1917 Sox no longer live in obscurity
Unheralded world champs thrived during the dead ball era
In recent years, much has been made of the long world championship droughts experienced by venerable franchises like the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. In contrast, that other Chicago and other Sox team has received relatively little attention while experiencing a similarly long span since its last world title.
Now that the current day Chicago White Sox -- the underappreciated 2005 American League champions -- are just four wins away from their first world championship since 1917, that level of recognition might begin to change. And as more than a few White Sox diehards would likely proclaim, it's about time.
The 1917 White Sox have received far less press than the 1918 Red Sox -- the last team from Boston to win the title prior to the franchise's 2004 championship -- in part because they lacked a hallmark, iconic figure like Babe Ruth. Still, the 1917 White Sox featured three Hall of Famers in catcher Ray Schalk, second baseman Eddie Collins and pitcher Red Faber, and would have carried a fourth in outfielder Joe Jackson -- if not for the latter's involvement in the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919. Paced by their quiet group of stars, the 1917 White Sox won an even 100 games, led both Major Leagues in run differential (runs scored vs. runs allowed) and won the AL pennant by a decisive nine-game margin.
Like most championship teams of the dead ball era, the 1917 White Sox relied heavily on the elements of speed and defense, with plenty of superb pitching thrown into the winning mix. (As with most teams of that era, the White Sox hit with little power -- reaching the seats only 18 times -- in contrast to a 2005 contingent that surprisingly and quietly hit 200 home runs.)
Nine members of the 1917 White Sox reached double figures in stolen bases (including all eight regular position players), with Collins' 53 thefts leading the way. The depth of speed allowed obscure but aggressive manager Pants Rowland to employ a running game with any part of the batting order, including the top, bottom or middle. Rowland didn't have to wait for his table setters to reach base at the top of the lineup; he could just as easily try to steal bases with the heart of his order. And while the team's .329 on-base percentage might not sound impressive in the context of today's game, it was good enough to lead the Major Leagues in one of the last of the dead ball seasons.
1917 South Side Stars
|Here's a closer look at three of the key members of the 1917 Chicago White Sox, the last team from the city's south side to claim a World Series.|
|Eddie "Cocky" Collins: A participant on four world championship teams, Collins was regarded as one of the most intelligent ballplayers of his era. His smarts sometimes overshadowed his ample athletic skills, which included the ability to hit for average (.333 lifetime), steal bases (he led the league four times), and play an extraordinary second base (including eight fielding titles). In 1917, Collins led all White Sox players with a .389 on-base percentage, as he drew 89 walks while striking out only 16 times. Oscar "Happy" Felsch: He's best remembered for his involvement in the Black Sox scandal of 1919, but two seasons earlier, Felsch ranked as the most productive White Sox outfielder. In 1917, he led the Sox in the three Triple Crown categories, with a .308 batting average, six home runs and 102 RBIs, all the while playing a dependable center field. Unfortunately, Felsch's Major League career lasted only six seasons and ended in the midst of his prime years -- a direct result of his banishment by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Eddie Cicotte: Cicotte's participation in throwing World Series games tainted what might have been a Hall of Fame career. One of the first pitchers to master the effects of the knuckleball, Cicotte was also one of the most popular teammates on the White Sox teams of the dead ball era. The 5-foot-9 right-hander was never better than in 1917, when he pitched 346 2/3 innings at the age of 33, winning 28 games and saving four others during a pennant-winning regular season.|
The infield, while not as notable defensively as the outfield, also performed well for the Sox. The contingent was spearheaded by Collins, whose superior range and masterful levels of intelligence and leadership made the other infielders better defenders. Except for occasional lapses in concentration, Chick Gandil played capably at first base, particularly in defending the bunt and in scooping low throws that bounced in the dirt. On the left side of the infield, the trio of Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin lacked the spectacular playmaking ability of Collins, but solidly manned the shortstop and third base positions. And then there was the catcher, Schalk, one of the savviest receivers of his day and a heady leader who aggressively and decisively called games for his pitching staff.
Although Schalk extracted the most from his pitchers, he did have ample talent to work with -- including a 28-game winner in Eddie Cicotte. In forging a career year, Cicotte's 1.53 ERA paced a staff that included a quartet of pitchers with ERAs below 2.00, including starters Faber and Claude "Lefty" Williams. The eight-man pitching staff -- yes, there was a day when a Major League team could get through a season with eight hurlers -- also featured the versatile talents of the unheralded Dave Danforth, who sometimes pitched as little as one inning or as long as seven innings in making 41 important relief appearances throughout the summer. Not surprisingly, the stingy White Sox staff led both Major Leagues with an ERA of 2.16.
After winning the AL pennant by nearly a double-figure difference over the Red Sox, the White Sox moved on to the World Series, where they methodically dispatched of John McGraw's more famous New York Giants. The Sox took the first two games of the Series, winning the first by one run and the second in a blowout, before being shut out in the next two games by Giants pitching. Ably responding to a pair of discouraging losses, the White Sox outscored the Giants, 12-7, over the final two games, as the workhorse Faber notched back-to-back winning decisions.
While a general consensus among baseball historians ranks the 1919 White Sox as the most talented club in franchise history, the less glamorous 1917 contingent has its supporters. Those advocates include respected writer and historian David Nemec, who emphasizes the White Sox ability to handily overcome a Red Sox team that had won two straight pennants in runaway fashion. As Nemec points out, the 1917 White Sox featured Cicotte at his career best, along with a potent offensive triumvirate of Collins, Jackson and Felsch, giving Chicago arguably its finest AL entry in the 20th century.
We'll find out soon if the 2005 White Sox can match the 1917 version, as they try to bring to an end a rather quiet world championship drought that has spanned 87 years.
Bruce Markusen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.