Chicago White Sox
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While the histories of the AL's oldest franchises contain most of baseball's greatest moments, the saga of the Chicago White Sox includes some of the game's gloomiest and goofiest. From the infamous Black Sox of 1919 to Bill Veeck's three-ring circus of the 1950s, the White Sox have always been on the fringes of the American League's proud tradition.
A black cloud has hung over the White Sox franchise ever since eight Chicago players conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. Since then, Chicago has only once reached the World Series, making them the least successful franchise of the sixteen original clubs.
White Sox teams have been perennially known as the "Hitless Wonders"; not a single outfielder made it to the Hall of Fame during the twentieth century. Unlike modern stars Frank Thomas, Bill Melton, Harold Baines, Greg Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk, most of the White Sox's all-time greats were contact hitters, such as Nellie Fox, Eddie Collins, Luis Aparicio and Luke Appling - not surprising, considering the deep dimensions of the original Comiskey Park. But the South Side's stadium treated pitchers well, its spaciousness enjoyed by hurlers Ted Lyons, Red Faber, Billy Pierce, knuckleballer Wilbur Wood, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Early Wynn.
Even though the White Sox were never consistent winners, they did manage to keep a fair percentage of their players around for their most of their careers. Ed Walsh, the last 40-game winner in the majors, spent 18 of his 19 seasons in Chicago, and honest catcher Ray Schalk 17 of 18 years.
In many ways, it's been the owners (first Charles Comiskey, later Bill Veeck, and now Jerry Reinsdorf) -- and the late but venerable Comiskey Park -- that have proved to be the most enduring White Sox personalities.
The White Sox were born in the winter of 1893-94 in Sioux City, Iowa. Charter members of Ban Johnson's Western League, the club was owned by just-retired first baseman and manager Charles Comiskey. After a brief shift to St. Louis, the Chicago-born Comiskey wrangled a concession from the Chicago Cubs to bring his team to the South Side of his hometown in 1900. To spite his North Side National League rivals, Comiskey's team adopted the Cubs' first nickname - the White Stockings - and began play at Southside Park, a former cricket field.
The club's first manager was also its leading pitcher, Clark Griffith, who won 24 games in 1901. After Griffith (the future owner of the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins) left the club at Ban Johnson's request in 1903 to take the reins of the new American League franchise in New York, Comiskey named another of his players, Nixey Callahan, as his replacement. Callahan, a jack-of-all-trades outfielder/pitcher who had hurled the first no-hitter in franchise history in 1902, was often in Comiskey's doghouse for his late-night drinking and general disregard for rules. After a near-last-place finish in 1903, Callahan yielded in 1904 to Fielder Jones, who led the team to its first pennant in 1906.
The 1906 AL champs, who faced their crosstown rivals in the first and only All-Chicago World Series, were built around the stingiest pitching staff in the league. The pitching-rich Sox featured two twenty-game winners -- Frank Owen (22-13, 2.33) and Nick Altrock (20-13, 2.06) - and lefty Doc White (18-6, 1.52) who had the lowest ERA in the American League. Hall-of-Famer Ed Walsh (17-13, 1.88) rounded out the rotation in his first full season as a starter, using his tough spitball successfully for the first time. At one point in August the club had reeled off 19 straight wins.
Offensively, the team was a complete dud. "The Hitless Wonders" (the original team to inspire the phrase) hit only .230, and no regular hit higher than .279 or drove in more than 80 runs. But Jones' team mastered the dead-ball style of manufacturing runs by any means necessary. Despite finishing last in homers and slugging average, the Sox managed to finish third in runs scored.
The "Cubs" (actually, not yet the Cubs; the nickname would not be adopted until 1907) were favored heavily in the Series. Setting all-time records by winning 116 of their 152 games (a percentage of .763) they had finished twenty games ahead of their closest competitor, John McGraw's New York Giants.
The North Siders found little difficulty in silencing the traditionally mute White Sox bats, holding the Sox to a .198 batting average. But they couldn't do much about the White Sox pitching, which itself held the Cubs to a .196 average. True to form, the Sox got only nine hits in their first three games, but managed to win two. They capitalized on key fielding mistakes to win a 2-1 first-game squeaker in freezing temperatures and light snow. An Ed Reulbach one-hitter in the second game tied the Series, but Walsh delivered a gem of his own in the third with a 12-strikeout shutout as the Sox won 3-0.
Not to be outdone, "Three Fingers" Brown avenged his Game One loss with a two-hitter to even the Series in the fourth game, but the Sox bats came alive in the last two games, sealing the Series upset. Reulbach lasted only two innings in Game Five as the Cubs gave up twelve hits (four of them doubles by Frank Isbell) in a 8-6 loss, and Brown couldn't get out of the second inning in Game Six. By the third inning the White Sox had a 7-1 lead, and six innings later had won the Series with a 8-3 victory.
In the clubhouse euphoria, the penurious Comiskey made a curious gesture. He gave manager Jones a $15,000 check and told him to split it up among the players. The White Sox soon discovered the method to Comiskey's seeming fiscal madness: the money also represented raises the team was due for 1907. In the wake of this revelation, many players refused to report to spring training, and it wasn't until Jones himself was granted a raise that the team came to camp. The deception, however, was an omen of Comiskey fiscal shenanigans to come that would sow the seeds for scandal.
The Sox left the ranks of the AL's elite over the next decade, yielding to Ty Cobb's Tigers, Tris Speaker's Red Sox and Connie Mack's A's. But while the team faded, Ed Walsh was becoming one of the league's dominant pitchers. In 1908, he enjoyed possibly the greatest season in baseball history, going 40-12 with a 1.42 ERA, 11 shutouts and 269 strikeouts, leading the league in every pitching category -- including saves, with six -- except ERA. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946, his 1.82 career ERA (admittedly, enabled by the dead-ball era) still stands as the all-time low.
In 1910, Comiskey unveiled a new South Side stadium, soon to be dubbed Comiskey Park. The White Sox' reliance on pitching influenced the planning of their new home; its pitcher-friendliness was due partly to Walsh, who counseled the architects during the park's design. Its cavernous nature was ideal for a dead-ball era team, especially one not known for its offense, and its impact on the Sox style of play was evident in later years.
After building a stadium in 1910, Comiskey started to rebuild his team in 1912. The White Sox had finished 34 1/2 games out of the running in Comiskey Park's inaugural season, and 24 games behind the Philadelphia A's in 1911. He rehired Nixey Callahan as manager and bought pitcher Eddie Cicotte from Boston; moves which had neligible results on the field. After the team again slumped to sixth place in 1914, he spent $50,000 to get future Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins from Philadelphia. In August 1915, Comiskey invested $31,500 and three worthless players to acquire Joe Jackson from Cleveland.
Collins and Jackson were key components of the Sox's revival on the field, but both would cause trouble for Comiskey in other ways. When Collins agreed to come to Chicago, it was because the normally tight-fisted Comiskey had agreed to a lucrative guaranteed contract under which Collins earned twice as much as any other Sox regular. The college-educated and stand-offish Collins already was disliked, but jealousy over his salary created even more animosity. Jackson would play a key role in the scandal of 1919.
His coffers bulging from Comiskey Park's burgeoning attendance (the White Sox drew more fans than any team in the country) Comiskey continued to spend cash to build his team, meanwhile angering his lowly-paid players by stingily requiring them to do their own laundry. During the war, in spite of raids by the short-lived Federal League, his scouts signed key players such as outfielder Happy Felsch, third baseman Buck Weaver, catcher Ray Schalk, shortstop Swede Risberg, and pitcher Claude "Lefty" Williams.
The last piece of the puzzle was former Sox rookie Chick Gandil, who was bought from Washington just prior to the 1917 season. Even though Gandil would hit well as the team's everyday first baseman, acquiring him might have been Comiskey's biggest blunder; Gandil was the ringleader of the Black Sox scandal.
The 1917 team, under the guidance of manager Pants Rowland, was and remains the most successful in franchise history, the only White Sox team to win 100 games. Cicotte led the league in wins (28) and ERA (1.53), but the hitters barely resembled the "Hitless Wonders" of eleven years earlier. Felsch and Jackson paced an offense that topped the league in runs scored. In the World Series, Eddie Collins hit .409 to lead the Sox over the Giants in six; the enduring image from the final game was the speedy Collins beating lumbering Giant third baseman Heinie Zimmerman in a race to an unguarded home plate for what turned out to be the winning run.
The war robbed the Sox of many of its stars for all or parts of the 1918 season, and the team flopped into sixth place. But everyone was back in 1919; Ray Schalk behind the plate, Eddie Collins at second, Buck Weaver the third baseman, and an outfield of Nemo Leibold, Happy Felsch, and Joe Jackson. Under new manager Kid Gleason, the Sox took first place on July 9 and never looked back, edging out the Cleveland Indians in a close pennant race to finish 88-52 in the shortened 140-game season.
His team set to face Cincinnati in the World Series, Gleason boasted, "I don't know where [the Sox] can be beaten." His answer: the Ansonia Hotel in New York, where eight players - Jackson, Weaver, Felsch, Gandil, Risberg, Williams, and Cicotte -- had conspired with gamblers in mid-September to throw the best-of-nine Series. After the Sox lost the first two games by a 13-3 margin, Dickey Kerr (who was not in on the fix) shut out the Reds in the third game for the first of his two Series wins. Cincinnati then took a 4-1 series lead with two consecutive three-hit shutouts. Jimmy Ring won the fourth by a 2-0 margin, while Hod Eller hurled a 5-0 gem in the fifth game. Chicago came back to win the next two (Kerr's second victory of the Series sealed a 5-4 Game Six) but a 10-5 Game Eight won it for the Reds.
Even Comiskey felt something was wrong with his team's loss. So did several objective bystanders, including several sports writers and former Giant pitcher Christy Mathewson. After rampant rumors during the 1920 season, the truth came out in the heat of the pennant race. Comiskey immediately suspended the eight indefinitely, even though his team held a slim half-game lead in the pennant race, which was eventually won by the Indians.
While ultimately unforgivable, the fix was understandable given the tenor of the times, the Sox' anger at their cheap boss, and the accessibility of gamblers to players of that era. In many ways, the most surprising thing about the Black Sox scandal is that it didn't happen sooner or more often.
What's little remembered is that the disgraced team was together for almost the entire 1920 season. The team boasted four 20-game winners: Faber had 23 wins, the first of three straight 20-win seasons, Williams won 22, and Cicotte and Kerr each won 21. That feat would only be matched once, by the Baltimore Orioles over fifty years later.
The eight were exonerated of criminal conspiracy charges on August 2, 1921, in a curious Cook County trial. But the next day, recently-appointed baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banished them forever. The ordeal left Comiskey a broken man.
The Comiskey Curse
Gleason left after the 1923 season and was followed by a series of short-term managers including Collins and Schalk. In 1925, Ted Lyons succeeded Faber as the ace of the staff; and led the league in wins in 1925 and 1927. Comiskey embarked on a series of wild trades in an attempt to rebuild his dispirited club. But most of the real activity took place off the field.
Untainted rookie Kerr got dragged down by the scandal when he pitched in a semi-pro game against some expelled Black Sox and, as a result, found himself tossed out as well by Landis. Outfielder Johnny Mostil attempted suicide in the wake of an affair with Faber's wife. Infielder Bill Cissell took to the bottle when he was unable to fulfill his potential, and ended up haunting Comiskey Park until dying of malnutrition.
Comiskey sank deeper and deeper into depression. "The Old Roman" died heartbroken October 26, 1931, and the club was taken over by his son, Lou. The younger Comiskey, upon assuming control of the club, took advantage of Connie Mack's Depression-era fire sale and bought slugging outfielders Al Simmons and Mule Haas, and most notably, second baseman Jimmy Dykes. In 1934, Dykes took over as manager and managed for a franchise-high 12 years. In 1931, shortstop Luke Appling began his remarkable 20-year career in which he won two batting titles, including a franchise-record .388 in 1936. But the most important event at Comiskey Park took place July 6, 1933 when the city hosted the inaugural All-Star Game.
Even though some stability was achieved on the field, there was still turmoil that was attributed to a "Comiskey Curse." After two 15-win seasons, promising star pitcher Monty Stratton shot himself in the foot in the 1938 off-season, ending his career. On April 16, 1940, the White Sox were the victim of the only Opening Day no-hitter, which was thrown by Cleveland's Bob Feller. Three months later, Lou Comiskey died. Months of legal wrangling followed until the family regained control of the club.
The White Sox teams under Dykes at the 1930s were always competitive, always finishing slightly below or slightly above .500. But Comiskey's death, along with the passing of Billy Webb (who had built the White Sox minor-league system) hurt the team's development. By the end of World War II, Dykes had been replaced by Ted Lyons in a contract dispute. The team lost 101 games under Lyons in 1948. Embarrassed that the team had become the butt of jokes around the league for its complete disorganization, the Comiskey family brought in Frank "Trader" Lane to put the club's house in order.
As usual, Lane traded. And traded. And traded -- more than 100 deals in the seven years he spent in Chicago. In late 1948, "Frantic Frankie" got young pitcher Billy Pierce from Detroit for catcher Aaron Robinson; Pierce became the club's third consecutive franchise pitcher, succeeding Lyons. He led the league in ERA in 1955 and in wins two seasons later, his second-straight 20-win season. In October 1949, Lane acquired second baseman Nellie Fox from the A's for another catcher, Joe Tipton; Fox would lead the AL in hits four times during his 14 seasons in Chicago. In April 1951, Lane pulled a triangle deal with the Indians and the A's for speedy outfielder Minnie Minoso. In November 1951, he caught catcher Sherm Lollar in an eight-player trade with the Browns that included outfielder Jim Rivera. The following July, Lane got the wacky "Jungle" Jim back. Lane made four deals in twelve months between October 1951 and October 1952 involving shortstop Willie Miranda. In 1956, Luis Aparicio finally filled the gap at short left by Appling's 1950 retirement.
This team would form the core of the Go-Go White Sox, a team not unlike the Hitless Wonders of half a century before in their reliance on scratching out runs the old fashioned way. For 11 straight seasons -- 1951-61 -- the White Sox led the league in steals. By today's standards, the totals were not very high -- only twice did they swipe more than 100 as a team -- but in the power-heavy '50s, the Sox' use of the stolen base was an unusual tactic.
The team steadily improved, finishing third five straight years, then second for two more, always blocked by the powerful Yankee and Cleveland teams of the era.
The final pieces of the puzzle were added in the late 1950s. In 1957, Indian manager Al Lopez took over the managerial job, and in the off-season, veteran Early Wynn joined the pitching staff in a trade with Cleveland for Minoso.
While the club improved steadily on the field, there were continual ownership battles off the field. When Lou Comiskey died, his will stipulated that his son Chuck (Charles III) assume ownership -- when he was 35. He was still a schoolboy when his father died, so his mother and sisters ran the club in the interim. But family arguments over who was in charge kept landing in court. Finally, on March 5, 1959, long-time suitor Bill Veeck bought a controlling interest in the team.
Veeck's timing was perfect. Lopez and the Go-Go Sox finally pierced Yankee invincibility to win the AL pennant. Lopez became the only AL manager to beat the Yankees between 1949 and 1964; he'd also managed the 1954 AL champion Indians. Aparicio led the league in steals (56), Wynn in wins (22, good enough for the Cy Young) and Fox was named AL MVP.
Like their 1906 predecessors, the Sox finished with the third worst team batting average and were last in the league in home runs, but led the league in ERA. Unlike 1906, however, there would be no World Series upset. The Sox ran into the Dodgers, who like Chicago had a fine pitching staff and baserunning ability but could also hit. Los Angeles won the Series in six games.
Veeck and Veeck Again
If there were such a thing as P.T. Barnum University, Bill Veeck would have graduated with honors. The peg-legged impresario had previously owned the Indians and then the Browns and once brought a midget named Eddie Gaedel up to bat to spur attendance. By bringing his act to Chicago, he blew out the stale air that had polluted Comiskey Park for 50 years. His first stay in Chicago, however, didn't last long.
In one game, Veeck put on a parade of midgets led by the former Brown, Gaedel. He held an Al Smith Night to honor his slumping outfielder; anyone named Smith got into the park for free. In the 1959-60 off season, he installed a $350,000 exploding scoreboard that produced fireworks after Sox homers. In 1960, the Sox became the first team to have the players' names on their uniforms. Veeck's promotional magic worked. In the pennant-winning season, the Sox drew a record 1.4 million fans; the following year, a new record 1.6 million fans poured into Comiskey.
But off the field, Veeck made a series of uncharacteristically bad trades. He reacquired an aging but popular Minoso from Cleveland for a young first baseman named Norm Cash. He traded away Johnny Callison in one deal, then future Twin stalwarts, catcher Earl Battey and Don Mincher.
By the end of 1961, Veeck was in poor health. The previous June he had the rest of his already truncated left leg amputated, and doctors advised him to give up the club. He sold out to Arthur Allyn Jr. and the Sox became a subsidiary of the Artnell conglomerate. Chuck Comiskey sold his minority stake, leaving the club without a Comiskey at the top for the first time in the club's history.
The White Sox, in the meantime, were consistent AL runners up, thanks mainly to its pitchers; Gary Peters, Tommy John, with Hoyt Wilhelm coming out of the bullpen. The Sox pop-gun offense was balanced, filled out with 15-homer/70-RBI-type hitters such as shortstop Ron Hansen, third baseman Pete Ward, and outfielder Floyd Robinson. In 1965, every Sox regular hit at least 10 homers, and drove in at least 42 runs; the leader in both categories was ex-Yankee slugger Moose Skowron, who hit 18 homers and drove in 78 in his final productive season.
In 1966, the White Sox finished fourth under manager Eddie Stanky; in 1968, they took part in a legendary pennant race between the Tigers, Red Sox, and Twins. Although no regular hit over .241 for the season, the Sox stayed in the chase until the last week of the season. Tied with Minnesota for the AL lead as late as September 6, the team slumped to fourth and then fought back to within a half-game by September 18. Despite their best efforts, the White Sox dropped a key doubleheader to the Senators (in which their two aces, Peters and Horlen, were beaten by Chuck Dobson and Catfish Hunter) -- then eliminated September 29, with two games to go. It was a devastating loss for a team that had led from early May through mid-August.
In the executive suite, Allyn wanted out -- declining attendance and revenues in the wake of neighborhood racial tensions were no way to make money. In 1968, the team played 10 games in Milwaukee's County Stadium, floating the idea of selling the team to local car dealer Bud Selig and moving the club. When that deal fell through, Allyn tried to sell the club to Dallas millionaire Lamar Hunt. In 1969, Allyn finally sold his shares to his younger brother John.
All the backroom shenanigans didn't help the club. After the 1968 season, volatile Eddie Stanky ended a short and stormy stint as manager. A plethora of managers finally made way for Chuck Tanner by the end of the 1970 season, but not before the club suffered its worst season ever, losing 106 games. The best thing about the 1970 season was a new voice in the broadcast booth -- Harry Caray.
With a new administration installed both upstairs and in the dugout, the White Sox improved by 23 games in 1971. For the second straight season, third baseman Bill Melton hit 33 homers to lead the league, and knuckleballer Wilbur Wood turned in the first of four-straight 20-win seasons.
Adding to the power infusion was sullen Dick "Don't Call Me Richie" Allen, acquired in an off-season trade, then signed to what was the most lucrative contract in Chicago sports history. Allen paid off immediately, leading the AL in homers (37), RBI (113), and slugging average (.603), batting .308 and winning the MVP. The team finished second, its highest standing for the next dozen years.
But front office machinations continued to dominate the news. The team wasn't drawing and was forced to get rid of high-paid talent, including Allen after once again leading the AL in homers in 1974. Tanner was constantly having run-ins with the owners and various GMs over their Comiskey-like penury. In 1975, after trying to unload the team to several prospective suitors, Allyn sold the club -- to Bill Veeck.
Veeck picked up where he left off. He held ethnic nights, brought in belly dancers, invited witches to cast spells, dressed his team in shorts, and, on July 12, 1979, held a Disco Demolition Night that resulted in several fires and a near riot. In 1977, the Sox drew another record 1.66 million fans.
Off the field, Veeck's timing couldn't have been worse. He already was operating the club on a shoestring as baseball moved into its free agent era. Without adequate funding, he lost ace relievers Terry Forster and Goose Gossage to wealthier teams.
Economics and the repercussions from Disco Demolition night finally forced Veeck to once again sell the club, this time to local businessmen Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, in August 1980. But before he left, he signed up Tony LaRussa as the club's new manager.
Money and Power
Unlike Veeck, Reinsdorf and Einhorn had the resources to not only keep players, but to go out and sign more. First to change Sox was the AL's leading catcher, Boston's Carlton Fisk, who actually would play longer in White Sox than in Red. A few weeks later, the new owners bought husky bomber Greg Luzinski from the Phillies. These two sluggers joined rookie Harold Baines, along with home grown pitchers Rich Dotson, Britt Burns, and LaMarr Hoyt, and, in 1983 Floyd Bannister, picked up in a trade with Seattle. Another homegrown hitter, Ron Kittle, ended up the league's Rookie of the Year in 1983.
Already leading the Western Division in mid-season, the club went on a 45-16 tear to finish the '83 season, with Dotson winning his last 10 decisions on his way to a 22-win season. Hoyt won 13 straight starts on his was to a 24-win season and the Cy Young award. For once, a championship White Sox team had some punch; four players -- Baines, Fisk, Kittle and Luzinski -- each hit more than 25 homers, the team finished first in the division in homers and led the league in runs scored. But the team hit a paltry .211 in the ALCS loss to Baltimore. Only Kittle among the team's four big bats managed to hit above .200.
The following season, controversial hitting guru Charlie Lau died of cancer. The team was decimated by injuries and fell to fifth. At the end of the season, Hoyt was shipped off to San Diego in return for four players, including shortstop Ozzie Guillen.
But LaRussa complained that the front office was scared to make trades to revitalize the team, so former broadcaster and player Hawk Harrelson was brought in as GM. He and LaRussa didn't get along, so in mid-1986, LaRussa was gone, as was promising rookie Bobby Bonilla in a trade with the Pirates. To attract fans to Comiskey, fading stars were brought in, first ex-Met Tom Seaver, who won his 300th game pitching for the Sox, then Steve Carlton. Jim Fregosi took over as manager, Larry Himes as GM.
Reinsdorf and Einhorn soon realized that the Cubs, for years more popular around the Windy City, now had deeper pockets. In 1980, the Cubs also changed hands, bought from the Wrigley family by the The Tribune Company, a powerful media chain that controlled the Chicago Tribune. Reinsdorf's and Einhorn's solution: a new ballpark. The two owners' proposal was essentially blackmail intended to coerce the state of Illinois into footing the bill for the White Sox proposed new headquarters; unless they got their stadium, the White Sox were going to move to St. Petersburg. In anticipation, the Florida city began building the Suncoast Dome, a domed stadium that would wait a decade for a major league tenant.
Illinois governor Jim Thompson didn't want to lose the Sox on his watch, so in a flurry of legislative activity, a bill was passed at literally the 12th hour to fund the building of a new stadium.
Meanwhile, Himes was proving to be just as tentative and penny-pinching as his predecessors. But while the White Sox finished low in the standings, it stood high in the amateur draft, allowing Himes to pick up future star pitchers Bobby Thigpen, Alex Fernandez and Jack McDowell, third baseman Robin Ventura, and a former football player turned first baseman named Frank Thomas. Against Reinsdorf's wishes, Himes did make one big trade in mid-1989, sending the popular but gimpy Baines to Texas and acquiring Sammy Sosa and pitcher Wilson Alvarez. When Baines visited Chicago as a visitor the following season, Reinsdorf retired his #3 uniform.
Jeff Torborg led the new Sox team to consecutive second place finishes in 1990-91, thanks mainly to reliever Thigpen who set a major league record with 57 saves in 1990.
In 1991, the team moved into its gleaming new palace, the New Comiskey Park, situated directly across the street from the Old Roman's ancient showplace. Sensitivity didn't rank high with Reinsdorf, however; the demolition of the historic old park took place during the 1991 season. Fans filing into the new park were forced to watch the old one slowly decompose under a wrecker's ball.
Soon Himes and Torborg were gone, replaced by Ron Schueler and Gene Lamont. Their timing was excellent -- Frank Thomas was becoming the league's most dangerous all-around hitter and the White Sox' first true power franchise player. The former football player led the team to back-to-back titles in 1993-94. In 1993, the Sox won the Western Division championship with Thomas clouting a franchise record 41 homers, Jack McDowell winning 22 and the Cy Young award, and Lamont winning the Manager of the Year trophy, but the Sox lost to Toronto in the ALCS. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Thomas once again had a great all-around season (.353 BA, 38 HR, 101 RBI) and the Sox won the new Central Division title. But the strike removed the chance of the Sox returning to the World Series.
The emergence of the Indians as a powerhouse, and the sudden loss of McDowell as a free agent to the Yankees, doomed the Sox and Lamont, who left in mid-1995 in favor of Terry Bevington. Thomas continued to threaten for the Triple Crown in the next two seasons, both 40 HR, 100-plus RBI years, but the club lost ace Alex Fernandez to free agency and the club finished far behind the powerful Indians two years in a row.
After the 1996 campaign, Reinsdorf once again opened his pocketbook and signed troubled Indian slugger Albert Belle to the richest contract in major league history. Speedy rookie Ray Durham took over at second base, and Alvarez established himself as the ace of the staff, backed up by reliever Roberto Hernandez. But slugger Ventura broke his leg in a spring training game in early 1997, leaving power production in the hands of Albert Belle. When Belle got off to a slow start, and so did Chicago.
The team, however, was only three-and-a-half games behind Central-leading Cleveland at the end of July, when Ventura returned to the lineup. But Reinsdorf suddenly pronounced that anyone thinking that the White Sox would catch Cleveland was "crazy." "We aren't going to catch Cleveland," opined the boss, stunning baseball and the city when he traded away Alvarez, Hernandez, and starter Danny Darwin to the San Francisco Giants for six minor leaguers. At the end of the season, starter Doug Drabek opted out of Chicago as well.
Reinsdorf's real rationale: all would be free agents. Reinsdorf had no intention of resigning them, and so traded them to at least receive some value in return. The Giants ended up winning the NL West as a result, and the Sox finished six games out. But Thomas became the first White Sox player to win the batting crown since Luke Appling 53 years earlier, hitting .347, smacking 35 homers and driving in 125. More significantly, Thomas became only the fourth player in major league history to post seven straight .300-plus, 20-plus HR, 100-plus RBI seasons; the others to accomplish the rare feat are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Henry Aaron. After the 1997 season, the unpopular Bevington was finally let go, and former player Jerry Manuel was given the job. (SW)