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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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1971 Offseason

Posted 08-17-2017 at 08:26 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 06-25-2018 at 08:58 PM by TommyJohn




The contrast between the 1970 and 1971 versions of the White Sox was like night and day. Roland Hemond and Chuck Tanner were showered with praise for the way they had rebuilt the team almost overnight. A lot of the positive press came from the Chicago media, which had seemingly abandoned the team to the fates long ago.

There was still work to be done, however. The Sox showed great offense, belting 138 home runs, led by Bill Melton's AL-leading 33. Rick Reichardt had 19 and Jay Johnstone 16. The team batting average of .250 was in the middle of the pack. Still, Hemond and Tanner craved a big bat in the middle of the lineup. They had failed in attempts to land either Frank Robinson or Dick Allen before the 1971 season. They would go shopping again this time around.

Defense and relief pitching were still concerns. The bullpen was improved over 1970, but lacked a big "stopper" that could come in and wrap up games. Vicente Romo and Steve Kealey had ERAs in the high 3's and gave up their share of leads. Joel Horlen produced an ERA of 4.27 moving from the rotation and the 'pen.

The Bee Bee Richard Experience turned out to be an awful one for all concerned, least of all Bee Bee. The Beebs batted .209 and led all American League shortstops with 26 errors, despite playing only 86 games, basically just half a season, at the position. Bee Bee himself termed it the most humiliating year of his life. Sending Luis to Boston was looking to be a big error in hindsight.

With this in mind, Stu Holcomb once mused aloud "we need a shortstop. You know who we'd love to have? Don Kessinger. He'd be a swell guy to have, and we have some young guys in our system who could hit lots of home runs in Wrigley Field."

No sooner did Holcomb reveal his wish list that he was bombarded by mail from White Sox fans. They came in different tones-some pleading, some begging, others demanding, but they all said the same thing-"don't send our young guys to the Cubs. Don't help them win a title."

They needn't have worried. John Holland, the incompetent Phil Wrigley yes man and proud builder of many Cub second division teams, including not one, but two teams that went 59-103 (by contrast, one 56-106 season cost Ed Short his job) and now found himself trying and failing to get the Cubs over the hump in the NL East, put on his gas mask, fumigated the air of Holcomb's dirty, foul, south side air and let it be known that Kessinger was untouchable. There would be no deal for him, least of all with the scum team from the scum side of town. Holland was more than likely still sulking over Ed Short's refusal to let the Cubs rob the Sox blind of Ken Berry two years earlier. So John geared up and went to the winter meetings looking to make his next great Brock-for-Broglio blockbuster.

The Sox would not get the hoped-for big trade with the Cubs. They would make a huge splash nonetheless.

December 2,1971

Roland Hemond went into the winter meetings looking for that big slugger to insert into the heart of the order. He found him on this date, making what truly was the White Sox trade of the decade.

Pitcher Tommy John and infielder Steve Huntz were sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Dick Allen, one of the best and most controversial players of the 1960s.

Allen had started his career with the Phillies in 1963. He arrived already carrying emotional baggage from racial abuse he had endured while playing for Triple-A Little Rock. He took more abuse, much of it racially motivated, in the ensuing seasons after Philly phamously phlopped in 1964, blowing a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left. Many fans angrily blamed him for the collapse. The abuse got so bad that Allen took to wearing a batting helmet in the field to protect himself from fans who threw nuts and bolts at his head. Allen spent the next five years brooding and raising rebellion to an art form.

He came to the White Sox after two pit stops, the first in St. Louis, then in Los Angeles. A need for left-handed pitching and a pending deal that would land them Frank Robinson made Allen expendable. Allen liked it in Los Angeles at first, but wound up hating it there over the organization's attempts to get him to conform to "The Dodger Way." Nevertheless, Allen was upset over the trade. Stu Holcomb's initial attempts to contact the Sox' new player were unsuccessful.

Allen may have been upset over the trade, but Chuck Tanner was positively gleeful. Allen's hometown of Wampum, PA was a stone's throw from Tanner's hometown of New Castle. Tanner had known the Allen family since Dick was a wee one, and competed against one of Allen's older brothers in high school basketball.

Tanner glowingly predicted that Allen would hit well in White Sox Park and be a good 1-2 punch with Bill Melton. When pressed on Allen's shenanigans, Tanner said "He gives 100 percent on the ball field. I'll judge Richie Allen on what he does for me-and only that."

John departed the Sox after seven seasons, during which he amassed a record of 82-80 with 888 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.95. He had been a mainstay of the staff during that time and had even overcome the career-threatening shoulder injury of 1968. He was best remembered by Sox fans as part of the lights out trio of 1967, along with Gary Peters and Joel Horlen. He would find greater success and fame once he was wearing Dodger blue.

Hemond swung another deal the same day to replace John in the rotation, acquiring 1968 AL ROY Stan Bahnsen from the Yankees for Rich McKinney. The Allen trade, though, had been the huge headline grabber.


Another event occurred during the winter of 1971-72, one that would impact the 1972 White Sox as much as the Allen trade.

Bill Melton, 1971 AL Home Run Champ, was at his offseason home in California shingling his garage roof one afternoon, getting an assist from his four year old son, Billy. Melton stepped away from the ladder momentarily. At that time Billy, apparently wanting to be like daddy, climbed up the ladder onto the roof. Melton ran over, climbed up and grabbed little Billy. As soon as he lifted his son, Melton sneezed. The seizing up caused him to lose his balance, topple off the ladder and fall to the ground on his tailbone. Billy was OK. Bill, Sr, however, started to have back pains.

Meanwhile, the Sox tried over and over again to contact Dick Allen, but the brooding star was making himself unavailable. Stu Holcomb pursued Allen like a high school boy going after his crush.

Spring training was delayed by baseball's first ever players' strike. MLBPA chief Marvin Miller was negotiating for pension benefits for the players. The strike carried over into April and would delay the start of the baseball season.

Fans expressed their displeasure with players they termed greedy and whiny and said that they, the fans, were the ones who truly paid their salaries and that the players needed to stop crying and go back to work.

On the same day of the announcement that the strike would delay the start of the season, Dick Allen showed up at camp ready to play. He finally had let Chuck Tanner talk him into reporting to the White Sox. Perhaps Richie just wanted to feel loved and needed.

One thing he wanted that he did get-a big, fat pay raise. Allen, who had made $110,000 with LA in 1971, demanded a bump from John Allyn and got it to the tune of $135,000, which automatically made him the highest paid athlete in the history of Chicago sports before he had even played a game.
A beaming Chuck Tanner predicted that Allen would finish his career in Chicago.

The strike cost the White Sox an Opening Day gate of 50,000. Clearly the fans were charged up about the team for the coming year.

One sad note-as the strike progressed, the Sox "waived" goodbye to Joel Horlen, one of the mainstays of the staff. Horlen departed after 11 seasons. He was best known for his 1967 season, when he went 19-7 with a 2.06 ERA and authored a no-hitter. He had fallen on hard times the past three seasons and spent all of 1971 suffering the aftereffects of his knee injury. Also, he was the team's players' union representative. The Sox had a habit of getting rid of those, as had also happened to Gary Peters.

The strike finally came to an end in the second week of April. Teams lost about 7-8 games off their schedules. The White Sox would open the 1972 season in Kansas City vs. the Royals.
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