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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Sox Fate!

by Mark Liptak

“I have always believed that all things depended upon Fortune, and nothing upon ourselves.”- Lord Byron 

“Well Ralph, I guess you and I are just a couple of hangnails on the fickle finger of fate” - Ed Norton. Engineer in subterranean sanitation.  

And so it has happened again. A contending White Sox team, a team with the possibility of post season play and perhaps the chance to go where no Sox player has gone in 44 years, a World Series, is struck not once, but twice, with bizarre injuries to arguably their two best players, Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas. 

It is the hope of all Sox fans that this team, which has shown resiliency all year long, can hang on, and that one or perhaps both stars can return in September for a final push to the playoffs. 

Misery loves company and Sox fans from this generation now know and understand what Sox fans from earlier generations have felt. Fans that have wondered ‘why us?’ ‘why now,’ or ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ 

There’s a big difference when you lose players to injury when you are in third place, ten games out, and to lose players when you can see... almost touch, the post season and what might lie at the end of that road. 

No one said being a Sox fan was easy. If the Yankees lose three players to injury, they go out and buy three more who are better then the ones who got hurt. And if a cruel fate should befall the Braves, or Cardinals, or A’s, or Pirates, practically every team in the league, their fans can still look up at the recent World Series banners for comfort. Not so with the White Sox. 

And so it has happened again, as it has happened before to Sox teams.

1955 - Dick Donovan, pitcher. 

In 1955 the Sox were starting their fifth season of revitalization. It was the year that G.M. Frank Lane later said, was the year the Sox should have won the pennant but didn’t. The Sox were a loaded team with players like ‘Minnie’ Minoso, Nellie Fox, Virgil ‘Fire’ Trucks, ‘Chico’ Carrasquel, George Kell, Billy Pierce, Sherm Lollar, Walt Dropo, ‘Dixie’ Howell and Bob Kennedy. This club would eventually win 91 games, finishing five games behind the Yankees and had five All Stars. Who knows how many more games they could have won if not for the fate that befell Donovan.   

On July 30th, the Sox were in a three way tie for first place, they were in the middle of a successful Eastern road swing, and Dick was one of the top pitchers in baseball. The right hander had a 13-4 record with an ERA of 2.64. 

Donovan had beaten New York on July 20th and had pitched against the Yankees again on the 26th.  

After a game in Washington, that the Sox lost 1-0, dropping their record to 60-39,  Donovan said that his stomach hurt. It hurt alright and kept hurting. Donovan went back to Chicago where he was diagnosed with appendicitis. An emergency operation was performed at Mercy Hospital.  

The operation went well but Donovan was lost to the Sox until August 21st when he beat the Tigers 2-0. During the time he was gone the Sox were only able to go 11-7-1 and lost ground to New York. However despite the great return something was still wrong. Because for the rest of the season he lost his effectiveness and went 2-5, to give him a season mark of 15-9. During his three week absence he missed probably five starts, the same number the Sox lost the race by. 

1957 - Sherm Lollar, catcher. The 1957 White Sox were still trying to catch the elusive Yankees and this team came the closest taking second place with a record of 90-64. It was the highest finish by a White Sox team since 1920! They would finish eight games off the pace and once again a key injury at the wrong time doomed them despite having three All Stars. This was the team of Louie Aparicio, Gerry Staley, Jack Harshman, Larry Doby and ‘Jungle’ Jim Rivera to go along with reliable players like Donovan, Pierce, Dropo, Fox and Minoso. 

The injury occurred to Lollar the second best catcher in the league behind Yogi Berra. Sherm had made the All Star Team in 1954, 1955 and 1956 averaging 12 home runs and 57 RBI’s in that span. In addition since he was in the league starting with the 1946 season, he knew the hitters and how to pitch to them. 

The Sox would blow out to a six game lead over the Yankees by June 8th. On June 20th in a game at Baltimore that the Sox would lose 4-1, Lollar suffered a broken wrist. He’d be lost to the club for six weeks, 41 games. New York would catch the Sox for first place by the time June was over and when Sherm came back in August the Yanks had already pulled out to a three and a half game lead. It would be six and a half by the end of the month. The Sox back up catchers Earl Battey and Les Moss simply couldn’t take Lollar’s place.     

1963 - Joe Cunningham, first baseman.  

One trade in January 1963, completely changed to makeup of the White Sox. The trade turned around a drifting franchise in 1960, 1961 and 1962 (although the Sox had winning records those years) and crystalized them into legitimate pennant contenders. The trade sent Aparicio, and Al Smith to the Orioles for Hoyt Wilhelm, Pete Ward, Dave Nicholson and Ron Hansen. Throw in outstanding pitching from the likes of Johnny Buzhardt, Eddie Fisher, Ray Herbert, Joe Horlen, Gary Peters and Juan Pizarro and you had a reborn club, on their way to a 94 win season. Yet they still finished ten and a half game behind the Yankees. It might not have been that way except for an untimely injury to the top defensive first baseman in baseball. 

The injury and the way the injury happened was talked about often when McCuddy’s was still around.  

Joe Cunningham was a balding first baseman who broke in the major leagues in 1954. The Sox got him from the Cardinals before the start of the 1962 season for ‘Minnie’ Minoso and he promptly knocked in 70 RBI’s while hitting .295. 

His biggest asset though was his fielding. He may have been the best ever Sox first baseman in that department, making spectacular plays look easy and knowing the little things about the game. 

On June 3rd in Los Angeles, the Sox were playing the Angels. They were tied for first place. In the 5th inning Cunningham hit a grounder to California second baseman Billy Moran. Moran’s throw to first baseman Charlie Dees was wild and Dees had to move to catch the ball. As he did his foot shifted and Cunningham not wanting to spike him, twisted sideways and tripped over the first base bag. He fell head and torso first breaking his collarbone. Rookie Tommy McCraw was called up but could only hit .254 in over 100 games. Cunningham’s loss wasn’t the only one to derail an excellent team. Buzhardt, a known Yankee killer, was 9-4 with a 2.42 ERA at the end of June. Then his shoulder went bad and he was out for the season. Those two losses were to much for the Sox to overcome.  

1972 - Bill Melton, third baseman.  

The 1972 White Sox were the best team on the South Side of Chicago since 1967. They would win 87 games in a shortened season and would finish only five and a half games behind the World Champion Oakland A’s. Dick Allen would be the league MVP, Wilbur Wood would become the Pitcher Of The Year and Chuck Tanner the Manager Of The Year. That club also had Carlos May, Tom Bradley, Ed Herrmann, Stan Bahnsen, Terry Forster, ‘Goose’ Gossage and Pat Kelley

They also had Bill Melton, reigning American League home run champ, a guy who hit 33 home runs in 1970 before he hit 33 more in 1971. Melton was also a very good fielder, his percentage some years was even better then Brooks Robinson and he handled more chances. He was a rock solid player and was coming off an All Star season in 1971. 

Melton however had suffered an accident in the off season after 1971 and it would haunt Sox fans that year and forever more. That Winter Bill fell off a ladder at his home when he was attempting to get his son off the garage roof. The injury kept getting worse and worse as the season went on. Bill had hit seven home runs and driven in thirty RBI’s when the pain became to much. 

He was diagnosed as having a herniated disk, was put in traction on June 24th and was done for the season. He had only played in 57 games.  

G.M. Roland Hemond got Ed Spezio from San Diego to replace him and he did an outstanding job...but Spezio was no Melton and when only five and a half games separated the two clubs, his missing bat was absolutely crucial. To this day Sox fans from my generation think about 1972, that injury and wonder ‘what if?’ 

1973 - Dick Allen, first baseman. 

But in 1973 Melton was back and so was basically the same cast from 1972 along with newly acquired Ken Henderson. Henderson was a switch hitting, power hitting, center fielder who added another bat to an imposing lineup. This time, Sox fans thought, nothing could go wrong. But the ‘baseball gods’ had a different plan. 

The Sox blew out of the gate claiming first place in late April and holding it through late June. Wood had already won 13 games by Memorial Day! Allen was off to another good start and things looked like they were finally coming together.

Unfortunately the Sox then were blown apart by injuries. They used the disabled list 38 times before the season ended. Things got so bad that Brian Downing injured his knee on the first play in the first inning of his first major league game at Detroit!

But the killer took place in Anaheim on June 28th. In the 6th inning of a game the Sox would win 2-0 (With Steve Stone as the pitcher of record!) Melton fielded a ground ball off the bat of Mike Epstein. His throw was wild and Allen was slammed into by Epstein as a result of it. The collision sent him sprawling to the ground. He’d finish the inning but was replaced by Tony Muser to start the 7th. It was the last time Allen was on the field that year, lost with a fracture of the fibula in the left knee. At the time Allen had sixteen home runs, 41 RBI’s and was hitting .316.  

What was really bizarre was the fact that it was a little over ten years exactly, in the same area, against the same team that the Sox lost their key first baseman to a collision caused by a wild throw. (Cue Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone music...). The Sox after such high expectations and with such a great start went into a free fall finishing the year at 77-85. 

Such is the legacy of the White Sox.  

“Fate keeps on happening.” - Anita Loos. American novelist, screenwriter. 

“And so it goes.” - Billy Joel.

As always your questions, comments and insights are appreciated. Feel free to contact me at

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.

More features from Mark Liptak here! 

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