
So, the big guy probably made the right decision when he opted for a hoops career over a career in baseball. He starred in both sports at Austin Catholic Preparatory School in Detroit and the University of Detroit.
DeBusschere earned All-American honors in basketball as a sophomore, junior and senior, leading his squad to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in his first two seasons (in the days before freshman eligibility) and to the NCAA tournament in his senior campaign. He also made All-American in baseball for the Titans.
The Chicago White Sox signed DeBusschere in 1962 as an amateur free agent. The Detroit Pistons selected him that same year as a territorial pick in the NBA draft.
The right-handed hurler enjoyed a fast start to his baseball career. He went 10-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 14 games with the Savannah/Lynchburg White Sox of the South Atlantic League. The hot prospect struck out 93 batters in 94 innings. Impressed, Chicago called up DeBusschere late in the season. Against, big-league hitters, he mostly struggled with his control. Over 18 innings, he only gave up for earned runs, but he walked 23.
From there, DeBusschere left to play basketball. He averaged 12.7 points per game and 8.7 rebounds in his first NBA season, earning himself the league’s 1963 All-Rookie squad.
DeBusschere spent his entire 1963 season with Chicago. He compiled a 3-4 won-loss record and 3.09 ERA. More importantly, he cut his number of bases on balls to a more manageable 34 in 84.1 innings. He tossed a shutout against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 16, giving up six hits, striking out three and walking one. A scouting report said DeBusschere had a “fireball and better than an average curve.”
And, it was off again to the hardcourt. Injuries limited DeBusschere to just 15 games in his sophomore campaign. The 1964 baseball season didn’t start off as expected, either. DeBusschere spent the entire season in the minors. He did the same thing in 1965.
Meanwhile, healthy again, DeBusschere averaged 16.7 points per game and 11.1 rebounds for the Pistons in 1964-65. In the fall of ’65, he decided to leave baseball behind and concentrate on basketball.
The Knicks traded for DeBusschere on Dec. 18, 1968, for guard Butch Komives and center Walt Bellamy. DeBusschere retired after an All-Star season in 1973-74 and later served as a Knicks executive. He died May 14, 2003, of a heart attack at the age of 62.
By Glen Sparks
Luke Appling, the great Chicago White Sox shortstop, thought he felt a rock underneath his feet at Comiskey Park, circa 1935.
He kicked at the dirt a few times. What was it? Well, it wasn’t a rock. It was an antique. Appling saw the top of an old black-and-white teakettle, buried in the infield dirt.
Appling called timeout and reported the problem. Grounds crew workers ran onto the field, uncovered the kettle and filled in the hole. Play resumed.
What was up? Well, Charles Comiskey, the club’s owner, had purchased an old city dump in 1909. On that site, he would build a ballpark, he promised, a new home for the White Sox. The park would be a concrete-and-steel structure, meant to replace the rickety and wooden South Side Park, less than a decade old but already past its prime (located at 39th Street—now Pershing Road–between South Wentworth and Princeton avenues).
Comiskey, a parsimonious sort, set up a speedy construction schedule. He wanted his White Sox out of South Side Park as quickly as possible. South Side only held 15,000 fans, not nearly enough, Comiskey thought, for a team as talented as Chicago. The White Sox won the American League pennant in 1901 and 1906 and almost always battled for first place.
Maybe, though, Comiskey set a schedule that was a bit too ambitious. Workers didn’t spend enough time clearing all the odds and ends—including black-and-white teakettles—from the site.
Anyway, White Sox Park opened on July 1, 1910, at 324 W. 35th St. The park, renamed for Comiskey a few years later, sat 32,000 fans. Patrons enjoyed a double-decked grandstand and two roofed single-deck pavilions to go along with 7,000 wooden bleachers in right field and left field. Both foul lines ran 362 feet from home plate; the center-field fence stood 420 feet from home. It was a big park, built for pitchers.
The White Sox lost that first game 2-0 to the St. Louis. They struggled to 68-85 in 1910 under Manager High Duffy, 10 games worse than in 1909. It was the team’s worst finish since 1903 (60-77). First baseman Chick Gandil, a decade away from infamy as a leader in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, led the team with two home runs; outfielder Patsy Dougherty drove in a team-high 43. On the mound, spitballer Ed Walsh won 18, but lost 20. He sported a nifty AL-leading ERA of 1.27 (ERA+ 189).
Comiskey Park lasted as the home of the White Sox for nearly 81 years. Capacity increased to 52,000 in 1927 and was then lowered several times throughout the years, eventually to less than 44,000. The park hosted four World Series, some All-Star games, the Beetles on Aug. 20, 1965, and Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979. New Comiskey Park, built across the street from the old yard, opened in 1991 and was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003.
South Side Park began hosting the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues in 1911. Rube Foster, one of the giants of Negro League ball, renamed the park for his business partner John Schorling. The American Giants won the league championship in 1920-22 and 1926-27. Schorling Park went up in flames on Christmas Day 1940.
(Thank you to Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball’s Legendary Fields by Lawrence S. Ritter for details about South Side Park and Comiskey Park.)
Thank you to Johnmaxmena for taking the photo of Comiskey Park.
By Glen Sparks
(This is another in my series of quizzes that each focus on a particular Major League team. Prepare to be baffled.)
One of the original American League ballclubs, the Chicago White Sox have been playing on the city’s south side since 1901. They first called South Side Park home, moved to Comiskey Park for 80 years and left for New Comiskey Park (now Cellular Park) in 1991. The Pale Hose have won six A.L. pennants and three World Series, most recently in 2000.
- Which White Sox player batted .375 in the 1919 World Series?
- Which White Sox player batted .226 in the 1919 World Series?
- Which White Sox pitcher led the league in wins twice in the 1920s and finished third in the A.L. MVP race in 1927?
- Which White Sox shortstop was known as Ol’ Aches and Pains?
- Which White Sox pitcher made seven All-Star teams from 1953 through 1961?
- Which White Sox player finished fourth in the MVP voting four times in his career, three times with the Sox?
- Which White Sox player led the 1959 pennant-winning “Go-Go” Sox in stolen bases?
- Which White Sox pitcher started both ends of a doubleheader in 1973?
- Which White Sox player caught his last game at the age of 45, two years after making his 11th All-Star team?
- Which White Sox infielder enjoyed an NCAA-record hitting streak while playing at Oklahoma State University?
- “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. The man from Pickens County, S.C., hit .356 in his great career. He broke in with the Philadelphia A’s and later played with the Cleveland Naps/Indians. He is most famous, or, most infamous, for his time with the White Sox, particularly in the 1919 World Series versus the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson was among the “eight men out,” kicked out of baseball for allegedly throwing the World Series. His role in the “Black Sox” scandal is still debated. What isn’t debated is that he led all players in batting average during the Series (minimum 10 at-bats).
- Eddie Collins. One of the great hitters in the early 20th century, Collins retired with a .333 batting average. Like Jackson, Collins spent part of his career with the A’s but was better known as a Chicago White Sox player. He was never accused of being one of the infamous Eight, but he did slump in the Series.
- Ted Lyons. Lyons is a curious case. He won 20 games three times and led the A.L. in wins twice. He also picked up MVP votes in nine different seasons and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1955. But … he also is the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame with more career walks (1,121) than strikeouts (1,073). He also endured a 20-36 two-year slump in the prime of his career.
- Luke Appling. The infielder from High Point, N.C., played his entire 20-year career with the White Sox. He was never better than in 1936 when he batted .388 and drove in 128 runs despite hitting just six home runs. Appling finished runner-up in the MVP race to the great Lou Gehrig that season. Late in his career, his body tired, Appling frequently complained about his ailments, leading to his nickname.
- Billy Pierce. He stood just 5-feet-10 and weighed only 160 pounds. The lefty from Detroit didn’t let his small frame get in the way of big league success. Pierce broke in with his hometown Tigers and ended his career with the San Francisco Giants. Even so, 186 of his 211 victories came with the White Sox. Pierce won 20 games twice and posted a 1.97 ERA in 1955.
- Minnie Minoso. The Cuban Comet played 17 seasons in the majors, a dozen of them with the Pale Hose. He finished fourth in the MVP race one time with the Cleveland Indians (1951) and three times with the White Sox (1953, ’54 and 1960). Minoso combined power, speed and batting average. He made seven All-Star teams. The Comet, who died in March, may still get into the Hall of Fame someday.
- Luis Aparicio. The so-called Go-Go Sox really didn’t steal a ton of bases. Jim Landis swiped 20, the only player other than Asparicio to finish in double figures. Luis stole 56 and was caught just 13 times. In his career, Aparicio stole 506 bags but was even more famous for his defense, winning nine Gold Gloves.
- Wilbur Wood. Will this ever happen again? It helped that Wood threw a low-stress knuckler. The native New Englander-sometimes called “Wilbah”-started both ends of a double-dip on July 20, 1973. He lost both games. Wood threw an amazing 359.1 innings in ’73, down from 376.2 in ’72. He won 24 games each year. What a workhorse.
- Carlton Fisk. Another New England guy, Fisk began his career with the Boston Red Sox. He famously encouraged his home run ball to stay fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park. Fisk, one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, left Boston for Chicago in 1981. He went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Red Sox cap, but–Did you know?–Fisk played more seasons and more games with the White Sox.
- Robin Ventura. The infielder from Santa Maria, Calif., hit in 58 straight games for the Cowboys in 1987. Then, he went on to enjoy a solid career in the majors, most of it with the White Sox. He hit 294 home runs in 16 seasons and won six Gold Gloves. Ventura currently manages the White Sox.
By Glen Sparks
Luke Appling, “Old Aches and Pains.”
If the Chicago White Sox shortstop wasn’t complaining about having a headache, he was grumbling about a sore knee. Or, his back was acting up. Or something else. Appling had an old man’s body at 25. Or, so he said.
It’s a good thing that one of baseball’s great hypochondriacs could also handle a bat. In a 20-year career (interrupted in 1944 by his service during World War II), Appling batted.310 and collected 2,749 hits. He made six All-Star teams, finished runner-up twice in the American League MVP race and collected 74.5 WAR points.
Born on this date in 1907 in High Point, N.C., Lucious Benjamin Appling grew up there and, later, in Atlanta. The famous Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association signed him to play during his sophomore season at Oglethorpe College, a small liberal arts school in the Atlanta suburbs. The Crackers sold his contract to the Chicago Cubs in 1930; the Cubs, in turn, quickly traded Appling to their crosstown rivals for cash and a forgotten outfielder named Doug Taitt. (Appling for Taitt, Brock for Broglio …)
The White Sox brought up Appling late in the 1930 season. The shortstop quickly established himself as one of the team’s most dangerous players, at least for the spectators. In six games, he made four errors, due in part to his strong arm. Many of his throws ended up in the stands. Fans were required to pay attention and prepare to duck for cover.
Appling’s fielding problems continued in 1931. He kept making errors. Fans kept ducking for cover. Appling didn’t hit much, either. He batted only .232 (OPS+ 66, woeful) in 96 games. Coaches said he swung too hard, trying to hit home runs, something he never did very well. (He would hit only 45 round-trippers in his career, topping out at eight in 1947.) Young Luke Appling was on the trading block.
Finally, he made some adjustments. He began going for base hits and drawing walks, earning a reputation for fouling off pitches until he got a good one. In 1933, he hit .322 with a .379 on-base percentage. His batting average slipped to a still respectable .303 the following season, but his on-base percentage crept up to .384. In 1935, Appling batted .307, but thanks to 122 walks, he made it on base nearly 44 percent of the time. (He retired with a career on-base percentage of .399.)
Appling put together his best season in 1936. He hit a league-leading .388 with an on-base percentage of .474, scored 111 runs and drove home 128 while hitting just six home runs. Chicago’s top player finished second in the A.L. MVP voting to a pretty good first baseman, the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig.
Over the next several seasons, Appling continued to put up outstanding numbers. He usually hit above .300 and led the league for a second time with a .328 mark in 1943. (Appling finished second to Yankee pitcher Spud Chandler in the MVP race with a career-best 7.6 WAR points.) More importantly, he kept his on-base mark higher than .400 many seasons.
His fielding remained a work-in-progress. Appling led the league in errors five times. Fans always had to keep an eye on him. On the plus side, Appling finished atop the leaderboard for shortstop assists in seven seasons. Taking into account both offense and defense, Bill James rated him the 11th best shortstop of all-time in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract.
A funny thing about that whole “Old Aches and Pains” thing. Yes, he did earn a reputation for gripping about his mild injuries. But, Appling was actually quite durable. During an era with a 154-game regular season, he played in at least 140 games 10 times, and he made it into 139 three times. (In 1945, he only played 18 games. He wasn’t injured, though. He was coming back from the war. And, he hit .368.)
Appling, who died in 1991 at the age of 83, played his entire career (1930-50) with the White Sox. His time in Chicago began almost a decade after the Black Sox scandal and ended nearly a decade before the 1959 Sox team made it to the World Series.
The South Siders struggled quite a bit during the Appling era, finishing in the second division more often than not. Certainly, though, Appling brought some joy to Chicago baseball fans during the mean days of the Great Depression and during World War II. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1964 and remains one of the all-time great White Sox players.
By Glen Sparks
Claude “Lefty” Williams had a heck of a time of it in the 1919 World Series. Of course, many critics say he wasn’t even trying. Lefty lost all three games he pitched.
Williams, born in Aurora, Mo., on this date in 1893, spent most of his brief big league career with the Chicago White Sox. He, along with seven teammates, allegedly took money to throw the ’19 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a crusty, white-haired picture of legal authority, kicked all the players out of baseball after a hometown jury declared them “not guilty” of conspiracy. Williams and the others would forever be known as the Black Sox.
The Sox (White or Black, take your pick) of Williams’ time featured some outstanding players. Williams wasn’t one of them. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound hurler threw a mediocre fastball and a decent curveball. Chicago outfielders ran down plenty of the fly balls that he gave up. The pitcher also could count on a solid hitting attack, led by “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, to light up the scoreboard.
Of Williams’ seven big-league seasons, 1919 was undoubtedly his best. He finished 23-11 with a 2.64 ERA (121 ERA+). Lefty completed 27 of 40 starts and threw five shutouts. Next to Eddie Cicotte (29-7, 1.82., ERA+ 176), he was definitely the best pitcher on the team.
Lefty broke in with the Detroit Tigers in 1913, going 1-3. The following season, he went 0-1 in Detroit, spending most of his time with the Sacramento Salons of the Pacific Coast League. It was in 1915 that Williams had his first big year, with the Salt Lake City Bees of the PCL. It’s a wonder his arm didn’t fall off. Lefty threw 418.2 innings and won 33 games to lead the league. He also finished first in strikeouts with 294. The White Sox, duly impressed, purchased Williams’ contract after the season ended.
By Glen Sparks
Chicago has lost another baseball legend. White Sox outfielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, one of the game’s most-complete players throughout the 1950s, died Sunday at the age of 89. Minoso’s death came just weeks after the passing of Cubs great Ernie Banks.
Banks was famous for his smile, humor and enthusiasm while playing for the north side Cubs. Minoso was the south side version of that. He played 12 of his 17-year career with the White Sox. Former teammate Billy Pierce said, “I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly.”
The baseball stats say Minoso hit .298 with a robust .389 on-base percentage. Bill James, one of baseball’s top analysts, rated Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder of all-time in 2001. I wrote a post in December about Minoso’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. He was one of 10 so-called Golden Era nominees up for induction. Minnie got eight votes. He, like everyone else, needed 12. No one got elected.