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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Ron Hansen.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

He was a part of perhaps the single most significant trade in franchise history. He played under two of the most well known managers the franchise has ever had. He nearly found himself in the World Series twice, in 1964 and 1967. He was a big part of three straight clubs that won at least 90 games in the time period from 1963 through 1965 and he was a part of the worst times the White Sox franchise ever had, starting in 1968.

He’s Ron Hansen, a steady, dependable shortstop who had the unenviable task of replacing a future Hall of Famer on the South Side in Luis Aparicio, but who measured up defensively and in some ways was a better hitter.

Ron Hansen speaks!
Sox shortstop of the Go-Go era shares stories of the glory years of the 1960's on the South Side with WSI's totally biased Sox Fans!

Hansen was Cal Ripken before Cal Ripken, combining physical size, defensive ability and long ball power, traits which weren’t usually seen in major league baseball in those days at the shortstop spot.  

He was 6-3, tall in those days for a shortstop (like Ripken), but that didn’t seem to slow him down defensively. In fact Hansen is the third best fielding shortstop in White Sox history. Ozzie Guillen is the all-time leader at .974, Aparicio is second at .97137 and Hansen checks in third at .97126. (Author’s Note: Thanks to Scott Reifert of the White Sox for providing this information!) 

At the plate, his ability to hit a home run or deliver an extra base hit was practically unheard of for a shortstop to do (like Ripken) back then.  In the years from 1963 through 1965, playing half his games at spacious Comiskey Park, Hansen averaged almost 15 home runs a season. The 20 he blasted in 1964 stood as the Sox record for shortstops until it was broken by Jose Valentin in 2000. He averaged 67 RBI’s in that same time period to go along with 76 walks per year. In four of the seven years spent in Chicago Hansen had more walks then strikeouts. He never had Ripken’s ability to hit for a high average but adjusting for the time period, his offensive numbers stack up quite well with him. 

He missed most of the 1966 season due to injury but came back in 1967 to provide stability and leadership to a team that nearly…..very, very nearly copped the pennant in the greatest race major league baseball has ever seen.  

The former 1960 Rookie Of The Year, started his career with Baltimore and also played for the Washington Senators, the Yankees and Kansas City where he retired after the 1972 season. 

He’s stayed in baseball practically ever since, coaching in the big leagues for a number of years with the Brewers and Expos, then moving into the scouting departments for the Yankees and for the past six years the Phillies. 

I spoke up with him on a June afternoon from his home in Maryland after he just got back from a scouting trip.  

ML: Ron you were a Rookie Of The Year and had two very solid seasons in 1960 and 1961 yet the Orioles were willing to give you up in the trade to the White Sox. Tell me how you heard about the deal and what was your reaction. (Author’s Note: It was the move that re-energized the franchise, as on January 14, 1963 Sox G. M. Ed Short traded Aparicio and outfielder Al Smith for 3rd baseman Pete Ward, outfielder Dave Nicholson, relief pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm and Hansen. Ward would be named Co-Rookie of the Year (with teammate Gary Peters) for 1963 and would supply power for the next few seasons. Nicholson, who struck out far too much, still had 22 home runs and 70 RBI’s in 1963. Wilhelm became the top relief pitcher of the 1960's. In his six years with the Sox he’d win 41 games and save 98 while producing some astonishingly low ERA’s considering he threw the knuckleball and we’ve already gone over some of what Ron contributed to the Sox in the opening.) 

RH: “I had a good year in 1960, like you said I was Rookie of the Year, but then I had to serve time in the military and that set me back. I missed spring training and just didn’t have a good season in 1961. The Orioles had a chance to get Aparicio and Al Smith so that’s what they did.” 

“That’s part of baseball. I had made my home in Baltimore but got that call telling me I was traded to the White Sox.” 

ML: Considering the trade and the other newer faces on the team, how long did it take for you guys to blend with each other on the field? (Author’s Note: The Sox were 9-9 for the first 18 games of the year before winning nine of their next ten which set the tone for a 94 win season) Especially considering three of the starters were new at shortstop, 3rd base and left field.

Ron Hansen slides under the tag of Elston Howard of the hated Yankees at Old Comiskey!

RH: “It didn’t take us long because we had a good team. For me personally I was apprehensive about coming to Chicago because I knew Looie was a great shortstop for a long time with the Sox. The fans loved him and I thought it was going to be hard for me to try to replace him in the lineup. But I had a decent spring and got off to a good start and the fans supported me. It turned out to be a much easier transition than I thought it was going to be.” 

ML: What adjustments did you have to make personally, playing in a pitcher’s park in a new city? (Author’s Note: Hansen got off to a spectacular start with his new club driving in the winning run in eight of the Sox first 26 wins in 1963. Thanks to Bob Vanderberg of the Tribune for that stat!)  

RH: “I didn’t change my game that much. Of course the biggest thing to get used to was the change in ballparks. I was used to Memorial Stadium where it was 315 feet down the lines. You get to Comiskey Park and it was what, 352 feet? Comiskey Park was a huge park. The dimensions just weren’t good for a hitter although I liked hitting there because it had a great hitting background.” 

ML: The Yankees of course overpowered everyone in 1963 winning 104 games but the Sox were hanging right with them until the injuries to Joe Cunningham and Johnny Buzhardt. When you lose two guys like that, very few teams can rebound from them. (Author’s Note: With the Sox in first place in June, Cunningham, who hit .295, with 70 RBI’s and 101 walks in 1962, broke his collarbone in Los Angeles running out a ground ball. Cunningham was trying to avoid stepping on Angels 1st baseman Charlie Dees foot, so he twisted and lost his balance, tripping over the bag and crashing down on the ground. It was a wild throw from shortstop Billy Moran that started the sequence. He was lost for six weeks. Buzhardt, a noted Yankee-killer, was off to his best start ever, 9-4 with a 2.42 ERA when he went down in July to an arm injury and missed the rest of the season. Ironically this interview was conducted the day it was announced that Buzhardt passed away at the age of 71 in his home in Prosperity, South Carolina.) 

RH: “Remember in those days there were no playoffs, you had to win the league outright and the Yankees were such a good ball club that when we lost players of the caliber of Joe and John we just couldn’t stay with them.” 

ML: 1964 would be a fabulous year and yet a bitter-sweet one for Sox fans. You guys won 98 games yet finished one game behind the Yankees for the pennant. You personally had a tremendous season. Tell me about it. (Author’s Note: Hansen that year had 20 home runs, 25 doubles, 68 RBI’s, 150 total hits and walked 80 times while hitting .261) 

RH: “I had a really good year and for the team I think it was a case where we played well the entire season, the pitching was good, we had good defense and we had some hitting. We played the Yankees well in the sense that if I remember right, the games were close between the two teams. They weren’t blowing us out. It was a case where a hit here or a play there and we win the game instead of them. But that’s baseball. (Author’s Note: In 1964 the Sox lost their first ten head to head meetings with New York before then winning six of the final eight games between them. In that ten game losing streak the Sox lost to the Yankees by such scores as 4-3 in 10 innings, 1-0 in 11 innings, 2-0, 2-1 in 17 innings and 6-5) 

ML: The Sox played very good the last month, in fact, they ended the season on a nine game winning streak, but New York played out of their minds winning 23 of 30 to clinch the title the final Saturday. Talking with some of your teammates I was struck by how much that season meant to them. Jim Landis told me he knows of some guys on that club that still haven’t gotten over missing the World Series by one game and that the locker room was deathly quiet that day. When it was all said and done what was your reaction?

RH: “I was disappointed, we all were. Again in those days there were no playoffs, no wild card, you had to win the league to go to the World Series. We just came up a little short.” 

“I know some people still carry that season with them but I never did. It happened, it was over and I couldn’t change it.” 

ML: 1965 was another terrific season by many standards as the Sox won 95 games but as strange as this sounds, it was also a disappointment. The Sox were the consensus pick to win the pennant, they brought in Johnny Romano to catch and got Tommy John in a trade. They may have been the best Sox team since the early part of the century. On May 18th the Sox were 23-8. But once again injuries took their toll as both Gary Peters and Juan Pizarro went down (Author’s Note: The two left handers had made the All Star Game the past few seasons and were the top pair from the left side, in major league baseball). But maybe the biggest injury was to manager Al Lopez. He missed time with a mysterious stomach problem. Not having him on the bench, how much did that take away from the team, if it did? 

RH: “Sure it did. Al was missed. When he was gone our coaches Don Gutteridge and Tony Cuccinello divided up the duties. You still have to do your job and we all did but we missed Al.” 

ML: I guess now would be a good time to ask you what it was like playing for Lopez, regarded as perhaps the best manager in team history. 

RH: “Al was the best manager I ever played for. He was always very fair although I am a little prejudiced towards him, he named me one of the team captains! (laughing).” 

“The thing about Al was that if you did something wrong he’d talk to you about it in his office, he’d never go to the press and belittle you. If he held a team meeting he was always very thorough. Sure he could be tough, he could be demanding and he expected you to play the game right… if you didn’t, if you threw to the wrong base or made a mistake he’d let you know but again it was always in private.” 

“Al understood the game, he knew the in’s and out’s of baseball. I respected him so much.” 

ML: In 1966 Ron you only played in 23 games, after playing in all 162 games the previous year, what was your injury? 

RH: “I suffered a ruptured disc in my back. It was a freak injury. We were taking batting practice before a game and someone behind me threw a ball back in to the infield. I never saw it and as I was moving I stepped on it. It jerked my back and I knew something was wrong.” 

ML: Were you with the team that season or were you off on your own rehabbing? 

RH: “I did my rehabbing in Baltimore. I had hurt my back once before and it was decided that I should go to the doctor who was most familiar with my situation to do the surgery. It’s not like the White Sox insisted I use one of their doctors.” 

“I did a lot of stretching and core exercises and lifted some weights to build the area and the areas around the injury up. I would see the guys occasionally when they came to Baltimore or when they were on the road. It was unfortunate that I got hurt because again we had a pretty good team. (Author’s Note: The Sox would finish the 1966 season with a record of 83-79-1 and a 4th place finish.)     

ML: When you returned to the team in 1967, Eddie Stanky was in his second year. What was it like playing for Eddie and how was he different from Al Lopez. 

RH: “He was very different from Al. I enjoyed playing for Eddie. He was unique in his own way. I know Eddie would do something or say something and we’d sort of look at each other with a puzzled expression on our faces sometimes but Eddie always had a reason at least for wanting to do a certain thing. He never did something without a purpose in his mind.” 

“I know guys either enjoyed playing for Eddie or hated it. Like I said, I was one of those who enjoyed playing for him.”

ML: I heard some of your teammates tell me Eddie was tough to play for by and large but like Al he really knew baseball, that he was a sharp tactical baseball manager. 

RH: “He was. He knew the game just like Al. Eddie played for Leo Durocher. I never knew Leo and never played for him but I think Eddie wanted his teams to play the game the way Leo’s teams played it. His strategy was sometimes a little off the wall but it worked.” 

ML: Let’s talk about 1967, the season the Sox again almost won the pennant. Unlike the earlier years not a lot was expected out of this team but in late April / early May the team ripped off a ten game win streak, you had the best pitching in baseball and as the season rolled along the Sox were either in first place or a breath away from it. How did the team play so well with so little offense? 

RH: “Because we had very good defense and really great pitching. You look at most of the starters on that team, Gary Peters, Joe Horlen, Tommy John, Johnny Buzhardt…they were all sinkerball pitchers. Comiskey Park used to have the grass high in the infield and would keep the area around home plate damp and wet. It was hard to get a baseball through that to the outfield.” 

“Yes we didn’t have much of an offense that season but part of it was because we had to try to hit under the same conditions as the other guys at Comiskey Park. It’s not like we didn’t have any good hitters but the conditions really hurt us.” (Author’s Note: For a more detailed account of what it was like to play at Comiskey Park in the mid 1960’s along with some really funny tales of ‘gamesmanship’ pulled off by the Sox ground crew read J.C. Martin’s interview with White Sox Interactive.)

ML: But how hard was it for everyone Ron, knowing that you weren’t going to score a lot of runs and that you didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s not like you guys were going to usually score eight runs a game. (Author’s Note: In that ten game winning streak for example, from April 30 – May 14, 1967 the Sox scored a total of 38 runs…with 13 coming in a single game! Six of the wins were by one run and two games were won by the score of 1-0.) 

RH: “You do get used to playing games like that. We knew that was probably going to be how the game turned out, one or two runs difference. And I think it helped us knowing that, because our intensity was higher, we knew that one play could win or lose the game.” 

ML: As the 1967 season roared down the stretch Joe Horlen wound up throwing a no-hitter on September 10th at home against Detroit. You made the last out of the game when Dick McAuliffe grounded out to you and you fired the ball to first baseman Cotton Nash. What’s it like being a part of a no-hitter especially considering Joe almost got one a few years earlier only to see it slip away? (Author’s Note: On July 29, 1963 at Washington, Horlen took a 1-0 lead and a no-hitter into the 9th inning. With one out Chuck Hinton hit a bouncer up the middle that neither Horlen nor Hansen could get to for a hit. Then with two out, Don Lock homered to win the game.) 

RH: “I remember that game in Washington, Joe hung a curve at the end and the guy hit it out.” 

“Just a few nights ago I was watching a game on TV and saw a ball hit to the shortstop and I immediately thought of the final out in the no-hitter because the play that I was watching reminded me of it. On TV it was a left handed hitter and he sort of squibed the ball with a lot of spin on it and that was exactly how that ball came out to me in 1967. I remember when it was hit thinking, ‘this ball is going to bounce funny’ so I got it on the early hop. To the fans it looked like an easy play… but it wasn’t.” 

ML: Ron the final week, the Sox had it right in front of them…a pennant and a date against the Cardinals in the World Series. What happened? How could it all go so wrong? (Author’s Note: That final week the Sox lost all five games played against the two worst teams in the league, two games in Kansas City and three games with Washington. They’d finish with 89 wins, three games out.) 

RH: “I know when that week started we were either in first place or near the top. (Author’s Note: The Sox started that final week trailing Minnesota by one game as they took the field in Kansas City on Wednesday, September 27th.) I think what happened was everybody in the city got ahead of themselves. We had to go out there and play hard and we did, but those other teams beat us. That’s baseball.” 

ML: I’ve spoken with several of your teammates from that year and I know how much that hurt them, especially those who never had a chance to play in a World Series. How much have you gone back to that week in your mind over the years and asked yourself, ‘what if?’ 

RH: “I really haven’t done that… well not exactly….recently I was going through my office and I found some of the 1967 World Series tickets that were printed up. After the season, someone in the Sox organization sent us them as souvenirs, I don’t remember who and as I looked at them it did bring back some memories of that season.”   

ML: I discovered one thing researching that season, something I’ve never seen mentioned anyplace else. I’d like your thoughts on this. The Sox played an afternoon game in Cleveland on September 24th. (Author’s Note: They won 3-1.) Because of a travel day and then a rain out, the club didn’t play again until Wednesday night in Kansas City. That’s over three days sitting around on airplanes and in a hotel, when you’re used to playing basically every day that late in the season. Was that layoff a factor? 

RH: “Not to make any excuses but yes in my personal opinion it was. We were playing well coming into that final week, (Author’s Note: The Sox had won nine of 11 games heading into Kansas City) and having to sit around for all that time… it hurts the pitching and the hitting.  We weren’t sharp and again I’m not trying to make any excuses. When you look back on it things might have turned out different if we had been able to play that Tuesday. We weren’t even able to take batting practice for almost three days.”  

ML: When you look back at that time period Ron, it’s a shame the Sox didn’t get to a World Series. Maybe fans would better appreciate just how good those teams were between 1963 and 1967. They were extremely talented. 

RH: “They were good clubs that’s for sure.” 

ML: You were 6-3 which was tall for a shortstop, did that ever cause you problems in the field? I know that was an issue among some baseball people when Cal Ripken was moved to short, they thought he was too tall for that spot. 

RH: “It wasn’t a big issue to me. I was the first of the “big” shortstops. I originally signed with Baltimore as a 3rd baseman and after a few months one of the coaches moved me because he knew I could play the position. I was always compared with the Cardinals Marty Marion (Author’s Note: Who later became the Sox manager from midway through 1954 until the end of the 1956 season) and Marty was around 6-1 or 6-2 but he was closer to 175 pounds. I was 200 pounds most of my career. (Author’s Note: lists Marion at 6-2, 170 pounds) 

ML: You know earlier you mentioned the Sox knuckleballing relief pitchers in those days, Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Fisher and Wilbur Wood. That brings up this question since we’re talking about defense. As a shortstop how did you play behind those guys? I mean it’s not like you knew where the damn pitch was going so how could you know where the hitter might hit it? 

RH: “That’s a great question. I don’t know if I have a real answer for that. Every one of those guys had a different tendency to their pitch. Hoyt’s was the hardest to track because it could go anywhere. Eddie and Wilbur, their knuckleball, usually broke away from the hitter. Hoyt had the best knuckleball I’ve ever seen in all my years in the game. Hitters tried to go up the middle when Hoyt was pitching so I probably tried to cheat a little up the middle, maybe a half step or so.” 

ML: J.C. Martin told me how close the teams of the mid 60’s were. He was saying how in the off season, a bunch of the guys would go to your home in Nebraska to hunt and to appear at the local Little League banquet. I guess that sums up the state of the team pretty well. 

RH: “That’s very true. We were a close knit crew. We’d play a Sunday day game at home and then a bunch of the families would get together in the evening. I’m talking seven or eight families. We all stayed in the same apartment complex so we saw each other all the time off the field. We’re still friends. To this day I talk to J.C., I see Ken Berry every so often too.” 

“As far as the Little League banquet some of the farmers in the area had these huge farms and I asked them if it would be alright to do a little pheasant hunting on them. They said sure but they asked that we show up at the Little League banquet in return, so we did. We’d hunt for a few days, go to the banquet, meet the kids and have a nice time.“ 

ML: You were traded by the Sox to the Senators in February 1968 (Author’s Note: Hansen along with pitchers Dennis Higgins and Steve Jones went to the Senators for 2nd baseman Tim Cullen and pitchers “Buster” Narum and Bob Priddy) yet on August 2nd you went back to the White Sox for the same guy you were traded for originally, Tim Cullen! How strange was that and did anyone ever tell you why you were traded in the first place only to have the Sox get you back six months later? 

RH: “No I never did find out what was going on in all that. No one ever explained that to me! That week was a pretty eventful one for me. The Senators were in Cleveland and I had that unassisted triple play. (Author’s Note: July 30, 1968) then we went to Detroit and I hit a grand slam off Pat Dobson…then I get traded!” 

“It’s funny, I actually passed Tim in the Milwaukee airport after the trade, as we were going to our new teams. Then when I get back to the Sox at Comiskey Park, my locker is still in the same location and my bats, and uniform are still in there, it’s like they expected me to return someday.” 

ML: We always love to hear stories during these interviews, do you have any you can share with us from those White Sox teams you played on or from your days in baseball? 

RH: “Well in February 1970 I was involved in a contract dispute with the Sox. In those days you didn’t have agents, you’d talk to the G.M. face to face. So I’m at home and I tell my wife, ‘let’s go to Sarasota. Sooner or later we’ll work this out and I’ll be right there. Until then we can lay on the beach.’ 

“So my wife and daughter and dog get in the car and we drive to Florida. While we’re on the trip my daughter gets chicken pox. We get to the apartment I’d rented in Sarasota and my wife immediately says that she’s going for groceries. While she’s gone I’m working on the apartment, I put on the TV and the guy on the sports says I’ve been traded to the Yankees!” 

“So I call the Sox and they explain what happened and tell me to call the Yankees. Now it wasn’t the Sox fault this happened, they had no way to contact me while I was driving, they didn’t have cell phones back then.” 

“I call the Yankees and they say they are expecting me and I ask if there is someplace we can stay in Fort Lauderdale until we can find a place for the six weeks. The Yankees say ‘sure you can stay at the Yankee Clipper hotel for a week and that’ll give you time to find a place.” 

“OK, my wife gets back, I tell her what happened, we load everything back into the car which is now stocked with perishable groceries (laughing) and drive to Fort Lauderdale.” 

“We get to the Yankee Clipper I go to the front desk and the guy says they are expecting me, the Yankees already called. I mention that we have our dog with us and the hotel guy says, ‘no problem, we have folks bring their pets all the time.’ Then I say ‘can you recommend a doctor, my daughter has chicken pox’ and immediately his disposition changes. ‘You can’t stay here…we have old people in the hotel and we can’t have someone with chicken pox!”

“So I call the Yankees back and they give me a list of a few places that would take us until we could eventually find a place.” 

“My girl is all grown up now but I still tell her this story…how the Yankees would take a dog but not a daughter!” 

ML: 1969 marked your last year with the White Sox, they sold you to the Yankees in February 1970. Can you sum up your time for me with the Sox, overall it was about six and a half pretty good seasons. 

RH: “My time with the Sox was very good. I always enjoyed playing in Chicago, I loved the city and the fans…they were always good to me. Remember when I was first traded there I didn’t think it was going to work out that well but it turned out to be great. It was a real fun part of my career.” 

Ron Hansen’s White Sox Statistics:

Year      G            AB             R           H            2B            3B         HR         BB       RBI       AVG.

1963    144            482            55         109          17              2          13            80          67        .226

1964    158            575            85         150          25              3          20            80          68        .261

1965    162            587            61         138          23              4          11            68          66        .235

1966      23               74            3            13           1               0            0            18            4        .176

1967    157            498            35          116        20               0            8            75          51        .233

1968      40               87             7            20          3               0            1            11            4        .230

1969      85            185            15            48          6               1            2            18          22        .259


Ron Hansen Audio Memories: 

  • May 2, 1965… would see a big four game series with the Twins commence at Comiskey Park as the top two teams in the league went at it. In the first of a double header, Ron Hansen would drill his first home run of the year, staking the Sox to a 2-0 lead Unfortunately this was one time the bullpen couldn’t hold on and the Twins rallied late to win 3-2. It’s Bob Elson and Milo Hamilton behind the microphone. Listen closely for the "sounds" coming from the exploding scoreboard! Courtesy: WCFL Radio.
    Let Me Hear It! 

  • September 10, 1967… in the middle of the greatest race in major league baseball history, Sox pitcher Joe Horlen would find himself two outs away from no-hitting the Tigers at Comiskey Park. He’d get those two, as Don Buford and then Ron Hansen finished off the 6-0 win that lifted Horlen into baseball immortality. Horlen then spoke years later, about that day, the conditions and what the game meant. It’s Jack Brickhouse calling the final two outs. Courtesy: WGN-TV & the Chicago White Sox.
    Let Me Hear It!


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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