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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Great Expectations
The sorry legacy of can't miss Sox seasons of the past.

Itís not only the title of a classic novel by Charles Dickens, itís a term that comes up every so often describing how fans feel about the White Sox season.

Itís certainly been in use this off season as fans and media alike have said the Sox have a legitimate chance (on a 53 million dollar payroll) to not only contend for the divisional title but in some quarters, the American League pennant. Phil Rogers, baseball writer for the Tribune and friend of WSI, even went so far as saying that the Sox would make the World Series for the first time since 1959.

Having those great expectations though is a double edged sword. Itís great that people think the team is good enough to reach those lofty heights but sooner or later the season starts and the players have to actually live up to those demands. With the White Sox thatís been a difficult proposition to say the least.

In an odd twist of fate, the White Sox teams usually remembered by fans and held in the highest regard are those that were picked to have a dismal year yet somehow overcame all to have sensational seasons. The years 1972, 1977, 1990 and 2000 immediately come to mind.

Many years though when the Sox were almost a "canít miss," "sure fire" pick to win, the strangest, more bizarre happenings took place to derail and destroy not only the players season but the fans spirit as well.

It canít be explained... only reviewed, and thatís what weíll do in this story. Weíre going to take a closer look at some years when many thought the Sox had it all, only to find in September that they wound up with little or nothing.

1960 Season (Final Record: 87-67 3rd Place)

The Sox of 1960 were considered strong favorites because they had actually done something impossible...they won the pennant in 1959 and appeared to many to be even stronger then the previous season. But all was not well in Soxville because in the off season Bill Veeck made a number of trades designed to bring additional power and poise to the club Unfortunately the players he traded would become future All Stars costing the Sox possible championships in 1964 and 1967.Those players included Earl Battey, Johnny Callison, Norm Cash, Johnny Romano, Don Mincher, and Barry Latman. The problem wasnít that Veeck had traded that generations version of "canít miss kids..." itís that he traded them for players without question, on the downside of their careers. "Minnie" Minoso was allegedly 37, with Roy Sievers 33. Herb Score was only 27 but had suffered a serious injury when he was hit in the face by a ball off the bat of the Yankees Gil McDougald and was never the same.

Had the Sox swapped the "kids" for players like Bill White or Orlando Cepeda (both of whom Veeck wanted to get) who were approaching their peaks as young sluggers, nobody would have cared, but Veeck was flat out robbed in these deals.. The moves also caused frustration and resentment among the veterans who remained. Both Jim Landis and Billy Pierce told me how the chemistry of the clubhouse had changed and that the veterans were upset by the deals.

Despite all this the Sox actually were in the thick of the race when they played the Orioles on August 28th. The Sox trailed the Yankees by three games and had momentum going for them as they had cut New Yorkís lead in the previous weeks. This was when the strange incidents that has haunted the franchise reared its head once again.

The Sox were losing 3-0 in the 8th inning. With two out, the Sox got three straight singles cutting the lead to 3-1. Ted Kluszewski came up to pinch hit and ripped an apparent three run home run... except for one small problem. Umpire Ed Hurley claimed he called time right before the pitch and disallowed the hit. Hurley wasnít even the home plate umpire and no one saw him signal time out, but he insisted he did, and the decision stood. Instead of leading 4-3, the Sox only got one run and lost. They dropped four games behind the Yanks. Kluszewski would later remember it as the game the broke the Sox spirit as they only played .500 ball the rest of the way.

1965 Season (Final Record: 95-67 2nd Place)

At first glace you have to ask, how does a team that wins 95 games in a season be considered a "disappointment." Thatís a legitimate question. The only reason the 65 White Sox are in here is because the 1964 White Sox finished one game behind the Yankees and closed the season winning nine straight. The 65 team finished seven games behind the Twins and had their old friend Mr. Injury make another appearance. The three year stretch from 1963 through 1965 may have been the best in franchise history. The White Sox won a total of 287 games, they averaged 96 wins per season yet couldnít reach the World Series.

The off season saw the Sox reacquire Johnny Romano as well as pick up two rookies who would become sensational with the club in the near future. Tommy Agee and Tommy John were acquired as part of a three team trade with Cleveland and Kansas City. Those moves made the Sox the favorites among a number of the media. Sox owner Art Allyn predicted in spring training the Sox would win the pennant. In the early part of the season, it looked like the media was right. The Sox got off to a blazing start winning 22 of their first 30 games and built up a 4 Ĺ game lead by mid May. It was at this point when injuries hit two of the top pitchers in the league.

Gary Peters won 19 games in 1963... 20 games in 1964. However as he explained in his interview with WSI, early in 1965 he suffered a groin injury that hampered him all season. It changed his motion and resulted in a loss of effectiveness as well as a losing mark for the year. Juan Pizarro also a top shelf winner in 1963 and 1964 came down with a bad arm, basically missing most of the season. The loss of the top two left handers on one team in baseball was bad enough but the strain of so many close games over the years finally took its toll on Manager Al Lopez.

Lopez was hospitalized with a stomach ailment in June. That illness convinced him it was time to leave and he would wind up resigning in November. In the short term, his illness and the uncertainty of it broke the continuity of the team.

Throw in the "frozen baseball" controversy started by the Tigers in August and you had a season that while very successful in the win column, had all the tendencies of being on a roller coaster at Riverview. It also came up short from the championship standpoint.

1968 Season (Final Record: 67-95 8th Place)

Of all the seasons where fans thought the Sox were finally going to the World Series, 1968 had to be the biggest disappointment. It was a stunning reversal of fortune where the Sox not only didnít come close to the post season, they had a losing record. That snapped a streak which started in 1951 and to this day is the 3rd longest in baseball history.

The Sox were consensus picks to win the pennant because they had the finest pitching staff in the league and appeared to make a series of off season deals which bolstered the hitting and improved the defense. The Sox as you might remember, blew the pennant in 1967, falling apart the final week against the dregs of the league, Kansas City and Washington. In the off season the Sox didnít stand pat, acquiring Luis Aparicio and Russ Snyder from Baltimore as well as getting former National League batting champ, Tommy Davis from the Mets. The Sox who already had such stud pitchers as Peters, Horlen, John, Bob Locker and Hoyt Wilhelm seemed even better. Rookie Cisco Carlos joined the rotation in September 1967 and was almost unhittable. He won four games that month including a brilliant shutout of the Tigers in the second game of a double header that saw Horlen throw a no hitter in the first game. Everything seemed right for a Sox championship parade.

Then the games began and by the second week, the season was finished. The Sox opened play by dropping ten games in a row, the longest streak of losing to start a season in team history. How bad was this year? What went wrong? Let us count the ways:

* Rioting due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King caused fans to stay away from "unsafe" Comiskey Park in droves and torrents. Opening day drew only 7,756.

* Ten regular season games were played in Milwaukee. The public was told it was so that Milwaukee fans could keep seeing some baseball until they got an expansion club. Privately Allyn was testing the market to see how well the Sox would draw. If they drew well enough, there was the possibility he would move the team ninety miles North.

* Manager Eddie Stanky made the clubhouse off limits to the media especially during the ten game losing streak. He blamed the media for all the "negativity" surrounding the team.

* The team simply could not hit. Peters was actually slotted 6th in the batting order for one game ahead of Aparicio, Duane Josephson and Tim Cullen. Peters was pitching that day!

* Stanky ordered his coaches to change clothes in the Sox clubhouse along side the players. Many Sox players thought the coaches were spying for management. (Authorís Note: Sounds like the charges made by four White Sox players during this past off season doesnít it?)

* In an August game at Detroit, the Sox lost John when he was attacked on the mound by Dick McAuliffe. John was the only Sox pitcher having a good season and he was doing it only pitching on weekends while he was completing his National Guard duty during the week. McAuliffe was hit by a pitch, then bowled over John, damaging his shoulder in the fight.

* During the Democratic Convention supporters of candidate George Wallace were hurling racial comments toward Davis and other black players while attending a game. Eugene McCarthy supporters commented back about the Wallace supporters attitudes and a fight almost broke out in the left field stands. Police and security had to step in.

* In a secret June meeting in Indianapolis, Sox management decided to fire Stanky and replace him with Al Lopez. A week later Stanky got canned without the Sox even holding a press conference. But summing up this season perfectly was the fact that a week after Lopez came back to take over he was hit with appendicitis!

1973 Season (Final Record: 77-85 5th Place)

The 1973 season was interesting because the Sox had two reasons for failure this time around. One simply could not be helped, the other was the product of something that has infected the organization since it was founded, the concern over the bottom line as opposed to winning championships.

Dick Allen had won the MVP the previous season, Wilbur Wood was pitcher of the year, Chuck Tanner... manager of the year, Roland Hemond, executive of the year. The Sox were feeling good about their chances in 1973. Fans figured that the Sox had played the World Champion Aís almost even and that was without home run champion Bill Melton who was lost for the year in June with a back injury. With the addition of power hitting center fielder Ken Henderson, the Sox lineup was formidable. Twenty game winners Wood and Stan Bahnsen anchored the pitching staff which was a bit thin but the hitting was expected to make up for it (sound familiar?)

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. The injuries were small and nagging like Carlos Mayís hamstring, Meltonís groin and Pat Kellyís back. The injuries were major like Allenís broken leg, and Hendersonís torn up knee. 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!

No the Sox couldnít do anything about injuries but the second problem was all their own fault.

With then vice president Stu Holcomb taking a "hard line" approach to salaries, the Sox had more holdouts, unsigned players and dissatisfied players then anybody in the league.

Holcomb was originally supposed to run owner John Allynís pro soccer team. When that folded the Sox refused to "eat" his contract and instead made him the VP of the baseball club. Mike Andrews said in his interview with WSI that Holcomb wasnít qualified for the job and was the reason for the dissension. The end result was that the Sox simply released players like Andrews, Ed Spezio, Jay Johnstone and Rick Reichardt because they couldnít agree on contracts. When the injuries hit, the Sox had nobody to replace them unless you count guys like John Jeter, Cy Acosta, "Buddy" Bradford and Chuck Brinkman as "major league caliber."

Adding insult to injury was the fact that Holcomb resigned under pressure when Tanner and Hemond got so fed up with his antics that they went to Allyn with their protests. That was in late July and by then the season was over.

1978 Season (Final Record: 71-90 5th Place)

OK, I grant you this is a stretch. The only reason I put it in this story is because a few Sox "optimists," and more importantly Bill Veeck thought the Sox could catch lightning in a bottle again. Coming off the 1977 Southside Hit Men season Veeck was not able (or willing) to spend what it took to resign Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble. Many Sox fans felt that gutted the team but Veeck was made of sterner stuff. He felt he could "rent a player" one more time and made a deal with the Angels to get home run hitting, base stealing Bobby Bonds. All he gave up was Brian Downing, Dave Frost and Chris Knapp. In short Veeck was robbed again. Veeck also signed free agent Ron Blomberg from the Yankees. Blomberg had missed most of the two previous years after severely hurting himself on the field.

The moves did little to help the Sox. With the club at an atrocious 9-20, Veeck unloaded Bonds to the Rangers for Rusty Torres and Claudell Washington (slept here).

The "magic" from 1977 was gone and the few Sox fans who felt players like Mike Pazik, Rich Hinton, Mike Eden and Ron Schueler could rekindle it got a harsh look at reality, at least on the South Side.

1984 Season (Final Record: 74-88 5th Place) Coming off a 99 win Western Division Championship youíd be hard pressed to find anybody who didnít think the Sox were a lock for the playoffs and the prohibitive favorite to win the World Series. The Sox had it all. Great pitching in guys like LaMarr Hoyt, Rich Dotson, Britt Burns, and Floyd Bannister. The had power in Greg Luzinski, Harold Baines, Carlton Fisk and Ron Kittle. Speed was offered by Julio Cruz and Rudy Law. They had an outstanding manager in Tony LaRussa. How could this team not win?

Kittle himself may have touched on the answer when he told us in his interview that he thought the Sox were overconfident that season.

Indeed for most of the first half of the season the Sox looked off, lethargic, slow. They turned it on right before the All Star break, winning seven straight, pushing their record to 44-40 and into first place. Everyone thought, OK here we go...and the Sox did go....right down the toilet. Coming out of the break the Sox dropped 13 of 17 to some of the tough teams in the Eastern Division. Even though they were only out 3 Ĺ games towards the end of July, it was clear the heart had gone out of the club. In more brutal terms, they quit.

Kittle also mentioned some of the trades that were made which changed that elusive clubhouse chemistry. He, and no less then Jerry Reinsdorf both talked about the loss of Jerry Koosman, who was traded for veteran relief pitcher and former NBA player Ron Reed. Reinsdorf said it was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made. Sox announcer Joe McConnell talked about Koosman in the 1983 TV special "Next Year Is Here," saying Koosman was like a "second pitching coach."

It was a small change but it had big results and helped contribute to one of the most disappointing seasons in team history.

1991 Season (Final Record: 87-75 2nd Place)

With the Sox coming off an unexpected 94 win campaign in 1990, with a flock of young stars who actually produced the year before in Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Jack McDowell, Sammy Sosa, Alex Fernandez, and Greg Hibbard and with the opening of the "new" Comiskey Park, many fans and some media members thought the Sox were ready to take the next step.

The Sox opened with a six game road winning streak through Baltimore, Detroit and New York before losing. A capacity crowd at the new park saw the Sox get blown apart by the Tigers 16-0 but they still went 11-7 in April. It was clear though that the Sox still needed something because they had a bad May ending 6 Ĺ games off the lead and in 6th place. June started another upcurve culminating with one of the most exciting Julyís in team history. The Sox went 19-8... can anybody forget Venturaís dramatic two out, 9th inning grand slam to beat the Rangers on July 31st? They had won seven straight and had closed to three games off the lead at the trading deadline when Sox management......did nothing.

Apparently General Manager Ron Schueler felt this team was good enough to make the predictions come true, or perhaps the GM simply couldnít bear losing such "canít miss" prospects as Joe Hall, Rod Bolton, Steve Wapnick or Johnny Ruffin. Either way the Sox looked like it wasnít going to be a factor. They capped off another seven game winning streak with rookie Wilson Alvarez tossing a no hitter at Baltimore on August 11th. The Sox were now one game out, twenty games over .500 when it happened.

They lost a late lead and fell in extra innings to the Orioles on August 12th starting a three game losing streak. After a win they dropped another three in a row. After beating the Yankees on August 18th the bottom and the season fell out. They lost nine in a row, scoring a total of twenty runs with nine coming in one game. They were shut out three times.

In a three week stretch the Sox went 2-15. They fell from a game out to nine games out and the season was over. They would go on to have a fine season but Sox fans were left to wonder what might have happened had Schueler decided to make a deal or two.

1995 Season (Final Record: 68-76 3rd Place)

In 1993 and 1994 the White Sox were one of the best teams in baseball...then came the labor impasse which shortened the 94 season without a post season. At the time of the walkout the Sox had the 2nd best record in the American League and the 3rd best mark in baseball (behind Montreal and the Yankees.) With the abbreviated free agent signing period and the shortened spring training very few people knew what to expect. The safe play was to pick the Sox again to be very good and thatís what many fans and media did.

Two factors combined though to make the Sox one of the biggest flops in baseball. The first had to be placed squarely on the players themselves. Many Sox players after the season ended stated that they didnít really train hard over the previous off season. They admitted they thought that the 1995 season would never be played or if it was, wouldnít start until May or June. That attitude showed on the field and in the increased waist sizes in the uniform pants. Sox pitchers were hammered in spring training. They opened the season giving up 49 runs in the first five games. The tone of the season was already set after the first weekís action.

The other reason was directly managementís fault. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf was going to get his pound of flesh... first from the players who dared strike and then two years later at the other owners for settling the dispute without breaking the union or getting a salary cap.

Reinsdorf ordered GM Ron Schueler to trade star pitcher Jack McDowell in a cost cutting move. Sox management said they had to recoup their losses from the strike. McDowell was ready to become a free agent after the season and the Sox had zero chance of resigning him. The three previous years Jack took the Sox to arbitration when they couldnít agree on a contract. McDowell won only once but his independence infuriated ownership. The guy who won more games then anybody in baseball from 1990 through 1994 was traded to the Yankees for three no name players, the best of whom was the entirely forgettable Lyle Mouton. Sox management also refused to give DH Julio Franco a two year deal and he signed to play in Japan. Franco had 98 RBIís at the time of the strike and combined with Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura to form a devastating middle of the order.

To replace those players the Sox brought in such "stars" as out of shape John Kruk, Chris Sabo, Jim Abbott, Rob Dibble and Dave Righetti. None of those guys made any type of impact.

By late April the Sox were 9-16 and already eight games out of first. Sox fans were happy the season was shortened to only 145 games.

2001 Season (Final Record: 83-79 3rd Place)

Coming off a 95 win season, the most in the American League and an unexpected divisional title, the Sox were the pick of the fans and the media to run roughshod through an otherwise mediocre division. The Sox tore apart the league offensively in 2000 setting a record for the most runs ever scored in the month of April.

Amazingly what many fans, and in truth, most media either overlooked or forgot about was that offense without pitching is useless. Sox management was also guilty of "wishful thinking" because despite bringing in David Wells to anchor the starting rotation, they did nothing else to shore up a staff torn asunder by injuries.

When Cal Eldred walked off the mound holding his elbow in July 2000, it set off a chain reaction. James Baldwin missed over a month with a bad arm, Mike Sirotka hurt his arm in his last start of the season before the playoffs, Jim Parque had to leave Game #1 of the ALDS because of an arm injury that Manager Jerry Manuel said would have prevented him from starting any other playoff games. The pitchers who remained, particularly in the bullpen tried to pick up the slack and hurt their arms. The list seemed endless. Instead of acquiring pitching at the trade deadline, General Manager Ron Schueler brought in hitters. Then in the off season his new replacement Ken Williams spent most of his time trying to assure fans, that Sox doctors were competent and that the injured pitchers would be back.

He was partially correct. Some were back but not all, and those who were back were anything but effective especially in the early part of the season. Not enough time had passed for Sox pitchers to regain velocity and control. Early season cold weather didnít help either as the Sox slid down to a mark of 14-29 on May 23rd. To the teamís everlasting credit, they didnít quit and rallied to finish the year with a winning record of 83-79. But as far as running roughshod over the league? That assumption wasnít even close to reality.

One of the beauties (and curse) of baseball is its unpredictability. No one can accurately predict what will happen the next season. The millions of variables, from injuries and clubhouse issues to small subtle things like a park changing its dimensions to unexpectedly good or bad weather all change the dynamics of a team and by proxy of a season.

By the time you read this we should have an idea of what the Sox may be capable of in the 2003 season but before anybody says that the Sox will have a good or bad year, perhaps we should remember the words of Sox author and historian Rich Lindberg. Lindberg closes the opening chapter of his book, "Whoís On 3rd? The Chicago White Sox Story" with this... "the unwished for, happens quite as frequently as the unexpected."

Letís hope with the "great expectations" for this year that the Sox and their fans are finally rewarded.

As always your comments, concerns, issues, corrections and if it comes right down to it, insults are welcome. You can contact me at mliptak1@ida.net


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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