Saturday, September 20, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1910's Chicago White Sox

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a teem needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a given amount of time.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.

Don't miss last week's almost dynasty: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's.

Building the team

Charles Comiskey was the American League.  He had come a long way from sneaking away from his father's construction business to play baseball as a young man.  His talent was large.  He was a star player of the American Association.  When he felt his rights, and the rights of all players, were violated he helped form the Players League.  After one failed year he jumped to the National League where he played for Cincinnati.  It was there that events were put in motion that eventually led to the formation of the American League.  Comiskey met a news writer in Cincinnati named Byron Bancroft Johnson.  Comiskey tired of the poor treatment the players received.  Johnson, who spoke his mind about the team, was banned from the Reds facilities by the ownership who did not appreciate the honesty of the writer.

The two men bought into the Western League and by 1901 they declared themselves a Major League, renaming the Western League the American League.  Comiskey had some early success.  In the inaugural American League season, pre World Series, Comiskey's Chicago Whitestockings finished first.  A few years later they toppled the greatest team of all time when they defeated the Cubs in the first ever cross town World Series.  It was then that Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and the Tigers took over with their "almost dynasty".  Although the White Sox finished 3rd in both 1907 and 1908, they quickly fell off and began to routinely finish in the bottom half of the league.

Of course the White Sox had some great players, several of whom would be central players in the near dynasty that would be built.  Ray Schalk, Hall of Fame Catcher, joined the team in 1912 as a 19 year old after being acquired from Milwaukee of the American Association. (One of the players included in that deal was Matty McIntyre, key outfielder and main Ty Cobb antagonist in Detroit's almost dynasty)  Buck Weaver also joined the South Side team in 1912 at 21.  Weaver would struggle with his defense at first but would become one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.  Shano Collins, one of the forgotten members of the strong White Sox teams, was 24 when he joined the team in 1910. Pitcher Red Faber joined the team in 1914 as a rookie.

One key member had nearly been part of the Tigers' almost dynasty.  Brought up with the Tigers in 1905, Eddie Cicotte saw little time.  He was sent back to the minors where his contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox in 1908.  Midway through the 1912 season, the one that would result in the Red Sox first World Series win of their own dynasty,  saw the Red Sox sell Cicotte's contract to the White Sox.

All of these key pieces were young and learning how to play the game.  They were learning it together.  By 1914 the team was starting to improve although they finished in sixth place, 30 games behind the Champion Athletics.  What the team needed was some veteran guidance.  The only veteran presence on that 1914 team was Hal Chase, not exactly an example you want your younger players to follow.

It had now been 8 years since the White Sox had won their World Series over the Cubs and Comiskey was tired of seeing other teams win.  He decided to add the pieces he needed to win now.  So he did what the modern day Yankees have done.  He started spending money.  The team added a young outfielder named Happy Felsch from Milwaukee of the American Association for $12,000 and spent an amazing (for the time) $50,000 to purchase the contract of Eddie Collins, still one of the greatest second baseman the game has ever seen.

Moving Up
The American League was in an odd place as the 1915 season started.  The Federal League had raided the league for star players.  The World Series Champion A's  had been dismantled by Connie Mack.  There was no clear favorite in the American League.  Why not the White Sox?  They started off slowly but went on a tear led by the pitching of Ciccotte and Red Faber.  By July 3 they had built a 6 game lead over the competition.  The lead slowly eroded.  By July 18 the lead had shrunk to 1/2 game.  The young players could not compete with the Red Sox dominant group of Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis.  Boston passed Chicago on July 19 and although the White Sox would hang out near the top for a few more days they slowly started to fade.  Comiskey made one last effort at the end of August to save the season.  On August 21 he sent two players and $31,500 to the Indians.  What he got in return was a  young man who had been compared to Ty Cobb.  Shoeless Joe Jackson was only 27 and had played in the Majors for only  four full seasons by the time Comiskey acquired him.  Comiskey envisioned Jackson, along with Eddie Collins, as the key piece in what he was building.  What he was building was hopefully the greatest collection of talent the world had ever seen.  Although the White Sox fought desperately to keep pace with the Red Sox, they finished the 1915 season in 3rd place. 10 games behind Boston.

For the 1916 season the White Sox added a young pitcher who had gone 33-12 for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League in 1915.  It was hoped that Lefty Williams would be the missing piece when combined with Ciccotte and Faber.  The offense for the season was a bit shaky.  Collins, Jackson, Felsch and Schalk were strong but First Base and Short Stop were serious issues.  Jack Fournier hit just .240 as the first baseman and Short Stop Zeb Terry hit a paltry .190. Comiskey was spending big to gather all this talent and he expected big results.  The 1916 season did not start the way Comiskey wanted.  By May 19 they were in last place, 8 games out of first.  It was then that they made their move.  In late June Williams and Faber started to round into form and the team climbed as high as 3rd place.  In an amazingly tight race where teams could jump three places in the standing with one win, the Sox reached first place on August 1 but there was never more than a 1 1/2 game lead.  When the dust settled the Red Sox stood at the top for the second straight year.  Chicago was only 2 1/2 games behind.  They were so close.  Had they gotten off to a better start they might have beaten the Red Sox. Had they gotten better production out of First Base and Short Stop they might have beaten the Red Sox.

Reaching the Goal
It was clear where the team needed to improve for the 1917 season and Comiskey would stop at nothing to get the pieces he needed.  He spent $3500 for Chick Gandil, a veteran First Baseman who had played with Cleveland in 1916. He then picked up Swede Risberg, a young Shortstop from the Pacific Coast League.  With these two additions and the close race of the year before, the team felt they had a great chance to win it all in 1917.

The pitching staff, led by Ciccotte (28-12, 1.53) and Williams (17-8, 2.97) was the reason for the team's success.  The offense, again led by Collins and Jackson, was lethal to the competition.  The additions of Gandil and Risberg had helped greatly, although a terrible late season slump would keep Risberg on the bench.  While they had stumbled out of the gate in 1916, they took off quickly in 1917, finishing the first month at 10-6, tied for first place.  By the beginning of June they had not lost any ground, but they had not gained any either.  It was clear this season would be a two team race between the White Sox and Red Sox.  Nearly every day of June was spent in first place and Chicago built a lead as large as 4 games but by July 4 they were tied with Boston again.  They built another five game lead in mid July but by July 31 they were again tied with Boston.  On August 1 Chicago took over first place again with a one game lead.  This time they would not look back.  A 22-9 August and 17-10 September gave them the margin they needed and they would win the American League easily by 8 games.

Their opponents in the World Series were John McGraw and the New York Giants.  While the Tigers had an almost dynasty in the American League, the Giants could be called an almost dynasty in the National League.  They should have played in the World Series in 1904 but McGraw refused to participate.  They won it in 1905 over the A's.  After coming close to getting back in 1908, McGraw rebuilt his team and emerged with a group that reached the World Series in 1911, 1912 and 1913 losing each of those years.  McGraw had again rebuilt his team and was now poised to do what he had not done in the previous three attempts, reclaim the World Series title.

The Giants sent Slim Sallee to the mound in Game 1 to face Ciccotte.  The first few innings were spent trading men left on base.  Each pitcher allowed men to reach base before working out of any trouble that developed and kept the game scoreless.  The bottom of the third started with Schalk grounding to third.  Cicotte then singled.  Shano Collins followed with his own single.  Cicotte was thrown out trying to reach third but Collins showed some aggressive base running and took second on the throw to third.  Fred McMullin, replacing the slumping Risberg, followed with a double and the White Sox scored the first run of the Series.  One inning later Happy Felsch hit a solo Home Run to give the Sox a 2-0 lead.  The Giants managed a run in the top of the 5th to cut the lead to 2-1 but that was as close as the Giants would get.  Following the 5th inning run, Cicotte allowed only one single and one base runner because of an error.  The White Sox looked strong in their Game 1 win.

Game 2 was Red Faber's turn to show what he could do.  He could do just fine.  He pitched a complete game, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and allowed only one walk.  Things looked a bit shaky in the second inning.  The Giants grouped three of their 8 hits for the day into that inning and scored their 2 runs to give the Giants their first lead of the series.  It would not last long.  In the bottom of the inning Jackson, Felsch, Gandil and Weaver hit four consecutive singles to score two runs and when Giants starter Freddie Schupp walked Faber to load the bases, the Giants went to their bullpen.  Pitcher Fred Anderson avoided any additional damage for the time being and the game remained tied until the  bottom of the 4th.  Six singles scored 5 runs giving the White Sox a solid 7-2 lead.  Thanks to the nice lead and three double plays, Faber had an easy day the rest of the way and the White Sox were half way to achieving what they set out to do back in April.

Game 3 shifted the Series to the Polo Grounds in New York and the Sox sent their ace Cicotte to the mound again.  Cicotte was masterful again.  He struck out 9, pitched a complete game, allowed only 8 hits and two runs.  The only problem for the White Sox was that Giants' pitcher Rube Benton was even better.  He allowed only 5 hits and never allowed more than one hit in an inning while quieting the hot bats of the White Sox.  Weaver had two hits in three at bats, Collins had two hits and Felsch had one.  No other White Sox hitter could figure out Benton.  The Giants won 2-0.

Game 4 was pivotal for the Giants.  If they lost they would be behind 3-1 and the White Sox would be only one win away from the ultimate goal.  If they won, they would even the series and hold the momentum.  It was a rematch of Game 2 with Faber vs Schupp but it was anything but a repeat.  Schupp was sharp allowing only 7 hits and no runs in a complete game effort.  Faber, who had benefited from the offensive explosion in Game 2 had no such support in Game 4.  Faber held the Giants scoreless until Benny Kauff hit an inside the park Home Run in the fourth.  Four Giant singles in the 5th gave New York another run.  Chicago never threatened the lead and the Giants tied the series with a 5-0 win.

This was where Comiskey would find out what his money had bought him.  His team could either respond to the challenge, as the Giants had, or they could allow the Giants to capitalize on the momentum they had created.  The scene shifted back to Chicago for Game 5.  Sox fans must have asked if the team had left their bats in Chicago when they had made the trip to New York.  While they were dangerous in Games 1 and 2, their bats were silent in Games 3 and 4.  Chicago started pitcher Reb Russell and it was a disaster.  He walked the lead off batter followed by a single and an RBI double and his day was over before recording an out.  He was replaced by Cicotte who got two ground balls that McMullin and Weaver turned into outs at the plate and appeared to be out of trouble.  A single scored one more run before the inning ended and the Giants led 2-0.  Two more
runs scored when the Sox committed three errors and things looked bleak for the home team.  The Giants built their lead to 5-2 by the 7th but the Sox finally woke up in the bottom of the inning.  They scored three runs on three hits to tie the game.  One inning later they took command of the game and the series with a three run 8th. They were now just one win away.

Faber started Game 6 at the Polo Grounds.  The first three innings were uneventful.  In the fourth the Giants self destructed.  A wild throw to first and a dropped fly ball allowed the White Sox to score three runs.  The first of those three runs is one of the most memorable plays in baseball history.  Eddie Collins grounded to third but was safe on the wild throw.  When Joe Jackson hit a fly ball that was dropped Collins advanced to third.  Felsch followed with a ground ball back to the pitcher.  What should have been an easy inning for New York now turned into a comedy of errors.  Collins had been moving on contact and Rube Benton, the Giants Pitcher, threw home to catch Collins.  Instead, Collins turned and headed back to third.  The throw then went to third and a run down was on.  There was only one problem.  Someone missed their assignment.  When the ball went to third base Collins stopped and turned for home. What he saw amazed him.  No one was covering the plate.  Collins sprinted home.  Sprinting behind him was third baseman Heinie Zimmerman.  Zimmerman  dove for Collins.  Collins dove for the plate and umpire Bill Klem threw his arms out calling Collins safe.  If it wasn't so important a run it would have been comical.  Later, the reporters asked Zimmerman why he had chased Collins home.  His answer was obvious.  "Who the hell was I supposed to throw the ball to? Klem?"  Gandil followed with a single scoring both Jackson and Felsch and the White Sox went on to win the game and the World Series.

With the young core and strong pitching staff the Sox were viewed as the new dynasty.  There seemed to be nothing that could stop them.

The Lost Season
As the 1918 season neared, the US involvement in World War I deepened.  The Secretary of War issued what came to be known as the"Work or Fight" directive demanding that all men of draft age must either enlist in the military or find work that could be deemed beneficial to the war effort.  As more and more young men were being shipped over seas it became more difficult to justify playing a boy's game professionally.  The 1918 season started on time but for the White Sox, and many others who anticipated fighting for a pennant, it was a disaster.  Joe Jackson played only 17 games, Felsch only 53 games.  Collins, Risberg, Faber and Lefty Williams all missed the better part of the year in military service or war work.  The team finished in 6th place and were never a factor in the race.  This was a huge missed opportunity to solidify the dynasty but it was an opportunity  that was out of their hands.  The next missed opportunity would be of their own doing.

The Black Sox
Players were terrified that they might not have a job to return to, or worse, might not return at all.  The league worried that another year like 1918 could force the entire baseball industry to shut down.  Because of the uncertainty, all contracts were voided at the end of the 1918 season making everyone a free agent, technically.  On November 11, 1918 the war officially ended making it safe for baseball to freely start the season.  All players were returned to their previous teams (at reduced salaries) and the league picked up where it had left off.

The Sox picked up where 1917 had left off by pummeling the competition.  Surprisingly it wasn't the Red Sox that Chicago was battling.  It was a Yankees team that came out of nowhere and an Indians team that had been slowly improving themselves.  There was a small period at the end of June where there appeared to be a battle for first but the White Sox quickly righted the ship and took off for smooth sailing.  They out played everyone and cruised to the American League pennant.  Everyone wondered what could have happened the year before had the team stayed in tact.  Everyone also wondered how badly the Sox would beat the Reds.  As we know they didn't.  Without going into a break down of the series of the most infamous event of sports history I will direct you to the previous article exploring the myths of the Black Sox scandal.

The exposure and fall out from the scandal ensured that the almost dynasty of the White Sox would never come to fruition.  In fact, the White Sox organization would take generations to recover.  They would rarely compete over the next 70 years.  They would reach the World Series in 1959 and the ALCS in 1983.  Those would be the only two post season appearances in Chicago until they built a strong team in the 1990s and eventually on the World Series in 2005.

After the 1919 World Series the White Sox would not appear in a World Series again until 1959.  Who was the manager of that White Sox team?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
The answer to last week's question could actually have two answers.  My original thought when asking the question was focusing on the World Series era but after re-reading my own question I realized that I left it open to interpretation so here are the two answers. Before the World Series era the Chicago Whitestocings of 1880, 1881 and 1882 were the first team to win three consecutive NL flags.  This is the franchise that would eventually become the Cubs.

The World Series era began in 1903 when the Pirates beat the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox).  The Pirates had also won the 1901 and 1902 NL flags on the strength of Honus Wagner, Tommy Leach and Fred Clarke.  TJD's anwer is technically correct, although the first two of the three did not occur in the World Series era.

The first National League team to win three straight pennants all in the World Series era was the Chicago Cubs of Tinker, Evers and Chance.  They won the NL pennant in 1906, 1907 and 1908 and defeated the Tigers of Ty Cobb in the last two. 

1 comment:

  1. Al Lopez was the manager of the 1959 WS. Weren't we just talking about him? :)


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