Chicago White Sox: All Time Greatest Team

Chicago White Sox (1901-Present)

Also known as the White Stockings

American League (1901-Present)

American League Champion: 1901, 1906, 1917, 1919, 1959, 2005

World Series Champion: 1906, 1917, 2005

The Chicago White Sox were one of the four Western League Franchises that morphed into the American League in 1901. Charles Comiskey, who led the St. Louis Browns in the defunct American Association, purchased the Western League Franchise in Sioux City in 1894. He immediately moved them to St. Paul, Minnesota where they would remain until 1900. That’s when Ban Johnson persuaded Comiskey to move the club to the south side of Chicago, where they were when Johnson challenged the National League with the creation of the American League in 1901. The four established Western League Franchises were then joined by four new clubs in Boston, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia to form the new Major League. They originally took the name of Cap Anson’s National League powerhouse, the Chicago White Stockings but quickly shorten that to the White Sox. The White Sox won the American League Championship in its inaugural season. This was prior to the peace settlement between the two leagues, so they were denied the opportunity to challenge the National Champion, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Their first opportunity to compete in the World Series came in 1906, when manager Fielder Jones and shortstop George Davis led the ChiSox to a second American League Flag. Their opponent in the World Series was none other than their Chicago neighbors, the mighty Chicago Cubs. This was a Cub Team that won a Major League record, that still stands, 116 games. In the most improbable of outcomes the 93 win White Sox, known as the “Hitless Wonders”, shocked the baseball world by winning the Series in six games. 

The White Sox remained competitive until the dismissal of Jones in 1909, then played about .500 ball until the purchase of Eddie Collins and Joe Jackson in 1915. They climbed to 3rd in 1915, 2nd in 1916, and then won it all for “The Old Roman”, Charles Comiskey in 1917. A disappointing 1918 set the stage for the year that will forever haunt the Chicago White Sox.

Led by Eddie Cicotte, Joe Jackson, and Eddie Collins the Sox won their second American League Pennant in three years in 1919. The American League had won eight of the previous nine World Series, so Chicago was a heavy favorite over the Senior Circuit’s Cincinnati Reds. Despite the success the team was not a close unit, split between the Eddie Collins group, of well educated and well paid players, and the Chick Gandil group of players who thought Charles Comiskey was treating them poorly. Approached by gamblers many of the Gandil group agreed to throw the Series. Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg were the leaders, but the scheme couldn’t succeed without a couple of pitchers and some big hitters. They convinced center fielder Hap Felsch to join them and then went to work on the two key targets, Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson. A salary dispute with Comiskey landed them Cicotte, and with Cicotte in they then got the #2 pitcher on the staff, Lefty Williams. Fred McMullen let it be known he would participate if manager Kid Gleason would let him play. They then approached third baseman Buck Weaver, who indicated reservations about the plot, but the other seven thought he was in.

When Eddie Cicotte hit Red’s leadoff man Morrie Rath the gamblers knew the fix was in. Cicotte and Williams were both beaten in Games 1 and 2, but when non participant Dickie Kerr shut out the Reds in Game 3, the conspirators started to get nervous and quit paying the players. Cicotte, one of the few players to get money ($10,000), dumped Game 4, and Williams followed suit in Game 5. The White Sox were now facing elimination, but Kerr won Game 6 on a 10th inning single by Chick Gandil. Cicotte had had enough of the broken promises and he turned the tables on the gamblers by winning Game 7, 4-1. It came down to Lefty Williams in Game 8. He didn’t get out of the first inning in a 10-5 drubbing. 

Rumors persisted about the fix during the Series, but the situation didn’t blow up until September of 1920, when in the middle of a tight pennant race, a grand jury was called to take evidence about the fix. It was reported that Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, and Joe Jackson confessed to the plot, but that was never confirmed because Cicotte’s, Williams, and Jackson’s grand jury testimony mysteriously disappeared before the trial. The eight players indicted were acquitted on all counts. The verdict of history and the new Baseball Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was quite different.

Cicotte, Jackson, Risberg, Felsch, McMullen, Williams, and Gandil were banned for life for participating in the scam. Buck Weaver was also banned for knowing about the conspiracy and not telling anybody about it. The scandal wrecked the franchise. Charles Comiskey spent the rest of his life blaming his old friend, League President Ban Johnson, for the fiasco. “I blame Ban Johnson for allowing the series to continue. If ever a league president blundered in a crises, Ban did.”  Comiskey, The Old Roman, died a broken man in 1931.

One final note on the Black Sox Scandal. It did not happen in a vacuum. Gamblers had been involved with organized baseball from the beginning. Some players, such as Hal Chase, were willing to do anything if the price was right. Just the year before, in 1918, there were rumors that the Chicago Cubs had sold out against the Boston Red Sox. The hiring of Mountain Landis was the change. He would not tolerate the dishonesty and forced the corrupt players out of the game. There were many players, besides the Black Sox eight, that Landis banned for life. Judge Landis is one of the five most important figures in baseball history.

Judge Kenesaw Landis

The South Side’s journey from darkness continues to this day. It would be 40 years before the club won their next American League Championship (1959), and another 45 after that for a second, when they swept the Houston Astros in the 2005 World Series. The struggles continue today for the White Sox, a full 100 years since the worst scandal in baseball history.

Catcher

Ray Schalk (1912-1928) was one of the “Clean” Sox. One who did not try to lose the 1919 World Series. Probably the only career #8 hitter to be in the Hall of Fame, but excellent on defense, finishing as high as 3rd in the MVP vote. The choice here is between a player who spent all but five games with the ChiSox, but at a much lower level than the man who spent half his good years in Boston. Carlton Fisk is one of the 10 best catchers of all time. An excellent receiver and reliable hitter. Ultimately we think that Carlton Fisk’s (1981-1992) 12 years in Chicago were slightly more valuable than Schalk’s 17 years.

First Base

The “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas (1990-2005).

Second Base

Nellie Fox (1950-1963) was great with the glove and solid at the plate. He was the American League MVP in 1959 when the White Sox won their first pennant since the Black Sox in 1919. It took a while, but he was finally enshrined in the Hall of Fame, as he should be. He is not, however, the best second baseman in ChiSox history. The gamblers didn’t even approach Eddie Collins (1915-1926) for their fix.They knew he would never go for it. Collins divided his years between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox, spending more seasons in Chicago, but his best years in Philadelphia. MVP Awards were only presented in seven of his seasons, only three while he was with the White Sox. He won one in Philadelphia (the Chalmers), and had two seconds and a fifth with Chicago. Forced to choose, we would list him as the greatest second baseman of all time.

Third Base

This is another franchise that has struggled to produce quality third basemen. Robin Ventura (1989-1998) wasn’t great, but he is the obvious choice.

Shortstop

Luke Appling (1930-1950) by a wide margin over fellow Hall of Famers George Davis (1902-1909) and Luis Aparicio (1956-1962, 1968-1970)

Left Field

The choices in the outfield for the White Sox are so slim that we are forced to include “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (1915-1920). Of course Jackson sold out to the gamblers in 1919, but we have to look past that. He just wasn’t very bright and he let Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg trick him into taking the money. He had no intention of throwing the World Series, he just wanted to get a share of the money. Sarcasm is intended. In defense of Shoeless Joe, as Bill James has said, he was more like the corrupted than the corrupt. Without Jackson and Cicotte the conspiracy had no chance, and the people who perpetuated the scam knew that. It’s hard to believe that there are Baseball Fans and Writers out there who think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. 

Center Field

Fielder Jones (1901-1908) played center field on two of the White Sox six pennant winning teams. A fine fielder who was a little wanting at the plate. The sad part about selecting Jones is that there really isn’t anybody else to consider in center field.

Right Field

The injustice of the Hall of Fame ballot can be summarized by the Veteran’s Committee’s 2019 selection of Harold Baines (1980-1990, 2000). Baines was a good player, but he wasn’t as good as Orestes “Minnie” Minoso (1951-1957, 1960-1961, 1964) on his best day, and Minoso is not in. Minoso was prevented from having a Hall of Fame career solely for the color of his skin. He was not given an opportunity to show what he could do until he was 25 years old. Give him those four or five years and he’s a no doubt Hall of Famer. Even without them, he was clearly more valuable to the Chicago White Sox than Harold Baines. Let us start a movement to keep Baines out of the Hall and put Minoso in!  

Pitchers

Most modern sports fans do not realize that the Spitball was not banned until 1920. Most hurlers repertoire prior to 1920 included the pitch, and for some it was their primary weapon. The pitcher with the most effective spitball was Hall of Famer “Big” Ed Walsh (1904-1916). Walsh’s first big year was the White Sox World Championship year of 1906. He would win an incredible 168 games between 1906 and 1912, including 40 in 1908 when Chicago fell just short in the memorable American League Pennant race. He’s the #1 choice over two other members of the Hall of Fame.

Urban “Red” Faber (1914-1933), another one of the clean Sox in 1919. He was one of the stars of Chicago’s 1917 World Series team, being the winning pitcher in three of their 4 wins. He derailed his career to serve in the United States Navy in World War I, returning in 1919. Due to health problems he did not participate in the World Series the year against the Reds and completely avoided that debacle. He spent his entire Big League time with the White Sox, winning 20 or more four times and 254 in all. He is in the Hall of Fame and narrow choice for the #2 pitcher over another Hall of Fame hurler, Ted Lyons (1923-1946).

Urban Faber

Lyons was a teammate of Faber in the 1920s and 1930s who lasted into the 1940s. His career was effectively ended when he enlisted in the Marine Corp in 1942. By the time he came back in 1946 he was 45 years old, went 1-4 in five games and then called it quits.

Ted Lyons

The fourth and final spot is between World Series conspirator Eddie Cicotte (1913-1920) and Billy Pierce (1949-1961). Cicotte was the most important of the crooked players. He had won 29 games in 1919 and was upset at White Sox owner Charles Comiskey for not giving him his promised bonus for winning 30. Cicotte was personally responsible for two of the Black Sox losses in the Series, but did win Game 7 (the WS was best of nine at the time) to get back at the gamblers who had stiffed the ballplayers. His and Joe Jackson’s confession to a grand jury broke the story. Pierce won 186 games for the ChiSox in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By the metrics we use to rate players Cicotte is significantly ahead of Pierce, but how much do we discount him for being a crook?  Not enough, we’ll hold our nose and take Cicotte.

Eddie Cicotte

Manager

Fielder Jones (1904-1908) didn’t have a bad season during his hitch in Chicago. His worst finish was 3rd and his worst record was 87-64 (.576). His best year was when his ChiSox stunned the cross town Chicago Cubs in the 1906 World Series. The biggest upset in World Series history. Just like he did in Cleveland, Al Lopez’ (1957-1965, 1968-1969) time in Chicago was very good, but just like in Cleveland he couldn’t beat the Yankees. In his nine full seasons there his team won one pennant and finished second five times. He had a very similar record to Jones, a .564 winning percentage to .592 for Jones and 840 wins compared to Jones’ 496. Fielder Jones does have something Al Lopez never had, and that is a World Series victory. It’s very close, but beating the 1906 Cubs is enough to swing it to Fielder Jones (1904-1908).

MVP

By the metrics we use there are three players who are about even as the Most Valuable Player in White Sox history. Frank Thomas, Eddie Collins, and Luke Appling, in that order, are the three. Frank Thomas won back to back MVPs in 1993 and 1994, leading Chicago to a Division Title in 1993, and the best record in the American League before the season was shut down by the owners’ lock out after 113 games in 1994. Thomas would finish 2nd in MVP voting when Chicago won another division title in 2000, but only play 34 games when the White Sox won their first World Series since 1917 in 2005. Luke Appling never won a MVP, but finished 2nd in 1943, before joining the service for the last two years of World War II. Luke spent his entire 20 years with Chicago, winning two batting titles along the way. Unfortunately, the White Sox never won an American League Pennant during his time. That’s not true with Eddie Collins. In Collins’ 3rd season with the Sox, they won the World Series and in his 5th they were American League Champions. After the Black Sox scandal, Collins had several more outstanding seasons, but the decimated roster prevented the team from being competitive. So the question is; Is 50% of Eddie Collins’ career more valuable than 90% of Frank Thomas’, or 100% of Luke Appling’s. This is a very tough call, but we’ll say “no”.

That leaves it between Appling and Thomas. Three factors point towards Thomas. Thomas won two MVPs, while Appling won none, the teams Thomas played for had more success than the teams Appling played on, and according to our metrics, Frank Thomas,“The Big Hurt” is slightly ahead. 


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