Today in White Sox History: April 7

Great White North: Jack Brohamer of the White Sox turns shin guards into snow shoes before Toronto’s MLB debut in 1977.


1970
The worst White Sox team in history began their forgettable season by getting pounded 12-0 at home by the Twins. Sox starting pitcher Tommy John only lasted into the fifth inning. The Sox would go on to lose a franchise-record 106 games.


1971
Charlie Finley, the A’s owner, got the first regularly scheduled Opening Day doubleheader in history but was stunned when the White Sox beat them twice, 6-5 and 12-4. Tommy John and Bart Johnson were the winning pitchers. The Sox clubbed five home runs on the day, including a grand slam by Bill Melton. It should have been six homers, except that Carlos May somehow missed touching home plate on his blast. The A’s picked up on it and tagged him out when he was sitting in the dugout.

This was also Harry Caray’s first regular season game as a White Sox announcer, although at the time not a whole lot of folks could hear him. Three straight awful years caused the Sox to lose their radio contract with any mainstream Chicago station. For the next two years Sox games were broadcast on WTAQ (LaGrange) and WEAW (Evanston), two low-powered stations.


1973
On Opening Day in Texas, Mike Andrews became the first White Sox DH. He hit sixth in the lineup for manager Chuck Tanner. He went 1-for-3 in the 3-1 win behind Wilbur Wood.


1977
The White Sox introduced American League baseball to Canada, as they played the first ever game in Toronto Blue Jays history. The Jays outslugged the Sox in a driving snowstorm to win, 9-5. But it was the start of something much bigger; the “South Side Hit Men” were born.


1984
Detroit’s Jack Morris threw what turned out to be the last no-hitter at Comiskey Park, shutting down the White Sox 4-0 on the NBC Saturday “Game of the Week.” The Sox had their chances, including loading the bases on walks in the fourth inning with nobody out.


1993
On his first swing of the season, future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk would blast his final major league home run. It would come off of Minnesota’s Jim Deshaies in the third inning, and was the only run scored by the Sox in a 6-1 loss. Fisk would be released by the Sox in June.


1994
In the annual “Crosstown Classic” charity game between the White Sox and Cubs, Michael Jordan wrote his name into Sox lore. His double in the late innings tied the game and prevented the Sox from losing for the first time in this series. The game would end in a tie. The Sox would go 10-0-2 in the Crosstown Classic series (1985-95, with two games played in 1995).

 

 

 

This Week in White Sox History: March 8-14

The Most: Johnny Mostil (left), one of the best outfielders in White Sox history saw things take a very bad turn 93 years ago.


March 8, 1948
WGN, channel 9 in Chicago, announced that it would televise White Sox games for the first time. Veteran radio sports broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Harry Creighton would become the first White Sox TV announcers in history.


March 9, 1927
Popular Sox outfielder Johnny Mostil attempted suicide in a hotel room in Shreveport, La. Despite razor cuts to his wrist, neck and chest, Mostil survived and returned to the team in April although he’d only play in 13 games that season. In 10 years with the White Sox, Mostil would hit better than .300 four times. After his career he’d become a longtime White Sox scout/coach and help develop future players like All-Star outfielder Jim Landis.


March 10, 1995
After two stints at White Sox spring training and a full season in Birmingham, Michael Jordan announced he was giving up baseball. Part of the reason was because of his struggles with the game, but the other, larger part (as he explained to author Bob Greene, in the book, “Rebound, The Odyssey of Michael Jordan”) was because he was being pressured by Sox G.M. Ron Schueler to cross the MLBPA picket line.

With “replacement” games set to start, Jordan stated that he was told if he didn’t cross the line, he’d be banished from the main clubhouse. Jordan was furious, saying that he was promised by owner Jerry Reinsdorf he wouldn’t have to take that step. Jordan explained that under no circumstances would he ever cross a labor picket line regardless of sport: “I told them from the beginning that I didn’t want them to use me to make money in the spring training games. We had an understanding. It was never supposed to even come up. I was disgusted that the promise wasn’t going to be honored,” he told Greene. Jordan would return to the Bulls and win three more championships.


March 11, 1968
White Sox rookie pitcher Cisco Carlos was part of the cover shot for Sports Illustrated. The headline read, “The Best Rookies Of 1968.” Unfortunately, Carlos didn’t turn out to be one of them, either in the short term or the long one. In fact, of the five players on the cover only Johnny Bench and Mike Torrez made a name for themselves in the sport. In two-and-a-half seasons with the White Sox, Carlos went 10-17.


March 12, 1973
White Sox third baseman and former AL home run champ Bill Melton appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The headline read, “Chicago Comes Out Swinging. Slugger Bill Melton.” Melton would have a nice comeback season after missing most of 1972 with a herniated disc, hitting .277 with 20 home runs and 87 RBIs.


March 13, 2000
White Sox slugger Frank Thomas is again featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A lengthy story covered his career, controversies and his desire to return to the top of the game. The headline stated, “Don’t Question My Desire. Frank Thomas Comes Out Swinging.” Thomas would have a spectacular season in 2000, losing out on his third AL MVP to Jason Giambi, who’d later admit to using steroids in grand jury testimony. Frank’s numbers in 2000 included a .328 batting average, 43 home runs, 143 RBIs, 112 walks and a slugging percentage of .625.


March 14, 1994
Sports Illustrated took issue with former NBA superstar Michael Jordan and his attempt to play baseball. Jordan was on the cover of SI again, but in a negative light. The headline read, “Bag It Michael! Jordan and the White Sox Are Embarrassing Baseball.” From that day on, Jordan (who was always very cooperative with that magazine) would never speak to Sports Illustrated again.

A tale of two Bat Days

By any name: There’s been no more menacing power hitter in White Sox history than Dick Allen.


The White Sox have had attendance issues for decades now. The team’s problems began in the late 1960s, for a variety of reasons. One chief reason was the club didn’t have a marquee name, an impact player who could draw fans in big numbers.

During their stretch of winning seasons from 1951-67, the White Sox had players like Luis Aparicio, (stolen bases and defense), Nellie Fox (singles hitter and bunter), and usually a solid pitching rotation. But there was no Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Harmon Killebrew. When the White Sox won, they won low-scoring games with little offense. The team didn’t hit have a 30-home run hitter in its entire history until 1970. Vast Comiskey Park was not a great place for power hitters, anyway.

During the offseason between 1971 and 1972, the White Sox finally were able to acquire that dominant player they never seemed to have when they traded pitcher Tommy John and first baseman Steve Huntz to the Dodgers for Dick Allen.

Allen hit for great power and average, and there was no doubt he was an elite talent. The biggest problem was that he had a very checkered past. Some fans in Philadelphia counted the days to his departure. The White Sox would be his fourth team in four years. Would any baggage that he would carry be worth giving up a front-line pitcher and a promising first baseman?

Allen would quickly become a South Side icon, but he would also be tied to two historic days at Comiskey Park that spelled both optimism and ruin, both for him and the team.

In the beginning, it appeared the Allen pickup was a mistake. Bad baggage-carrying Allen reared his head.

The talented first-baseman didn’t care to show up for spring training. Just as important, contract talks stalled, and it appeared, in those pre-free agent days, that Allen might hold out. But the team and player came to terms, and then Allen revealed that he wanted to be called “Dick” and not “Richie.” That small request was granted and Richie Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers, became known as Dick Allen of the Chicago White Sox.

Opening Day in 1972 was delayed 10 days because the owners locked out the players in a labor dispute. But Allen would quickly show that this delay and missing spring training would not affect his play.

The White Sox opened the season on April 15 in Kansas City. In the top of the ninth, in a scoreless game, Allen hit a mammoth home run that cleared the left-center field wall by plenty. The Sox would lose that game 2-1 in 11 innings, but Allen had demonstrated his awesome power with a devastating down-cutting swing.

And on June 4, Allen truly cemented his relationship with White Sox fans.

June 4 was Bat Day. That promotion always brought out good crowds to the ballpark. But on June 4, 1972, 51,904 showed for a doubleheader against the Yankees. It was the first 50,000-plus crowd for a regular season game at Comiskey since August 1955 — another doubleheader against the Yankees.

The opener was all White Sox. Young righthander Tom Bradley threw a complete game-six hitter, while Bill Melton hit a towering home run deep into the left field lower deck. At one point, fans held thousands of bats in the air, and the Sox won 6-1. A little less than two years after losing 106, the White Sox looked like contenders.

In between games, there was a damper. It was announced that Dick Allen was not in the lineup. A crowd of over 50,000 shows, and Allen is not playing in the nightcap? Was he injured? Was he fatigued? Or was baggage-carrying Richie Allen uninterested in playing before a large and history-making crowd?

The White Sox offense looked lethargic in the second game. Going into the last inning, the Yankees led 4-2, and it appeared the Sox were going to settle for a split. However, they put on two runners with one out in the bottom of the ninth. And who comes out of the dugout to pinch-hit? Not bad Richie Allen, but good Dick Allen.

Comiskey Park went wild, but Allen calmly strolled up to the plate apparently unmoved by all the excitement. On the second pitch from reliever Sparky Lyle, Allen once more used that down-cutting swing of his and sent a vicious line drive to left.

Sitting down the left field line, I picked up the ball just as it went a little over the shortstop’s head. At first, I thought it was one of those hard-hit balls that are caught by the outfielder. But the ball kept rising. It remained on a line, but it rose. Left fielder Roy White wasn’t coming in, he was drifting back. Once at the wall, White had a totally frustrated look as he watched the drive zip into the seats for a game-winning, three-run homer.

When was there a more exciting moment at Comiskey Park in recent memory? A fan would have to think about it. And when had a White Sox hitter demonstrated power like Allen? It is safe to say: Never.

The next season, Bat Day fell on May 20 for another doubleheader, this time against the Twins. A record 55,555 showed. Is that suspicious-sounding number correct? I was at this game also, and was forced to sit in the top row of the right-field upper deck. I had a better view of the Dan Ryan than of the field. Fans stood. They sat in the aisles. They parked themselves on the catwalk of the scoreboard. The view of people everywhere, in every seat, in every other available space, was breathtaking.

There is a great picture that ran in the Sun-Times the next day. A small girl is sitting in the lower concourse and a mound of boxes rose above and behind her. The boxes once held the bats. It was said that more than 2,200 fans had to be given refunds because there was no room in the stadium. If that 55,555 number is correct, almost 58,000 showed for the Sunday doubleheader. That was more than 10% of the entire team attendance in 1970.

The crowd erupted when Bill Melton homered off ex-Cub Bill Hands in the first. Carlos May added another homer in the fourth, and the Sox, behind the complete game pitching of Wilbur Wood, won 9-3. Excitement ran through the stadium.

Yet, in a repeat of the Bat Day 1972, Dick Allen was not in the lineup for the nightcap. This was hard to defend; it didn’t make sense.

Allen came out to pinch-hit again, but this time there were no heroics. In the fourth, with the bases loaded, Allen popped out. The Sox lost, 3-0, and missed his bat terribly. In the two dates that had a combined attendance of 107,453, good Dick Allen looked like bad Richie Allen, as he had little interest in playing on these historic occasions.

Allen would miss a good part of the 1973 season due to injury, although some questioned how serious the injury was. The team had other injuries, and the White Sox won a disappointing 77 games. And in early September 1974, good Dick Allen looked like bad Richie again.

As the season was winding down in 1974, Allen was on his way to another American League home run championship. Another 100-RBI season was in reach. But Allen again didn’t seem interested. He told the club he was retiring, and wasn’t waiting until the end of the season. With three weeks left, he was taking his leave. The White Sox lost their impact player for reasons unknown, or lamely explained.

The 1975 season was a dud. Attendance dropped to fewer than 800,000. The once-popular Melton was practically booed out of the city. The center field scoreboard celebrations were also duds, as they were shortened to save money. The franchise had few resources, an aging stadium and a non-believing fan base. A charter member of the American League looked like it was on its way to Seattle.

And where was Dick Allen? He decided he was going to play again and ended up in Philadelphia, the place that had hated him more than Chicago turning on Melton. In 1976, Allen threatened to sit out the NCLS because the Phillies didn’t include his friend, Tony Taylor, on the postseason roster. Allen went 2-for-9 in the series and made little impact as he drove in no runs; the Phillies were swept by the Reds.

In 1977, Allen went to Oakland. Again, not interested in playing a second game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park, Allen had a confrontation with A’s owner Charlie Finley in the locker room. Once again, Allen had limited himself to a single pinch-hit appearance in a nightcap, and Finley was offended that Allen had already showered and was ready to leave. On June 19, 1977, during the year of the South Side Hit Men, Allen left baseball for good. Hardly anyone noticed or cared as he again deserted a team before the season was over.


The man who had become Dick Allen had also become a vital hope for a team and place that had finally had accepted him. He was there for two historic days at Comiskey Park. He provided an excitement like no other White Sox player before him. Then he vanished, and hope seemed to vanish with him. With the exception of the Hit Men season, the second half of the 1970s was an unmitigated disaster and a source of embarrassment.

Many White Sox fans who were around during the 1970s, get angry at hearing the name Dick Allen. His majestic home runs are great memories, but his “retirement” leaves a different type of memory. Yet can anyone really stay angry at Dick Allen? He could have put up Hall of Fame numbers. He could have left an endearing legacy after suffering bitterness and rejection in other places. His demons did more harm to him than anyone else. As fans wonder what could have been, Allen must wonder the same thing.

But there was that line drive into the left field seats on Bat Day 1972. Fans didn’t want to leave Comiskey. They wanted to believe, because the White Sox finally had that one great player who could take them to the World Series.

Unfortunately, that World Series wouldn’t happen for another 33 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today in White Sox History: December 11

Fan club: There doesn’t seem to be a Sox fan alive who doesn’t adore Wimpy, including sometime partner Jason Benetti. Paciorek came to the White Sox on this day in 1981.


1973
In was one of the worst deals ever made by GM Roland Hemond, the White Sox acquired Cubs star Ron Santo after Santo refused a deal to the California Angels. Santo, who may have been able to be picked up on waivers, was acquired for three players, including pitcher Steve Stone.

Santo did very little in his one season with the White Sox and was considered a clubhouse cancer, tormenting some younger players, which raised the ire of Dick Allen. Santo’s White Sox highlight was probably the inside-the-park home run he hit on June 9, 1974 against Boston’s Bill Lee at Comiskey Park. Santo was also one of the few players who disliked playing under manager Chuck Tanner.


1975
Hemond sent third baseman Bill Melton and pitcher Steve Dunning to California for first baseman Jim Spencer and outfielder Morris Nettles. Melton had a bad back and had worn out his welcome with the team, getting into a shouting match in a Milwaukee hotel lobby with broadcaster Harry Caray.

Spencer, meanwhile would win a Gold Glove for his defensive prowess. He also had 18 home runs and 69 RBIs for the South Side Hit Men, twice driving in eight runs in a game in 1977.


1980
Edward DeBartolo was voted down by American League owners in his attempt to buy the White Sox from Bill Veeck. DeBartolo, the man who invented the modern shopping mall in Boardman, Ohio, owned horse racing tracks and wasn’t from the Chicago area — both considered “red flags” by the other owners.

In an effort to appease then commissioner Bowie Kuhn, DeBartolo agreed to live in Chicago at least 20% of the time to have a direct idea of what was going on with the franchise. His compromises fell on deaf ears, as he only received three yes votes. The way was then opened for the group headed by Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn to get the franchise.


1981
In another fine deal pulled off by Hemond, he sent shortstop Todd Cruz and outfielder Rod Allen to the Mariners for Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek. Tom made the All-Star team with the M’s in 1981 and would lead the Sox in hitting in 1983. He was also one of the craziest guys to ever do commercials for the club. After he retired, he worked in the Sox broadcasting booth from 1988 through 1999 and to this day does fill-in games for the club.


1996
After losing star pitcher Alex Fernandez to free agency and claiming that starting pitcher Kevin Tapani was faking an injury to his pitching hand (an injury so “fake” it forced Tapani to miss the first half of the 1997 season with the Cubs …), GM Ron Schueler signed pitcher Jaime Navarro to a four-year, $20 million deal. Navarro was a complete bust. His three-year record with the Sox was 25-43, and by many statistical measures he was the worst regular starting pitching in White Sox history.

Making matters worse was Schueler’s refusal to talk with the agents for Roger Clemens after Clemens had expressed an interest in joining the team, saying “Roger Clemens is over the hill.” During that same three-year period that Navarro was with the Sox, Clemens would win two Cy Young awards and 55 games.

Navarro eventually did do something positive for the franchise — he was part of a deal that brought José Valentín and Cal Eldred to the Sox in January 2000.

 

 

A Conversation With: Wilbur Wood


He is a member of a very select fraternity. It’s a fraternity that goes beyond the usual small fraternity of former major league baseball players. It’s so small that you can count the members on both hands, if that.

That fraternity is composed of former pitchers who excelled as both starter and relievers.

Think about it. How many pitchers can you name who did well in both roles? A few immediately come to mind: Dennis Eckersley, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, John Smoltz and Hoyt Wilhelm, but many fans don’t know that Wilbur Wood was both a league-leading relief pitcher and a league-leading starter in his days with the Sox.

Wood’s White Sox career spanned from 1967 through 1978, and during it he was a key part of three of the most memorable White Sox teams in club history.

1967 Wood was a part of the deep bullpen the Sox had, as the “Near Miss” White Sox had the World Series squarely in their sights until a disastrous final week.

1972 Wood was the lead starter on the 1972 “Outhouse or Penthouse” White Sox [Note: That phrase was authored by Sox outfielder Rick Reichardt when talking about the surprising season.] Those Sox battled the Oakland A’s down to the final week for the Western Division championship. If not for the back injury to third baseman Bill Melton, the A’s dynasty of the 70’s might never have happened.

1977 Wood was also a spot starter on the 1977 “South Side Hit Men” Sox club that smashed all existing team hitting records and has carried on as the baseball version of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Wilbur was one of the most popular Chicago athletes in the 70’s in part because he wasn’t 6´5´´, with a body by Adonis. Wilbur looked like your Uncle Butch or Cousin George. He was an everyman. And all Sox fans could relate to a guy who didn’t look like a sculpted god yet somehow found a way to consistently get major league hitters out again and again.

Wilbur was a three-time All-Star, a four-time 20-game winner, and recorded 57 saves and 163 wins in his career with the White Sox. He was named the 1968 American League Fireman of the Year, and in 1972 was both the American League Pitcher of the Year and the left-handed starting pitcher on The Sporting News American League All-Star team.

Wood led the American League in 33 different categories during his playing days, most of them in the good column. Among them were leading the league in appearances, games started, games finished, innings pitched (including a mind-blowing 376 innings pitched in 1972!), batters faced, wins and getting hitters to ground into double plays.

He had consecutive scoreless inning streaks of 29 in 1973 and 27 ⅔ in 1972. He tossed three complete-game two-hitters, with two of those taking 11 innings. He also added nine complete-game three-hitters. Wood started both ends of a double header twice [Note: Once because of rain that allowed an off-day. Wilbur finished the suspended game against Cleveland that began on May 26, 1973, then after a 30-minute break, began the regularly-scheduled game. This happened on May 28, 1973] and was named to the White Sox All-Century team.

There will never be another pitcher like Wilbur Wood.

When I spoke with Wilbur the topics were varied, from how and why he learned to throw the knuckleball, to how he became a starting pitcher and his initial reluctance to do so, to the pennant races of 1967, 1972 and 1977, his relationship with Eddie Stanky and Chuck Tanner, pitching so many innings and stories of his teammates during those great days.

He’s a unique man with a unique story.


Mark Liptak: Wilbur, you came to the Sox on Oct. 12, 1966. Juan Pizarro was the player eventually sent to the Pirates for you. Why don’t we start about how you found out about the deal and your reaction to it?

Wibur Wood: I actually found out about it from a friend. I was at home and got a call from someone saying they heard it over the radio! I guess it was later in the day that I got a call from the White Sox letting me know about it.

Your career was floundering with both the Red Sox and the Pirates, but then in 1967 (51 games, four wins, four saves and an ERA of 2.45) suddenly it all turned around. How did that happen? 

I had spent parts of seven years in the big leagues, and as my record showed things weren’t going that well. I was signed as a fastball/curve ball pitcher and did very well with those in the minor leagues, but they just weren’t good enough for the majors. I’d be fine for three or four innings, but after I went through the batting order once I’d start to get hit. I just decided to junk my curve and everything else and go 100% with the knuckleball. I actually had thrown that pitch a long time; I started using it back in high school and semipro ball. Sometimes I’d still throw a fastball to get the hitter’s timing off ,but that was only once in a while.

Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher were already on the Sox at that time and they threw the knuckleball a lot. Did they teach you anything about it that you didn’t know?

We’d talk more about the finer points of the pitch. It’s funny, but all knuckleballers tend to throw the pitch the same way. I recently spoke with Tim Wakefield at a charity golf tournament, and he held the pitch the same way I did, which is the same way Hoyt and Eddie did.

How was your knuckleball different from Hoyt’s and Eddie’s?

My pitch had a tendency to break down and away from right-handed hitters. Eddie’s had a tendency to break down and in to them. Hoyt’s was unpredictable: When he threw it, it could go all over the strike zone.

The wind could change how the pitch was moving as well. The area around home plate in most of the stadiums that I pitched was where the wind would blow after it bounced off the stands, or in some parks like the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota, just come right in and bounce the pitch around. A knuckleball acts by having the wind push against the seams.

I always used to feel sorry for White Sox catchers. Guys like J.C. Martin, Gerry McNertney, Ed Herrmann. It had to be rough trying to catch not one, not two, but three different knuckleball pitchers.

Well remember that the guys who caught us on the Sox, and I’d mention Pete Varney as well, they came up through the Sox system and in spring training they’d catch us. In the spring, because you have so many pitchers in camp, you’d bring in just about every catcher in the organization. So these guys had a chance to see [knuckleballs] for three years or so. Then when they made the Sox, they were used to it. Now if guys came in from somewhere else like in a trade, and never saw that pitch before, it would be tough.

Hawk Harrelson has commented on the fact that he didn’t understand why more pitchers don’t try learning that pitch. He mentioned it might really help guys who are struggling, or coming off an arm injury. When you pitched, Wilhelm, Fisher, Phil and Joe Niekro and Jim Bouton, among others, threw the knuckler. Any thoughts on why the knuckleball has become a lost art? 

See, if you are trying to learn the pitch because you’ve had an injury, it’s too late. I used to get a lot of calls when I was playing from pitchers who got hurt, and they’d ask about throwing it. The knuckleball isn’t something that’s learned overnight. I threw it for years, from when I was in high school. It takes that long to get used to it. What major league organization is going to give a pitcher three or four years to master the pitch?

That 1967 season was the season the Sox almost won the pennant. It’s been a long time, but I imagine the disappointment of that final week (where the Sox lost all five games to the lowly A’s and Senators) still remains.

That was my first good year in the major leagues, and I remember getting caught up in all of it. We were right there until the last week.

[The Sox closed the 1967 season with two games in Kansas City and three at home to Washington — the two worst teams in the league. After sweeping Cleveland that weekend, the Sox flew to Kansas City where they were off Monday. Tuesday’s game was rained out, and they played a doubleheader Wednesday night. The Sox were actually off for three days, because they last played Sunday afternoon — unheard of in a pennant race. Chicago lost both games, and then were off again Thursday before hosting the Senators. The White Sox were beat 1-0, eliminated from the four-team pennant race, then played flat and lost both weekend games to finish the season.]

One thing I particularly remember from 1967 was after manager Eddie Stanky made those comments about Carl Yastrzemski. [On June 5 before a series in Chicago, Stanky commented that Yastrzemski “May be an All-Star from the neck down, but in my book he’s a moody ballplayer. And I don’t like moody ballplayers.”] We went into Boston and played them in a big series. Every tomato in the city of Boston was in Fenway Park, and when Eddie went out to change pitchers the fans let him have it … and he couldn’t dodge them all! I was sitting in the bullpen laughing my ass off watching it.

You were a quick study with the knuckleball, because by 1970 you were one of the top relief pitchers in all of baseball, including your stellar season in 1968. [In 1968, Wood led the league with 88 appearances, with 13 wins, 16 saves and an ERA of 1.87 for a team that won just 67 games. Wood also saved 15 games in 1969 and 21 games in 1970, both for terrible teams.] Why do you think you were able to pick up the nuances of that pitch the way you did where others couldn’t?

I was fortunate because I was always able to throw strikes with the knuckleball. That was my biggest asset. I was always around the plate. Eddie (Herrmann) never even had to put down a sign, he knew what I was going to throw, I knew what I was going to throw, and the fans knew what I was going to throw.

In the 1970s when Carlton Fisk was with the Red Sox and we’d play them, I’d scream at him from the mound because he’d waste so much time. I’d yell, “Get in the box; I’m throwing a god damn knuckleball, not a fastball. You know it!” I mean why prolong the agony, right? [laughing]

The White Sox fell on miserable times in the late 1960s and 1970. They lost more games in that three-year period than at any other time in franchise history. The Sox lost 106 games in 1970 alone. It had to be agony going to the park every day. I don’t know how you guys kept your sanity!

It was awful. I’ll tell you how bad it was. The only games that I ever wanted to come into were games where I could pick up a save. I never wanted to go into games where the score was tied, because I knew, and everybody on the team knew, that we’d find some way to lose the game. We had no chance. The pitchers knew it and the position players knew it.

Joe Horlen told me about his 1971 spring training injury, which caused him to miss most of the season. But that’s only half of the story, because as a direct result of his injury Chuck Tanner began considering the option of making you a starting pitcher. I have heard you were against the move but for the sake of the team decided to give it a try. Why the initial opposition?

That was a strange situation, because even before the injury I was almost traded. It’s true; the Sox had a deal in place with Washington. I was going to be traded for Darold Knowles. But I was holding out that year. I was fighting for more money, and I never signed a contract. So the trade was null and void. It was pretty apparent that Chuck didn’t want me in the bullpen. He wanted hard-throwing guys, and we had players like Terry Forster and “Goose” Gossage coming up, so I became a starter. Roland Hemond said this one time, and it’s true: “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

As a pitcher, can you talk a little about the differences in preparation between starting and coming in to finish games?

I enjoyed pitching in relief, because I knew when I went to the park that there was a chance I’d get in the game. When you are a starting pitcher, you pitch — then sit for three or four days. I used to take ground balls in the infield on days when I wasn’t pitching just to keep busy, and I’d run a little bit, but sitting around just wasn’t for me.

The 1971 season was the start of an incredible run of success for you. (42 starts, seven shutouts, a save, 334 innings pitched, 210 strikeouts, 22 wins and an amazing ERA of 1.91.) A lot of folks felt that you should have won the Cy Young because you threw a very unpredictable pitch, a knuckleball, whereas Vida Blue, who did win the honor, had a conventional arsenal of pitches. Did you think you had a chance to win the award, and how did you feel about that season? (Wood never faced Blue head-to-head that season. Wood finished third in the voting, behind Blue and Mickey Lolich.)

Honestly, I didn’t think about the Cy Young back in those days. At the time, it wasn’t that important to me. Looking back, would I have liked to have won it? Sure.

I’d imagine that by the end of the year, you were comfortable starting games.

I was a little apprehensive at first doing this, it was just like before any game you’re always a little nervous. But when you start having success you get comfortable, and I had success starting right away. I was tickled pink that things turned out the way they did.

The Sox made great strides from the disaster of 1970 to 1971, but heading into the 1972 season did you expect the team to be as good as it was, even with Dick Allen on board?

I thought in the spring that we’d have a pretty good team because the guys weren’t selfish. They did what they had to do to win games. I knew that we’d win games, but I didn’t know how many. As far as Dick, he made all the difference in the world. He was a tremendous hitter. [Strike-shortened 1972 saw the Sox win 87 games and finish 5 ½ games behind the eventual World Champion A’s. Allen would win the AL MVP and narrowly miss winning the Triple Crown. He finished with a .308 batting average, 37 home runs and 113 RBIs.]

By June 4, 1972, the date of the famous “Dick Allen Chili-Dog Game” against the Yankees (in a doubleheader nightcap with New York the White Sox trailed 4-2 with two on and two out in the ninth. Tanner wanted Allen to pinch-hit but he was eating a chili dog. He wolfed down his snack, getting chili all over his jersey. On the third pitch from Sparky Lyle, Allen blasted a three-run, game-winning home run.), the Sox were an amazing 18-2 at home. As a guy who occasionally gave up some long fly balls, I’d imagine you enjoyed playing in a pitcher’s park. 

Oh, absolutely. I loved pitching in Comiskey Park. It had a big outfield, and gave you room for a mistake. I’d spin one and a guy would hit it, yet most of the time our outfielders were able to run it down because they had the room to get to balls in the gaps.

You were selected for your second All-Star Game, and in this one you actually pitched. How was that experience for you? (In the 1971 game at Detroit ,neither Wood nor teammate Melton appeared. In the 1972 game in Atlanta, Wilbur pitched two innings, allowing one run on two hits with a strikeout, as the National League won 4-3, in 10 innings.)

It was a great experience for me. Just a lot of fun. I’d gone the year before, but it was a great thrill to actually be able to participate in one of these.

Wilbur, you pitched a lot of great games, but to me this was your best with the Sox. On Sunday, Aug. 12, 1972 in Oakland, the Sox had cut a seemingly safe A’s lead of 8 ½ games down to one. The White Sox had split the first two games of this huge series, and you took the mound against Blue Moon Odom. Two hours and forty five minutes later, you walked off the mound a 3-1 winner in 11 innings, having fired a two-hitter. The Sox were now tied for first place in the division. What do you remember from that afternoon? (The complete game was Wilbur’s 20th win of the year.)

I’m sorry, that I don’t remember any more details [besides] when Ed Spiezio hit the [game-winning] home run. To me, even though it meant going into a tie for first place, it was just another day. Like I said, I’d get a little nervous before the game, but once you go to the bullpen and start throwing you get into the flow of the day and forget about everything else.

When I spoke with your catcher and teammate Ed Herrmann, he told me that he felt whoever won that series would win the division, but that it took so much out of you guys just to get that split that it drained you and Oakland was able to pull away.

Ed’s right. It was draining, especially on the position players. In a big series like we had with Oakland, a lot is expected of players. It’s draining. Plus, we had kept knocking on the door that season trying to catch those guys [and] that becomes draining, too. Because we were in a pennant race, we had to play our guys every day. That race was so close, you just couldn’t give guys time off.

If Bill Melton wasn’t lost for the season with the herniated disc on June 28 of that year, do the Sox win the West? (Melton, the 1971 American League home run champion, fell off his garage roof the previous November getting down his son who somehow wandered up on it. He fell on his back, which damaged a disc. Bill went to spring training and played through it the first few months of the year, but the condition got worse, with pain shooting down his legs because of pressure on a nerve.)

I don’t know if we would have won, but I know our chances would have been a hell of a lot better.

You pitched almost 377 innings tin 1972, an astonishing total, with eight shutouts, 24 wins, and an ERA of 2.51. Even though the knuckleball was your primary pitch, were you ever concerned about throwing that many innings?

I didn’t think about it that much. I was throwing the ball well; I had been in a groove the entire season. I wanted to give it a shot, I enjoyed it. I also didn’t like down time, just sitting around. So when they said “do you want to pitch every second day or third day?” I said “sure.”

People said I didn’t get sore because all I threw was the knuckleball, but that’s not true. I’d get stiff and sore, and in those days pitchers never used ice. I didn’t get as sore as if I was throwing, say, a slider, because I wasn’t putting the pressure on my elbow and shoulder, but I did get sore.

Hopes were never higher than in 1973. The Sox were the favorites according to the press, Melton was back and the team got off to a roaring start. By late May, the Sox were 26-14, with a t3 ½-game lead over the Angels. But even before injuries tore up the team (the team used the disabled list 38 times), the Sox weren’t very happy. GM Stu Holcomb’s hard line salary policy alienated many guys. Players like Rick Richardt, Mike Andrews, Jay Johnstone and Spiezio were released when they couldn’t come to terms, and that decimated the depth of the club. What was the mood in the locker room that season?

I don’t remember exact instances in the locker room where players got mad, but I’m shocked about the number of times we used the disabled list. I didn’t realize we used it that often.

As for you personally, an oddity took place on May 28, 1973, when you started the completion of a suspended game against the Indians and then after you won that one, went out and beat them again in the regularly-slated game. What was that experience like? (Wood’s line for the night: 14 innings, one run, seven hits, nine strikeouts, for a 13-3 record and it wasn’t even June yet!)

When a game goes that long, everybody figures that basically it would be over in an inning or two. It was my night to start anyway, so I figured I can give them an inning or two. It turned out the [suspended] game went five innings. I felt fine [and] knew I could throw a few more innings at least, so I started the second game. Everything was going well, so I just kept going and was able to finish it off.

I don’t know if both of these are related or not, perhaps you can shed some light on it. The 1973 Sox were ruined by injuries. It seemed everybody from Brian Downing to Allen to Ken Henderson to Carlos May were hurt. On July 20, 1973 in New York you started both ends of a doubleheader against the Yankees. Was that because of the injuries to the team, perhaps the pitching staff, or did you and Tanner have something else in mind? (Wood wasn’t sharp that day losing 12-2 and 7-0. He became the first pitcher to start both ends of a regularly-scheduled doubleheader since Cincinnati’s Fred Toney on June 23, 1918.)

No that wasn’t planned. Chuck was going to start someone else in game two, but I got knocked out early in the first game. I told Chuck I didn’t pitch much; I can go back out if you need me. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because they beat me up in the second game too! [laughing] That was strange, because I always had good success against the Yankees. (Wilbur failed to record an out in game one, giving up four hits and five earned runs. In game two he lasted 4 ⅓ innings, again allowing five earned runs.)

Despite the Sox being mediocre in 1973 and 1974 you still won 20 games, running that 20-win streak to four straight seasons. You made the All-Star Game again in 1973, but there was something missing from the Sox in those years. It wasn’t like in 1971 and 1972. Any idea what went wrong?

Well the injuries played a big part, and overall we were getting older. The team wasn’t as young as in 1971 and 1972.

When Bill Veeck took control of the Sox again in December 1975, he let Tanner go as manager. What was it like to play for Chuck? He seemed to be the exact opposite of your first Sox manager, Eddie Stanky.

Chuck was a player’s manager. I enjoyed playing for Chuck, we all did. Chuck was the most positive guy I’ve ever been around. No matter how bad things were going Chuck would always find something to be positive about, something to try to keep you going.

In fact, Chuck spent more time with guys who were having trouble or in a slump then with guys who were going well. I thought that was really smart. Remember in baseball you only have 25 guys, if two or three guys are down or having a hard time suddenly your roster is really short. Chuck tried to keep everybody ready to play because that gave us a better chance of winning.

In 1976, the Sox arguably weren’t any better than the versions from 1974 and 1975 but you personally were off to a great start. Opening Day for example, you shut out the Royals, 4-0. By early May of that year you were pitching brilliantly again: five complete games in seven starts, ERA less than 2.50 and a winning record. It all came apart in Detroit, courtesy of a line drive off the bat of Ron LeFlore. What do you remember about the injury and what was broken?

Ron hit me in the kneecap with a line drive, and it just blew it apart. He swung at a ball using an inside-out swing.That’s always the toughest for a pitcher to pick up, because it looks like he’s pulling the ball. Instead, he hit it right back up the middle. I never saw it. I wasn’t trying to catch it, I was just trying to get out of the way.

Originally, the kneecap was wired together to hold it in place. I didn’t have a cast. The doctors felt this way it would heal quicker, and maybe I could be out there in September. That September, I was working out at home trying to get ready to come back when I slipped on the grass and the kneecap went out again. This time, they had to put some pins in it to hold it together and I had a cast on, so I was done for the season.

My father had the same type of injury, a broken kneecap, and I saw how tough it was for him. He was older then you when he got hurt, but given that you were 35 at the time ,was there any question about coming back for the next season?

No, because I had another year on my contract. I had signed a two-year deal with the Sox in 1976, so I was going to come back.

The 1977 season turned out to be magical for the Sox, one that is still cherished by Sox fans. Was there any indication in the spring that this club would be as good as it turned out to be?

No, not in spring training, but looking back we did have a lot of guys who wanted to play. We had guys like Eric Soderholm coming back from injury, and we had a lot of fighters.

You started 18 games that season and pitched some good ones, including what I call the Lamar Johnson game on June 19, 1977. (The Sox played the A’s in a doubleheader, winning 2-1 and 5-1 behind Wood and Francisco Barrios. Wood started the first game, going eight innings on six hits. It’s called the Lamar Johnson game, though, because the first baseman/DH sang the National Anthem, then went out and got the only three White Sox hits, two of them solo home runs.) You still had that magic.

Well, maybe, but to tell you the truth, I was gun shy. I’ll admit it. LeFlore’s shot got to me. I pitched everybody inside, I wasn’t going to let them get out on the ball and maybe hit another one back up the middle. It’s hard to pitch that way.

This team electrified Sox fans because of their ability to pound the baseball and win games in dramatic fashion. Sox fans demanded something that wasn’t seen in baseball until then, the curtain call. Adding to it Nancy Faust’s rendition of “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” would send the crowd into a frenzy. Some of your teammates have told me that wasn’t a big deal; others have said they were uncomfortable with it because they felt opponents were being shown up. What were your feelings on all this?

You would have to put me in with the group that was uncomfortable with all that. I always had a saying, “Don’t wake up sleeping dogs.” Let ’em stay quiet, and leave town with a 5-4 loss. They’d say “Well we played a good game, and if we made one play, we would have won it.” Don’t wake them up;let them go home happy. Of course you see [curtain calls] more now, but back then it was a different story.

The season ended too quickly for Sox fans, as the team couldn’t keep up with an unbelievable Kansas City surge (the Royals went 35-4 from August 17 and September 25). When the Sox lost both Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble to free agency, everyone knew the magic was gone. The team was pretty bad in 1978, but you still had a respectable season going 10-10 for a team that only won 71 games. When did you decide it was time to retire?

In September 1978, the Sox traded me to Milwaukee, but I didn’t want to go. I’m sure that bothered the folks in Milwaukee, but I figured that I’d try the free-agent market that offseason and see what happened. Well, I wasn’t offered a uniform by anybody! That was the end of it. It was time. I wasn’t myself. I was gun-shy since the LeFlore hit.

You were named by the fans as a member of the White Sox All-Century Team. How did you get the news, and what was your reaction?

Roland Hemond gave me a call to let me know about it. Then that summer, we made the trip to Chicago. It was a great honor. Thanks be to the knuckleball that made it all possible! [laughing]

You spent 12 years in a Sox uniform. This is going to be hard, but how about summing up your time for me on the South Side and those fantastic years?

I was fortunate. I spent 12 very pleasurable years in Chicago. We had some decent years. Granted, we never won a championship, but more often than not we were in the hunt for it. Those are the seasons where you start playing in April and you look around and realize it’s September already. You ask yourself, ‘Where did it all go?’ Those are the years that I had the most fun and that I’ll remember.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today in White Sox History: September 30

Fond farewell: Scoreboard welcoming fans to the final game at Comiskey Park in 1990.


1921 — White Sox catcher Ray Schalk tied a major league record with three assists in one inning. It happened in a 3-2 loss to Cleveland at Comiskey Park. Schalk picked off three baserunners!


1949 — White Sox GM Frank Lane started the connection between the franchise and Venezuela when he dealt two minor leaguers and $35,000 to the Brooklyn Dodgers for shortstop Alfonso Carrasquel.

“Chico” would be named to three All-Star teams and would become the first Venezuelan to appear in the midseason classic. He’d be traded before the start of the 1956 season, to Cleveland for Larry Doby, which opened up the position for another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio.


1956 — In the season-ending game at Kansas City, Sox pitcher Jim Derrington became the youngest person to ever appear in a game wearing a White Sox uniform. Derrington was 16 years old when he started against the A’s. He went six innings, allowing six runs (five earned) in a 7-6 loss. The teenaged lefty (who was a “bonus baby”) didn’t last long in the big leagues. He pitched a total of 21 innings in the majors, and had a career record of 0-2.


1966 — The White Sox defeated the New York Yankees 6-5 in 11 innings, on a single to left by Johnny Romano. It scored Wayne Causey. Why was that important? The loss guaranteed the Yankees a last-place finish, for the first time since 1912.


1971 — When Bill Melton smashed a home run on the last day of the season off the Bill Parsons of the Milwaukee Brewers, he became the first White Sox player to ever win a home run championship. Melton hit three home runs in the final two games to pass Norm Cash and Reggie Jackson for the title. Typically for a White Sox slugger, Melton only hit 33, the lowest total for a champ since 1965.

In an effort to give Melton an additional at-bat or two, manager Chuck Tanner had the power hitter leading off in the Sox final two games.


1980 — For all of his contributions to baseball and to the White Sox organization, owner Bill Veeck was honored with his own night. The ceremonies took place before the White Sox would drop a 5-1 decision to Oakland.


1990 — Eighty years of baseball history ended, as the original Comiskey Park closed with a 2-1 White Sox win over the Seattle Mariners. An emotional and capacity crowd, including politicians, musicians, sports and Hollywood figures, were in attendance.

Among the celebrities in the park were Governor Jim Thompson, Major Richard M. Daley, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Ron Howard, George Wendt, John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, Billy Cunningham and Maureen O’ Hara. The Oak Ridge Boys sang the National Anthem and the rock group Styx sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning. Bobby Thigpen got his 57th save in the game. The Sox would close out a miraculous 1990 season with 94 wins.


1997 — After controversies on and off the field (calling for a relief pitcher with no one warming up, a fistfight with umpire Richie Garcia at a steakhouse, a brawl near third base with Brewers manager Phil Garner) manager Terry Bevington was fired. No flowers were sent and no Sox fan (or player) shed any tears.


2000 — White Sox infielder José Valentin became the fourth player in franchise history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game. Valentin connected off Kansas City’s Blake Stein and Scott Mullen, driving in three runs in the 9-1 win. This had only happened six times in franchise history, and Valentin did it three times himself! Also, this feat happened three times against the Kansas City Royals.


2008 — For the first time, the White Sox played an extra game to get into the postseason. They hosted the Twins in the 163rd contest of the year (known as the “Blackout Game”) and won 1-0, clinching the Central Division title. John Danks threw eight shutout innings, Jim Thome belted what turned out to be the game-winning home run and Ken Griffey Jr. threw out Michael Cuddyer at home. The Sox won the division with a record of 89-74.


2016 — White Sox left hander Carlos Rodón tied the franchise and American League record by striking out the first seven Minnesota Twins hitters, in a game at U.S. Cellular Field. The original record was set by White Sox hurler Joe Cowley back in 1986 at Texas. Unlike Cowley, though, Rodón actually won his game, 7-3. Rodón struck out 11 on the night, pitching eight innings.

Today in White Sox History: September 21

Endless waiting: An 11-year drought ended when the White Sox clinched the 1917 pennant.

Sept. 21, 1901 — The White Sox won the first “official” American League pennant despite losing to the Philadelphia A’s, 10-4. With a record of 83-53, the Sox would win the pennant by five games over the Boston Americans.  Unfortunately the World Series didn’t start until 1903, so this was the best that the South Siders could do.


Sept. 21, 1917 -— The White Sox clinched the pennant, beating the Red Sox 2-1 behind Red Faber. The final outs came when Babe Ruth rapped into a double play. The Sox would outdistance Boston by eight games in 1917 with a mark of 100-54, and then defeat the New York Giants four games to two for the World Championship.


Sept. 21, 1955 Frank “Trader” Lane, one of the finest general managers in team history, resigned. During his tenure, which spanned seven seasons, Lane made 241 trades involving 353 players. He was one of the architects of the club that would win the 1959 American League pennant. Among the players he acquired for the Sox were Minnie Miñoso, Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce and Sherm Lollar.


Sept. 21, 1970 — For the first time in 69 seasons, the Sox finally had a 30-home run man. Bill Melton got an upper-deck shot off Kansas City’s Aurelio Monteagudo to set the single-season White Sox home run record. That same day, Luis Aparicio got his final hit in a Sox uniform. Only 672 fans were on hand to see the doubleheader at Comiskey Park!


Sept. 21, 2015Jeff Samardzija had been acquired from the Oakland A’s in the hope that the Chicago native, who grew up a White Sox fan, could be the difference in getting the team to the postseason. Unfortunately, his 2015 campaign was something to forget as he struggled all year, particularly in the first inning and after the trade deadline. On this day, however, he pitched the finest game in his career, tossing a complete game one-hitter in shutting out the Detroit Tigers, 2-0. The only hit he allowed was a bloop single off of the bat of Victor Martinez in the fifth inning.

José Abreu: 999 Emergency

On the verge: One may be the loneliest number, but add 999 and you’ll arrive at José Abreu’s next hit. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)

José Abreu is about to go four figures on the lumberometer, having amassed 999 career hits, the most recent being Friday’s RBI double off of Lance Lynn in the sixth inning of a 8-3 win over the Texas Rangers.

When Abreu cracks that 1,000th hit, presumably sometime this weekend, he will become the 1,339th member of the club, joining luminaries as varied as Jamey Carroll, Dee Fondy, Birdie Tebbetts and Orator Shafer. Abreu will be just four hits from the career total of Bill Melton — although José has long since passed Beltin’s White Sox career total of 901.

At any rate, celebrating this milestone obviously calls for the following tunes, in descending order of coolness. We begin with London’s late, lamented Motörhead, with timeless, face-melting advice about what phone number to dial when things get dire: 999. From Motörhead’s 1984 “No Remorse” LP, “Emergency” is actually a cover version of a song by also-from-London metalsmiths Girlschool, who released it first as a classic of New Wave of British Heavy Metal four years earlier. (Safety note: Unlike in the UK, dialing 999 does not produce emergency services in the United States. Americans are advised to dial 911 instead, which, depending on your location, may or may not be a joke.)

ABOVE: The original by Girlschool from ’80 and a fine slab of wax in its own right.

Also from London, labelmates with true giants Buzzcocks was 999, a band with a string of minor hits to their name and a presence on seemingly every compilation documenting early UK punk rock. 1978’s “Homicide” is their best, and to the shock of nobody, has “minor hit” written all over it.

I apologize for making this nude, elderly man leer at you, but Keef recorded a pretty listenable bit of blues-sludge titled “999” in 1992. It’s got loads of those signature Richardsian no-6th-string, fluttery chord hammer-ons that pair well with Hammond organ and teflon internal organs.