Monday, October 24, 2005

Back around the time of World War I, there was a World Series the wonderful and subsequently woeful Chicago White Sox didn’t throw.

In 1917, the United States entered the “Great War,” the Communists overthrew the czar in Russia and Congress passed both the first Selective Service legislation and the 18th Amendment that produced Prohibition. John F. Kennedy, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald were born. Buffalo Bill Cody and Adm. George Dewey died.

And the White Sox won the World Series.


It had been 11 years since the “Hitless Wonders” Sox of 1906 had pecked the Chicago Cubs to death in the Series. Not even the most pessimistic South Side fan could have imagined the next drought would last at least eight times as long, from ‘17 until this season or beyond. In between, the White Sox lost World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 1919 (intentionally) and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959 (unintentionally).

Those ‘19 Black Sox earned everlasting scorn because eight of their members supposedly signed on with gamblers to toss the Series. But that need not detract from the accomplishments of the ‘17 club.

Chicago finished with a 100-54 record in ‘17, nine games ahead of a Boston Red Sox team that had won the pennant in 1915 and 1916 and would do so again in 1918. Oddly, the White Sox’s two biggest stars had off years, with second baseman Eddie Collins’ batting average dropping from .308 to .289 and left fielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s from .341 to a career-low .301. Center fielder Happy Felsch was the unexpected hitting leader with a .308 average and 102 RBI.

There was so much talent on the mound, however, that the pair’s momentary decline didn’t really matter. Five pitchers posted victory totals in double figures: Ed Cicotte (28-12), Lefty Williams (17-8), Red Faber (16-13), Reb Russell (15-5) and Dave Danforth (11-6). What’s more, Cicotte, Faber and Russell had ERAs under 2.00.

In the World Series, the White Sox were heavily favored to beat the New York Giants (98-56), who had won their sixth pennant in 16 seasons under legendary manager John McGraw after finishing fourth the previous season despite winning streaks of 17 and 26 games. Chicago’s manager was the largely unknown Clarence “Pants” Rowland, a former bartender who sat on the bench in street clothes and presumably worked cheap for penurious owner Charles Comiskey.

The White Sox got off to a smart start in the Series, taking the first two games at Comiskey Park. Felsch’s solo home run in the fourth inning of the opener gave Cicotte his winning margin over the Giants’ Slim Sallee. Then the Sox romped 7-2 behind Faber in the second game, breaking a 2-2 tie with five runs on six singles in the fourth inning.

After undoubtedly being treated to a tongue-lashing from McGraw, the Giants rebounded to win Games 3 and 4 in shutouts at the Polo Grounds. Rube Benton pitched a five-hitter to beat Cicotte 2-0, and 21-game winner Ferdie Schupp defeated Faber 5-0 with the help of an inside-the-park homer by former Federal League star Benny Kauff.

With matters deadlocked 2-2, the White Sox captured the pivotal Game 5, rallying for three runs in the seventh inning to tie and three more in the eighth as Faber tossed two perfect innings of relief at Comiskey for the 8-5 victory over the Giants and Sallee.

When the teams returned to New York for Game 6 on Monday, Oct. 15, the gloomy prospect of seeing the White Sox clinch held the crowd to 27,323 at the half-empty Polo Grounds. And indeed it was lights out for the Giants as the rubber-armed Faber beat Benton 4-2 for his third Series victory with the aid of some sloppy fielding by the National Leaguers.

With the game scoreless in the fourth inning and none out, Collins and Jackson reached base on errors. Felsch then reached on a botched rundown as the Giants left home uncovered and lumbering third baseman Heinie Zimmerman was forced to futilely chase the speedy Collins across the plate. Chick Gandil then singled home two more runs, giving Faber all the support he needed.

For years, Zimmerman was unfairly ridiculed for his pursuit of Collins, although first baseman Walter Holke should have covered the plate when catcher Bill Rariden went up the third base line in the rundown. As he had nine years earlier when baserunner Fred Merkle cost the Giants a pennant by not touching second on an apparent game-winning hit, McGraw was quick to defend a player under fire.

“It wasn’t Zimmerman’s fault,” Mac insisted after the game. “The man to blame was Holke, who stood at first base watching Heinie.”

For years thereafter, Zimmerman gave a standard answer whenever someone mentioned the unfortunate play: “Who was I going to throw the ball to, [umpire Bill] Klem?”

As the teams left the field, author Frank Graham relates in his 1944 biography, “McGraw of the Giants,” Rowland rushed toward McGraw, stuck out his hand and said, “Mr. McGraw, I’m glad we won, but I’m sorry you had to be the one to lose.”

Replied the ever-gracious McGraw: “Get away from me, you [expletives deleted] busher!”

After that, the White Sox rode a seesaw. The club skidded all the way to sixth place in 1918 as several players missed time while contributing to the war effort and Jackson held out for the entire season. But with Kid Gleason replacing Rowland, the Sox rebounded to win another pennant in 1919, only to see the eight players, including the naive Jackson, consort with gamblers in a plot to throw the World Series.

Though rumors were rampant during the Series, the unsavory story didn’t break until September 1920 as the team battled the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees for another. The following year, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight players from baseball for life, although none were convicted in a court of law. Then, for most of the next eight-plus decades, baseball was a losing proposition on the South Side.

One thing is for sure: The White Sox are due.

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