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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

WSI's FLYINGSOCK.COM.  Chicago White Sox coverage with totally biased attitude!

Sox Fans for Al Smith

by George Bova

“I'm a Smith, and I'm for Al!”

--Slogan on promotional buttons passed out to Sox Fans in 1959

The Picture.  Even for people who don't identify themselves as baseball fans, let alone claim to be Sox Fans, The Picture is what they know.  It's an image that transcends sports, sort of like that ski jumper who crashes at the beginning of Wide World of Sports.  Nobody knows who it is they're watching--but nobody can forget what they are witnessing.

Al Smith is that guy wearing the Sox uniform, the one who gets an entire beer poured over his head by a distracted fan at Comiskey Park.  For 99 percent of the population, that's where the Al Smith story begins and ends.

Amongst these casual fans, many don't know baseball, most don't know the Sox, and virtually none know what makes the team's fans unique.  That image is just one more amusing video clip--one of innumerable "bloopers" they expect the local newscast to provide at the conclusion of the sports segment.

There is so much more to Al Smith, the Chicago White Sox, and the Fans that support them.  

Al Smith died Thursday, January 3.  He was 73.  He never had trouble handling the notoriety of such a silly misadventure captured on film.  By all accounts, he was comfortable being known as the guy with the beer on his head, rather than for any of his baseball feats.  And perhaps for 99 percent of the people Al Smith encountered in life, that was good enough.

Amongst Sox Fans, Al Smith ought to represent a little more.

In October, 1959, the Chicago White Sox had gone forty years without a pennant.  It was one of the longest pennant droughts in baseball.  Sox Fans know too well it has now been 42 years since that season--and still counting.  What kind of team did Al Smith play for?  If you're a Sox Fan and under the age of 40, you can't possibly know.

Smith's introduction to the South Side was inauspicious.  He was "the other guy" from Cleveland in the trade that got the Sox Early Wynn.  That trade had costs the team the popular Minnie Minoso.  In his first season with the Pale Hose, he hit just .252 while popping 12 homeruns.  These aren't the sort of numbers to help Sox Fans forget The Cuban Comet.  The team slipped eight games in the loss column and again finished second to the Yankees.

1959 would be different for Sox Fans, the Sox, and Al Smith.  Yes, Al's numbers were no improvement over 1958.  He maintained his slugging while sliding on batting average.  However, the Sox improved to 94 wins and the American League pennant.  The "other guy" from Cleveland, Early Wynn, led the team in wins and won the Cy Young award.  

Al Smith was the starting leftfielder for a championship Sox ballclub--something no Sox Fan should ever take for granted.  He was one-half of the trade that most-obviously set the stage for that glorious championship run, too.

Smith stayed with the Sox three more seasons.  He batted .315 in 1960, and led the team in rbi's with 93 in 1961.  He made the 1960 all-star team.  Manager Al Lopez switched him to third base when it became apparent Bill Veeck's acquisition of Gene Freese was a complete bust.  Ever the showman, Barnum Bill naturally reaquired Minnie Minoso--and had to make room in his outfield, too.  With that kind of thinking at the top, the Sox would never repeat their league championship feat.

So a beer drops on Al Smith's head and thousands of people who never would have cared, suddenly have reason to notice and laugh.  Was that beer pouring on Al Smith simply a metaphor for what Sox Fans have endured the 42 years since?  Without good video images, the rest of the world really doesn't care.

That's life for Sox Fans--and perhaps Al Smith, too.  Rest in Peace.


George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive.  You can write George at george@whitesoxinteractive.com

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