Monday, October 5, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1906 White Sox

With the 2015 regular season officially concluded, it seems like a good time to share a few stories about unlikely World Series victors. Let's begin in the Deadball Era.

The only all-Chicago World Series took place in 1906.The White Sox had been in contention the previous year, ultimately finishing 2 games behind Connie Mack's Athletics. In August of '06, the Sox found themselves sitting in fourth place more than 8 games out of the running. Under the dynamic leadership of player/manager Fielder Jones, they assembled an incredible nineteen game winning streak that catapulted them to the top. The A's faded, but the Cleveland Naps and New York Highlanders refused to go away as the ChiSox waited until the final week of the season to clinch the pennant.

Meanwhile in the National League, the Cubs won a remarkable total of 116 games--still a major league record for a 154-game season and a mark that would not be matched until the 21st century. The Cubs infield, consisting of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance, would become the subject of a famous poem, entitled "Baseball's Sad Lexicon." All three men ended up in the Hall of Fame along with their staff ace, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

When the 1906 World Series opened on October 9, the Cubs were heavily favored to beat their crosstown rivals, who had compiled a feeble .230 team batting average--second lowest in the majors. Journalists had dubbed the Southside squad "The Hitless Wonders." The White Sox pinned their hopes on a stellar pitching rotation that included right-hander Frank Owen and southpaw Nick Altrock, both of whom were in the midst of their last great seasons on the mound. Hall of Fame spitballer Ed Walsh, who would retire with the lowest career ERA in major league history, had a breakthrough season for the Sox in '06, winning 17 games--ten of them by shutout.

As anticipated, the Series featured strong pitching. Neither club collectively broke the .200 mark at the plate. The turning point came in Game 5. With the affair even at 2 games apiece, the Cubs took advantage of several White Sox errors, putting up 6 runs (only 1 of which was earned) against Ed Walsh. But the White Sox bats suddenly came to life, answering with 8 runs of their own. Before the finale, Cubs player/manager Frank Chance made a fateful decision to send "Three Finger" Brown to the mound on short rest. Brown had turned in a shutout two days earlier, but had nothing left to offer as he gave up 5 runs before being lifted for right-hander Orval Overall in the bottom of the second inning. The result was a Series-clinching 8-3 victory for the White Sox. 

Beer had been banned from the grandstand before Game 6, but a throng of jubilant (and presumably sober) Sox supporters lit fires in the streets and assembled outside the home of Fielder Jones, singing songs late into the night. Jones later said of his Cinderella squad: "It's true that their batting was light, but they hit at the right time...They won games because they were good ballplayers and a good ballplayer can't be manufactured out of batting averages." Rival manager Connie Mack gave Jones a large share of the credit for the improbably Series win, commenting: "He was a fiery competitor and imparted tremendous enthusiasm to his men...He was the highly strung type but as cool as a lime rickey in a tight spot." 

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