Today in White Sox History: March 21

Seeds of Sox: Charles Comiskey purchased the Sioux City Huskers and, eventually, brought them to Chicago.

After a meeting with the Chicago Cubs, the way was cleared for Charles Comiskey to bring his team from St. Paul, Minn. to Chicago. He would set up shop of the South Side of the city. However, Comiskey was bringing the team to town regardless of whether the Cubs approved or not — the meeting was set up merely to try to avoid any conflicts.

The White Sox suffered a major blow to their hopes for a championship when star third baseman Robin Ventura destroyed his ankle and lower leg on a slide at home plate in a spring game against the Red Sox. The injury was so horrific that a woman sitting in the stands passed out when she saw the result. Ventura’s spikes caught in the ground, grotesquely twisting his foot 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

The injury took place only 10 days before the season opener, and the Sox were left in a state of shock. GM Ron Schueler announced to the media the team would be looking for a replacement, and then did nothing to fill the void. The Sox stumbled out of the gate with an 8-18 start. Thankfully after a rigorous rehabilitation process, Robin would come back to play in 54 games in 1997 and continue to have an outstanding major league career.



Today in White Sox History: March 4

Haters hate: Media coverage of MJ’s baseball career was almost universally unfavorable. In related developments, some sportswriters like to kick puppies and double-dip their chips. (Baseball America)

In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, owner Charles Comiskey attempted to rebuild his team. One of the first moves he made was to acquire future Hall-of-Famer Harry Hooper from the Red Sox for two players. Hooper would play five years on the South Side and hit better than .300 in three of them.

Sportswriter Brett Ballantini was born in the tiny hamlet of Highwood, Ill. Ballantini would write on baseball for decades, returning a sense of sartorial splendor, articulate absurdity and flash mob enthusiasm to White Sox coverage.

NBA superstar Michael Jordan, who retired from the Chicago Bulls in October 1993, made his White Sox spring training debut.


Today in White Sox History: November 20

Brief flirtation: It was a weird day indeed, when Albert Belle signed with the White Sox. (Baseball Hall of Fame)

1893 — The Western League was formed. It was the direct forerunner to what would become the American League in 1900. The league started with seven franchises in Detroit, Sioux City, Toledo, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Grand Rapids and Minneapolis. The Minnesota franchise would eventually be moved to the South Side of Chicago by Charles Comiskey.

1996 – The Sox shocked the baseball world when owner Jerry Reinsdorf announced that he has signed slugger Albert Belle to the largest contract in baseball history. Sox fans were torn between being happy the Sox spent money on a star and being worried because of Belle’s sullen, moody reputation. Other baseball owners were furious with Reinsdorf, feeling that he deliberately signed Belle to the large contract to pay them back for agreeing to settle the 1994 labor dispute. Reinsdorf would be removed from the labor relations board, the body that advised the commissioner in all labor matters, over it.

Belle would put up some monster seasons in his short White Sox career, especially in 1998 when he hit .328 with 49 home runs and 152 RBIs.


Today in White Sox History: October 26

(Chicago Tribune)

1931 — Sox founder and owner Charles Comiskey died in his home in Eagle River, Wis. He left his entire estate to his son J. Louis Comiskey, including the White Sox. His estate was valued at more than $1.5 million dollars at the time., the equivalent of $17 million today.

1993 — White Sox manager Gene Lamont, who guided the team to its first postseason appearance in 10 years, was named American League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). Lamont would beat out Buck Showalter of the Yankees for the honor. Lamont got 72 total points to Showalter’s 63. Lamont picked up eight first place votes to seven for Showalter.

1994 — Even though his quest for the Triple Crown was cut short by the labor impasse shutting down baseball six weeks early, Frank Thomas still did enough to garner his second straight MVP award from the BBWAA. Thomas outdistanced future Sox outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and future teammate Albert Belle, finishing with 24 first place votes out of a possible 28. He ended up with 372 points to Griffey’s 233 and Belle’s 225.

In 113 games, Thomas hit .353 with 38 home runs, 101 RBIs, 106 runs and 109 walks. With the award, Thomas became the first back-to-back AL winner since Roger Maris in 1960 and 1961.

2005 — On this night in Houston, the Sox became World Series champions for the first time since 1917. Freddy Garcia and three relief pitchers shut out the Astros on five hits, 1-0, sweeping the best-of-seven series in four games. The Sox shut out Houston for the final 15 innings of Series play.

Outfielder Jermaine Dye drove in the game’s only run and was named the World Series MVP. The South Side exploded in an orgy of delight, as fans celebrated all over the area.

“stockyard workers … “

Today in White Sox History: October 14

(Chicago Tribune)

1906 — The White Sox beat the Cubs, winning the World Series four games to two behind the pitching of Doc White. They clinched the title by winning the sixth game, 8-3.

Ed Walsh won two games for the Sox during the series, with infielder George Rohe batting .333 and playing in all six games for the Hitless Wonders.

After the game, owner Charles Comiskey handed a $15,000 check to manager Fielder Jones. It was to be split among the players. The players viewed the check as a bonus for their efforts. Comiskey, though, considered it as an advance on part of their 1907 salaries! The seeds of the eventual Black Sox scandal were perhaps sown on this day.

It is the only time in more than a century of playing baseball that the White Sox and Cubs have ever met in the postseason. The Cubs losing playoff share of less than $500 per player remains the lowest of all time.

Today in White Sox History: October 11

1899 — The new American League was formed in Chicago. The city didn’t have a team in the league at that point but soon got the St. Paul, Minn. team, led by player/manager Charles Comiskey. They set up shop on the South Side.

1991 — White Sox manager Jeff Torborg, who was named Manager of the Year for 1990, resigned to take a job as manager of the New York Mets. It was a strange move, and the real reason for it wasn’t made known until years later, as Torborg told individuals and provided examples of how then-White Sox GM Ron Schueler forced him out.

A century later, contemplating the Black Sox scandal with 200 other baseball nerds

No gum, though: Gummy Arts 1919 White Sox cards. (@gummyarts)

In 1919, heading into the World Series, the Chicago White Sox were a “popular and well-known team.” Let that quote sit with you for awhile.

A little more than year later, on Sept. 28 1920, Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte confessed to his part in fixing the 1919 World Series.

Exactly 99 years after that, on Sept. 28, 2019, I spent four hours at the Chicago History Museum at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium.

(“You are such a nerd,” I’ve been told multiple times recently about this — always lovingly, of course. Also, site note: Of the roughly 200 attendees, I counted only 15 women and 10 people of color. Props to South Side Hit Pen for having the most inclusive bunch of writers in the Sox-fan-blog-sphere.)

You can listen to the entire symposium here (including a question by yours truly!), which I highly recommend for every Sox fan. If all you know of the scandal is Eight Men Out (book and/or movie) and Field of Dreams, you owe it to yourself to spend some time digging into the SABR website. Did you know that the Black Sox probably threw the 1920 pennant, too? There was a clear and bitter divide between the “Clean Sox” and the Black Sox on those 1919 and 1920 teams. (Did you also know that you can watch bits of Games 1 and 3 on YouTube?)

The day began with a panel discussion on the cultural legacy of the scandal: Why does it endure? It is a stubbornly unsolved mystery, with a vast cast of characters and multiple plot lines. With no trove of papers to find (gambler Arnold Rothstein destroyed all of his, for example), some facts will forever remain unknowable. Therefore, we can each paint our own story on the canvas: Labor vs. management, greed and innocence, do you rat on your friends or not?

The panelists gave both credit and blame for the myths that have arisen to Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof: “it was a book flawed in its fact, but genius in its narrative.” Asinof was an underpaid minor league ball player and a writer who was blacklisted in the 1950s; these facts influenced the story he painted. But with documents from the time being released to the public in the early 2000s, the last 15 years have seen a revised interest in researching the facts of the story.

For example, Charles Comiskey was not a cheap bastard. Well, he kinda was, but not as cheap as all of the other owners. For real, the White Sox had the highest payroll in the American League in 1919. Players may have felt underpaid (and salaries weren’t public then, so they didn’t know what players on other teams were making), but we now know they weren’t. In 1919, teams allocated 1/3 of their revenue to payroll. Today, that amount is 2/3. This eventual shift of power, more than the permanent ban of the Black Sox, is what ensured that scandal this large would never happen again.

So, without the “cheap owner, disgruntled players” narrative, what was the motive? This is one of those facts we’ll likely never know. At the time, baseball and gambling were intertwined. The sport had far more dirty players than eight guys from Chicago. Hal Chase, for example, was known to be gambling on and throwing games as recently as 1918; baseball knew, and baseball did nothing. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker fixed a Tigers-Indians game. There was some evidence that the Cubs and Red Sox conspired to lengthen the 1918 series. Eight players from the New York Giants were eventually banned for various crooked behavior. The list goes on and on. And the money was good: for Cicotte, the money he was promised for throwing the Series was equal to his salary. Therefore, it was a low-risk, high-reward proposition. The players simply had no reason to believe they would get caught, or punished.

The day concluded with another panel, “Eight Myths Out: Shedding New Light on Baseball’s Darkest Hour.” Again, I refer you back to SABR, whose Eight Myths Out project is enlightening. You can’t really be angry at Comiskey for the salaries, but you can be angry at him for knowing about the fix as early as Game 1 (possibly even earlier) and doing nothing, just hoping nobody would ever find out. You can be mad at Chick Gandil and Cicotte, who were the clear ringleaders and were plotting the fix for weeks before the season even ended.

During the Q&A, I was chosen to ask a question (here at the 1:03:40 mark). “(1) Did banning the Black Sox in fact, save baseball? (2) It’s been said that the White Sox had the talent to compete with the Yankees in the 1920s, and their banishment helped lead to the rise of the Yankee juggernaut we all love to hate. Is that valid, or another myth?”

To the first half of my question, panelist Bill Lamb (author, Black Sox in the Courtroom) noted that if the goal was deterrence, particularly with the Buck Weaver banishment, then “mission accomplished.” Bruce Allardice — professor of history at South Suburban College, White Sox fan, and author of numerous articles about the scandal — added, “The more I read about the dead ball era, the more amazed I am that any games got played. The gambling was so prevalent, and the money was so big, it’s amazing the players were as honest as they were.”

But it’s Jacob Pomrenke, chair of SABR’s Black Sox Scandal Research Committee, who jumps on the second half of my question first: “The 1921 hypothetical American League pennant race between the Yankees and the White Sox sure would have been a lot of fun, but we never did get to see that one. It is very interesting to think about what the White Sox would have done in the 1920s … It’s very likely that the White Sox would have continued to stay contenders.”

There may have been a funereal pall that fell over the room at that moment, or maybe it was just in my own heart as I imagined this alternate White Sox history. This is the canvas on which I paint my story. If the players just flat-out hadn’t done it. If it had only been Gandil and Cicotte, and they were then the only ones banned. If Jackson and Weaver had enjoyed long, prolific careers. If the “clean” pitcher Red Faber wasn’t sick, with his starts going instead to conspirators Cicotte and Lefty Williams. If the Sox had won multiple pennants, if not another World Series, in the ’20s. What if, what if, what if …

These are the questions that haunt a Sox fan’s soul. What would a history of being good, being relevant, actually feel like? Would we even be White Sox fans with such a history? So much of our Sox-fan identity — the dismissal, the national irrelevance, the chip on our collective shoulders — is rooted in this original sin.

I left the symposium buoyant to be surrounded by so many other baseball nerds, and to hear the facts of history, even if (and maybe especially because) they didn’t match up to the stories of my youth. I also left a bit sad, for generations of White Sox fans. There are missing pieces in the research, they told us — notes from the White Sox secretary, for example, interviews in old newspapers, court documents — stories still to be told. But the main story for me, and for a century of South Side fans, has already been written.

Today in White Sox History: September 29

Blood brothers: Ozzie Guillén and Ken Williams celebrate the division title.

Sept. 29, 1908 — White Sox starting pitcher Ed Walsh fired two complete games in a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox. He won both by the scores of 5-1 and 2-0. In 1908, Walsh would have arguably the greatest pitching year in the history of the game, winning 40 times with an ERA of 1.42.

Sept. 29, 1917 — With a 3-1 win in the second game of a doubleheader in New York, the White Sox won their 100th game of the season. That remains the most wins in a single season in franchise history. Eddie Cicotte picked up the win.

Sept. 29, 1920 — With the White Sox leading the American League late in the season, pitcher Eddie Cicotte and outfielder Joe Jackson confessed (without an attorney present) that they helped throw the 1919 World Series. Charles Comiskey suspended eight players; the Sox collapsed down the stretch and blew the pennant, losing out to Cleveland by two games.

Sept. 29, 1921 — One of the “clean” White Sox, pitcher Dickie Kerr, was honored with a day at Comiskey Park. Kerr then went out and fired one of his best games, blanking Cleveland on six hits to win, 5-0.

Sept. 29, 1967 — The Sox still had a chance for the pennant, but lost 1-0 to the Senators. The only run was set up when first baseman Tommy McCraw wasn’t able to catch a pop up off the bat of Washington’s Fred Valentine in the first inning. NBC-TV had erected a barrier for their field level cameras in case the World Series came to Comiskey Park, and Valentine’s pop fell into that enclosed area near the visitor’s dugout. Valentine then singled to drive in the only run.

The 1967 season marked the 17th straight year that the Sox finished better than .500.

Sept. 29, 1990 — The last night game ever played at the original Comiskey Park was won by the White Sox, 4-2. Frank Thomas slapped a two-run single up the middle off Seattle Mariners starter Matt Young to drive in the go-ahead runs.

Sept. 29, 2005 — The White Sox beat the Tigers in Detroit, 4-2, clinching the Central Division title. The Sox won 99 regular season games and led the division every day of the season (and remain one of the few teams in baseball history to go wire-to-wire). The Sox then blitzed through the postseason, going 11-1 on their way to the world championship. They swept Houston in four games to get it.

Sept. 29, 2008 — White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramírez set a major league rookie record when he hit his fourth grand slam of the season in an 8-2 win over the Tigers. The home run would also tie the franchise record for most grand slams in a season. Albert Belle originally set that mark in 1997.

Today in White Sox History: September 28

Sept. 28, 1932J. Louis Comiskey, the new owner and son of Charles Comiskey, tried to rebuild his franchise by sending $150,000 (an unheard-of sum in those days) to the Philadelphia A’s for infielder Jimmy Dykes, outfielder Al Simmons and utility man George “Mule” Haas.

Simmons would become a member of the Hall of Fame in 1953, and in three seasons with the Sox twice drove in more than 100 RBIs. Dykes would eventually manage the team for more than 12 full seasons, beginning in 1934. He had five winning years and one season at .500 in that time, by Brett Ballantini’s managerial WAR the best manager in White Sox history.

Sept. 28, 1953 — The White Sox beat the St. Louis Browns, 3-2, behind Billy Pierce. It was the last American League game ever played in St. Louis, as the Browns moved to Baltimore after the season.

Sept. 28, 1959 — The White Sox team photo appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The caption read: “Chicago’s New Champions Sit For Their Portrait.”

Sept. 28, 1997 Frank Thomas won the batting championship with a .347 average. He joined Luke Appling as the only White Sox players to do this. Thomas was one of only a handful of players in major league history with a batting title and at least 450 home runs to their credit. Thomas was also the largest player (both in height and weight) to ever win a batting crown.

Sept. 28, 2003 — White Sox starter Esteban Loaiza recorded his 21st win of the season, beating the Royals 5-1. The 21 wins tied the major league record for the most wins in a season by a pitcher born in Mexico. Loaiza tied the mark set by Fernando Valenzuela in 1986.