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WHITESOXINTERACTIVE.COM. Totally Biased Coverage of the Chicago White Sox!

What If Sox?

By Mark Liptak

It’s always fun to try out revisionist history, basically saying ‘what if’ this had happened instead of that. Doing this with the White Sox isn’t any different then with history, politics, science and so on, so that’s what we’ll do in this column.

We’ll take a look at some of the biggest ‘what if’s’ in franchise history and how the future for the White Sox might have changed had they taken another path.

THE ‘BLACK SOX’ SCANDAL

Sox author / historian Rich Lindberg has had an interesting take on this event. Lindberg’s contention was that if the White Sox hadn’t “thrown” the 1919 World Series and if eight players weren’t permanently suspended by then Commissioner Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis, the fabled New York Yankees ‘dynasty’ might never have come into being.

Baseball at that time was just beginning to see the value in the crowd appeal of the home run as authored by Babe Ruth but the ‘dead ball’ style of play was still firmly entrenched in the game. The White Sox personified this style with great pitching, blinding speed and slap hitters who advanced runners and scored just enough runs to win games. The Sox were the overwhelming favorites to beat the Reds in the 1919 World Series, had they done so they could also have repeated in 1920.

With less then a week remaining in the 1920 season the Sox trailed Cleveland by a half game for the pennant when the Black Sox scandal broke wide open. When detectives from the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office showed up in front of pitcher Eddie Cicotte’s house, owner Charles Comiskey had no choice but to suspend the eight accused players.

The Sox playing with mostly rookies and some of the ‘Clean Sox’ lost two of their final three games of the season to St. Louis allowing the Indians to back into the title.

What if the Sox had been clean? Well if the Sox win in both 1919 and perhaps 1920, baseball doesn’t feel as much need to add ‘excitement’ to the game in order to try to make fans forget the scandal. The baseball isn’t ‘juiced up,’ the ‘dead ball’ style remains played by a number of teams and the White Sox still with all their stars, like Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson, remain the only team that could have stopped the Yankees in the decade of the 1920's. Or at least won enough titles to prevent the dominance that developed by New York which would last basically unchecked through 1964.

“MR. CUB” BECOMES “MR. WHITE SOX”

Here’s something that’ll make a Cub fan choke... if not for circumstances, Ernie Banks, the famed “Mr. Cub,” might never have played a game for the North Side. Instead Banks might have spent his career on the South Side and consequently gotten into a World Series...or two.

As to why Banks didn’t become a member of the Sox, details are unclear but some facts are known and it appears the main reason was because of the personalities of two of the leading Sox members of the 1950's, Frank “Trader” Lane and Paul Richards.

As G.M., Lane executed several brilliant deals netting the Sox All Star performers like Billy Pierce, Nellie Fox, “Minnie” Minoso and Sherm Lollar. Richards, the field manager from 1951 through late 1954, was a brilliant tactician and a tremendous teacher. Pierce said he was the best manager he ever had. But both men were strong willed, and had big ego’s and that would come into play.

By 1952 Lane was earning 35,000 a season plus a ‘nickel a head’ bonus based on attendance that added an additional 41,000 thousand dollars. Richards who had authored three very good seasons was getting 25,000 thousand and a ‘nickel a head’ for anything over 900,000 in paid admissions.

By August 1954 Richards was looking elsewhere. He couldn’t get a raise and he couldn’t get a multi year deal from the White Sox. He was looking for a three year package worth 40,000 thousand and was turned down. On September 13, Richards accepted the role of both field and general manager for the Orioles.

So how does Banks come into play?

Fast forward to May 21, 1956. By now Richards is still with the Orioles, Lane is the G.M. of the Cardinals. On this day the Sox, led by co G.M.’s, Chuck Comiskey and John Rigney traded George Kell to the Orioles for Dave Philley and Yankee killer Jim Wilson. When Lane heard about the deal he told the press, “Comiskey got the best of Richards...” When Richards heard the comment he exploded, “if you leave Lane alone, he’ll trade a first place club into a sixth place club.” He ripped Lane for every ill advised deal he ever made dating back to the trade of fleet outfielder Jim Busby. The he dropped a bombshell.

Richards told the press that the Sox had a chance to sign Banks, whom their scouts had followed extensively, but that Lane wasn’t interested in looking at him! Richards knew about Ernie and pushed for the club to get him but at that time the two men weren’t on good terms and Lane basically ignored most of Richards recommendations.

What if the Sox signed Banks and he spent his Hall Of Fame career on the South Side?

There are some interesting scenarios here.

Banks broke into the big leagues in 1953. He wouldn’t have produced the same numbers playing in Comiskey Park but he would have supplied a great deal of power that was missing from the Sox lineups throughout the 1950's and 1960's. He certainly could have been the difference in the 1964 and 1967 pennant races and he might have enabled strong White Sox teams in 1955 and 1957 to win the pennant.

There’s also something else to consider....if Banks signed and was the regular shortstop, do the White Sox even bother signing Luis Aparicio?

Think about how the ‘Go-Go Sox’ would have looked without the fastest man on the team.

Aparicio signed with the Sox in 1954, that same season Banks hit .275 with 19 home runs for the Cubs. Luis became Rookie Of The Year in 1956. Of course had the Sox signed both they might have moved Ernie to a different position, say first base, which would have really solved an issue on the club that had been lacking for almost a decade.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP OFF SEASON

After the White Sox won the 1959 American League pennant only to lose the World Series to the Dodgers, owner Bill Veeck made some moves (with the best intentions) that haunted the franchise throughout the 1960's (at least.)

The 1959 White Sox won 35 one run games, an unheard of number and despite great pitching, great speed and fundamentally sound hitters, Veeck was convinced the only way the Sox could have a shot at repeating in 1960 was to get some power hitters in to balance the lineup.

The Yankees would make a deal that off season with their “major league farm club” the Kansas City Athletics, getting left handed power hitter Roger Maris and Bill realized that with Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, Maris would be adding a new dimension to a team that already had Mickey Mantle. He was also beginning to fall into ill health and by 1961 according to his son Mike Veeck in his interview with White Sox Interactive, was convinced that his days on Earth were numbered. With that as a backdrop Bill’s attitude was to ‘win today’ because literally he might not be here tomorrow. There has also been speculation from a number of sources that Bill felt the 1959 White Sox won because of the moves made by people like Chuck Comiskey and Al Lopez and Veeck wanted to ensure his legacy by winning with ‘his’ players.

The White Sox farm system was among the best in baseball and had been for the year’s throughout the 1950's. Down on the farm were quality kids who had shown something in limited trials with the big club in 1958 and 1959. Among those were catcher Johnny Romano, outfielder Johnny Callison and first baseman Norm Cash. Both Cash and Callison were opening day starters in 1959 at Detroit.

Veeck knew a market was developing for these players and went into the off season determined to get the best he could for them.

Sox author / historian and Chicago Tribune assistant sports editor Bob Vanderberg reported in his book, “59 - Summer Of The Sox,” that Bill had his eye on some good young power hitters at first.

Veeck talked with San Francisco about getting slugger Orlando Cepeda (part of the reported deal was to include catcher Sherm Lollar), and he talked with the Cardinals for first baseman Bill White to no avail. Veeck simply couldn’t get the young power hitters he wanted so he turned to his only other option, getting some older power hitters.

This he was able to do as in a span of four months he acquired “Minnie” Minoso, Gene Freese and Roy Sievers. The cost turned out to be higher then anyone could have known at that time.

Gone were Romano, Callison, Cash, catcher Earl Battey, and another first baseman with promise, Don Mincher.

The newcomers did their part in 1960 combining for 65 home runs and 277 RBI’s but the team was weakened defensively and slower on the bases. The defensive slippage also affected the pitching staff. (In fairness it must be noted that there are some who feel the real reason the Sox did not repeat in 1960 was because the mainstays from the ‘Go-Go Sox’ teams like Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Jim Landis and Lollar all had off years.)

History shows that five traded players would go on to make 14 All Star appearances and hammer 1,036 home runs!

The White Sox would lose the 1964 pennant by one game to the Yankees, they would lose the 1967 pennant by three games to the Red Sox. In 1963 the White Sox won 94 games, in 1965 the White Sox won 95 games.

Think one or two of these guys might have made enough of a difference to win at least one, probably two, possibly three pennants in the time frame?

Rich Lindberg also commented on this when he explained in his interview with White Sox Interactive that by not winning any titles during that span, when the Sox were the only club in the American League to be a consistent threat during most of the decade, the stage was set so that when the team fell apart in 1968, the downward spiral started that led to talk of moving the team to other cities until Veeck reacquired the team in December 1975. Lindberg said that in essence, Veeck saved the team in 1975, from the moves he caused in 1960!

NOW PLAYING RIGHT FIELD

As the 1960's rolled on, Sox G.M. Ed Short and field managers Al Lopez and Eddie Stanky realized the White Sox needed one thing to put them over the top and win at least one championship. Ironically it was some consistent power hitting. Contrary to what some think, the Sox of the 60's did have some pop, just not enough. Players like Pete Ward, Dave Nicholson, Ron Hansen and Tommie Agee supplied the long ball but in a big pitchers park like Comiskey Park more was needed.

To that end Short started on a quest that almost netted the Sox some of the best long ball hitters in the decade. The operative word though was almost.

Carl Yastrzemski - According to Bob Vanderberg who interviewed Stanky before he died in 1999, the Sox made two attempts to pry Yaz from the Red Sox in 1965 and 1966.

Young fans today, hammered by the propaganda from the East Coast Sports Network, may be shocked to learn that the Red Sox weren’t always a power in the American League and Fenway Park wasn’t always considered a ‘shrine.’ In fact for most of the 1960's the Red Sox were a mediocre to bad team. For the home opener in 1965 only 18,000 fans showed up. In 1966 less then 13,000.

The Sox thought they had a shot to get Yaz who played college baseball for one year at Notre Dame before turning pro in 1958. Stanky told Vanderberg that the Sox offered Moose Skowron, still a productive first baseman, and pitcher Johnny Buzhardt, a noted Yankee and Red Sox killer to Boston, but were turned down.

In 1967 of course, the Red Sox won the pennant, Yaz won the Triple Crown and there was zero chance Boston would trade him anywhere.

Frank Robinson - It has recently come out that the Sox were in the hunt for Frank Robinson before the start of the 1966 season as well. Details are sketchy but apparently when the Reds gave notice they were willing to deal Robinson, whom they considered a ‘malcontent,’ Short immediately contacted Reds G.M. Bill DeWitt with an offer. The report said that when all was said and done, the White Sox offer was better then Baltimore’s, yet DeWitt sent Robby to the Orioles. In return Cincinnati got pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson, one of the worst deals in baseball history.

With those players Cincinnati won 76 games in 1966.

With Robinson winning the Triple Crown, the Orioles swept the Dodgers in the World Series and their dynasty began.

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson - The Sox had one more chance to grab a power bat, and again they almost did. In 1967 Ken ‘Hawk’ Harrelson started the season in Washington and after appearing in 26 games was shipped to Kansas City. By mid August he had enough of losing and more then enough of A’s owner Charlie Finley. He was hitting .305 for K.C. when he ripped Finley and the A’s organization to the media. Finley then released him making him a ‘free agent’ on August 25th.

The standings on that day showed the Twins leading both the White Sox and Red Sox by a half game with the Tigers a game and a half behind. The greatest pennant race in baseball history was shaping up and the four teams were chomping at the bit to get Harrelson.

The Sox sent Short and Stanky to meet with Hawk to try to get him to come to Chicago. Desperate to stay in the race, Short had acquired Kenny Boyer in June and Rocky Colavito in July but both were found wanting. Hawk was only 26, in his prime, and could be the difference in the final two months.

Unfortunately Harrelson signed with Boston on August 28th. The Red Sox won the pennant and Hawk got his chance in the World Series.

Hawk told Lindberg in a conversation discussed in Rich’s interview with White Sox Interactive, that he decided to go to Boston because he thought the Red Sox had the best chance to get into the World Series.

Ironically enough, Harrelson went right down the tubes the final two months hitting only .200 (with three home runs and 14 RBI’s). In the World Series he hit .077! (1 for 13.) Again in fairness Hawk did rebound with a huge year in 1968, 35 home runs,109 RBI’s, hitting .275 and winning ‘Comeback Player Of The Year’ honors.

Looking back, had the Sox been able to get one of the three mentioned sluggers, history could have been very different in the time period from 1965 through 1967.

ARE THE SOX ON TV TONIGHT?

Twice the White Sox took bold gambles when it came to the broadcasting of their games. They embraced new technology and new avenues, which they should be given much credit for. However the moves came at a very large price with severe repercussions concerning their place in the city and their standing among Chicago sports fans in general.

The first came after the thrilling 1967 season which saw the Sox blow the pennant the final week with five consecutive catastrophic losses to the garbage Kansas City Athletics and Washington Senators. That off season owner Art Allyn decided not to renew his television deal with WGN instead opting to be the ‘top dog’ at the new station WFLD, owned by Field Enterprises.

Rich Lindberg interviewed Hall Of Fame broadcaster Jack Brickhouse about this before Jack passed away in 1998. Lindberg related what Jack told him in his interview with White Sox Interactive.

Brickhouse was apparently shocked that Allyn would do this. Being at the meeting, he told Allyn that he felt sure a new technology was coming that would enable the Sox not just to be seen in Chicago but throughout the Midwest and advised him to remain with WGN. Producer / director Arnie Harris was also at the meeting.

Allyn had sound reasons for wanting to make a move. WGN also was broadcasting Cub games and that meant that the Sox had to share the stage with them. Some key games weren’t shown by WGN the previous season because of their commitments both to the Cubs and to their regular programming. Allyn wanted more Sox night road games shown but WGN wasn’t going to make that pledge. So he went to channel 32.

He didn’t have much choice and that was a real problem.

Unlike New York and Los Angeles, Chicago simply didn’t have a number of channels available that Allyn could negotiate with. In 1968 Chicago TV was made up of channel 2 (CBS), channel 5 (NBC), channel 7 (ABC), channel 11 (PBS) and channel 9 (Independent.) The national networks weren’t going to take the Sox because they weren’t going to disrupt their prime time September schedules. Public TV wasn’t a player either for obvious reasons. That left Allyn with only two choices, go back to channel 9 or take a shot at channel 32. (In the late 60's, early 70's WFLD programming from Marina City included ‘pro’ wrestling from Minnesota led by promoter Bob Luce, Jerry G. Bishop as Svengoolie, host of ‘Screaming Yellow Theater’ and the first TV job for a young Chet Coppock who did the hourly news cut-in’s.)

At channel 32 the Sox had more games shown then ever before that first year. In theory Sox fans for the first time, saw a game from Southern California and from Oakland. Why do we say ‘in theory’? Because most Sox fans couldn’t get WFLD-TV!!

Channel 32's reception was absolutely awful. Many fans to this day remember getting nothing but a snowy picture and some audio no matter what they did. The other issue was that many fans had older TV sets that weren’t even equipped to handle the new channel, only going up to ‘13' on the dial. And they weren’t about to spend money getting a set that did.

In the short term, until the technology caught up with the times, the move was a disaster much like the team itself. 1968, 1969 and 1970 was the worst three year stretch in history for the franchise, on the field. The Sox drew fewer then a half million fans for the season, in 1970. Had the Sox stayed on WGN, they at least could have had more of their fans and baseball fans in general watch them, as bad as they were. Also had they stayed on WGN television, more fans would have had access to the remarkable turnaround started in 1971, engineered by G.M. Roland Hemond and manager Chuck Tanner.

Finally had the Sox stayed on WGN they may have had more clout in getting another mainstream station to take their radio rights. After 1970, no recognized station in Chicago would touch the White Sox. When 1971 started, Sox games were on WTAQ and WEAR, two suburban FM stations! A radio station could say (and probably did) why should we take the Sox? Nobody cares anymore, nobody can even see them in the first place...

And then came ‘SportsVision’ in May 1982. Vice President Eddie Einhorn’s idea for the first pay cable station devoted to sports was brilliant and ahead of its time, but like the WFLD fiasco it turned out bad for the Sox.

Baseball fans in Chicago had been getting numerous games on ‘free TV’ since 1948 and with a recession going on in the country and in Chicago in the early 80's, many fans couldn’t afford the fifty dollar hook up / converter box charge plus the monthly fee charged by cable outlets around the city. (Most if not all considered SportsVision, a ‘premium’ tier charging higher rates.)

Despite the new energy and excitement produced by the team in 1982 and 1983 few fans were watching. WFLD was still showing roughly 30-35 games a year but for many Sox fans that was all they could get for a season. That’s a pretty big drop off from the 125 or so games shown in the 1970's when WFLD and WSNS-TV were actually watchable. Making matters worse was that the Cubs were still showing about 100 games a year for free on WGN.

In addition the move caused popular broadcaster Harry Caray to leave for the Cubs and WGN after the 1981 season. In the TV documentary ‘Hello again everybody...’ a look at the career of Caray, produced Noel Gimble, the statement is made that the Sox offered more money to Caray to stay for 1982 then the Cubs offer but Harry left anyway.

In Bob Logan’s book, ‘Miracle On 35th Street’ Caray was quoted extensively as saying he left because, instead of being seen on 22 million homes via ‘Superstation’ WGN, the Sox would be lucky to have 50,00 fans watching on SportsVision. Logan wrote that the actual number of fans who bought ‘SportsVision’ was closer to 20,000.

If the Sox had stayed on WGN and had more games on free TV, their popularity, especially in the Winnin’ Ugly season of 1983, would have been much greater and possibly blunted the surge in fan interest in the Cubs which started the very next year, 1984. (As recently as 1983 Wrigley Field was closing their upper deck for home games due to lack of fans.) By staying away from ‘free TV’ Chicagoans, especially kids, with no direct ties to either club became Cub fans because they could actually watch them play. That helped cause a massive imbalance in fan support and team generated income as the 80's moved along, despite the fact that Cub teams were generally worse on the field then the clubs the Sox were producing.

For a more detailed look at SportsVision, the reasoning behind it, the history of baseball broadcasting in Chicago and direct quotes from Einhorn, Jerry Reinsdorf and Caray, please read, “SportsVision - The Legacy” found at this link: http://www.whitesoxinteractive.com/rwas/index.php?category=2&id=2096

“FERNANDO-MANIA” ON THE SOUTH SIDE?

Some of you might remember Fernando Valenzuela and the way he took the baseball world by storm starting in 1981. The five time All Star won the Cy Young and Rookie Of The Year Award that year and Spanish crowds flocked to Dodger Stadium to watch him pitch.

I recently heard a story about him and wanted to check on it, so I went to the source, former Sox G.M. Roland Hemond who said it was true.

The story? That Fernando was almost a member of the White Sox.

Hemond remembered getting a call from Fernando’s G.M., Carlos Ramirez in the summer of 1979. Hemond personally knew Ramirez from when he was the scouting and farm director of the California Angels and Ramirez was a middle infielder in their system.

Hemond’s association with the Mexican Professional League is legendary and he’s used his contacts for decades to get such players as Aurelio Rodriguez, Cy Acosta and Salome Barojas up to the big leagues. When Ramirez told him about Valenzuela and the year he was having for Yucatan, Roland was interested.

Hemond dispatched former Sox manager Paul Richards to watch and Richards came back impressed.

With that they went to owner Bill Veeck who authorized an offer for Fernando. Hemond recalled that the Sox offer was about twenty thousand dollars. What isn’t known is how many other clubs Ramirez called with an invitation but history shows the Dodgers were also on to him. Apparently the offer they made was around forty thousand dollars. The Sox and Dodgers were the only two clubs with a serious interest in the portly left hander. Hemond remembered that Veeck felt twenty thousand was as high as the Sox could go at that time and Valenzuela became Dodger property on July 6th.

Finances were always a concern during the days of Bill’s ownership but Roland remembered another point that was made at the meeting on Fernando that colored the Sox decision making process.

“I remember Bill making the point that at that time, we had a number of left handed pitchers in the organization, some of whom we had very high hopes for,” said Hemond. “We had guys like Steve Trout, Britt Burns, Ken Kravec and Ross Baumgarten.

The thinking was that while having a player like Valenzuela would have been a bonus, most felt that the Sox were well covered in that department. Couple that with the financial issue and the decision was made to end the bidding.

What would have happened had the Sox signed Fernando?

Well assuming he pitched as well in Comiskey Park as Dodger Stadium (both pitchers parks) the crowds would have been even bigger then they were getting in the early 80's and that was starting to get very big. The Sox have always had a large Latin following thanks to players like “Chico” Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, “Minnie” Minoso and so forth. Fernando might have been the difference in 1982 when the Sox finished six games behind the Angels for the divisional title. And how about this for a rotation in 1983? Namely Valenzuela, LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson, Burns and Jerry Koosman. (Two Cy Young winners in the bunch.)

With Valenzuela in the fold, the Sox don’t sign Floyd Bannister and perhaps use that money elsewhere, they also probably don’t get Tom Seaver in 1984 as compensation in the free agent draft and perhaps they don’t trade Koosman who was considered by many, including Ron Kittle Tom Paciorek, and Jerry Reinsdorf himself, as a large reason for the Sox collapse in 1984. With Fernando, the Sox may have made a run at three straight divisional titles from 1982 through the 1984 seasons.

Over the decades White Sox history has taken a lot of unusual twists and turns, some for the good of the franchise and others....well not so good. We’ll revisit this ‘what if’ theme in the future since there are still a lot of issues that could be debated, among them:

  • ‘What if,’ Roland Hemond doesn’t pull the trigger and acquire Dick Allen in December 1971?

  • ‘What if,’ the American League allows the Sox to leave for Seattle and allows Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s to relocate in December 1975?

  • ‘What if,’ Edward DeBartolo’s bid to acquire the Sox in the winter of 1980 is accepted? Do the Sox remain in Chicago? Does DeBartolo take his fortune and turn the team into MLB’s version of the San Francisco 49'ers? (Whom were bought for his son and who then promptly won numerous Super Bowls...)

  • ‘What if,’ then Governor Jim Thompson isn’t able to get the votes needed to keep the Sox from moving to Tampa in June 1988? Does a new facility ever get built? Does the American League ever put in an expansion franchise, being unwilling to cede the market to the National League?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you have any questions, opinions, comments or criticisms of the following story, feel free to contact me at mliptak1@msn.com


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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