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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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1976 Offseason

Posted 04-20-2018 at 07:12 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 06-16-2018 at 01:04 PM by TommyJohn

1976 Offseason

The 1976 White Sox were neither an artistic nor financial success. Their record of 64-97 left them all alone in last place in the AL West. The team also had a bad year offensively, hitting .255 with 73 home runs, their lowest output since 1968. Jim Spencer and Jorge Orta tied for the team lead with 14. No other player hit more than 10.

The Sox weren't alone in this power outage. Only five teams out of 12 hit more than 100 home runs, and the league average was 94. AL West champ Kansas City hit only 65. The league leader was Boston with 134, and the bottom team was the Angels, with 63. The dead ball era was back.

The pitchers did as best they could under the circumstances. Rich Gossage went 9-17 with a 3.94 ERA in his year as a starter. Terry Forster had a rougher go at 2-12 and 4.37. Bart Johnson's line of 9-16 and 4.73 showed he might not be completely recovered from the back injury that caused him to miss all of 1975. Ken Brett was the best Sox pitcher of the year, going 10-12 with a 3.32 ERA. The team ERA was 4.25.

Bill Veeck promoted the heck out of his product in hopes of attaining 1 million customers, but he fell just short at 914,945. The good news was that it was more than the 1975 team had drawn, and was not bad at all for a team that lost 97 games. The bad news is that it wasn't enough to break even and the Sox once again ended the season in the red.

This situation caused some die hards to fret about Veeck's finances. After all, they were only a year removed from a near move to Seattle, and still not enough people came out to make the team a financial success. Veeck was asked in September about the situation and the worry of the fans.

"My finances are fine" Veeck snapped. He explained that the sale of players in the upcoming expansion draft would help them break even and that they would have money left over.

"Sometimes I wish they would worry about P.K. Wrigley's finances." he added.

Changes were coming to the grand old game of baseball, including one that would alter the entire landscape.

The first was expansion. In January of 1976 MLB finally settled the lawsuit with the city of Seattle by promising them an expansion team to begin play in 1977. Bowie Kuhn had not wanted expansion, but he wanted a lengthy and costly civil suit even less.

The AL would have to add a 14th team to round out the schedule. After the National League voted against adding teams from Washington, D.C. and Toronto, the group from Toronto joined the American League to even out the teams.

The second, and much bigger change, was the dawn of the free agency era. No longer bound to teams for life, players who had put in a certain number of years could now sell themselves to the highest bidder. Rich owners like George Steinbrenner and Gene Autry stood waiting in the wings to strike once the first re-entry draft was held. The two most valuable gems this year were Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi.

Bill Veeck wasted no time in stoking the winter hot stove. The league playoffs were still in swing when Veeck placed an ad in the Sporting News announcing that he was looking to hire sluggers, and told all interested parties to contact him at his office in Comiskey Park. "The way I see it, the Sox are one or two hitters away from being a good team" He said. He also told the media that the Sox had enough money to land either Reggie Jackson or Joe Rudi. Veeck reasoned that most of the money would be deferred, so the Sox could afford it on their budget.

I'm not sure what Veeck's strategy was in saying that the Sox could sign Jackson or Rudi. Did he honestly think he had a shot at either of them? Was he smoking something stronger than cigarettes? Or was he simply creating hype in order to increase winter season ticket sales? Whatever the case, the Sox didn't come close to signing either player, as any Sox fan on a barstool could have predicted. Reggie and Joe went to the cash-rich Yankees and Angels, respectively. Forced to lower his sights, Veeck went shopping in the free agent equivalent of the one dollar clearance bin and came up with Royle Stillman, Tim Nordbrook, Eric Soderholm and Steve Stone.

Soderholm had been a solid 3rd baseman for the Twins who had spent all of 1976 on the disabled list after tearing up his knee in an offseason accident. When Soderholm realized his freedom, Veeck was the only owner willing to take a chance on him.

Steve Stone had spent a year with the Sox before going to the Cubs in the now infamous Ron Santo trade. Arm woes had limited him to only 75 innings in 1976. Again, Veeck was the only one willing to take a flyer on Stone. Stillman and Nordbrook would be role players.

One other free agent that Veeck kicked the tires on was Dick Allen, who had spent the past two seasons back with the Phillies, where he once again proceeded to wear out his welcome. Allen would now realize his dream of signing with the team of his choice. Veeck was well aware of Allen's enormous fan appeal-the only times in the decade that the Sox had drawn over 1 million were during his three years with the team. Veeck made an inquiry, only to be hit with a stipulation from Allen-he would not play designated hitter under any circumstances. It was 1st base or nothing. Veeck felt that between Jim Spencer and Lamar Johnson they were already set at the position. Plus Allen was up there in years. The Sox owner said thanks, but no and Dick Allen would not appear in Sox navy blue and white come 1977. Allen went out and signed with the A's, which was funny because every one of Finley's free agents was dying to get away from Oakland, so much so that they had held a champagne party for themselves on the last day of the season. Allen was the one player dying to get into Oakland.
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