04/18/07 4:20 PM ET
Looking Back: The 1977 White Sox
'South Side Hit Men' gave Chicago quite a ride
By Brett Ballantini / Special to MLB.com
|IN 1977 ...|
Future White Sox manager Tony La Russa was traded to the Cardinals for pitcher Randy Wiles, who appeared in five games for the White Sox and never again played in the Majors.
After weeks of holding out for Ron Guidry as a toss-in to the April 5 Bucky Dent trade with the Yankees on April 5, the White Sox took future Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt instead.
Owner Bill Veeck selected Harold Baines as the overall No. 1 amateur draft choice on June 7, after first scouting him years earlier on the Little League fields of Maryland.
First baseman Lamar Johnson not only sang the National Anthem before a June 19 game vs. the A's, he knocked two home runs and had Chicago's only three hits in a 2-1 win.
Future White Sox hurler (and current batting-practice pitcher) Kevin Hickey was signed out of Chicago's 16-inch-softball leagues as a free agent on Aug. 18.
Jorge Orta became only the ninth White Sox hitter -- and first since Minnie Minoso 21 years earlier -- to have 10 or more doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases in a season.
Ralph Garr led the team with a mere 12 steals, the fewest to lead the White Sox since 1950. In fact, only three White Sox teams in history have had fewer stolen bases from its leader.
Richie Zisk hit two of the most memorable Comiskey Park blasts among his 30 on the season. The first was the fifth all-time shot to the center field bleachers, on May 22 vs. the Detroit Tigers, and the second was the seventh all-time roof shot by a White Sox player, on June 4 vs. the Yankees.
Bolstered by a five-game sweep in their first homestand, the White Sox finished April with a 10-8 record, tying them for fourth place in the AL West, one game out.The team won seven of eight games in early May, including an 18-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on May 14 in which first baseman Jim Spencer tied a team record with eight RBIs in one game. Chicago continued to hang around in a wide-open division race and ended the first third of the season 25-19 and in second place, 2 1/2 games in back of the Twins. And by June 19, when hurlers Wilbur Wood and Francisco Barrios paced a doubleheader sweep of the Oakland A's, the White Sox were atop the AL West at 35-27. July was a month to remember. Hot hitting by left fielder Ralph Garr, (who would go on to lead the team with a .300 average) combined with a continued power surge and timely pitching, sent the team on a blistering hot streak. When the smoke cleared, the White Sox ended the month 22-6, tied for third-best month in team history. July started with the White Sox in second place at 40-32, one game behind Minnesota, and ended 62-38, 5 1/2 games in front. The blistering pace had been set right away, when an early-July homestand resulted in a four-game sweep of the Twins, with the White Sox outslugging Minnesota, 34-18. (In the second game of the series, Spencer again drove home eight runs, accomplishing in the span of less than two months something that has only been done three other times in team history.) The division lead was extended at the very end of the month, when the Kansas City Royals came to town and dropped three of four games. By that time, the 1977 White Sox were dubbed the "South Side Hit Men" for their prodigious offensive attack, led by Zisk, Gamble and Soderholm. The three would combine for 86 of a team-record 192 home runs, which crushed the old mark of 138 (their total stood until 1996). The team's .444 slugging percentage also crushed the previous White Sox mark by 44 points. A late July series vs. Kansas City was witnessed by 131,276 fans, pushing the season attendance past one million. It also marked the debut of Nancy Faust's chiding organ version of Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)." That song, along with a constant parade of home run curtain calls, made the defending AL West champion Royals livid. "The crowd pumped us up," Gamble said. "It was a loud crowd, too. Every time you'd come to bat or took the field, you'd get a standing ovation." Unfortunately, as fast and decisively as the White Sox ascended to a first-place lead, they lost it. The team traveled to Texas and lost three of four, in one game losing a 7-0 seventh-inning lead. Then the White Sox dropped three straight in Kansas City, reliever Bart Johnson lost a fight with Royals catcher Darrell Porter, and the team lost its grip on the AL West. In a week, the White Sox's cushy division lead was trimmed to a half-game. Aggravated by ill-timed slumps from Zisk and shortstop Alan Bannister, by the third week of August the Hit Men would see their 66th and last day of first place. "We started doing some things differently than we did earlier in the season," Orta said. "I don't know why, but we seemed to lose confidence in August." The White Sox managed to avoid a complete free-fall, finishing at 90-72 (although 90 wins was good enough to win the West in 1976, a year later it meant third place, 12 games back), their best season since 1965. The team set an all-time attendance record of 1,657,135, nearly doubling the total of the previous year. Spencer won a Gold Glove, while Soderholm was the Comeback Player of the Year and led AL third sackers in fielding percentage (.978). Gamble led the team with 31 homers and his .588 slugging percentage was the third-best in team history and remains 10th-best today. Lerrin LaGrow, a surprise closer who had registered only five saves in 124 career games before 1977, finished third in the AL with 25 saves. His 89.3 save percentage is still the second-best in White Sox history. Off the field, United Press International named Lemon its Manager of the Year, while Veeck was Executive of the Year. By 1978, Zisk, Gamble, and team wins leader Stone had left for free agent riches, the magic had burned away, and the strain of extending the Rent-a-Player concept to a logical limit saw the White Sox fall to 72-90. The memories of 1977 still burn bright -- seeing a South Side Hit Men T-shirt these days is no mere nostalgia. If not the last White Sox team before 2005 to capture fans' imagination, it was the most improbable run for the franchise in decades, perhaps in all of White Sox history. Veeck recalled that the 1977 team was even more satisfying to him than the pennant-winning 1959 White Sox "because of the fans. I have never seen anywhere the kind of enthusiasm that was engendered in [Comiskey Park] in '77." "What happened to the club is pretty much what happened to me," Soderholm said. "We both went from the depths of despair and came out smelling like a rose. And we did it for the best fans in the world, by far."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.