In 1900, shortly after Chicago was granted an American League franchise, rumors began to circulate that the St. Paul White Stockings of the Western League would be pulling up stakes to become the Windy City’s Southside team. When team owner Charlie Comiskey confirmed those rumors, the Chicago White Stockings played their first game against the University of Illinois at their new home, the 39th Street Grounds. They chalked up a 10- 9 win in that game, and rapidly became the circuit’s most promising team.
On January 29, 1901, the American League declared itself to be a second Major League, after their one-year agreement with the National League expired, and on April 22 the Chicago White Sox defeated Cleveland, 8-2, in the first official American League game.
The promising Southsiders went on to fulfill the big promise in 1906, when they glided to the pennant title on a 19-game win streak and then closed the deal in the sweetest of fashion, by defeating their heavily favored cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cubs, in the World Series. Helping to make that promise a reality was their first pitching ace, Ed Walsh, a lumbering right-hander, who would go on to win 195 games during his 13-season career with Chicago.
Ah yes, 1906 was a glorious time to be a White Sox fan. But, as that glory faded, it took the team’s promise with it. Oh there was a flash of excitement now and then, such as on July 1, 1910 when Comiskey Park opened to a full house. But even that excitement was rapidly tempered when the Southsiders lost their home christening. For the better part of the following decade, the White Sox hobbled along as a fledgling team until 1917, when they signed second baseman Eddie Collins, one of the greatest players of the early twentieth century. Collins started his career by helping Connie Mack’s A’s snag four pennants, but when Mack was forced to sell his stars in the mid-teens, Eddie blew over into the Windy City where he only hit below .300 once in what would become a 12-year stint.
Along with the addition of Collins, the White Sox had also caused a stir of excitement by signing a new crop of hungry young players that would go on to form the best team in the American League from 1917-1919 – leftfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, pitcher Eddie Cicotte, third baseman George “Buck” Weaver, catcher Ray “Cracker” Schalk, and centerfielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch. It was this collection of raw talent that teamed up to once again take the Sox to the World Series in 1917 where they faced the New York Giants.
The White Sox and the Giants were extremely familiar with one another – and it wasn’t a friendly familiarity. Just three years prior to their meeting in the Series, the two teams had competed in a world tour in which a bench-clearing brawl in Egypt ignited a heated rivalry. During the Fall Classic of 1917, tensions between the two teams were still at a feverish pitch, resulting in aggressive and antagonistic play on both sides.
The White Sox had completely dominated the first two games at Comiskey Park, with Cicotte and Urban “Red” Faber posting complete-game victories. When the Series returned to New York for Games Three and Four, the tide turned and the Giants chalked up back-to-back shutouts.
With the Series tied at 2-2, Game Five proved to be the turning point. The White Sox were trailing by three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, when first baseman Charles “Chick” Gandil smacked a two-run double to tie the score. The Sox then garnered three more runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull a come-from-behind victory. In Game Six, sloppy play on the part of the Giants coupled with the aggressive pitching of Faber (who only allowed six hits) brought the World Championship back to Chicago.
The pennant flew again in Chi Town the following year, but not over Comiskey. The Cubbies were the team that hoisted the flag in 1918, and then went on to be handily defeated by the Boston Red Sox in the Series.
And then, there was 1919.
It was in the fall of that year that the Cincinnati Reds faced the White Sox for the World Championship – a championship that would go down in history as the most storied World Series of all time.
At the culmination of the 1919 Series, after the Reds defeated the heavily favored White Sox five games to three, the floodgates of scandal were flung wide open flooding the field of Comiskey Park. There was certainly no getting away from the fact that the Sox had played uninspired ball in that Series, a major departure from the 88-52 regular season performance they had turned in to get there.
In Game One, Cicotte gave up six runs as they suffered a humiliating 9-1 loss. In Game Two, three walks by Williams led to a three-run fourth inning, and ultimately a 4-2 defeat. The White Sox rebounded in Game Three shutting out the Reds 3-0. But then, the White Sox, who had led the AL in batting average, runs scored and stolen bases only managed to get three hits in each of the following two home games. They were shutout in Game Four 2-0 and registered a goose egg again in a 5-0 loss in Game Five.
The biggest highlight of the Series for the White Sox came in Game Six when they made their way back from a 4-0 deficit to better the Reds, 5-4, in 10 innings. The enthusiasm of the Game Six, win sparked the White Sox to chalk up a 4-1 win in Game Seven. In Game Eight, however, the Reds scored four first-inning runs and coasted to a 10-5 victory, handing the White Sox their first World Series defeat. Jackson had hit .375 and Weaver posted a .324 average in the Series, but uncharacteristic errors and extended periods of lackadaisical play proved to render even those accomplishments moot.
By the conclusion of the Series, while White Sox fans were scratching their heads in confusion over the team’s poor performance, rumors began to fly that a few shady high rollers had talked White Sox players into throwing the Series in exchange for a big payoff. Those rumors became indictments and in 1920 eight members of the White Sox – Jackson, Gandil, Felsch, Cicotte, Weaver, shortstop “Swede” Risberg, pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams and infielder Fred McMullen, were charged with conspiring to manipulate the Series. Though ultimately cleared in a court of law of any wrongdoing, the eight players were banned from baseball for life in 1921, and forever doomed the 1919 White Sox team to be known as the Chicago “Black Sox.”
The Black Sox scandal seemed to be the incantation for one of those infamous curses that seem to be exclusive to baseball. Barred from celebrating a World Championship since 1907, many White Sox fans believe they have been jinxed ever since the scandal, and in the same way, the Cubs have paid dearly for giving the boot to a poor ol’goat, and the Red Sox suffered for selling The Babe, the Southsiders have been paying penance for 1919.
While the years following the scandal were lean for the White Sox, fans did get to see a rookie pitcher named Charlie Robertson hurl the only perfect game in White Sox history in 1922 – unfortunately, it was a feat that drew more suspicion to a team that desperately needed to be as clean as a hound’s tooth. Charges were levied that Robertson, a mediocre and inexperienced pitcher, was doctoring the ball although intense inspections of every inch of Robertson’s glove and uniform following that game, turned up no evidence of concealed grease or any other illegal substance.
In 1927, the Sox took to the field in the newly renovated Comiskey Park, only to lose the home opener to Cleveland in front of 23,200 additional fans seated in the outfield’s new upper deck. The team’s new home did little to spark their play, and while wins were still a rarity, the late 1930s and early 1940s at least gave Southside fans the excitement of watching future Hall of Famer, Luke Appling swing the lumber. A powerful line-drive hitter, Appling won batting titles in 1936 (.388) and 1943 (.328). But not even the spark of Appling’s bat could put games in the win column. Sox fans learned that they had to find solace in little victories rather than big ones and in 1948, they reveled in excitement when Pat Seerey, a rather out-of-shape left fielder, hit four home runs in a single game – a record that stands to this day.
While wins and excitement were few and far between for the boys from Comiskey, when the Sox did do something good they did it in a big way. On April 23, 1955, the team tallied up a franchise record of 29 runs at Kansas City. Sherm Lollar smacked in a pair of home runs and five RBIs while reserve outfielder Bob Nieman and infielder Walt Dropo drove in seven runs apiece in the stunning 29-6 victory.
The following season, Luis Apparicio replaced Chico Carrasquel as the team’s shortstop. Aparicio, who went on to play for the following decade, would also go on to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, and have his #11 retired by the Sox.
In 1958, Bill Veeck and his partners finally gained the majority control of the White Sox franchise, following a heated legal fight with the heirs of Charlie Comiskey. Veeck, who had also been the owner of the Indians and the Browns, was a P.T. Barnum-type who was determined to put butts in seats, if not by producing a pennant-winning team then with outrageous stunts, expensive give-a-ways and slick promotional schemes. He did just that at Comiskey, breaking all attendance records of the era despite lackluster play.
Veeck is also the man who will be forever remembered as the inventor of Bat Day, the use of fireworks at games, and for stitching player’s names on the backs of their uniforms. He was also the sideshow scoundrel who introduced fans to player Eddie Gaedel, who only stood a little over three-feet tall.
Despite these little sparks of life, the Sox did nothing more than struggle along until 1959, when they finished ahead of the Yankees to snag the American League pennant. Armed with a strong offense, the Pale Hose faced the Dodgers in the World Series, but were ultimately sent home without the World Championship. It was a crushing blow to White Sox fans, a blow that would have even been worse had those fans known that their team would continually be denied the crown for generations to come.
By the 1960s, players such as Bill “Moose” Skowron and “Smoky” Burgess were the crop who in 1964, helped the Sox finish just one game out of first place with a 98-64 record. That same year, five members of the Sox pitching staff won double-digit games.
The following decade again started slow, with the only excitement coming on the last day of the 1971 season, when Beltin’ Bill Melton became the first White Sox player to hit 33 homers and win an American League home run crown. By the late-1970s, the Sox were by all means a team of power hitters. The 1977 team belted out 192 home runs, a record that stood until 1996. That kind of hitting kept the Sox in first place through the middle of August, but by the second half of the season, they began to run out of steam. The team chalked up an impressive 90 wins that year and yet they still finished 12 games out of first.
A new era in White Sox baseball began in 1981 as an ownership group led by Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn took over the reins. Reinsdorf and Einhorn made their presence known right from the start by signing the Red Sox 1975 World Series hero Carlton Fisk, who had become a free agent. During Reinsdorf’s tenure as the franchise’s chairman, the Sox captured American League Division Championships three times, including an AL Central title in 2000. The Sox also won Division titles in 1983 and 1993, and were in first place in 1994 at the conclusion of the strike-abbreviated season.
In 1982, the signing of Seattle pitcher Floyd Bannister, followed by the acquisition of two Edmonton rookies, outfielder Ron Kittle and first baseman Greg Walker proved to be a B-12 shot for the White Sox. Kittle broke the team’s rookie home run record by sending 35 out of the park and earned the Rookie of the Year title.
By 1983, the White Sox appeared to have put all the pieces in place. They wrapped up the season by clinching the AL Western Division Championship. Then it all seemed to fall apart. The Sox came into the Series with cold bats and uninspired play that never turned hot or inspired. It was a disappointing ending to what many Chi Town fans believed would be the year the White Sox would once again reign as world champs.
In 1990, the legendary Comiskey Park hosted its final season of baseball. The Sox were fielding the youngest team in the Majors that year, and despite their youth and inexperience, they garnered 94 wins. The following season saw the doors of the “new” Comiskey Park open to a sell-out crowd of 42,191 fans. The team’s youth movement continued with the addition of promising young players such as first baseman Frank Thomas, pitcher Jack McDowell and third baseman Robin Ventura. The White Sox went on to win 94 games that year and again captured the American League Western Division title.
In what appeared to be one of the most promising seasons in the Southsider’s history, the ol’ curse reared its ugly head and pulled the rug out from under the team, as major league players walked off the job in August of 1984. When the strike hit, the White Sox were in first place with a record of 67-46, a feat that in the big picture would go unnoticed being as that the work stoppage also wiped out all postseason play.
As the 1980s became the 1990s, White Sox fans had little to celebrate when they spent the day at Comiskey. Even when Frank Thomas hit his 215th homer to surpass Carlton Fisk as the team’s all-time home run king in 1996, it occurred in Boston’s Fenway Park.
In 2000, the White Sox appeared in postseason play for the first time since 1993 with the best record in the American League, but it was to be a short-lived appearance as the Mariners dismissed them in the Divisional Playoffs. Despite the playoff loss, it still was a season that was marked with extremely good play. The 2000 team set new club records for hits (1,615), runs scored (978), RBIs (926), home runs (216) and doubles (325), tied the franchise record for road wins (49) and turned in the best record in the AL. The club also spent 166 consecutive days in first place, the longest run in Sox history.
On January 31, 2003, U.S. Cellular and the White Sox penned a 23-year, $68 million dollar deal retiring the name of their legendary home, Comisky Park, and replacing it with the corporate sellout moniker of U.S. Cellular Field. As the 2004 campaign began, the Sox were again showing promise with a roster that boasted pitchers Mark Buehrle and Esteban Loaiza, and sluggers Frank Thomas, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko. Former shortstop Ozzie Guillen, a popular player with Sox fans, was hired as the team’s manager for the 2004 season. The Guillen era began with great fanfare, and then ended with a whimper as the White Sox finished above .500 but failed to make the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.
The White Sox went into the 2005 season with a team heavy on defense, speed and pitching. The acquisition of right-handers, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras, coupled with Guillen’s unabashed desire to see his boys wearing World Championship rings during his reign, may be just what it takes to see the White Sox overcome the nagging curse that has hovered over them for so long. And hey, the timing may be right! Last year we saw a curse-breaking season for that other Sox team, so the fates may also be conspiring to finally break the spell that has caused such long-suffering for the Southsiders and their fans.
The Sox fans are waiting patiently.