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100 Things White Sox Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Bob Vanderberg
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Bob Vanderberg
All rights reserved.
88 Was Enough
The scene on the field at Houston's Minute Maid Park was almost unimaginable. This wasn't really happening, was it? Men in Chicago White Sox uniforms were jumping on top of each other, hugging each other, celebrating something that the franchise had not accomplished in 88 years: the winning of a World Series. For the first time since 1917, the White Sox — our White Sox — were world champions, having swept the Houston Astros in four straight games.
Stop and think of how long ago 1917 was. It was so long ago that Chicago had a Republican mayor, "Big Bill" Thompson. It was the year the U.S. declared war on Germany and sent its boys to France to fight the first of the century's two world wars. It was the year the National Hockey League was formed, with just four teams: one each from Toronto and Ottawa, two from Montreal, and none from Chicago.
Since their 1917 World Series triumph over the New York Giants, the White Sox had won American League titles in 1919 and 1959 and division championships in 1983, 1993, and 2000. There could have been — indeed, should have been — more successes along the way to this glorious 2005 postseason, which had ended just moments earlier on the second of two sensational nin-thinning plays by shortstop Juan Uribe. But now, in these moments, previous failures were forgotten. In this 2005 World Series — and also in the two postseason series that preceded it — the Sox were the ones who had delivered the big hit, like Jermaine Dye's eighth-inning, two-out RBI single to center that provided the lone run of Game 4.
It was almost as if the Sox had been awarded the exclusive contract to produce big hits. Hours earlier, former Houston Astro Geoff Blum — in his first at-bat of the Series — had lined a tie-breaking home run into the right-field seats in the 14 inning as the Sox emerged 7–5 winners in the longest game in World Series history to take an insurmountable three-games-to-none lead.
Dye delivered the first big hit of the Series, an opposite-field shot off Roger Clemens in the first inning of Game 1, a blast that let everyone know that these White Sox were hardly World Series impostors. And in Game 2, the heroes delivering the big hits were Paul Konerko, whose two-out seventh-inning grand slam lifted the Sox into a 6–4 lead, and Scott Podsednik, who won the game 7–6 with a one-out solo homer in the ninth off Houston closer Brad Lidge. And neither Scottie Pods nor Konerko was looking for the "big fly" — just the big hit.
"I was just trying to get on base," Podsednik said. "Then we can work from there — then we'll try to get into scoring position. Luckily, I got the count to 2–1, and I said, 'Hey, let's put a good swing on this fastball.' It was a good pitch to hit, and I was able to drive it out." Said Konerko: "In that [bases-loaded situation], a home run is the last thing on your mind. I'm thinking to get a base hit to drive in two and hopefully tie. And then, bang, you get it. That's usually when you get them — when you're not trying to."
There had been huge hits, too, in the division series against Boston — none bigger, perhaps, than Tadahito Iguchi's three-run homer off David Wells in Game 2 in Chicago, the blow that put the Sox ahead to stay at 5–4. There was Konerko's tie-breaking homer in the clinching 5–3 triumph at Fenway. There was Joe Crede's game-winning double with two out in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS in Chicago, just moments after an alleged dropped third strike by Angels catcher Josh Paul had put the Sox's A.J. Pierzynski on first base instead of in the dugout. There were Konerko's first-inning home runs in the third and fourth games at Anaheim, one a two-run blast and the other a three-run shot. And there was Crede again, coming through with a leadoff home run in the seventh to tie Game 5 and an RBI single in the eighth for the go-ahead run.
And then there was the pitching, incredible by any measure. Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, and Freddy Garcia did a perfect impersonation of Gary Peters, Juan Pizarro, Joe Horlen, and Tommy John, the '60s foursome that was as stingy with runs as Jack Benny was with tips. In the ALCS, the four Sox starters held the Angels to 27 hits and 11 runs in 441/3 innings and completed all but one start. Thanks in great part to a brilliant relief job by Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez at Fenway Park, Chicago held Boston to nine runs in three games. And, after spotting Houston a 4–0 lead in Game 3 of the World Series, the Sox limited the Astros to one run in the final 19 innings.
It was a dominant performance, the kind that White Sox fans in the past could have only dreamed of. It all came true in 2005, when Sox fans finally got to turn back the clock and party like it was 1917.CHAPTER 2
Be Proud of This
There are times when it seems like being a White Sox fan means you're always in a foul mood. There are the seemingly constant slights, real or imagined — like when an ESPN or MLB Network anchor promotes an upcoming feature on "the Sox" and you stick around long enough to learn that the special piece is about the Boston Red Sox. As your wife rolls her eyes and the dog runs for cover, you yell at the television, "The Sox are the White Sox, not the Red Sox." You continue, "It says 'SOX' on the White Sox's home jerseys; Boston's say 'RED SOX.'"
Then there are those times when the local 10:00 sportscast leads with the Cubs instead of the Sox, even on a day when the fifth-place Cubs lose 13–4 at home and the second-place Pale Hose win 5–2 on the road. Or when you're on vacation and a fellow traveler asks where you're from. "Chicago," you respond, and then hear, "Oh, a Cubbie fan?" And you smile politely and say, "No." And you want to add to that something like, "I've always preferred big-league ball," but then you think better of it when you feel your wife's elbow — the sharper one — in your side.
You eventually come to believe that the only things the nation's sports fans know — or care to know — about the Chicago White Sox are Disco Demolition, the Black Sox scandal, and the fact that three times in 1976 they wore shorts as part of their uniforms. And then you begin wallowing in self-pity, especially during those now thankfully rare rough stretches such as 2007 and 2013.
That's when it's time to remember a remarkable day in White Sox history, to take pride in all that happened that day, and to point it out to as many people as possible, so that they will come to be wary of your approaching footsteps and flee the area rather than hear the message one more time. Here it is:
Even when times seem darkest for White Sox fans, they can still brag that the Sox played in front of the largest crowd ever to see a regular-season or postseason baseball game, 92,706. And not only did they win it, they won 1–0 and they beat Sandy Koufax in the process.
The date was October 6, 1959. Game 5 of the 1959 World Series at the Los Angeles Coliseum (built for track and football but then acting as the National League–champion Dodgers' temporary home until the new ballpark planned for the Chavez Ravine section of L.A. became reality). The Sox, after splitting the opening two games in Chicago, had not found the Coliseum — with its left-field foul pole just 251 feet from home plate — to their liking and had dropped 3–1 and 5–4 decisions. Both Games 3 and 4 had drawn record crowds of 92,000-plus, many fans so far away from the field that the game was just a rumor.
The Sox, though, had to have this one or the Series was not going back to Chicago. Opposing Koufax (not yet the superstar he would become) was Game 2 loser Bob Shaw, who this day matched Koufax zero for zero. Chicago broke through in the fourth inning when singles by Nellie Fox and Jim Landis put runners at first and third with none out. Sherm Lollar then grounded into a double play, Fox scoring what would be the game's lone run.
"They went for the double play," Shaw recalled, years later, "and you can't fault their decision. In that ballpark, you don't figure you're gonna have a 1–0 game, not with that fence in left field. I did a little after-dinner speaking that winter in Chicago, and I used to kid that when I reached real far back for the good fastball that day, I'd scrape my hand on that fence."
Shaw and Dick Donovan made the run stand up, with an assist from Jim Rivera, whose terrific running catch of Charlie Neal's two-out drive to deep right-center in the seventh saved two runs and preserved the White Sox triumph. Two days later, though, the Dodgers romped 9–3 to take the Series four games to two.
Earlier, in May of that year, 93,103 had turned out for a Dodgers-Yankees exhibition game at the Coliseum, an event held to raise funds for paralyzed former-Dodger Roy Campanella. And in March 2008, the Dodgers and Red Sox drew an announced 115,000 to the Coliseum for an exhibition that served to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' move to the West Coast from Brooklyn.
But the postseason/regular-season top crowd remains the 92,706 who watched the Sox edge the Dodgers that afternoon more than 50 years ago.CHAPTER 3
Perfection: 27 Up and 27 Down
Of the three White Sox pitchers who have thrown perfect games, the only one whose feat makes any sense at all is Mark Buehrle.
Charlie Robertson? That's silly. Philip Humber? Come on.
But that's how these things go. It didn't make any sense that Don Larsen would throw a perfect game for the Yankees — in a World Series yet — while New York's Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat never got close.
Robertson got his on Sunday, April 30, 1922, in Detroit as a White Sox rookie right-hander making his fourth appearance of the season and his third start. Detroit figured to provide the toughest opposition he'd face thus far. The Tigers had two Hall-of-Fame outfielders in Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann and another terrific hitter in left fielder Bobby Veach, plus first baseman Lu Blue, he of the .416 on-base percentage the season before.
On this day, Robertson kept the Tigers off balance with slow breaking pitches. Meanwhile, the Sox scored twice against Herm Pillette in the second inning when Earl Sheely singled home Harry Hooper and Johnny Mostil with the game's only runs. By the time the home ninth arrived, the crowd of 25,000-plus was rooting for Chicago's rookie pitcher. Fellow rookie Danny Clark struck out, as did Clyde Manion. Finally, Johnny Bassler batted for Pillette and hammered one down the left-field line. Some years later, Mostil remembered:
"I made a big dive and stabbed it to end the game," he said, also confirming that Tiger fans rushed the diamond and carried Robertson off the field. "Some fan snatched the ball out of my hand. In the dugout, [Sox manager] Kid Gleason said, 'Where's the ball?' I told him what happened. He said, 'Go get a ball, any ball.' I grabbed a practice ball and went to the clubhouse where everyone was making a big fuss over Robertson. We all autographed it. Charlie probably still thinks it's the real ball."
Robertson finished the year 14–15 with a 3.64 ERA, numbers he never again approached. He was out of the big leagues after the 1928 season.
Nor was Philip Humber ever the same pitcher after his surprise perfecto, a 4–0 masterpiece April 21, 2012, in Seattle. He had pitched well for the Sox during the first half of 2011 (8–5, 3.10 ERA) and not so well in the second (1–4, 5.01). But he had shown enough skill to be the club's No. 5 starter for 2012, and this start against the Mariners was just his second of this new season and his 30 in the big leagues.
Humber had been the third player selected in the 2004 draft, taken by the Mets. Injuries messed up his progress thereafter. He bounced around a bit, going to the Twins in a trade and then drifting on waivers to Kansas City, Oakland, and the White Sox. He'd had Tommy John surgery and been nailed by a line drive to the face. He thus was prepared for anything that day in Seattle.
When he got Brendan Ryan on strikes for the 27th out, Humber had become just the 21st pitcher in big-league history to throw a perfect game. "I saw that on TV when I was in the clubhouse, and like I said earlier, I don't know what my name is doing on that list," he told reporters. "It's just so humbling."
Soon Humber was being humbled every time he pitched. He ended the 2012 season with a 5–5 record and 6.44 ERA in a Sox uniform, was picked up by Houston in the off-season and promptly went 0–8 with a 7.90 ERA as an Astro in 2013.
Mark Buehrle's masterpiece, registered against Tampa Bay in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, July 23, 2009, carried with it substantially more importance than the other two White Sox perfect games. These Sox were a game behind Detroit for the AL Central lead; Tampa Bay was third in the AL East, 51/2 back of New York, and could not afford to fall further back.
Buehrle (10–3, 3.52) got a huge early lift when Josh Fields, subbing at first base with Paul Konerko in the DH role, drove a grand slam into the seats in left off Scott Kazmir. Back-to-back doubles by Scott Podsednik and Alexei Ramirez made it 5–0 in the fifth. By the sixth, "that feeling" began to course through the stands. When B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, and Evan Longoria — perhaps Tampa's most dangerous hitters — were easy outs in the seventh, the crowd of 28,036 let out a roar — a confident one. In the eighth, Carlos Pena struck out, Ben Zobrist popped out, and Pat Burrell lined softly to third baseman Gordon Beckham, after which Hawk Harrelson commanded, "Call your sons, call your daughters, call your friends, call your neighbors — Mark Buehrle is taking a perfect game into the ninth."
Three outs to go. Manager Ozzie Guillen moved Scott Podsednik from center field to left and sent Dewayne Wise, his best defensive outfielder, to center. Now Gabe Kapler, who'd been managing in the low minors when the season began, crushed a 2-2 pitch toward the wall in left-center. Wise raced back, leaped at the fence, brought back what would've been a home run, juggled the ball on the way down, and finally gripped it for keeps with his bare hand. The ballpark shook. "Burls" couldn't possibly lose his perfecto now, not after that catch.
"It was probably the best catch I've ever made, because of the circumstances," Wise said after the game. "It was kind of crazy, man, because when I jumped, the ball hit my glove at the same time I was hitting the wall. So I didn't realize I had caught it until I fell down and the ball was coming out of my glove. So I reached out and grabbed it."
Two outs to go. No. 8 hitter Michel Hernandez struck out swinging, and then Jason Bartlett, who wound up the season batting .320, sent a bouncer to Ramirez at short. The throw was perfect, and so, finally, was the game.
"I still don't know what happened," Buehrle said later. What had happened was that the Sox lefty, who had thrown a one-walk no-hitter against Texas on April 18, 2007, joined Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, Jim Bunning, Randy Johnson, and Addie Joss as the only pitchers in big-league history to throw both a no-hitter and a perfect game. "Obviously," Buehrle said, "any time your name gets up there with some of the greats in the game, it means a lot."
This Close to Cooperstown
Billy Pierce could taste it now. As he left the White Sox dugout at Comiskey Park and headed out to the mound for the Washington ninth, the smallish Friday night crowd of 11,300 stood as one to salute the little lefty who had accomplished so much since his arrival 10 years before from Detroit at age 21.
He had started three All-Star Games, won 20 games each of the last two years, and led the American League in complete games twice and in earned-run average and strikeouts once each. He had not thrown a no-hitter, however — let alone a perfect game, which is what he had going this night, June 27, 1958.
Excerpted from 100 Things White Sox Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Bob Vanderberg. Copyright © 2014 Bob Vanderberg. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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